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LaCie Little Big Disk --
Bus Powered Notebook RAID

Posted June 2nd, 2006, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

I have always loved the concept of bus powered storage. Back in June of 2005, I experimented in our lab with a bus powered "miniRAID" using two notebook enclosures literally taped together with 7200rpm Hitachi Travelstars inside. We striped our pair using Apple Disk Utility RAID function and got up to 75MB/s.

LaCie's new Little Big Disk takes my idea a step further by striping the two notebook drives in a single enclosure without requiring software. It even had cooling "fins" to address the heat issue we encountered.

What's the "Little Big" deal? It provides is fast bus powered storage in a compact size that's rugged enough to handle 300Gs during operation. It's a perfect companion for your 17" MacBook Pro or PowerBook. We tested the Little Big Disk 200GB model that featured two 7200RPM 100GB drives for a total formatted RAID set of 186GB. The key, as you will see, is to use a FireWire 800 port for maximum speed, not just for bus power.

LittleBig -- LaCie Little Big Disk 2.5" notebook drive RAID enclosure with two 7200rpm notebook drives in a striped array (RAID 0)
UltraGB+ -- Wiebetech UltraGB+ 3.5" enclosure with 300GB 7200rpm drive
miniRAID -- BareFeats Experimental bus powered notebook RAID project.
internal -- Optional Apple MacBook Pro internal 7300rpm 100GB drive
MBP17 -- 17" Apple MacBook Pro 2.16GHz Core Duo
PB17 -- 17" Apple PowerBook G4/1.67GHz (October 2005)
PB15 -- 15" Apple PowerBook G4/1.5GHz (April 2004)

The LaCie
Little Big Disk made a strong showing when we ran it on the MacBook Pro 17" and Aluminum PowerBooks with the built-in FireWire 800 port -- even compared to the fastest available internal MacBook Pro Serial ATA drive.

Though LaCie claims up to 82MB/s, we didn't see that speed when we tested with QuickBench 3.0 using 100MB block transfers. You might get that speed for smaller size file transfers that fit within the cache of the dual drives.

In summary, the Little Big Disk offers several advantages to the laptop and desktop user
a) speed -- especially when used with FireWire 800 port
b) portability and compactness -- versus 3.5" enclosure alternatives
c) durability -- notebook drives handle 300Gs during operation
d) bus power -- when used with FireWire 400 or 800
e) passive cooling -- "fins" on top, bottom and sides

Though the
Little Big Disk comes with FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 ports, we don't recommend using them. For starters, it will lose the speed advantage of being a striped RAID (as you can see in the graphs below). Plus, the USB 2.0 port requires that you use an A/C adapter.

You can't help but notice the "UltraGB+" in the graphs above. It's bus powered FireWire 800 (and USB 2.0) 3.5" enclosure from WiebeTech that we have been using for over a year to store Bare Feats test apps, sample files, test data, installers, and updaters. We even use it to boot from on occasion. For this test, we ran a 300GB Maxtor DiamondMax 10 7200rpm drive.

Though larger in size than the LaCie Little Big Disk, it can handle large capacity 3.5" 7200rpm drives (up to 500GB) and still run off bus power. (NOTE: not all 3.5" drives can run off of FireWire 400/800 bus power. Some require too much amperage to spin up. We were able to use the Hitachi 7K500 without any problems but the Seagate 7200.9 required too much juice.)

Finally, we thought you'd get a bang out of seeing our June 2005 experiment in bus powered notebook RAID. As we said, we literally taped two enclosures together and daisy-chained them with a short FW800 cable. It worked and gave us some fast times. We showed it to various manufacturers suggesting they produce such a product. Ironically, we forgot to show it to LaCie -- yet they are the first to come up with a bus powered "mini RAID." You know what they say about great minds...

We ran into some heat issues, though, with our experiment. We tried various techniques of heat spreading or heat sinking.

What was most interesting was that, on the April 2004 PowerBook G4/1.5, we achieved much higher WRITE speeds than on the October 2005 PowerBook G4/1.67 or the new 17" MacBook Pro (as you can see from the graphs below). I wonder if Apple "downgraded" the built-in FireWire 800 controller.

FirmTek Serial ATA ExpressCard/34 for the MacBook Pro

FirmTek Serial ATA CardBus for the PowerBook

Glyph Quad Interface enclosure


LaCie Online Store

Small Dog Electronics

Other World Computing (search on "LaCie")

Apple's Online Store has the Big Little Disk and many other SpecialĘDeals

Buy.com has a $10 off coupon (search on "Little Big Disk")


Wiebetech.com (UltraGB+ and SuperDriveDock+)


Small Dog Electronics (SATA enclosures, drives)

Other World Computing (memory, FireWire and SATA enclosures, drives)

TransIntl.com (memory, enclosures, drives, internal drive mounting kits)

Granite Digital (FireWire and SATA enclosures, drives, cables)

MaxUpgrades (SATA enclosures; laptop sleeves and hard cases)

MacGurus (SATA enclosures, drives, cables)

FirmTek (Cardbus and ExpressCard SATA host adapters, enclosures)

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© 2006 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster and mad scientist