The Porsche Design Mobile is a swanky, attractive drive to pair with Apple MacBooks and premium/aluminum Windows laptops, but you’ll pay a major premium per gig for the handsome shell.
WHAT WE LIKED…
- Works well with Macs and PCs
- Easy initial-format tool
- Huge capacity for a single-mechanism portable drive
- Uses reversible USB Type-C port on drive
- Includes USB Type-A and Type-C cables for system end
WHAT WE DIDN’T…
- Expensive on a per-gigabyte basis
- Software bundle is disjointed, and easily replicated via freeware
The world of mobile, portable PC storage tends to evolve much more slowly than what happens on the desktop side of things.
For example, though 3.5-inch desktop hard drives reached 4-terabyte (4TB) capacities many, many moons ago, and are now breaking through to 8TB, the mobile world is just now able to offer 4TB of capacity using a single drive mechanism. You could get “sort of” 4TB portable hard drives previously, in units like the Seagate Backup Plus Fast 4TB and WD My Passport Pro. But these drives actually combined two 2TB drives inside one shell in a RAID array. That kind of arrangement was great for speed but less so for reliability, since if one drive fails, all your data is lost.
The LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive gets past that, offering 4TB of storage from a single 5,400rpm hard drive mechanism. The drive mechanism inside the silver case also appears inside the Seagate Backup Plus 4TB that we recently reviewed—no surprise because, if you recall, LaCie is now owned by Seagate. It’s also interesting to note that the Seagate version is much more budget-oriented, both in its exterior build and its price, compared to the LaCie version.
No surprise there, though. LaCie hardware has traditionally featured premium designs, often geared toward matching the look of the Apple Mac system hardware of the day, and at a prime-rib price. Nowhere is that more evident than here. This Porsche-designed LaCie drive is wrapped in a premium aluminum chassis with the fancy name and sells for $229 at 4TB, while the equivalent Seagate drive has a plastic enclosure and sells for $119. Both drives have different software and a few other differences, as well, but still, that’s quite a price difference for two drives with the same guts.
The biggest difference, and a factor that could justify the cost differential (depending on your needs) is that the LaCie drive supports system-side USB Type-C cable connections (or USB 3.1, depending on what you want to call it; see our primer on USB Type-C), as well as ordinary USB 3.0. This is a handy feature, as USB Type-C ports are starting to appear in notebooks and desktops, most notably Apple’s 2015 and 2016 versions of its MacBook (see our review of this year’s model). And it’s likely that USB Type-C ports will also be included on new Apple MacBook Pros that, potentially, may be introduced at WWDC in June 2016.
The drive has a Type-C connector on the drive end, as well…
USB Type-C is also starting to appear on some Windows laptops, too. So it’s not hard to conceive of a time in the near future when you’ll have USB Type-C on your desktop or laptop. That said, the main excitement here is around the actual plug itself. The inclusion of this new “any orientation” connector (you can insert it in either direction, unlike old USB) has no actual speed benefit, as the theoretical maximum speed of the bus is 5Gbps, the same as USB 3.0. (USB Type-C in this case employs at the core what’s known as the “USB 3.1 Gen 3.1” spec, which tops out at the same maximum transfer rate as USB 3.0. Confusing, we know.)
Two cables come with the Porsche Mobile. One has USB Type-C plugs on both ends; the other is USB Type-C on the drive end and the other end bears the bright-blue “A” connector we all recognize as standard USB 3.0 for the system-side connection. Connectors regardless, though, it’s in practical fact a USB 3.0 cable from a speed point of view, but with the ends keyed to plug in to new or old ports.
This lack of a USB 3.1 Gen 2 speed advantage is not really a negative, though. Since the Porsche Mobile 4TB is a spinning-platter drive, you don’t reallyneed anything beyond USB 3.1 Gen 1, since hard drives are generally slow and don’t come close to saturating the USB 3.0 bus. A solid-state drive (SSD) might benefit from the doubling of bandwidth, but not a drive with a sluggish 5,400rpm spindle speed like this one. Take the LaCie Chrome, a pricey external RAID-configured multi-SSD unit we saw previewed at CES 2016; it supports USB 3.1 Gen 2 and is the kind of hardware that would, in theory, actually benefit from the Gen 2 support. But expect to pay several multiples in price for that 1TB drive versus the Porsche we’re reviewing here.
Still, having both cable types on hand is convenient, since most PCs have typical Type-A USB ports but the Apple MacBook and a few other newbies, like the HP EliteBook Folio G1, have only the C type. So you’ll have to use a drive like this to connect to the emerging latter machines unless you buy an adapter. As mentioned, LaCie drives tend to cater to Mac users more than PC people, and since the Porsche Design Mobile drive is dressed up to look like a Mac accessory in the first place, this marriage makes sense. Just realize you won’t see any speed improvements by using one interface versus the other. (In fairness, the same argument is true for drives with a Thunderbolt interface. Spinning-platter drives can be attached to any modern interface, and the specific interface really won’t affect performance much.)
As for the drive itself, it’s rather thick due to the 4TB capacity and the extra platters in the mechanism inside. But that’s typical of 4TB of storage in any portable drive: Chunky’s the norm. The chassis is 3.3 inches wide by 5 inches long, and 0.8 inch thick, and the whole works weighs 6.8 ounces. It doesn’t feeloverly light, but LaCie kept the weight down somewhat with its use of an aluminum chassis.
The exterior is as minimal as they come, a solid brick in both look and feel, with just a teeny white activity LED next to the USB Type-C connector. The drive ships with the requisite software pre-installed on the drive itself and includes a two-year warranty. When you first connect the drive, a one-time utility on the drive asks you to format it most appropriately for the platform(s) you’ll be using it on, Mac OS X and/or Windows. (More on that in a moment.)
If you’re reading this and the design appeals to you, but don’t think you need a full 4TB of storage, realize that the drive will also be available from LaCie in lesser 2TB and 1TB capacities. The chassis is the same length and width, but only half as thick, like so…
That’s the 4TB unit on the bottom.
The 1TB drive will sell for $109, and the 2TB model, $149. Here, you can see the Porsche family drives arrayed, with a low-capacity Porsche Design Mobile drive up top, the 4TB Mobile in the middle, and a Porsche Design Desktop unit at bottom, for size comparison’s sake.
When you first take the LaCie drive out of the box and plug it in, you’re met with a unique piece of software that allows you to format the drive according to the operating system that will be used on your computers.
For example, you can split the drive capacity down the middle, with half available for a Mac, and the other half for Windows. Or you can allocate it any way you like, including making the entire drive for Windows with NTFS or for any OS including Mac, Linux, and Windows with FAT32. It’s a handy initial step that gets the drive in the right state for your install environment, without wrangling with the minutiae of, say, the Windows Disk Management utility. One thing that struck us as curious though, and it’ll come into play a bit later, was at the bottom of the LaCie Setup Assistant Window, where it describes the NTFS file format as suitable for “Windows XP, Vista, and 7.” Uh, what about Windows 8, which came out in 2012, or Windows 10? We thought it was odd that the software wasn’t updated to mention these OSes, but more on that later.
Once the drive has been partitioned and formatted, you can choose to install the included software according to which OS you are using. For Macs, you get the Intego Backup Assistant and a suite called LaCie Desktop Manager. For PCs, the loadout is Genie Timeline (for backups) and LaCie Desktop Manager. Both PC and Mac users can also choose to download the now-optional LaCie Public-Private software, which used to be bundled with the company’s drives but is now download-only. Mac users will tend to rely on Apple’s Time Machine for backups, so we installed all the software on our PC for evaluation. We liked how the bundle covers both data backup and data protection/privacy, but we had some concerns. Let’s run through it.
The backup software that’s included for PCs is named Genie Timeline, and it’s old. How do we know? Because at the top of the program it says “Genie Timeline Free 2012.”
Curious about the software, we Googled and found it’s free to download for anyone, so the included version here isn’t much of a value-add, nor in keeping with the premium-price nature of the drive. In an ironic twist, the free version we could download was labeled 2016, so the version LaCie provided on the drive wasn’t even the latest. If you want to check out the software, it’s available via LaCie’s support page. To be fair, when we first started the software it asked us to update, but we ignored the taskbar pop-up and then found there was no way to manually update the software, or change the update interval to anything less than one week.
That criticism aside, Genie Timeline is easy to use. Still, know that this is a limited-use freebie; the free version of the software included with the Porsche Design is totally functional for backups, but when you try to modify certain parameters of the program, it prompts you to upgrade to either the Pro or Home version.
For one thing, you can’t schedule backups to occur at certain times unless you upgrade. You also can’t change the backup interval from eight hours, or receive e-mail notifications. Those are all features that cost more money. The fact that users don’t get a full (or fuller) version of this software after spending a good bit extra for this drive in any of its capacities is disappointing. Further, we downloaded the latest free copy of Genie Timeline from Genie9 and found it didn’t have all the same limitations. For example, we were able to adjust the backup interval to 30 minutes, as opposed to the eight-hour fixed interval that the included software was pinned at.
Those criticisms aside, in its free version Timeline does have some good features. By default, it will let you select which folders to back up, including the usual suspects of Music, Desktop, and My Documents. You can also select individual files.
Once a backup plan is in place, the application gives you very detailed information on the backup process, including telling you if the files you selected are 100 percent backed up, when the last backup took place, and when the next backup is due to happen. All good information, and we wish more backup utilities were this clear and forthcoming about the backup process.
You can also easily restore items, either to their original location or a new location. It takes a few clicks and boom, your files are back where you want them. It’s simple and satisfying to use this feature.
One more aside about Genie Timeline: In the app are links to Twitter and Facebook for the company, and though the company is tweeting, its last Facebook post was in November of 2015. That reinforced our surprise to buy a drive with such a cutting-edge design, but then see such old software included. Given that the drive costs top dollar, its core program for backup duties on Windows PCs being four-year-old freeware was a more than a bit ho-hum.
We won’t get too deep into the LaCie Desktop Manager software, simply because wecan’t. Pretty much all it does is allow you to set a time to spin down the drive’s platters to save energy. We’re not too keen on clutter in our system tray, so we wonder why LaCie included it. Do we really need a stand-alone program just to change one variable on the drive?
Finally, there’s the LaCie Public-Private software, which is a re-skinned version of TrueCrypt, an open-source encryption project that its developers abandoned a few years ago, which is probably why LaCie no longer bundles it with its drive but offers it as an optional download.
Now, TrueCrypt has been audited and is supposed to be safe, but it’s still freeware, and hasn’t been updated in ages. Still, we ran it on both Mac and PC; it worked fine, and it is simple to use. You decide on an amount of the drive you want to partition off as a “private”/encrypted partition, and it creates it for you in a few minutes.
Then, you just double-click the app to run it and enter your password, and Private-Public mounts the partition that’s hidden. Straightforward and works well, as TrueCrypt has been around for some time. But again, at the core it’s the equivalent of free software, readily available despite TrueCrypt’s warnings to not use it anymore.
In short, this drive is mostly populated with freeware or the equivalent of it. It’s a somewhat disappointing software bundle for a premium drive.
We started out our testing with Anvil’s Storage Utilities 1.1.0. The overall score reported here is derived from the Anvil test’s Read and Write scores, gathered at the test’s default setting.
The LaCie Porsche Design behaved somewhat like an actual Porsche in this test, zooming to the top of our benchmark chart and leaving the other drives choking on its exhaust. Its score of 331.8 smoked the rest of the competitive set here. It seems the five-platter design of this drive is plenty fast.
Crystal DiskMark, our next test, is a synthetic test that measures several attributes of drive performance. We use it to test both random and sequential read/write performance.
This type of test is important for a drive like this, since most of us store a lot of media on drives like this one, and that requires sequential read and writes to occur frequently. As mentioned earlier, though this drive supports both USB 3.0 and USB Type-C, there was no speed advantage to using one cable over the other, since it’s plugging into the equivalent of a USB 3.0 port at one end with either cable. That said, this drive scored well on our charts, hitting 131.9MB per second in the read test and 126.2MB per second in the writes. This is about as fast as one can expect from a USB drive with spinning platters.
Next up: PCMark 8. PCMark 8’s general tests are the gold standard among our computer tests for overall system performance, but we use the suite’s storage-benchmarking subtest for testing external hard drives. We use it to approximate how drives handle scripted tasks that occur during everyday PC operation. That includes app launches, video-conversion tasks, image imports, and more.
The LaCie Porsche Design fared quite well in this test, and it ranks as the fastest 5,400rpm drive we tested in this competitive set. The Seagate Backup Plus 4TB had a near-identical score, predictably so as it has the same 4TB hard drive mechanism inside. The only other drive to finish ahead of the LaCie drive was the HGST Touro Mobile Pro, a 7,200rpm drive we expected might be faster thanks to its spin rate. All in all, though, the LaCie drive proved its 4TB design, like that of the Backup Plus 4TB, is plenty zippy.
As you might have already concluded, our joyride with the LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive was a mixed affair. We have no complaints about the hardware. The drive is solid, fast, and very handsome. It was a somewhat jarring experience, though, to cradle the aluminum shell of this exquisitely designed drive and marvel in the luxury of it, then hit the software—really, freeware—like a big, harsh speed bump.
There’s also no integration between the software and the hardware, or across the utilities. The software just doesn’t add much value to what’s already a prime-price drive. We’d have much appreciated one piece of software that let us monitor the drive, schedule backups, and control the hidden partition from one (perhaps Porsche-themed?) front end.
That shortfall is especially acute considering that this drive costs almost double the price of the Seagate Backup Plus 4TB, which has the same basic hardware inside and much the same performance. It’s still, perhaps, the most aesthetically pleasing drive we’ve seen to pair with an Apple MacBook and its single Type-C port. But unless you’re very much sold on the ruggedness of the aluminum shell and the easy formatting routine (as well as the aesthetics of USB Type-C), save your money and buy the much less expensive Seagate drive instead. It has better software and includes 200GB of free cloud storage.