External Drives Built Like a Tank

Volume 37 Number 5


Nerino J. Petro, Jr. (npetro@wisbar.org), is a legal technologist and the Practice Management Advisor for the State Bar of Wisconsin. A former practicing attorney, he blogs on legal technology and practice management issues at www.compujurist.com.

Would you like some disaster-proof hardware to protect your valuable data? Well, ioSafe bills itself as a company that provides exactly that. Its product line consists of a series of external hard drives and includes various models that are designed to be waterproof, fireproof, anti-theft—and some are even crushproof.

ioSafe external hard drives can be equipped with either traditional disk-based drives or the new solid state drives (no moving parts). All contain a single drive that, based on user needs and preferences, can be ordered with differing speeds and capacities. The company shipped me a model of each of its drives—a Solo External, a SoloPRO External and a Rugged Portable—so this review actually covers three different drives.

The first one I received was a Solo External 1.5TB drive (the original model), and as soon as I got it out of the box I realized it was built like a tank. But what’s more surprising is that it can survive both fire and flood—yes, you read that correctly. In fact, the company and others have subjected the various ioSafe models to fire, gunshots, immersion in water and being driven over by a number of vehicles (including an actual tank in one review). In each instance, the data was recoverable from the drives afterward, once they were removed from their enclosures.

The type of risk the drive protects against depends on the model—check the “Compare Models” sheet at http://iosafe.com/products—but if you don’t believe their durability claims, go to YouTube and search on ioSafe. You’ll find a number of videos showing folks doing their best to destroy these drives and their data to no avail.

Now let’s look more into specific model options.

Choices in Drives and Configurations
The Solo External and SoloPRO External drives are similar in size and appearance, and both models, equipped with traditional hard drives, weigh in at a mere 15 pounds. However, you can also get a SoloPRO equipped with an SSD instead, in which case it tips the scales at 20 pounds. Among other differences between the two models, the Solo is available with either a 1TB or 2TB drive, while the PRO is available with a single 3.5 SATA disk in 1TB, 1.5TB, 2TB or 3TB size. Also, while the Solo connects via USB 2.0, the PRO drives come with your choice of a USB 3.0 or eSATA/USB 2.0 connection. Every Solo or SoloPRO comes with a built-in anti-theft tab, allowing you to bolt it to any surface to deter theft and also to keep the drive from moving during a disaster.

The ioSafe Rugged Portable drive differs from those other models, of course, since it is meant to be portable and therefore much smaller and lighter in comparison. At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, the Rugged Portable was a Best of CES winner.

Rugged Portable drives are available with either traditional hard drives of 250GB to 1TB or SSDs of 256GB to 512GB. They’re about the size and weight of an older 3.5-inch internal hard drive, which is about an inch larger than most other modern portable drives, but a key factor about them is they come wrapped in an all-metal case machined from a solid billet of aluminum. Or, you can get one in titanium, though that’ll set you back $1,000 and some change. The aluminum model weighs in at 1 pound and the titanium at 1.5. Although not fireproof like the desktop models, the Rugged Portables include better immersion protection against water, oil, diesel and aircraft fuel and hydraulic fluid—and they are crushproof, with the titanium model crush-resistant up to 5,000 pounds. (Wow.)

All the ioSafe drives come standard with a free one-year warranty—except for the Solo, which has a three-year warranty. And as a nice bonus, all come with a year of the ioSafe Data Recovery Service (DSR), which will pay for forensic recovery of data from a damaged drive. DSR coverage under the Solo model plan covers up to $1,000 of recovery, and it goes upward from there based on the model, with up to $5,000 covered for the SoloPRO SSD and Rugged Portable SSD. (You get the opportunity to upgrade to a longer coverage period, too.)

As for the cost of the devices themselves, currently base starting prices range from $229.99 for the Solo on up to $1,249.99 for the Rugged Portable SSD. All the models are PC and Mac compatible, but if you also need Windows Server or Linux compatibility, you need to go with a SoloPRO.

The Bottom Line
Backup and data transfer times for these drives are equivalent to external drives of similar sizes and connection options and are extremely quiet. And it’s apparent that a great deal of thought went into the design and construction of these drives to physically protect against manmade and natural disasters. The company’s DSR and Advanced Replacement options offer nice additional benefits as well.

On the downside, owing to the cost of these drives, for a small office it might mean this is the only backup drive you can purchase. Ideally, ioSafe would offer a model that had two or more drives with the ability to mirror disks. The Solo and SoloPRO models also don’t include any backup software. But too often the software that’s included with external drives isn’t sufficiently feature-rich anyway, and in most instances, you’re better off using a full-featured backup product such as Rebit, Acronis TrueImage or NovaBackup.

But in addition, while the cost of ioSafe drives initially seems much higher than other external drives, one needs to take into account the extreme level of protection they provide. These are probably the best drives of their type for the money currently available. So if you’re looking for an external drive to protect your data against theft and disasters, the Solo and SoloPRO models are great options. These drives do exactly what they are designed to do and are built with quality and features that I’ve so far found unequaled elsewhere.

Scorecard With a maximum possible score of 20, here is how I rate them:

Ease of Use:
Quality of Materials:
Feature Set:
Value for Cost:
Total Score:19      



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