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Which FireWire 800 Storage Is Faster --
A pair of LaCie's d2 Extremes?
or
One LaCie Big Disk Extreme?

Originally posted August 2nd, 2004, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
Updated August 21st, 2004, with corrected dual channel results for G5.

The LaCie Big Disk Extreme has received a lot of attention. Who wouldn't want a 500GB FireWire 800 drive in one enclosure? But we don't want you to overlook the advantages of LaCie's d2 Extreme -- especially when you run a pair of them in a RAID 0 set totaling the same 500GB capacity. After all, the Big Disk is really two disks inside a single case running in HW RAID 0 configuration.

NOTE: Both the Big Disk Extreme and the d2 Extreme use the Oxford 912 bridge chip, which is reportedly superior to the Oxford 922 chip used by most FireWire 800 enclosures.

Check out the graphs, then read our conclusions.

CONCLUSIONS

1. We included three different Macs in the testing. Note that the G4 PowerBook and G4 Power Mac outperform the G5 Power Mac on sustained WRITE speed. We just wanted you to remember that the "world's fastest personal computer" is the "poorest FireWire raid platform." If you have a G5 and need fast storage, Serial ATA produces much better write speeds.

I know what you're thinking: Does the new "Rev B" G5 Power Macs overcome this deficiency? We tested the newest Dual 2.0 with the same poor results. The Dual 2.5 may be "fixed" but until we test it, we can't say. Does OS X 10.3.5 help? No.

You'll note we corrected the dual channel numbers for the G5 Power Mac on August 21st. You readers alerted me to the 100MB/s achieved by IT-Enquirer using the same dual channel setup. At first I thought they got it wrong, but I discovered by flushing all system caches, our G5's READ speed jumped from 71MB/s to 113MB/s. And the WRITE speed jumped from 64MB/s to 88MB/s. The write speed is still not as good as the G4 Power Mac or PowerBook but not as bad as we first thought.

If you want to try the cache cleaning trick, we recommend Panther Cache Cleaner.

2. For someone doing SD uncompressed video on a PowerBook, a pair of LaCie d2 Extremes would make a nice capture storage setup, but we recommend you add the second FireWire 800 channel using a PCMCIA CardBus FW800 card. If you are using a Power Mac, then you can create a second channel using a FireWire 800 PCI card.

If you are doing HD uncompressed video, you'll need at least 4 drives on 4 separate channels. In that case, we recommend NOT using a PowerBook, since it can only support 2 channel FireWire 800. As for the Power Macs, you are better off using Serial ATA if you are setting up a 4 drive, 4 channel RAID 0 capture/playback storage system.

3. A pair of LaCie d2 Extremes in a single channel RAID 0 set exhibited much higher sustained write speeds than a single Big Disk Extreme. When we put each of the d2 Extremes on its own FireWire 800 controller, they blow away the Big Disk in read and write speed. In the Finder Duplicate test, the d2 Extremes were significantly faster whether on one or two channels.

So, if speed is your thing, then the d2 Extreme RAID pair is a better choice than a single Big Disk Extreme.

The advantage of the Big Disk Extreme is the fact that it can easily be ported from one system to another without any danger of the software based RAID set being unreadable. (The RAID 0 function is handled on the enclosure's bridgeboard.) And there's one box, one cable, and one power supply to lug around.

4. Oh. One more thing. How do the pair of d2 Extremes (with their Oxford 912 bridge chip) compare to other FireWire 800 storage systems using the older Oxford 922 bridge chip? When we tested those FW800 drive enclosures in RAID pairs, the 912 based d2 Extremes had a faster WRITE speed in dual channel mode than the 922 based enclosures.

We used the same drives (Western Digital WD2500JB) in both the Oxford 922 and 912 based boxes. We tried Hitachi 7K250 drives in the 922 boxes but they still didn't write as fast as the 912 boxes.

RELATED ARTICLES

External Serial ATA solution: The Burly Box

What's The Best Serial ATA Drive To Use In A Four Drive RAID 0 Set?

How About Two Big Disk Extremes On Separate Channels?

Which is faster, CardBus FW800 or Built-in FW800?

What Makes The Best 4 Drive RAID 0 Set on a G5 -- FireWire 800? Serial ATA? or Ultra320 SCSI?

SOURCES OF TEST PRODUCTS

As indicated above, we used three different Apple Macintoshes in testing:

An Aluminum G4/1.5GHz PowerBook using built-in FW800 port and LaCie FW800 PCMCIA CardBus card.

A G4/1.42GHz MP Power Mac using built-in FW800 port and LaCie FW800 PCI card.

A G5/2.0GHz MP Power Mac using built-in FW800 port and LaCie FW800 PCI card.

The FireWire 800 enclosures tested included:

A pair of 250GB LaCie d2 Extreme FireWire 800 hard drives/enclosures (both with Western Digital WD2500JB drives)

A 500GB LaCie Big Disk Extreme (contains two WD2500JB drives in a HW RAID 0 configuration)

A pair of Oxford 922 based FireWire 800 enclosures from an unnamed source (to protect the innocent) each with a WD2500JB drive

If you are shopping for FireWire 800 products, be sure to check pricing and availability at the following websites:

FWDepot (enclosures, PCI controllers, CardBus controllers, RAID boxes)

Granite Digital (enclosures, RAID boxes, PCI controllers, cables)

LaCie (enclosures with drives, PCI controllers, CardBus controllers)

MacGurus.com (drives, enclosures, RAID boxes)

Other World Computing (drives, enclosures, PCI controllers, CardBus controllers)

TransIntl (drives, enclosures)

Wiebetech (enclosures - with or without drives, PCI controllers)

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2004 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster and mad scientist