The LaCie 5big Thunderbolt Series (£1,819 direct) is one of the largest, fastest drives we've ever reviewed. It holds a massive 20TB of space in a single RAID 0 volume, enough for many hours of HD video, and the dual Thunderbolt interface means that you can work on several HD streams at once. The 5big's prodigious capacity and speed are also useful for scientific users and database development. It's the drive to use if server-based storage is too slow, but you need the gargantuan capacities that a server would give you or your users.
Design and features
We don't normally highlight design when we're talking about desktop-class external hard drives, but LaCie's drives are an exception. Thanks to a conscious design strategy, you notice LaCie drives when they're sitting on someone's desk. The 5big is large, but its minimalist design makes it seem less bulky than other drives like the Promise Pegasus R6 and the Western Digital My Book VelociRaptor Duo.
The large backlit blue dome on the 5big's front panel tempers its imposing girth. The blue dome of light makes the aluminium block look friendlier, even though it reminds us of the supercomputer HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The drives are made to be stackable, so you can easily put 120TB of storage on your desk.
The drive's back panel has a pair of 10Gbps Thunderbolt ports, an AC adapter port, Kensington lock port, and the exhaust for the cooling fan. The Thunderbolt ports can be daisy-chained to other drives, and can pass through video to Thunderbolt-compatible displays.
The drive notably lacks a USB 3.0 or eSATA port, which means that the drive is better suited for a design studio or dev firm that already has Thunderbolt-equipped Macs and PCs. You'll have to connect older drives up to your new Mac for transfer rather than connecting the new drive up to your old Mac or PC. The 5big is pre-formatted HFS+, telegraphing the primary audience for the drive. You can of course reformat the drive as exFAT or NTFS for use on a Windows PC. It would've been nice to have a built-in power supply, as is the case with the Promise Pegasus R4, but there isn’t one here, so you'll have to find some space for the large power brick that comes with the drive.
As the name implies, the 5big comes with five populated drive bays. Each drive is on an easily-swappable sled, in case you need to physically archive the drives and their data. You can set the drive up in RAID 0,1, and JBOD configurations, but for speed and capacity, we left the drive in RAID 0 (striping) configuration. In this config, you have an insane 20TB of drive space (five 4TB drives). This is server-level capacities, and will serve the video editor, scientific data analyst, or database user well. The 20TB is enough for several decades of searchable data, especially considering that 1TB drives only became commonplace in the past half dozen years.
Even though the drive has five mechanisms, other RAID levels like RAID 5 aren't available, since all the drive management happens in Apple's Disk Utility. If you need more esoteric drive management, you'll have to find another solution.
The drive comes with Intego Backup Manager Pro on a CD, but the 5big really is overkill for use as a backup drive. In theory, you could format each of the five drives individually for a daily 4TB backup during the workweek, but we have a feeling that most users of this drive will want a 20TB bucket for active use on projects, particularly when Apple releases its upcoming Mac Pro, which won't have upgradable internal storage. A Thunderbolt cable is included in the drive's packaging. The drive comes with a standard three year warranty.
The 5big is one of the fastest drives we've tested. Its little brother, the LaCie 2big took 12 seconds to complete our drag and drop copy test, and had excellent AJA System Test numbers (320MB/sec read, 304MB/sec write). The 5big more than doubles that AJA System Test result (645MB/sec read, 677MB/sec write) and our drag and drop test was almost instantaneous – it was done in 2 seconds flat. This drive is even quicker than the 10,000rpm drive powered Western Digital My Book VelociRaptor Duo (11 seconds in our drag and drop test, 374MBps read, 343MBps write), which has one-tenth the capacity.
The LaCie 5big is currently one of the largest and fastest external hard drives we've ever tested. While it is pricey, it is an excellent solution for the type of user who needs insane amounts of storage, and considers server-side storage to be too slow for their needs.
If you're doing a lot of video/media editing, database development on the fly, or scientific analysis work on a Thunderbolt-equipped Mac or PC workstation, then the LaCie 5big is the drive we'd recommend.