It wouldn't be far off to surmise that portable hard disk drives have taken on an indispensable role as convenient file transferring tools. However, with portability, comes the increased risk of physically damaging your drive and losing data through rough use and accidental knocks, drops or shock. Freecom's ToughDrive Pro series of portable hard disk drives take a step towards addressing these issues.
Evidently, the first noticeable thing on the ToughDrive Pro ia its silicon wrapped casing. The drive is also a little larger in size than what we'd have expected for a 2.5-inch HDD casing, measuring an overall length of 155mm. This seems be attributed to the FireWire interface on our review unit. A quick check showed that its USB-only counterpart is slightly lighter and shorter.
The ToughDrive Pro's durability lies in its ability to withstand a fair amount of physical abuse, including drops of up to two meters, aided in part by the soft external silicon casing and an internal anti-shock mechanism that insulates the drive from additional shock. In all honesty, we did accidentally flick the ToughDrive Pro off the table once. There was no foreseeable damage to the external casing, and internally, our file system and data remained intact. However, we feel the integrated cable to be a design flaw. Short and rigid, it becomes an inconvenience to connect the drive to rear USB/FireWire slots, and the drive will always be left dangling most of the time. Freecom could have used retractable cables, or just feature standard connection ports, with separate cables altogether.
The ToughDrive Pro series comes in two capacities, 160GB and 250GB, with either USB 2.0 only or both USB 2.0 and FireWire-400 interface options. Our review unit happens to be the larger 250GB version with both USB and FireWire support. Standard notebook 5400rpm HDDs are used in the enclosure, and a quick benchmark of the drive showed acceptable performance, taking just under three minutes for both Read and Write tests, which were conducted by copying a sample 2GB file set to and from the ToughDrive Pro.
At the end of the day, the ToughDrive Pro's primary aim is to align itself as a rugged data backup system, further aided by a bundled data backup software, NTI Shadow. Combined with NTI Shadow, the ToughDrive Pro supports real-time simultaneous backup of data files, which include scheduled automatic backups and mirroring through source directory monitoring.
As we've seen, portable hard disk drives are a dime a plenty, but even with big names such as Western Digital and Seagate dominating the market, Freecom manages to find its own niche, promising enhanced durability for its range of portable hard disk drives. Pricing-wise, the Freecom ToughDrive Pro U & F 250GB goes for S$279 (~US$200). True, it is slightly steeper compared to similar capacity drives from Western Digital, but its robustness and multiple connectivity features are able to justify its slight premium.