Review – Seagate Seven USB 3 Hard Drive and LaCie d2 Thunderbolt™ 2 Desktop drive bring performance and design to product matrix.

Ever since Seagate purchased LaCie the distinctions between the two companies continue to blur. A case in point is the Seagate Sevenmm, a thin USB 3 drive with an absolutely cool case that mimics a hard drive. Normally such a design statement would be the province of LaCie, but here is Seagate rocking the form factor. We also look at the LaCie d2, a speedy and upgradable Thunderbolt desktop drive.

During the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Seagate and LaCie show off their latest products in a beautifully appointed showroom/suite in the elegant Aria hotel. This year was no exception, a new logo, new branding, and more crossover between the two lines was evident. In the past the Seagate line was function, features, refinements, and price point. Stepping across an invisible boundary suddenly you alight in the LaCie side of the room where elegant displays of all metal, design statement products adorned the white desktops, signaling that were suddenly in the province of drives for ultra-hip fashionistas quietly informing you that these aren't merely functional products, they are highly aestheticized designs that exude attitude. But don’t be fooled by their good looks, LaCie, long a player in external storage solutions also deliver on cutting-edge performance. I really did feel that I needed a shopping trip to Paris in a hurry!

The inherent question of design vs. function in electronics is based upon the fact that at the heart of all external storage devices is a set of memory chips; a hard drive with platters spinning away, or a SSD, and some sort of bridge circuit between the storage devices and the I/O port of the computer they are being attached to. Aside from those few electronic components all the rest; the color, materials, size, feel, and look are really just branding and an attempt to differentiate one's products from the competition. Of course we applaud those efforts, provided they don't negatively affect performance (think about the 20th Anniversary Mac). From an identity standpoint, LaCie products embody a uniquely French and German design statement vs. a more proletariat function and value first product line as exemplified by most other vendors. There is never a question of brand identity when you see a LaCie product.

We have a long history with LaCie, twenty plus years, and early on we were lucky enough to meet Mike Mihalik, a long-time LaCie representative, who regularly and fearlessly took joy in debunking the myths of storage for years. Enter just about any discussion or thread about storage on, Ric Ford's revered site for everything Mac, and inevitably the discussion or thread would conclude when Mihalik weighed in to correct the misconceptions. The progression of the LaCie product line has set standards, not only for design but also for performance, ruggedness, and the introduction of new features. Suffice it to say, LaCie has serious technical chops that sometimes gets overlooked in their dedication to design, a fact that Mihalik often pointed out lest we forget. When we reviewed the Seagate NAS-Pro, the OS was LaCie, as we assumed was the shiny minimalist black cube design. A couple of years ago my colleague John Mulhern III marveled at the gleaming Christofle Silver (yes, real silver) external HD. Seriously? A Christofle Silver Hard Drive? Wow! Now that’s a statement.

LaCie d2 Thunderbolt™ 2

This brings us to the LaCie d2 Thunderbolt™ 2, external desktop hard drive. The d2 offers two Thunderbolt ports and USB 3 connectivity. Finished in beautiful soft aluminum, our 6TB unit was designed for vertical operation. Powered by an AC power brick, the d2 projects a solid, consistent design statement. Its all-metal aluminum unibody case, superb attention to detail, coupled with outstanding performance force the question of should you purchase it for design or for performance? Of course the answer is both, however that beautiful design tends to cost you a bit more.

During a class at the University of the Arts I was trying to impress upon the students the importance of external storage speed. We loaded up the free and widely used BlackMagic Disk Speed Test app to demonstrate the performance of several different drive and connectivity options. And running the d2 off a semi-recent 2 year old iMac, the d2 Thunderbolt drive performance just blew every other drive we tested off the charts. The class was centered on Lightroom 5, and in an educational setting this means that the Catalog and source images must be portable, traveling on the students own storage device. Lightroom is an especially tough customer when it comes to I/O demands, and with a reasonable sized catalog, any I/O generated slowdown really impacts your workflow. Thus, having a speedy internal or external solution is critical, and probably something that most folks, don't realize until they get tired of a spinning beach ball or pizza after every command.

It doesn't matter how fast your speedy new computer or laptop is if it's connected to a bottlenecked port, which always reminds me of sitting on the 405, stuck in traffic, next to a Ferrari also stuck in traffic. With Thunderbolt 2, the d2 is certainly a Ferrari, and once you use Thunderbolt and a fast drive, you won’t go back. Even USB 3 feels a bit like molasses compared to Thunderbolt, especially with a SSD attached.

The d2 is equipped with a 7,200 rpm drive, and the included Intego® Backup Assistant for Mac®, LaCie Genie Timeline for PC, and LaCie Private-Public (protect data with AES 256-bit encryption) software suite handles backup duties with aplomb. Using the BlackMagic app the d2 had 180 MB/s read, and 250 MB/s write speeds, for a conventional single drive unit, this drive sizzles. By comparison using the same test with a LaCie Rugged 128GB SSD drive, we hit an astounding 270 MB/s write, and 377 MB/s read speeds.

One reason this review was delayed was that we were waiting on the expected arrival of a new option; The LaCie d2 SSD Upgrade card that turns the d2 into a hybrid drive with improved performance. However the SSD unit never arrived, so at press time we will leave that option of actually using and testing it off the table except to say that it's available, and you should check it out. From our brief glance at it during CES we could see its promise. It mounts as a separate volume on your desktop, so you can develop a strategy about what you want to use it’s 128gbs of storage for, that can really take advantage of its speed increase. We aren't anywhere near the option of truly affordable SSD mass storage, and a 6TB SSD would set you back more than a few bucks, so combining the two technologies makes perfect sense. This isn't a new idea; Seagate has been offering hybrid drive technologies for several years in its SSHD drive line, which we reviewed in the past. We think the LaCie D2 6TB Thunderbolt and USB 3 external desktop drive is not only a beautiful crafted design statement, its performance is state-of-the-art, so a perfect accessory for the design centric user who needs extraordinary speed for their storage needs. With a three-year professional warranty, users can rest easy. The only downside we can envision is that you might need to upgrade your wardrobe, hair, and office furnishings to match it! As a fast, elegantly designed and finished Thunderbolt storage device, the LaCie d2 Thunderbolt™ 2 drive comes highly recommended.

Seagate Sevenmm Portable Drive

The Seagate Sevenmm is a 500GB USB 3, portable external HD in a distinctive stainless steel metal case that mimics the design of the hard drive inside. Why the name Seven you ask? Because this drive is only 7 millimeters thick. Seagate's external product line is usually pretty easy to differentiate from it's new corporate addition LaCie, but not so with the Seagate Sevenmm, whose beautiful, metal case, ultra-thin design points to a new commitment to design and aesthetics. I've come to view the single most important attribute of external drives to be function. I want solid ports that don't come loose, a robust warranty, and state-of-the-art performance, after that it's all gravy. A rubber case for a drive, cool as long as it actually absorbs shocks and drops! A thin drive that easily fits in your pocket, very cool, as long as it performs, since our usage is often demanding and I/O intensive.

We are happy to report that the Seagate Sevenmm easily meets those expectations. Using USB 3, the performance is solid, and in our tests the drive proved dependable and reliable, and even included a cool little woven USB 3 cable. Naturally being speed demons we would welcome a Thunderbolt version, as well as a SSD version, but we aren't on the Seagate product design team! Hint, hint! It comes with a 3-year limited warranty, and at press time a new 750gb model has been announced. It ships with Seagate Dashboard pre-loaded on the drive. When I showed the Seven to friends they felt it would be the hard drive that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character would carry. With its metallic industrial design aesthetic, it's just that cool.

If you are looking for a small, ultra-thin form factor, housed in a tough metal case with an intriguing design, the Seagate Sevenmm  is highly recommended.

Harris Fogel, posted 7/26/15

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