Fstoppers Reviews the Caldigit TUFF 2 TB USB Type-C Waterproof Portable Hard Drive

Fstoppers Reviews the Caldigit TUFF 2 TB USB Type-C Waterproof Portable Hard Drive

There are countless hard drives of all shapes, sizes, types, speeds, and capacities flooding the market now. As professionals, it's often quite a task to wade through the hype about every new offering and decide what's really the best drive for us. For users of the new line of MacBooks, things got a lot more difficult recently, as drives with native USB Type-C ports are few and far between so far. A few scattered offerings are around, and the Caldigit TUFF is a drive squarely aimed at being compatible with future devices, as well as a good option for professional on-location use.

I've had the opportunity to test this drive on a couple of trips over the past two of weeks. So far, it has stood up to daily use (and of course a few torture tests). Let's take a look at how it performed and how it compares to the other options I have at my disposal. For full disclosure, this drive was provided to me by CalDigit at no cost provided I test it and give an honest assessment. 

An Introduction to the TUFF

Before we get started, let's take a look at just what the TUFF is. The CalDigit TUFF is a high-capacity external hard drive designed for on-the-go professionals. At present, it comes with a 2 TB 7200 RPM spinning drive installed, but a 1 TB SSD version is coming soon. The drive is contained in a metal case with shock absorption built in. The case is also designed as a passive heat-sink. Around the outside of this is a silicone casing (your choice of color) that forms a complete seal for the USB Type-C port to waterproof the drive and give even more shock protection. All this together means that the drive gets an IP57 rating. Although the drive itself has the USB Type-C connector, CalDigit gives you a Type-C to Type-A cable in the box for backwards compatibility. 

Speed Tests

The TUFF boasts USB 3.1 support and the USC Type-C interface. However, still being a spinning drive at this point, it is not able to take advantage of any of the benefits of these two technologies; the extra speed and power are both irrelevant to this drive. The only real reason to have this is compatibility with the new MacBook's lack of other ports. So, having said that, don't be expecting lighting-fast transfer rates (at least until the SSD version is released). However, as we'll see, it's quite good for a spinning drive.
 
I pegged this drive against my existing military drop-tested drive, the two-year-old Transcend StoreJet and my trusty Samsung T1 (now replaced by T3). Rather than theoretical speed tests, I put all three drives through something I do quite frequently: the dumping of a 32 GB memory card. Because the SSD outperforms the memory cards I have, I dumped the card to my internal SSD first to ensure that the test was done to the best of the drives' capabilities. The total data on the card came to 29.9 GB and was made up of a mixture of raw files, video, and JPEG files. I tested both read and write for the drives (both cables were tested on the TUFF), and the following are my results:

TUFF

USB-C

Read 4:55 (103 MB/s)
Write 4:15 (120 MB/s)

USB-A

Read 5:07 (100 MB/s)
Write 4:26 (115 MB/s)

Transcend StoreJet

Read 5:42 (90 MB/s)
Write 5:35 (91 MB/s)

Samsung T1

Read 2:12 (232 MB/s)
Write 2:24 (213 MB/s)
 
As you can see, the Samsung T1 blows the spinning drives out of the water in both read and write. But, that would be comparing apples to oranges. I'm looking forward to seeing the real-world speeds of CalDigit's SSD drive. As for the TUFF, it will be replacing my StoreJet in the field. Both are the same capacity, but with an extra 30 percent or so speed increase, it will make dumping cards significantly faster. 

Size, Weight, Design

The TUFF is quite large, even for a spinning drive. It is larger in every direction than my Transcend drive (especially with the silicon case on) and significantly larger than the WD passport drives I use for random data storage. It's also quite heavy. Weighing in at 272 g, it is a little heavier than the StoreJet, which is only 217 g. You do get water sealing for this extra weight, which is a nice addition.
 
The design is effective, but not particularly pretty. The silicone (a little sexier when this is removed) and heat sink are excellent in their functionality, but when sitting next to a sleek Samsung T1, WD My Passport, or even the Transcend StoreJet, the TUFF is definitely the ugly duckling.  If this is important to you, then perhaps look elsewhere.
 

Durability Tests

What's the point of a drive called TUFF if it can't take a little beating? The drive has been designed from the ground up to withstand the demands of daily field use. Its IP57 rating means that it should be sealed from dust getting inside and survive immersion for up to 30 minutes in 1 meter of water. Not only that, but it complies with U.S. Military standards (MIL-STD-810G) for withstanding physical shock, meaning you can knock it around or drop it with no issues.
 
Normally, even with a drive designed like this, I'm careful with how it goes in my bag and how I treat that bag. But, this was test time. I copied 200 GB of photos onto it to see if I could kill a single file and set to work. After a couple of weeks of testing in my regular work environments, the dusty plains of Angkor and the rainy season of central Vietnam, I can say that it definitely lives up to its name.
 
The first test was day-to-day roughing it. I put it at the bottom of my bag and put that bag on the floor of a Tuk Tuk speeding down Cambodian roads. This is a good test of how strong human joints are, so I figured it would be a good way to start. A full day of potholes and the drive's subsequent encounters with the steel floor of the vehicle did nothing to stop those files from opening. 
 
I stepped it up by dropping it off a moving motorcycle (only about 20 km/h, but that should be enough to destroy a regular drive) and down a flight of stairs. The rubber case didn't even show a scratch after these two tests. But, it was quite dusty and needed a shower. Who was I to refuse? I gave each side of the drive 10 minutes under the shower in my hotel, and then, just because I was in Vietnam, hit it with the "bum-gun" as well. After drying it out, I opened the seal over the USB port and plugged it in. The drive powered up and my copy test still passed with flying colors — not a single error.
 
It was a hot day, so I figured I'd take it for a swim next. A few laps of breast-stroke later, I submerged it on the steps near the end of the pool. This was about 80 cm deep, and I left it there for the rest of my swim. Again, not a single problem when I fired the drive back up.
 
 
I guess that takes it through its daily paces and gives you a fair idea of what it will survive. It gave me peace of mind to know that my data would survive any sort of accident I might have. I'm often traveling on boats and motorcycles, so you never know. Usually, my drives are in a Pelican case and padded on all sides, but with this drive, I can leave that extra bulk behind. 

Where I See It Being Useful

For my short trips, I will still be using my Samsung T1 SSDs for their excellent transfer speeds, tiny size, and light weight. However, I can see this being a great drive for backing up video and stills on a longer trip. It will most certainly see my bag on my upcoming China trip. I think I'll still be running Lightroom catalogs and video source from SSDs wherever possible, though, as the drive still doesn't have the transfer speeds to keep up with those.

What I Liked

  • Storage capacity
  • Fast for an external spinner
  • Rugged
  • USB-C and USB 3.1 interface give extra possibilities for the next generation of TUFF SSDs
  • Comes in a case reminiscent of a VHS box (strong plastic, and nostalgic to boot!)

What I Didn't Like

  • No SSD yet
  • No 3 or 4 TB options
  • Bulky
  • A bit of an ugly duckling

Purchase

Interested in getting your Caldigit TUFF hard drive? Get it here!

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3 Comments

E Port's picture

Very amusing shots! Must have been fun to shoot.

Jon Wolding's picture

No SSD? They mention SSDs all over their website: caldigit.com/tuff/

It's not out yet. Potentially later this year. But for now, the only available model is a spinner.