Since the release of the early 2011 MacBook Pro, Apple has been bundling their Thunderbolt technology into all new Mac releases – a lightning-fast and daisy-chainable I/O with up to 10GB/s transfer rates. Outside of large RAID hard drive arrays and high-end video equipment, however, there haven’t been a whole lot of products built to support the new technology.
One of the newest Thunderbolt-enabled storage solutions is LaCie’s new Little Big Disk – and unlike most Thunderbolt storage devices, the LBD is small enough to carry around with you! But can the Little Big Disk really meet your storage needs? We’ll take it through its paces to find out!
The LaCie Little Big Disk is a brutally fast external drive designed to backup and store your data in the quickest and most efficient way possible, all the while maintaining a tiny footprint, and a delightful aluminum design that looks great on any desk (especially alongside Apple products).
It’s also among the more affordable Thunderbolt storage options, although it is still fairly expensive compared to USB and FireWire-based storage solutions. The LBD is available with traditional spinning storage, or with a pair of high-speed SSDs. We’ll be reviewing the 512GB SSD version.
The Little Big Disk is perhaps one of the most aptly named products I have ever seen. It’s little, because it packs a very tiny footprint and weights less than a pound and a half, yet it’s big in terms of its data transfer speeds, durability, and storage.
Among the first things I noticed when handling and getting to know the LBD is that it is surprisingly heavy for its size. 1.4 pounds isn’t much weight – but when that’s all packed into a device that measures less than 6 inches at its longest point, it feels somewhat like a brick. This is mostly due to its durable metal construction.
Designed by renowned designer Neil Poulton, the Little Big Disk is crafted from thick ribbed aluminum – and the body is made from a single chunk, much like Apple’s unibody Macs. The design is finished with a single-sheet aluminum backplate, as well as a slightly darker front cap, which houses the only button on the entire device – a power button that lights up bright blue.
The entire package ends up taking on a very minimalist look, which is surprising given the complexity of the technology packed inside this little powerhouse – a powerful cooling fan, a pair of high-speed SSDs, and Apple’s Lightning interface.
This is the fun part – and the most important part of the review! We already know that the LBD looks great, and can be stuffed in a shoulder bag, but does the LBD deliver in terms of performance? Our Little Big Disk contains a pair of 256GB SSDs, which, when used together in a striped RAID (this is how it is configured straight out of the box), pack a seriously speedy punch.
I tested the LBD on a 2012 15-inch MacBook Pro (non-Retina), with 16GB of RAM and a 2.6ghz Intel Core i7 processor. For the first round of benchmarking, I fired up one of my all time favorite app for capturing transfer speeds – Blackmagic Disk Speed Test (Mac App Store link). Using Blackmagic, the LBD consistently offered read speeds of around 700MB/s, and write speeds of around 453MB/s.
Those numbers are interesting – but what does that really mean in practical terms? I was able to transfer a single 3.75 GB file to the drive (from my MacBook;s SSD) in a mere 11.8 seconds. Copying a portion of my media collection, filled with about 75GB of music and movies, took just 3 minutes and 46 seconds.
That’s some serious speed – and it could change the way you think of backups. Thinking in terms of minutes rather than hours is a beautiful thing.
Alongside the device itself, LaCie also packs in a DVD (yes, an optical disc – they’re not extinct yet!) with Intego’s Backup Manager Pro software. The software is simple to install, and extremely easy to use, and allows you to quickly perform tasks like creating a bootable backup, cloning a drive to the Little Big Disk, and so forth. The software is painless enough to use that I almost forgot I was using third-party software at all.
Unfortunately, the fact that the software comes on a DVD means it’s potentially a pain for users of the MacBook Air, Retina MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, and future iMac models. Optical discs are dying – LaCie would have been better served to include the software on a USB disk.
Update: LaCie points out that, while the drive ships with a DVD, the software is also available to download from their website for users without optical drives.
One of the main factors in the usability of a device like the Little Big Disk is setup. Fortunately, this is one area where the LBD really shines – setup is as simple as plugging in the power adapter and plugging it into your Mac! You can also install the optional backup software from Intego, which is also simple to install, and quite straightforward to use.
Another aspect that makes the Little Big Disk an extremely valuable asset is the ability to daisy-chain Thunderbolt devices. This allows you to use the second Thunderbolt port on the LBD to power another device. I plugged in a Dell flat panel using a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter, and it worked flawlessly.
It’s also worth mentioning once more that the LBD is tiny enough to use on any desk – no need to worry for those of you with smaller working spaces. It can fit in almost any nook or cranny! Finally, there’s that all-important convenient fact that the LBD comes with its own Thunderbolt cable! This is a big deal, as most Thunderbolt products – even more expensive ones – generally don’t.
There are a few other things worth keeping in mind about the Little Big Disk. First, despite the fact that most SSD drives are silent, the LBD is not. Due to the build-in cooling fan, which runs constantly any time the device is powered on, it constantly emits a hum about half the volume of a MacBook Pro with the fans running full plast. Those of you with quiet office environments will almost certainly notice the sound.
Also, while the Little Big Disk is fairly portable on its own, the fact that it requires an external power brick makes it more of a hassle to transport. The LBD also doesn’t include any ports aside from Thunderbolt. This makes sense (it is a Thunderbolt drive after all), but it can nevertheless make it more difficult to share your data with others, who may not have Thunderbolt-enabled Macs.
While Thunderbolt has been around for well over a year now (coming up on two years), it’s still a relatively new and unprecedented standard – and it’s also pricy to add to a product. As such, Thunderbolt products come at a premium. Our 512GB SSD unit retails for $700, and the 240GB SSD goes for around. Still, for a product capable of such lightning-fast data transfers, and the amazing level of design found in the LBD, the price is definitely worth it for those that have need of such a device – such as for transferring HD video, or performing quick mission-critical backups.
The LBD is a great device. It works brilliantly, and despite the fact that it isn’t perfect, it certainly lives up to the high standard LaCie has come to be known for over the years. All things considered, I award the Little Big Disk 4 out of 5 stars.
For more information about the Little Big Disk, visit LaCie’s product page on the web. The Little Big Disk is available from a variety of retailers, including direct from LaCie, and from Newegg and B&H Photo.
- Thunderbolt cable included.
- Extremely fast file transfers – up to 700MB/S..
- Small enough to carry.
- Stylish Apple-esque aluminum construction.
- Includes an extra Thunderbolt port for daisy-chaining.
- Price (although it’s well worth it if you need the speed).
- Device is fairly noisy.
- Bundled software comes on a DVD – can be a concern for users of newer Macs.
- Lack of any ports other than Thunderbolt makes it more difficult to share files.