Reviewing an external hard drive is not generally very interesting. The best ones are no-frills, empty drives. Since you cannot test long-term reliability in the short term, the feature that matters most is effectively un-testable.

The ioSafe drives are good external hard drives. They come in attractive packages for reasonable prices (about $250 for the 1TB SoloPro, and $160 for the 500GB Rugged Portable), and have plenty of space for backing up your client files. They also leave out the crapware that tends to come with external hard drives.

Ending the review there, however, would utterly fail to do justice to the ioSafe drives. Unlike a regular drive, these are built to protect your data from the kind of abuse that would turn a regular drive into a pile of particles.

Here is a closer look at the first drives you might be able to trust with your most-important data—without a secondary backup.

ioSafe SoloPro

The SoloPro is ioSafe’s flagship external hard drive. You can definitely find less-expensive (and much smaller) 1 terabyte external hard drives (the Western Digital Elements, for example), but you will notice why the SoloPro is different the moment you pick up the box. It is the size of a small computer, and it weighs a hefty 15 pounds. That’s because you can run it over with an earth mover, drop a building on it, chuck it in a pond for over a week, and use it as cover in a gunfight. I’m not kidding, either. Click this link to see the kind of abuse this thing has been subjected to.

And it’s still a very reasonable $250.

After such a series of unfortunate events, of course, it may be difficult to plug in a USB cable, which is why ioSafe also bundles 1 year of data recovery service with with its drives. You just send off your mangled drive unit, and ioSafe will get the data off the disc for you.

In other words, in the event of catastrophe, this is the hard drive you want to have in your office. It will survive long after your computer has been reduced to high tech rubble. It even comes with a tab so you can bolt it to the floor, in case you expect stronger-than-average thieves (regular-strength thieves aren’t likely to want to haul this thing to the getaway card).

ioSafe Rugged Portable

The Rugged Portable is still a bit bigger and heavier than, say, a Western Digital Passport, but like its bigger brother, that’s because it can take a beating. Just not quite as much of a beating as its bigger brother. No torching it, for example, and you will have to drop smaller buildings on it if it is going to survives. And it is small enough—and light enough—to fit in your bag or briefcase.

In other words, if you are going to drop a portable hard drive with your trial materials on it in a snowbank on the way to court, this is the one you’ll want to drop. Like the SoloPro, it also includes a year of data recovery service in the purchase price for a very reasonable $160.

Should you pay the premium for more durable backup?

The SoloPro is about $120 more than a non-rugged external hard drive like the Western Digital Elements 1TB. The Rugged Portable is about $40 more than the Western Digital Passport 500GB. Of course, those drives may not survive a drop, while the SoloPro should survive an earthquake, a tsunami, hurricane, and asteroid strike one after another. Data recovery ain’t cheap, either, so the inclusion of data recovery—even just for a year—is a great value.

I think an extra $40 or $120 is pretty reasonable for that kind of peace of mind, especially since you will probably own an ioSafe SoloPro or Rugged Portable for years.

In fact, I think these drives might give rise to an exception to my longstanding advice to always have at least two backups in two locations (one local, one remote). I’ve posted my thoughts on this in the LAB. Visit that thread and let me know what you think (if you can’t see the thread, you just have to sign up—it’s free).


  1. Dave S. says:

    I use a seagate 500 gb external drive and backup with a 320 seagate exernal portable drive.
    Just wondering what others think if they’ve used this brand.

    Seagate Expansion 500GB Portable Hard Drive

    • Sam Glover says:

      Once you subtract the durability of the ioSafe drives, one hard drive is pretty much as good as another. The only difference is long-term durability, and as the article I linked in the first paragraph points out, it’s nearly impossible to determine which drives are the most durable.

    • Parker says:

      I usually read reviews and specs of tech products closer than most, and I think Seagate makes good data storage products. I agree with Sam that without the added durability, most hard drives seem to be about the same given that they interface the same way and are of the same speed. Among drives that are not as heavy duty as the ioSafe drives, I would go for the higher speed (RPM) as I have noticed an effect on drive speed on the overall ‘feel’ of a computer. I think you’re good as long as you have two backup locations. If one of your drives is destroyed, you still have the other. Just don’t do things like what I have heard of other people doing, for instance, storing your only backup (portable drive) in your laptop case. Not so good when the case is stolen or destroyed. Hence Sam’s advice to keep one drive on-site and the other off-site.

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