When Apple refreshed its MacBook Pro line over the summer, it became the first notebook maker to include Intel's new Light Peak transfer technology, otherwise known as Thunderbolt. Too bad there were no peripherals to take advantage of its 190 MBps theoretical throughput. LaCie's Little Big Disk, an external hard drive, is the first accessory that uses the Thunderbolt port, but is this $399 device--$899 as configured with dual SSDs--really worth its high price?
Designed by Neil Poulton, the all-aluminum casing of the Little Big Disk feels like it can take a serious beating. Its minimalist look matches up well with the latest MacsBook Pros and MacBook Airs; the only splash of color is a big blue power button that lights up when data is being transferred. While the drive has a small fan, ridges in the exterior of the case also act as a passive cooling system. On the back of the drive are two Thunderbolt ports, a Kensington Lock slot, and a port for power--the Little Big Disk needs to be plugged in to work.
Measuring 5.5 x 3.3 x 1.6 inches and weighing 1.4 pounds, the Little Big Disk feels like a brick. This is not a peripheral you'll want to travel with much. The drive also comes with a small aluminum foot that must be attached with screws using the included hex wrench.
Unfortunately, the Little Big Disk doesn't come with a Thunderbolt cable. You'll have to buy this $49 accessory separately.
To test the Little Big Disk, we connected it to a 15-inch MacBook Pro. We then timed how long it took to copy a 5GB folder of multimedia to and from the drive, as well as a 3GB ISO file. We then repeated the test with a 7,200-rpm Seagate FreeAgent Go drive connected to the Mac via USB 2.0.
The results were pretty dramatic. Writing the 5GB folder to the Little Big Disk took just 55 seconds, a rate of 92.5 MBps. By comparison, writing the same folder to the Seagate drive took 3 minutes and 18 seconds, a rate of 25.7 MBps. The USB 3.0 average for external hard drives is 44.9 MBps, so Thunderbolt provides more than double the performance.
We saw a similar spread with a 3GB ISO file. We copied it to the Little Big Disk in just 31 seconds, a rate of 99.1 MBps. Even better, we were able to copy it back to the MacBook Pro in the same amount of time: 31 seconds. The Seagate drive took a longer 1 minute and 42 seconds to write the file and 1:30 to read it.
What does that mean in real-world terms? Using the Time Machine utility, we backed up 42.2GB of files on the MacBook Pro in 24 minutes and 26 seconds. That's impressively fast, and plenty of incentive for users to back up more.
Our review unit of the Little Big Disk came with dual 120GB Intel SSDs in a RAID 0 configuration and costs an exorbitant $899. Those without trust funds will be able to purchase the Little Big Disk with either a 1TB, 7,200-rpm drive for $399 or a 2TB, 5,400-rpm drive for $499.
While we've concentrated on its throughput speeds, Thunderbolt can be daisy-chained with up to six devices, including the 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display ($999), making the Little Big Disk a bit more versatile than its USB counterparts. Still, $899 is a lot to pony up for a first-gen technology--and that doesn't even include the cable. But for those who need to back up massive amounts of data, the Little Big Disk could be priceless.