Mobile Storage Review: IoSafe Rugged Portable SSD

Friday Jan 6th 2012 by Gerry Blackwell
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IoSafe’s Rugged Portable SSD can protect data from just about every threat imaginable and, thanks to USB 3.0 capability, it offers speedy file transfers, too.

Small businesses in the market for secure mobile storage -- especially those with company-critical data to protect in hostile working environments -- need look no further than the ioSafe Rugged Portable SSD (solid state drive). It’s a veritable Fort Knox for data.

The Rugged Portable SSD, a USB 3.0 drive in capacities of 120, 300 and 600GB, protects data in every way imaginable. For starters, its solid state drive doesn’t have the moving parts that make conventional hard drives so susceptible to disk crashes.

This SSD product goes much, much further, though.

Ultimate Data Protection

Cocooned in a sealed metal case and suspended and damped along all six axes of motion, the drive can withstand drops from up to 20 feet, crushing by a 2,500-to-5,000-pound weight and immersion in up to 30 feet of water for as long as three days. Or so ioSafe claims.

The company designed the drive to drive withstand immersion in various types of fuel, exposure to sand storms and to freezing temperatures. You can also climb high mountains with it, or consign it to an airplane’s unpressurized cargo hold.

And if that doesn’t make you feel safe enough, the product comes bundled with $5,000 in data loss insurance, one year of data recovery service (DRS) for retrieving data in the event of drive failure, accidental deletion or any other reason, and Genie9 Timeline Professional backup software, which supports 256-bit AES encryption.  

You do pay a steep price for this level of protection.

SSDs: Expensive but Worth the Investment

As with all SSDs, the cost per gigabyte is considerably higher than for conventional hard drives. The ioSafe SSDs come in a choice of cases: aluminum (lighter) or titanium alloy (stronger). The 120GB aluminum-clad model sells for $499, and the 600GB model costs $2,000. If you want the titanium alloy case, which gives the full 5,000-pound crush protection, add $1,000.

By contrast, a LaCie Rugged Hard Disk, a 500GB mobile drive with some, though certainly not all, of the protections of the ioSafe product, sells for only $199 -- a tenth the price per gigabyte.

Note that ioSafe sells conventional portable hard drives (up to 1TB), somewhat confusingly, under the same Rugged Portable brand, with a virtually identical form factor and most of the same data protection features as the SSD. They’re priced from $199 for a 500GB model.

IoSafe Rugged Portable SSD

The IoSafe Rugged Portable SSD.

Even compared with other portable SSDs, the ioSafe Rugged Portable SSD is expensive. For example, the 128 GB OCZ Technology Enyo Series USB 3.0 SSD sells for $350. It’s important to note, however, that the OCZ product doesn’t offer any of the additional protections of the ioSafe product beyond the intrinsic robustness of SSDs.

You also pay a price in portability for data protection. The ioSafe SSD product is bigger than many ruggedized portable drives and heavier than most, measuring 5.66 x 3.88 x 0.97 inches and weighing 1 -- 1.5 pounds in the titanium alloy case. The LaCie product measures 5.7 x 3.5 x 1 inches, but weighs only 9.2 ounces.

Setting Up the IoSafe SSD

We tested the 120GB aluminum model, though admittedly from our office -- not from atop Mount Kilimanjaro or in the middle of a sand storm. The out-of-the-box experience is a little different than with other storage products.

The ioSafe Rugged Portable SSD package comes with the drive, a heavy-duty USB 3.0 cable, a USB 2.0 Y-cable (two-headed) -- for plugging into devices that don’t provide enough power from one USB port -- and a Firewire 800 cable.

A label attached to the drive warns that you are not "protected" – i.e. with insurance and data recovery service (DRS) coverage -- until the product is activated online.

This is a somewhat tedious process that requires filling in two screens worth of information at the ioSafe website, including the 10-digit serial number and 8-character DRS activation code printed on the label, and then waiting for a confirmation email.

As soon as this process is complete, ioSafe hits you with an offer to extend the DRS coverage, from the one year included with product to three years ($50) or five years ($100). Full protection comes with long-term costs -- even if they’re fairly reasonable.

Timeline Backup Software

Once the product is registered and activated, you can download the Genie backup software. Timeline Professional, which lists for $60 but often sells for less, is a continuous data protection-type backup product. It continually checks for changed files and backs them up according to a fixed schedule (every three minutes, for example) or a flexible, automatically adjusted schedule based on types of files and other factors.

Timeline has the crucially important capability to back up open files -- for example, Outlook database files -- so that you don’t have to remember to shut down always-open programs to ensure they’re backed up. It can also automatically back up synchronized iPhone/iPad data.

Set-up is designed to be dead simple: choose a destination for backups (the ioSafe drive presumably), select files to back up and set options.

Timeline offers a Smart Selection feature that allows you to automatically choose broad types of data to back up: disaster recovery (essential Windows files and settings), email (eg. Outlook), Microsoft Office files, iPad/iPhone/iPod and so on.

Or you can use the My Computer file selector, which allows you to select individual folders or even files, and also set filters to exclude files with certain extensions.

Some other backup programs provide more precise and flexible control over which files are included in backups, but Timeline probably offers enough for most small business users. We did notice, however, that despite setting a filter to exclude files with the .wma extension, those files were included anyway.

An Issue with Software

One other quibble: when you run the setup wizard, if you choose My Computer data selection, the program by default hides certain types of files, including some, such as Outlook database files, that you may want to select. It is possible to change settings so those hidden files appear, but not during initial set up. Genie’s claim of once-and-done setup doesn’t hold up.

Timeline can do backups in smart mode or turbo mode. In smart mode, if you’re working on the computer doing other things, the program uses minimal resources -- but it performs backups more slowly. When the computer is not in use, Timeline speeds up and uses more resources.

In turbo mode, it uses the maximum amount of resources to complete the task as quickly as possible, whether you’re working on the computer or not.

One feature we liked: if you unplug the ioSafe SSD and then later plug it in, Timeline will automatically pick up where it left off backing up files.

It took Timeline close to 30 minutes to perform an initial 12.5GB backup without encryption -- not exactly stellar, but after that, it performed unnoticed in the background.

Testing the Hard Drive

We were not able to do exhaustive testing of the SSD’s advanced data protection features. Finding diesel fuel to dunk it in was problematic, for example. And hiring divers to retrieve a hard drive from 30 feet of water is unfortunately not included in our allowable expenses.

We did drop it from less than 20 feet and drove over it with a compact car. The ioSafe Rugged Portable just laughed. (No damage to data or visible damage to case -- although we are considering suing ioSafe for damage to the office floor.)

It’s worth noting that at least some of the shock- and drop-proof characteristics are shared by all SSDs. Because they have no moving parts, they are much less likely to fail or be affected by impact. 

Among the other benefits of SSDs are speed and low power consumption. The ioSafe SSD uses a miserly 5 watts of power on average.

But while this product does deliver a significant speed advantage over conventional USB 2.0 hard drives when it’s connected to a USB 3.0 port, the speed advantage is only slight when it’s connected to a USB 2.0 port. Bear in mind that most small business computers, except recently-purchased mid-range and high-end models, do not yet have USB 3.0 ports.

We connected the ioSafe drive to a USB 3.0 port on a recent-model Sony Vaio laptop and timed the transfer of a 4.09 GB block of files from the laptop’s hard drive to the Rugged Portable SSD. Then we plugged the drive into a USB 2.0 port on the same computer and timed the transfer of the same block of files.

The transfer took 1 minute 33 seconds using the USB 3.0 port, and it took a full 3 minutes 31 seconds over USB 2.0. That might not seem like much, but if you were transferring 100 GB of data, that translates to 37 minutes versus 86 minutes to complete the task, which is a significant difference.

We then connected a two-year-old Seagate portable USB 2.0 hard drive to the same computer and timed the transfer of the same block of files again. This time it took 3 minutes 48 seconds, which is probably not significant in most applications.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking to speed up backups or transfers of large media or engineering or CAD files, and you have a USB 3.0 computer, the ioSafe Rugged Portable SSD will deliver a significant performance improvement over USB 2.0 storage options. But if you’ll be using this product with a USB 2.0 connection, don’t expect a significant performance improvement.

If you’re mainly looking for optimal security and ruggedness to ensure protection of critical data, however, the ioSafe SSD may be the ultimate solution – if you can afford the freight.

Gerry Blackwell is a freelance technology writer based in London, Canada. Read his blog, AfterByte

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