Review – Big Disk d2 USB 2.0 & FireWire 800 Hard Drive

Big Disk d2 USB 2.0 & FireWire 800 Hard Drive
Company: LaCie, Inc.

Price: $449-$1099

LaCie, the hardware vendor with that funny French name (it means “the company”) has come out with a series of capacious hard drives that use the new FireWire 800 standard.

The Weeks division of labs spent several days with a review unit, and came away with some interesting conclusions about FireWire 800. Friend and fellow reviewer John Nemerovski opened the Big Disk d2 shipping box with me. If you put any stock in first impressions, you’ll be a big fan of the d2 drive. The sleekly gorgeous hard drive enclosure is brushed aluminum, and it has a great tactile, non-skid feeling. Even if you have sweaty palms after paying the (expensive) purchase price for this baby, its grippy feel will prevent you from dropping it. Appearance and Setup

Use both hands, and make sure you observe OSHA lifting guidelines when you handle the d2, as it is HEAVY. This is just the opposite of the featherweight Weibe Tech and SmartDisk drives we have reviewed in the past. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to take the LaCie drive to work to see how well it functions as a wheel chock for a Boeing 757; that report will include a detailed analysis of LaCie’s warranty repair coverage.

The unit is large, but not bulky, measuring 6.3 x 6.8 x 1.7 in.

Once Nemo got over his initial “WOW,” and came down from the ceiling, we connected it to my dual 1.42 Power Macintosh. You won’t have to run out to your local Mac dealer, as everything is included. The d2 ships with a FireWire 800 to 800cable, a 400 to 800 cable (for use with Macs without FireWire 800) and a USB 2.0 cable for PC owners. Also included is a nice stand that lets you position the d2 standing up on its side.

The power button is a cool fluorescent blue color, and it throbs sensually as the drive inside spins up. The unit has no internal fan, and it did not run hot during testing. How big is Big?

The second surprise was the storage capacity of the drive. MyMac Labs had been expecting a 200 or 250 GB drive, as that’s all the product literature mentions. When our drive icon mounted on the Desktop, and proudly proclaimed itself as “Big Disk 391” Nemo hit the roof again. 391 gigs unformatted comes out to just over 372 GB formatted. To put this amount of space into perspective, my MP collection of 1600+ tunes uses 29.5 GB. My collection of 1150 digital photos uses 3.7 GB. The video of “The Matrix” uses 7.4 GB. 60 minutes of raw digital video streams take 13 GB. “Big Disk” is the right name, especially the capacious 400 GB model.

I don’t even want to think about losing 400 GB of important data due to a disk crash. The horror, the horror…. Fail to back up at your peril. How many floppies would it take?

There are other high-capacity hard drives for sale, but not many others include both FireWire 800 and USB 2.0. A substantial part of the price of this expensive unit must be attributable to the new FireWire 800 interface. How does it perform; it is twice as fast? Performance

The original FireWire 400 specification says the maximum transfer speed is 400 Mbps (megabits per second, not megabytes per second). Some of the fastest hard drives can bump up against this ceiling. FireWire 800’s doubling of the maximum transfer speed will provide more “headroom” for fast drives, especially RAID arrays. The drive mechanism shipped with the Big Disk 400 would be constrained by a FireWire 400 interface. But the average user will NOT see transfer times cut in half. If you copy zillions of small files from disk to disk, the file system overhead will reduce your effective transfer rate. In contrast, if you move small number of huge files, there is less overhead, and you’ll make better use of FireWire 800’s speed.

Even if you don’t have the fastest Macintosh, you’ll find that a faster hard drive will often improve your computing experience, as slow hard drives result in long boot times, slow application startups, and generally lackadaisical performance. A fast drive can seem like your Mac has a new lease on life. readers are not the sort to read page upon page of benchmarks, so I’ll only quote a few statistics from the XBench benchmarking application, and a few practical tests. The numbers

Results 88.66
System Info

Xbench Version 1.0
System Version 10.2.6
Physical RAM 1024 MB
Model PowerMac3,6
Processor PowerPC G4x2 @ 1.42 GHz
Version 7455 (Apollo) v3.3
L1 Cache 32K (instruction), 32K (data)
L2 Cache 256K @ 1417 MHz
L3 Cache 2048K @ 237 MHz
Bus Frequency 167 MHz
Video Card ATY,RV250
Drive Type LaCie Big Disk G372

Disk Test 88.66
Sequential 82.34

Uncached Write110.29 48.12 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 111.90 45.53 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 49.12 7.74 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 97.86 42.22 MB/sec [256K blocks] Random 96.03
Uncached Write 91.48 1.38 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Write 101.00 23.17 MB/sec [256K blocks]
Uncached Read 85.68 0.56 MB/sec [4K blocks]
Uncached Read 109.30 21.42 MB/sec [256K blocks]

For comparison, here are the same test numbers on an AcomData external Firewire 400 drive, an inexpensive external drive.

Disk Test 80.17 Sequential 69.05 Uncached Write 70.58 28.71 MB/sec [256K blocks] Uncached Read 77.47 33.42 MB/sec [256K blocks] Uncached Write 93.87 21.53 MB/sec [256K blocks] Uncached Read 92.92 18.21 MB/sec [256K blocks] (End of benchmarks page)

Clearly, the Big Disk is substantially faster in these synthetic test than the garden-variety FireWire 400 drive. But Mark Twain said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” How does LaCie’s d2 Big Disk perform in real life?

My iTunes Music folder has 5,102 MP3’s and is 29.76 GB. I copied it from my internal drive, a Maxtor 200 GB drive with 8 MB cache, to the Big Disk, and then to the Acom Data FireWire 400 disk.

12 min 34 seconds to copy the Music folder to the Big Disk. 18 min 20 seconds to copy the Music folder to the AcomData drive.

My Virtual PC 6 hard drive container file is 796 MB.

29 seconds to copy to the Big Disk 29 seconds to copy it to the AcomData drive

I then duplicated the 796 MB VPC 6 file on each drive.

37 seconds to duplicate it on the Big Disk 56 seconds to duplicate it on the AcomData drive. So, some operations were faster, and some were not. Conversations with La Cie technical expert Mike Mihalik corroborate this. Many factors affect disk read, write, and transfer speed. My overall impression of the Big Disk performance in day-to-day operation is that it feels faster most of the time, especially when copying lots of large files.

Conclusion The d2 Big Disk provides a staggering amount of storage space. The 500 GB model should be able to accommodate your files for the rest of your natural life!

The FireWire 800 ability will provide faster disk operation for most (but not all) disk activities. Since Apple is shipping most new Macs with FireWire 800 as standard equipment, an investment in this drive will last into the future. You pay a premium price for the Big Disk, but you get a product from a reputable vendor that stand behind its products, FireWire 400, 800 and USB 2.0, and great styling. The hype behind FireWire 800 is typically overstated: claims may not reach the theoretical limits, but that’s normal. The LaCie drive is faster for most operation most of the time.


Pricey, but worth it.

MacMice Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Nemo’s comments

I have more experience testing, reviewing, and using FireWire external drives than do most people on the planet. I know a fine product when I see one, and I have tremendous respect for companies that go the extra distance and expense to deliver a first class out-of-box experience. My G3 iMac 400 DV is no match for David’s new monster G4, but within a few minutes of using this LaCie evaluation unit I began to take for granted its excellent design and speed. Quantitative tests are almost irrelevant at G3/FireWire400 transfer speeds, yet I sensed Big Disk moving everything faster and opening all files more quickly than any previous drives that passed through labs.

To reiterate and expand on David’s well-considered comments above:

* Cost, weight, and capacity are massive, but desktop footprint is modest when Big Disk stands on its perfectly balanced metal footplate. Use it!

* Remember when 1GB seemed like so much hard disk space you could fill it with years’ worth of multimedia files? Big Disk does contain a lot of storage, but you will soon fill it simply because you’ll feel the need to do so. Start saving!

* Ingenuity, versatility, and style add value to this single-purpose product; if those attributes matter to you, then the extra $$$ involved will be justified. Otherwise, wait for something cheaper later in the FireWire 800 product cycle. * LaCie doesn’t make many clunkers. Their goal is to be the industry standard in each category of hardware they enter. With few exceptions, Nemo considers LaCie products “best of class” in head to head comparisons. Just like David, I’ll find countless uses for LaCie’s d2 Big Disk until the eventual day when FedEx pulls our evaluation unit from my pleading arms. Highly recommended, rated at:

MacMice Rating: 5 out of 5
Fantastic product! Well worth your money and investment.

— David Weeks MyMac columnist and reviewer

John Nemerovski

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