LaCie 4Big RAID running silent

LaCie decided it must be over with noisy RAID systems and they promptly developed an external RAID disk system that is much quieter than the competition. The 4Big was designed by LaCie's house designer, Neil Poulton. It looks great, weighs in at about 7 kilograms and offers a complete RAID solution.

Due to a misunderstanding, I received the 4Big test unit four months after it left the LaCie warehouse. That gave me less time testing it, but after a week of using this RAID system, I can safely say it is one of the best RAID systems for individual and small workgroup users on the market, although I wouldn’t place it next to my ears if I were an audio or video engineer.

The 4Big has four disks in an aluminium enclosure. It has smooth looks and is sturdy and robust. The box contains a cloth bag to transport the unit, but the bag serves to protect the aluminium from scratching and is not intended to carry the 4Big by. The unit simply is too heavy for that. Inside the 4Big are four disks of 500GB, 1TB or 1.5TB. The 2TB system is the least expensive at just under 700.00 Euros. The 6TB unit costs just one Euro less than 1600.00 Euros.

The 4Big has FireWire 400, FireWire 800, eSATA and USB 2.0 connection capabilities. It is possible to hook up up to four of these beasts to a Mac or PC, but that would make for something like 30 kilos of disk on your desk, so I guess if you need that much space, you’d better buy a rack mounted system instead.

The 4Big is aimed at the high-transfer speed markets, including video-editing and audio-editing. Of course, you can use the 4Big as a backup system, a Time Machine unit, or for storing large numbers of images. The latter few uses will give you a huge headroom in terms of performance, especially when you hook up this RAID system through the eSATA port. I quickly ran a Drive Genius speed test on it, and the resulting speed was a staggering 193 MB/sec. FireWire 800 is also quite nice with speeds well above the 80 MB/sec throughput my old Power Mac usually supports.

The reason for these high throughput figures are the RAID system itself. In its default RAID setting, the 4Big is a RAID 0 unit, which is the fastest but also least secure. I also tested the unit in RAID 5 mode, which strikes a good balance between performance and security. No matter which RAID mode you select, the 4Big seems to be quite effective as a scratch disk for HD video editing, as the system can uphold the high burst rates that are needed for that type of work.

Besides RAID 0, RAID 10 and RAID 5, the 4Big can be set up to act as a RAID 5+Spare, RAID 3 and RAID 3+Spare, and concatenation.

One of the selling points LaCie focuses on with the 4Big must be its quiet operation. For this purpose, the 4Big is currently one of the few RAID enclosures that incorporate a cooling system with self-stabilising oil-pressure bearing blower technology. The ventilator inside is a German contraption with specially designed fan blades. In standby mode, this translates into a very quiet system, even when sitting right next to it. In working mode, the ventilator initially is very quiet, but it becomes louder as the temperature inside the unit builds up.

It never becomes as noisy as the average RAID system (my NetGEAR ReadyNAS NV+, that is located at 2 meters from my desk, sounded louder than the 4Big that I positioned on ear level 50 centimeters away), but people who really need whisper performance will position the 4Big at least one meter away. With eSATA cabling, this can prove to be a problem. FireWire connections are the best solution in that case—or buying a 5Big Network, although even Gigabit Ethernet won’t perhaps cut it for HD video.

To round up, I think the 4Big may be one of the best designed RAID products around, both in terms of industrial design, sound levels, performance and expandability.

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