LaCie Biggest FW800

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LaCie Biggest FW800
  • LaCie Biggest FW800
  • LaCie Biggest FW800
  • LaCie Biggest FW800

Pros

  • Hot-swappable drives, easily replaceable drives, supports RAID 0,1,5 and 0+1

Cons

  • FireWire 800 isn't widely available on PCs, cost per gigabyte is high, test unit wasn't recognised on Windows Vista-based PCs

Bottom Line

For those who do a lot of multimedia work and need a safe external storage solution, this unit is well-worth a look, despite a cost per gigabyte of over $2.50 when using RAID 5. We love the fact that its RAID array can be configured to our specific needs, and also the fact that drives can be easily swapped if there is a problem.

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Standing tall with four 3.5in SATA hard drives installed, LaCie's Biggest FW800 is a 1TB tower of storage that offers excellent functionality for home and small business use. It's a direct attached storage device, which means that it needs to be plugged directly into to a computer. It also has both FireWire 800 and USB 2.0 interfaces, can also work with a regular FireWire connection.

We connected the drive to a Windows XP-based PC, at which point the drive was automatically detected and installed and we were able to use it straight away. There aren't many motherboards on the market that have a FireWire 800 connection (although some Gigabyte motherboards are an exception), and our ASUS P5B Premium is one of them. Therefore, we used USB 2.0 for our tests.

LaCie has the drive set up in a RAID 5 array by default. A RAID 5 array offers striping across all four hard drives, yet uses parity data to ensure that data isn't lost if one of the drives in the array fails. The parity data is stored on each drive, which means that write performance does take a hit as the parity needs to be updated after each write. It also means that some hard drive space needs to sacrificed. As such, the total formatted capacity of the RAID 5 array is 698GB, but the peace of mind in knowing your data is secure is worth it.

Switches located on the back of the unit allow the RAID type to be conveniently changed. Apart from RAID 5, you can also choose to implement a RAID 0 or RAID 0+1 configuration quite easily. Bear in mind that changing the RAID type should be done before you start storing your data, as all data will be lost when you change the configuration. The initialisation of a new RAID array will also take a while, and the unit will beep periodically to let you know that it's still progressing. A two-line LCD display on the front of the unit keeps you apprised of the initialisation progress, and this doubles as a clock.

Testing the unit with a USB 2.0 connection in RAID 5 mode produced reliable results overall. We were able to copy data onto the drive at a rate of 15.69MBps, and also copy the data back to our test PC (which has a 150GB Western Digital Raptor hard drive) at a rate of 29.34MBps. Copying data from one location on the Biggest FW800 to another recorded a rate of 4.7MBps, which is a little slow. While its performance was reliable, the one thing we really love about the FW800 is its design. All four hard drives are hot-swappable (they can be removed and replaced without turning off the power) and each drive resides in a drawer and can be easily removed and replaced from the front of the unit. Levers are used to release and lock the drives into place, while status lights for each drive let you know if there is a problem with any of the drives. The Biggest FW800 itself is about 20cm tall and 29cm deep and sits sturdily on a desk. A powerful fan extracts warm air from the enclosure, and another smaller fan extracts warm air from its built-in power supply.

Unfortunately, we didn't have any luck testing this unit on Windows Vista-based PCs. Multiple systems were unable to recognise the drive when we plugged it in. The unit doesn't require drivers to work under Windows Vista, and LaCie's Web site didn't have any fixes for this problem. We are waiting for a replacement unit in order to conduct tests under Windows Vista and we'll update this review once those tests are complete.

In the meantime, for those of you do a lot of multimedia work and need a safe external storage solution, this unit is well-worth a look, despite a cost per gigabyte of over $2.50 when using RAID 5. We love the fact that its RAID array can be configured to our specific needs, and also the fact that drives can be easily swapped if there is a problem. However, we hope the problems we experienced when trying to use the drive on Windows Vista-based machines are limited to our test unit. We've given this product a rating of 3 stars for now, but will reconsider if our next test unit works under Vista.

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