The CRU DataPort ToughTech Duo from WiebeTech puts data redundancy capabilities into a surprisingly sturdy and convenient box. With 1TB spanned across two 500GB 5400-rpm drives, the ToughTech Duo uses 2.5-inch portable hard drives and eSATA and FireWire 800 connections to provide speedy data backup.

Like other drives in WiebeTech's ToughTech series, the ToughTech Duo has a ruggedized aluminum chassis that's designed to withstand vibration and shock. With no internal fan, it's also optimised for heat dissipation, with internal thermometers that can show the drives' operating temperature on the status LCD.

The two-line LCD also provides RAID status updates, disk health updates, and disk temperature updates. Using this LCD along with the four-way, soft-touch rubberised navigation circle to its right, I found navigating among the various options to be simple and fast.

The drive can lie flat, with the LCD and three status lights facing forward; or stand on its side, with the drive bays facing out and the LCD facing upward. Its back has two FireWire 400/800 ports and one combo eSATA and USB 2.0 port (sadly, no USB 3.0, but at least WiebeTech includes all cables). Also at back is a power switch, so you can turn the unit on and off manually, the switch is protected at top and bottom to prevent accidentally pushing it, a nice touch.

The unit is available as a bare chassis, or configured either with two 500GB drives (as tested) or with two 750GB drives. It ships as RAID 1 for data mirroring, but can be switched to RAID 0 for striping and speed with a few button presses. You can also use the unit in single-disk mode, although that option won't be compatible with the RAID settings if you choose one later. Setting up a new RAID 1 is simple, while rebuilding the RAID after a drive failure is just a matter of following the prompts on the two-line LCD.

Accessing the drive bays is notably easy. To remove the drive sleds, just slide the bay lock to one side, push on the other edge, and pull the sled out. The sleds support 2.5-inch, 9.5mm SATA hard drives or solid-state drives, the drives mount sans tools, which makes removal and replacement a simple affair.

The ToughTech Duo distinguishes itself with its relatively small size, it measures just 6.3 by 3.5 by 1.4 inches, and it weighs 1.65 pounds (not counting the charger, which includes adapters for use in the US, Europe, the UK, and Australia). Those specs make it small and light enough for road warriors to take along with them, and a boon for those who want the extra speed, or extra redundancy, of a RAID drive. The drive can be bus-powered as well, but only via FireWire. You'll need the power adapter for eSATA and USB 2.0.

In our tests, the ToughTech Duo compared favourably with other drives. We tested the unit over eSATA, running RAID 1. Oddly, the two 500GB drives that the company supplied us with were not identical: One was a 5400-rpm drive; the other was a 7200-rpm drive. The device, however, will be sold only with two 5400-rpm drives loaded. The inclusion of one 7200-rpm drive may have helped the performance score slightly.

On some metrics, the ToughTech Duo outperformed many drives in our field of external 3.5-inch drives as well as our field of external portable 2.5-inch drives; on others, it fell more toward the middle-of-the-pack, making it a solid all-around performer. Overall, my impression was that with RAID 1 set, performance was satisfactorily zippy for transferring files.

OUR VERDICT

The ToughTech Duo's portability, its RAID 1 and drive-monitoring capabilities, and its strong overall performance, all make the unit a terrific photographer's tool, as well as a useful tool for those who prize safeguarding their data at home, work, or on the go.

I do have a wish list, though: I'd prefer to see USB 3.0 on board in lieu of USB 2.0, plus a bus-power option for USB devices. And what would really have been nice would be a USB port with camera connectivity and flash card reader slots; having such ports and slots, along with a one touch backup feature, would have made the ToughTech Duo indispensable for media professionals.