Review: LaCie 320GB Big Disk Extreme
Posted May 7, 2004

We often write about the overriding principle of digital asset management in regards to networked, enterprise computing environments: keeping archived content handy, accessible, and reliably organized for future use. Granted, this matters more in complex multi-user environments than in desktop computing, simply when you start to think about the nightmare of tracking down files from long-ago projects. But even small-shop videographers and DV hobbyists have much to gain from consolidating their stored assets. And if you've ever worked with production-quality digital video, from WMV to MPEG to DV to HD, you know how much storage that can take.

The good news is, hard drives keep getting bigger and bigger. Good thing, too—I've worked with mostly 60GB hard drives over the last few years; the original Word files and artwork of about 90 percent of the last two-and-a-half years of EMedia resides on a 60GB QPS Que! FireWire drive that's sat atop my last three PCs. All those hundreds of files consume only about one-third of that drive. But my amassed video assets—from footage of two complete weddings to a bris and all the video I've shot of my son over his first five months—consumes way over 60GB, and that's not even counting the thousands of digital photographs. Needless to say, that stuff's all over the place, and I get the same pounding headache every time someone asks me to resurrect some long-forgotten item and I haven't the heart to just say no.

Enter the LaCie 320GB Big Disk Extreme. It's not the biggest hard drive out there—LaCie has 400GB and 500GB models, and we've seen multiple 400GB announcements in the last week. But it presents a tremendous amount of storage, and the perfect place to undertake the mammoth task of consolidating all these media assets. What's more, it's got FireWire 800 (aka 1394b) capability, which means something much more practical than (theoretically) double the throughput of a FireWire 400 drive. Namely, I can capture video directly to it. I've attempted to capture DV directly to 7200RPM FireWire 400 hard drives from numerous vendors on four different Pentium 4 PCs (1.5-3.0gHz) and never accomplished it without repeated hiccups and several dropped frames per minute throughout virtually every captured clip. In my experience, with both a DV camera and the hard drive on the same FireWire 400 bus, you simply can't do it. With the camcorder attached via FireWire 400 and the 7200 Big Disk hard drive on FW 800, though, it seems to work every time. And if your external hard drive is the intended final destination of your captured video, you know what a timesaver that is.

The Big Disk installs via FireWire 400 or 800 with relative ease, but the drive only ships with driver software for the Mac. What's more, if you want to take advantage of FireWire 800, you'll need a 1394b card; I used one from Orange Micro (MSRP $79). While there's no card in the box, the drive ships with all the cables you need. You'll also have to initialize and partition the disk yourself (if you desire a partition) and assign a drive letter to each partition in the Windows Disk Management Utility to make it show up.

System Requirements: Mac OS 10.2.4 or higher, Windows 2000/XP plus a 9-pin FireWire 800 PCI card for 800Mbps performance; Mac OS 9.x or higher, Windows 2000/XP plus a 6-pin FireWire 400 card for 400Mbps performance