The files we create on set are getting larger and larger. With 8K footage and 50+ megapixel stills becoming more common, we need fast portable drives to get our files from set to workstation and for working on the road. Caldigit have just updated their Tuff Nano NVMe drives to a 2TB Tuff Nano Plus to help alleviate this struggle.
Before we get into this review, I will disclose that this drive was provided to me by Caldigit, as with previous reviews I have done. Caldigit does not request any specific talking points or to see this review before it goes live. These thoughts are my own. Since Caldigit sent over their first Tuff HDD for me to test, I have purchased several others and switched my workflow to use these drives. Certain exceptions to this rule are when clients have provided SATA SSD or NVMe SSD drives for use on certain jobs and I will be using those as a point of comparison in this review.
What Are Tuff Drives?
Caldigit's line of Tuff drives are, for all intents and purposes, the working professional’s dream. They are certified to IP67, meaning that 30 minutes in 1 meter of water or any dust you can throw its way won’t harm the drive. On top of that, they’re drop tested to 3 meters, giving you peace of mind that if it falls from your bag or workstation, your data will be fine. The included rubber bumper (your choice of color) not only helps with falls, but plugs up the only potential point of ingress on the drive, the USB Type-C port.
Personally, I take these drives with me when I’m in the mountains of Myanmar and India for my Tattoos of Asia project or working in the quarries of Korea for Volvo Construction Equipment. Knowing that my data will be fine no matter what keeps me using these drives. Now, let’s take a look at what’s changed.
Tuff Nano Versus Tuff Nano Plus
The Plus is slightly longer than the classic Nano to accommodate the additional chips required for the 2TB of storage. The USB Type-C port has also moved to one side of the drive, presumably for the same reason. With all other portable drives I have, the port is in the middle, so muscle memory fought me for a few days when I first got this drive. It’s a small thing, though, and well worth it for the extra storage and speed.
Speaking of speed, the Plus is rated to be 33MB/s faster than its little brother because of the expanded storage. While that might seem like a lot, consider that it's only a 5% increase on the already blazingly fast 1055MB/s. In practice, however, various factors mean that no drives ever sustain their theoretical top speeds. So, let’s check out what the Tuff Nano Plus is capable of in the real world.
My test bench for these drives was a Lenovo Yoga Slim 7 with an AMD Ryzen 7 4800u, 16GB RAM, and 512GB internal NVMe SSD that was used for the real-world copy tests. A cold boot was performed and the OS was given 15 minutes to sort out any background tasks. All drives, internal and external, were trimmed before each test. The drives tested were the Tuff Nano (1TB), Tuff Nano Plus (2TB), and a Samsung T7 (2TB). Each was connected directly to the computer via its included USB Type-C cable.
I did two sets of tests in order to see where the Tuff Nano Plus fits into things. The first, theoretical, test was done with CrystalDiskMark in order to check Caldigit’s claims of speed. In PEAK mode, CystalDiskMark reported pretty much exactly the same results for both the Tuff Nano drives at around 980MB/s read and 860MB/s write. On my desktop machine, these numbers were slightly lower. This slight discrepancy is to be expected and would likely play out differently on each machine the drives are tested on.
The much more useful tests, however, are the real-world tests. These take into account the entire system, its settings, and current workload. Rather than create a perfect benchmarking system, I simply plugged the drives into both my desktop and laptop and made some transfers that I would usually make in my day-to-day work. The first test was a set of 150 raw files from the GFX 100S coming in at a total of 13.2GB. The second was a video file coming in at 20.5GB. Each was copied to and from the drives several times and the median result is given here.
The Nano and Nano Plus again scored very similarly here. The Plus edged ahead by about 3MB/s in write and 5MB/s in read, with sustained write speeds of 515MB/s for the video file and 261MB/s for the raw files. In comparison, the Samsung T7 achieved 450MB/s and 215MB/s respectively. These numbers were within 5% on both my desktop and laptop machines.
At the time of writing, I've been using the drive for almost two months on a daily basis. When it comes to actually using the drive for things like editing and small file transfers, you’re likely to really only notice the capacity difference between these drives. That’s a good thing as it means you can simply pick one for its capacity and not worry about huge performance differences.
When compared to the Samsung T7, the Tuff Nano drives are a little faster in my tests. But, again when it comes to day-to-day use, you’re not likely to notice a huge difference. Perhaps the bigger differences here lie in the Tuff Nano’s ruggedness and the fact that the rubber bumper stops them from sliding around on desks and scratching surfaces (or the drive itself).
In order to set the Tuff Nano Plus up for my own use, I copied my working folder for my Tattoos of Asia project (just over a terabyte) onto it in one go. As we know with tiny portable drives like this, thermals are always an issue and NVMe drives even more so. Admirably, the drive managed to accept 650GB of data at full speed before the thermal throttle kicked in and halved the transfer speed. Since there aren’t too many times when you’ll be throwing 1TB of data at a drive in a single write operation, this is more than ample for regular use.
If a couple of grams here and there concern you, the Tuff Nano plus is slightly heavier than its little brother, and of course featherweights like the Samsung T7. But, we're only talking a few grams here and unless you were to compare them side-by-side like I did, you'd likely never notice the weight of any of them.
There are a lot of positives to be found with the Caldigit Tuff Nano. It is fast, reliable, and ready to go the moment you take it out of the box (Windows users will need to reformat as it's prepped for MacOS out of the box). If I had to nitpick something, it's a touch larger and heavier than some other drives on the market, but only by a fraction.
What I Liked
- Fast speeds (NVMe)
- Rugged build
- Thermal throttle takes a long time to kick in
- Choice of color
What I Felt Could Be Improved
- Physically a little larger than some other 2TB drives
Where to Buy
The Tuff Nano is available from Amazon here and directly from Caldigit here.
I get that they are trying for a market niche and all but from a practical perspective I'm not buying I need for this type of drive to be tougher than the Sandisk Extreme or Extreme Pro. I don't recall a time in my life when I have dropped anything from 3 meters accidentally or into water. I don't envision working with this type of device in that type of environment ever. I have dropped the Sandisks from maybe a meter or 2 and no issues and there shouldn't be. There aren't any moving parts to jostle.
Raise your hand if you’re a photographer who spends their days climbing mountains and editing in snow storms! *crickets*
So these write fast for like 20-30 seconds then drop down to 1/2 speed? I have the Samsung 860 EVO and was going to upgrade to T7 or X5 but they all seem to slow down after a short period of sustained writing to ssd. i wanted t7 for writing cache/render files for final cut x but don't think i will get double the performance boost since these slow down.
I've seen much better performance with this drive. I wrote 650GB consecutively before it began to slow down. You're looking at much more like 20-30 minutes of sustained writing. Very few operations will ever do that.
Yes, it uses QLC memory.
I don't get all of these small drives. Why just not get a nvme case and a known reliable nvme SSD? you just pop the nvme into the case - it is not more complicated than opening a door with a key.
With all these drives my biggest gripe is that I don't know which chips they are using ... If you have bad luck you get an awful QLC drive.