The Toughest Drives That Can Survive Any Harsh Environment

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Because they are placed outside the system and are often casually used, almost all hard drives are built to endure forces that would destroy any bare-naked internal drive: powerful impacts, water immersion, and even fire. The term “ruggedized” is frequently used to describe drives designed for rough use. However, it’s a misnomer. The strong casing that surrounds the drive is what allows it to withstand stress, dousing, and other such events. Survivability is typically determined by how much you can invest.

The nature of a drive’s casing determines how much torture it can withstand. Some will let you drive over them in your car. Others may be built to withstand only a minor fall. 

Things to keep in mind when buying a rugged drive

Purchasing a robust drive entails many of the same considerations as purchasing a regular external drive. Let’s take a look at each one individually.

Interface Type

The industry has settled on two main interfaces for external portable drives: USB 3 in various varieties (extremely prevalent) and Thunderbolt (much less common). The ports on the computer or machines you’re using will determine the best solution for you. Furthermore, these interfaces now overlap in terms of physical connectivity in their most recent forms.

You might be wondering, “What is Thunderbolt?” Thunderbolt is no longer a niche connector reserved for Mac users, despite the fact that Macs continue to be the most popular. The most recent version, Thunderbolt 3, makes the interface far more common. 

Thunderbolt 2, the version of Thunderbolt that was widely used from 2013 till a few years ago, gave four times the theoretical bandwidth of USB 3.0. However, adoption was low, and no single hard drive-based external drive can even come close to approaching the interface’s limits. It doesn’t matter whatever interface you use with platter-based hard drives, because they aren’t fast enough.

If you use an older Mac with a Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 connector and wish to use a Thunderbolt drive with it, go ahead and buy one. Some rugged drive manufacturers, such as LaCie, continue to offer rugged drives with legacy Thunderbolt ports, but they recognize that such outdated interfaces are no longer supported by future PCs. Just make sure the drive and system are using compatible Thunderbolt versions, and don’t expect it to be quicker than USB 3.0.

However, both of these interfaces are in the process of changing, which brings us to…

USB 3 and Thunderbolt 3

Over the last few years, newer and faster versions of both USB and Thunderbolt have begun appearing in certain external devices. They have twice the bandwidth possibilities of earlier solutions. However, you’ll need ports on your computer to match them, and the real-world speed implications aren’t as significant as they may appear.

The newest USB interface, known as USB 3.2 or USB Type-C, was first seen in the ultra-thin Apple MacBook in 2015. It’s now included with all new Windows PCs and MacBook Air and Pro notebooks (in the case of the Macs, paired with support for Thunderbolt 3 on the same ports). The USB Type-C port is a compact oval-shaped connector with a cable that may be inserted in either direction. To further confuse matters, “USB Type-C” officially refers to the form of the connector, but “USB 3.2” refers to the speed of the interface.

Some “Type-A” USB ports (the rectangular USB ports we’re all familiar with) in recent-model PCs also claim to enable USB 3.2. Some USB 3.2 external drives come with two cables, one with a Type-A connector on the system end and the other with a Type-C connector.

Apart from that, USB 3.2 (the speed specification) is available in two flavors: “Gen 1” and “Gen 2”. The “USB 3.2 Gen 2” version has a maximum interface speed of 10 Gbps. Only a few external devices, including most solid-state drives, may saturate that interface. In terms of theoretical speed, “USB 3.2 Gen 1” is equal to USB 3.0. We won’t add to the confusion by mentioning the even rarer 20Gbps “USB 3.2 Gen 2×2,” which exists but is now too unusual to mention. It’s only used by a few high-speed external SSDs.

When it comes to external platter-based hard drives, it doesn’t matter which model you buy. To add to the confusion, the USB 3.2 name standard is very recent; it was progressively changed from different flavors of “USB 3.1” to USB 3.2 Gen 1 and USB 3.2 Gen 2 due to some (in our view) ill-advised branding antics by USB’s governing body.

To summarize, if you’re looking at tough drives with a USB interface, be sure your PC or Mac has a physically compatible USB port—that is, can you just put it in—and that the drive says it works with PCs, Macs, or both. Because a USB device will dial down to the slower speed of the two parts in play, physical compatibility is critical. 

However, the most current version of Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt 3, muddies the waters even more—specifically, in how it is implemented. Thunderbolt 3 utilizes the same USB Type-C reversible connection. Thunderbolt 3 also has USB 3.2 compatibility baked in. Thunderbolt 3 connectors are all USB Type-C ports in principle. However, not all USB Type-C ports enable Thunderbolt 3.

As a consequence, any new USB Type-C drive should operate regardless of whether it’s connected to a Thunderbolt 3 connection or a “plain old” USB Type-C socket. A potential snag is connecting a Thunderbolt 3 drive onto a USB Type-C port that doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3. Check with the drive manufacturer to see if this is doable. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, in our experience.

As previously stated, the performance difference between USB 3.2 and Thunderbolt 3 vs. plain old USB 3.0 is negligible when it comes to hard drives. Thunderbolt 3 has a maximum speed of 40 Gbps, but your average external hard drive won’t be able to transport data that fast. However, some modern SSDs with advanced internal components are starting to make greater use of USB 3.2 and Thunderbolt 3 bandwidth. Look for “USB 3.2 Gen 2” branding and peak transfer speeds of 1,000 to 3,500 megabits per second.

These external SSDs employ the same PCI Express/NVMe internal bits as today’s fastest internal SSDs; previous SSDs, which were based on older Serial ATA technology, topped out at approximately 550MBps. 

Rotational Speed

Disk rotation speed matters a little more if you’re talking about a robust platter hard drive rather than an SSD. It’s the speed at which the drive’s actual platters spin, and it used to be a big component in total performance. However, instead of the 7,200rpm that used to be popular with performance-oriented drives, many versions now spin at a more modest 5,400rpm or thereabouts.

In a broader sense, SSDs (hard drives with no moving components) have largely rendered the concept of a “rapid” hard drive obsolete. Depending on what you’re uploading and testing, even the slowest external SSD outperforms a 7,200rpm hard disc by many times.

If you truly need more performance but can’t afford a portable SSD owing to cost or capacity issues, there are a few 7,200rpm external robust hard drives available (one is the G-Tech G-Drive eV ATC), although they aren’t often explicitly labelled as such. We wouldn’t make rotational speed a major consideration in most instances.

External SSD Vs. External Hard Drive: What’s the difference?

SSDs are creeping into external storage as well as taking over the laptop and personal computer markets. It’s easy to see a future in which all external drives are solid-state, thanks to SSDs’ advantages over spinning hard drives, which make them ideal for real-world use. SSDs not only feature no moving components, making them far more durable, but they also create extremely little heat and make no noise.

SSDs’ only flaw? They are nevertheless costly when compared to similar-capacity hard discs. External SSDs aren’t as big as portable hard drives, which can now hold up to 5 terabytes (5TB) per drive mechanism. That’s changing, though, as SSDs have begun to reach multi-terabyte capacities—albeit at a significant price premium.

Most portable external SSDs aren’t promoted as tough, although ADATA, LaCie, SanDisk, and a few other companies do make rugged drives with caps that cover their ports to protect their internal components from moisture. However, any portable SSD should withstand drops and jostling in a backpack better than a typical portable hard drive. If that’s all you need, a portable SSD, robust or not, is appealing, especially if you don’t require a lot of capacity.

Removable Or Fixed Enclosures

A permanent shell, with a sealed chassis surrounding the drive, is the most prevalent design among tough drives. The outside of a platter hard drive is usually made of hard plastic or rubber, which helps the drive to absorb impact. These enclosures may or may not have seals that keep the elements out of your drive, such as dust, grime, and water. Because stress absorption is less important, most rugged external SSDs will feature a metal casing.

A detachable enclosure is available on a few drives, providing an additional layer of protection between the drive and the shell. These are generally sealed with O-rings all the way around, providing further moisture protection for the drive within. In other situations, the detachable part may be nothing more than a rubber or silicone wrapping around a metal or plastic shell.

What Defines a Rugged Drive? Drive Protection Measurement

For demanding outdoor applications, compliance with IP67 or IP68 is critical. IP stands for “International Protection” and “Ingress Protection,” and it indicates a drive’s level of waterproofing and dust/debris protection. The standards in question are overseen by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), a non-profit standard-setting organization.

It’s more difficult to quantify the allowed vertical drop resistance. Most robust drives, particularly SSDs, can withstand a fall off your desk and continue to function. External platter-based hard drives are less robust, especially if the disc was in use at the time of the crash.

Because most external hard drives have a hard-plastic casing, when they are hit, the shock energy is transferred to the hard drive inside, potentially causing the read and write heads to crash into the platters. That is unquestionably a terrible thing. Even though modern drives include acceleration sensors that detect a fall and quickly “park” the heads in a safe location before contact, this isn’t perfect. When a drive is enclosed in a material that has more “give” or a soft bumper, the enclosure absorbs more impact. Not all enclosures, however, are intended for maximal shock resistance; for example, a robust drive could have a metal casing to give crush protection as well as some safety in the event of a drop. As a result, the drive seller is primarily responsible for informing you of the drive’s rated maximum drop distance.

If you’re intrested in buying best PC hard drives and other computer components visit Hard Disk Direct.

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