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G-Technology G-Drive ev ATC with Thunderbolt Hands-On Review

If you’re a professional in the media industry and a Mac user, you’ve undoubtedly heard of and likely love G-Technology’s storage solutions (not that PC users have a reason not to, though). While G-Tech has largely been typecast an in-studio brand (with the LaCie Rugged drives taking a bulk of the on-the-road abuse), G-Tech’s newest offerings include their ATC lineup that helps close the gap, bringing them into the “all-terrain” hard drive space.

OVERVIEW

The G-Drive ev All-Terrain Case (ATC) products are two-unit systems that work symbiotically with with G-Tech’s ev system, which allows you to use the smaller, portable hard drive almost as a “cartridge” in many of G-Tech’s enclosures. The ATC comes with an ev drive variant known as the G-Drive ev RaW, which weighs 35% less than the normal model.

The second part is an external enclosure specifically designed for maximum protection. One look at the enclosure of G-Tech’s ATC hard drive case (about the size of a 3.5-inch desktop drive) tells you all you need to know: this is built to withstand some abuse. Composite plastics keep the enclosure light weight while allowing unprecedented rigidity and drop protection (up to two meters). And the blue accents hint exactly to what you’d expect, and then some. Not only does the drive enclosure cover spilled drinks, but it’ll also even float in water for thirty seconds (it’ll float a lot longer, but protection is no longer guaranteed at that point).

The G-Drive ev ATC with Thunderbolt (there's a USB 3.0-only version) has not one, and not two, but three various I/O port options, depending on how you use it. If you leave the smaller drive unit itself inside the ATC, you have access to the built-in, attached, and therefore included Thunderbolt cable. Pop open the lever on the side of the case and pull the hard drive out to reveal open USB 3.0 and full SATA ports. You could even directly connect this in your desktop system’s tower if you’d like. If you’re familiar with Seagate’s GoFlex system, this works in almost an identical way with nearly the same exact SATA port on the back (except it’s a “female” SATA port, here), but the G-Tech adds USB 3.0 for convenience (a USB 3.0 able is included in the package for those wondering, but you’re on your own for the SATA port, on which the ev drive system relies and supports).

There are a lot of pros and cons to follow. But what's my opinion in three short words?: expensive, but great.

PERFORMANCE

First and foremost, when it comes to portable hard drives, we’re almost always interested in performance. Things are hard enough when you’re on location – you don’t want your drives slowing you down.

On a fresh drive, I got 138 MB/s and 124 MB/s read and write speeds, respectively. For a single magnetic hard drive, that’s very pleasant. It’s nice to see the read and write speeds not be so drastically different, as they are with many drives. And G-Technology is generously conservative with their 136 MB/s advertised rating.

Of course, the Thunderbolt bandwidth allows for much more, but at least we have the comfort of knowing we’re not slowed down by it.

If you have experience with Thunderbolt vs. USB 3.0, you may expect speeds to take a slight hit with USB 3.0 over Thunderbolt, even though its bandwidth is also much greater than what’s required to reach those same read/write speeds. However, for whatever reason, normal convention is still not defied. While read speeds weren’t hit too much (they remained steady at 133 MB/s), write speeds took a hit down to 101 MB/s, often dropping into the 90s. These are still respectable (and expected) rates for any single, portable magnetic hard drive. (Caveat: in a later test, I got 132 MB/s and 116 MB/s using USB 3.0 while I actually had quite a bit running on my computer, so it’s plenty fast for what it is…I guess these tests still just aren’t the most steady in a real-world environment. And becuase of the arbitrary nature of these speed tests, I'm not even going to post Blackmagic Disk Speed Tests.

 

THE EV SYSTEM

A nice feature of G-Tech’s ev system is that any hard drive with the system is compatible with other products in the lineup. One can take the hard drive out of the ATC and plug it directly into the ev Studio at home. It’s a nice convenience that rewards those that implement the product line across their workflow.

 

DURABILITY

This is the fun part. Two-meter drop test? Water buoyancy? I’ve always wanted to test products that claim protection against these kinds of things. I like the idea of trying to prove them wrong. I wrote Brian (a marketing guy working for G-Technology and who hooked me up with the G-Drive ev ATC) asking if there are any “rules” I should follow. He said, “There aren’t any formal rules, but as I’m sure you will, please just keep in mind how the features are described.” Don’t worry…I kept them in mind while I somewhat ignored them. He also said, “Feel free to keep going as you see fit.” And I saw fit.

 

Promised features:

 

  • Water Dunking/Floating for up to 30 seconds at up to one foot or 0.3 meters
  • Two-meter (6.6-foot) shock protection onto carpeted concrete
  • Dust resistance
  • Pressure resistance

 

I have some fun with this drive (and off camera, a tad more, even). But I did put it through a little more than what a hard drive would normally go through.

In a world in which we’re quite accustomed to hearing about “-proofing” things (waterproofing, soundproofing, scratch-proofing, etc.), it may be hard, at first, to ‘merely’ see “resistance” in those descriptions. But it’s also important to weigh tradeoffs and design limits with respect to what a hard drive actually needs to be able to accomplish in any real-world scenario. To that extent, this drive is flawless.

You might drop a hard drive from sitting in your car (or from the roof of your car). It might fall overboard from a boat. It might drop down into a sandy shore at the beach on location. But you’re not going to be chucking it from the top of Mount Everest to deliver files to basecamp more quickly. So without any absurdities, this drive is exactly what you need, and even just a little more.

 

COMPLAINTS

While relatively pleased, I do have a few complaints. Anyone can make a hard drive these days. It’s just a question of speed, performance, reliability, and durability. With G-Tech, we already know these drives perform and are reliable. So we have to be a bit picky with the other stuff, since the differentiator with hard drives in such a saturated market today lies in their slight imperfections as opposed to what they might excels at. With the exception of the first complaint, each is offset by an “Okay, this makes sense” reason behind it.

First, the Thunderbolt cable has a blue, rubber/plastic cover over it. It’s attached with a permanent loop around the cable so you don’t loose it when it’s off of the port (so you can plug the cable into your computer). But the blue rubber/plastic seems awfully thin and fragile. I can pull a great deal on it without it breaking, but it already stretched out quite a bit; and I’m afraid for the longevity of the drive case’s Thunderbolt cable cover.

The soft rubber also proved to not create the greatest seal against water (at least when pushing the boundaries of the water resistance features), but that’s alright, partially, because no one should have an issue after simply letting the port dry out properly before use. Okay for long-term use – not so much for coming in from the surf. But again, let’s focus on need vs. want. It still provides a decent amount of otherwise-absent protection.

My last complaint with the Thunderbolt cable is that it’s a bit short for comfortable use while the laptop is on your lap. In other words: best used on a desk, not in the backseat of a car, or in bed (yes, I’m one of those people that zaps my brain cells while working late with blue LCD light every night, usually to write a post like this). And G-Technology can’t even do much about it, because there’s not much more room for the cable to wrap around the case without it running into the latches and seals that keep it durable. So if you’re on the go, I recommend taking the internal portable drive out and using it with the USB 3.0 cable.

On the smaller, encompassed, G-Drive ev RaW, the SATA port is uncovered. There’s no way to protect or seal it from the elements when it’s out of the ATC. However, one is likely to only take it out while transferring files to and from the computer in various circumstances, but not so much in the field or in trying conditions, so this likely just doesn’t matter.

My last issue is with the price of the drive. G-Technology isn’t cheap because quality doesn’t come cheap. But at $229.95, the drive is a bit too expensive for me to jump aboard and get a few. Yes, the protection is likely best-in-class. So if it’s that important to you, this is the answer. But you’re not paying that huge sum just for the extra protection. The USB 3.0-only version is “only” $179.95. So you’re paying an extra $50 for a built-in Thunderbolt cable that, in my tests, was certainly faster, but not by much at all than its USB 3.0 counterpart.

Also, while the difference is negligible, the heavier, standard G-Drive ev at $139.95 (but without the ATC, of course) is promised to be 4 MB/s faster, even, than the G-Drive ev RaW (140 MB/s vs. 136 MB/s – although I easily got 138/139 MB/s peaks with the RaW). That makes sense, as these are all the same 2.5” 1TB 7200RPM hard drives. And a $30 increase for greater shock protection makes perfect sense. My only point with all of this is that I'm realizing something more and more even as I write: I just can’t currently argue for Thunderbolt one bit with these prices as they stand.

 

RECOMMENDATION

The G-Drive ev ATC is great. It really is. I have all of my Seagate, Western Digital, and Drobo Mini hard drives snuggly in my bag, but not in their own cases or anything – and yes, that always worries me. I’d much rather have my traveling drives inside the ATC. It does everything promised and then some.

I love the relatively new ev system. It uses a standard technology (good ‘ol SATA) that gives good flexibility while allowing you to put your hard drives in whatever even-larger enclosure or multi-bay setup you have from the rest of the ev lineup. It’s just a great way to work with your data if you buy into the system. And since it’s coming from G-Technology, you know it’s all quality stuff.

But as I just said, don’t bother yourself with the Thunderbolt version unless you have to free up a USB port or unless you really want to put it at the end of your daisy chain. There’s just no reason to spend the extra $50 right now.

If you’re buying either of the ATC drives, you’re buying them for the ev system compatibility. And if you don’t care about that unlike myself, then just go for G-Tech’s other USB 3.0 drives, which you can get for even a little less money, albeit also without the protection. If you want ultimate reliability and durability, you’re only shot (ev or not) is the ATC system.

The G-Drive ev ATC with Thunderbolt is currently shipping from B&H for $229.95, while the USB 3.0-only version can be pre-ordered from B&H for $179.95 with shipping expected for the end of the month.

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4 Comments

Mike Wilkinson's picture

Nice review Adam!

Rudy Hardy's picture

Excellent review! Thanks

Ralph Hightower's picture

Okay, with the rule of a two meter drop onto carpeted concrete means that it possibly won't pass a DigitalRev drop test onto bare concrete or the stairway fall.

Adam Ottke's picture

No, it might not. At the end of the day, this is still a physical, now "old-fashioned" magnetic hard disk drive. If it were an SSD, things might be different, but then so would the price. For your standard HDD and without adding a ridiculous amount of bulk, I think this is pretty darn good...