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Review: Lacie 6big Thunderbolt 3 External RAID enclosure
by Anthony Agius | Jun 1, 2017 | Comment Now
Review: Lacie 6big Thunderbolt 3 External RAID enclosure

"The 6big is horrendously expensive at $8,199 for the 48TB model, so you really must need bandwidth Thunderbolt 3 provides to justify the purchase."

$8199 AUD 48TB as tested*

> Pricing info

6-bay external hard drive enclosure • Thunderbolt 3 • USB 3.1 • RAID 0/1/5/6/10/50/60 • 48TB • 36TB • 24TB options
* Price at time of review
Loads of storage with a fast connection, but at a huge price.

Solid state drives are great, but if you need huge amounts of storage and don’t want to spend the equivalent of a small car, spinning pieces of metal still reign supreme. Lacie has taken six Seagate Enterprise NAS 3.5-inch hard drives, slapped them in a Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1 enclosure, added RAID support and called it the 6big - because there’s six drives inside and it is big. There’s a big12 too, which, you guessed it, has twelve drives inside and is also big.

This review unit was provided with 6x 8TB drives, for a raw capacity of 48TB that’ll set you back a hefty $8,199, but there is a 24TB (6x 4TB) model for $4,899 and a 36TB (6x 6TB) unit for $6,499. Considering the cost for six 8TB Seagate IronWolf NAS drives is around $2,500, that is a $5,699 premium for Thunderbolt 3, RAID and Lacie’s nice packaging. Ouch.

With six drive crunching away and generating heat, the 6big is a bit noisy for a quiet room. There’s not much Lacie could do here, but at least the 6big is good at spinning down the drives and the fan when the volume is unmounted, or after long periods of inactivity. If you’re using the 6big in an open plan office though, it’ll just mix in with existing background noise and shouldn’t be a problem.

The actual capacity of the 6big depends on how you configure the RAID array. This is all done via Lacie’s RAID Manager app, which provides RAID 0/1/5/6/10/50/60 options. Multiple RAID volumes can exist on the 6big. For example, the 6big could be configured with two drives in a RAID-0 and the remaining four drives in a RAID-10. Place your static data on the RAID-10 and use the RAID-0 as a scratch disk for Photoshop or Premiere. 

The RAID is hardware controller on the 6big itself, so if you plug the 6big into a computer it wasn’t set up on, it will maintain that RAID setting. No extra software is required to use the drive, just to configure it. The Lacie RAID manager app also handles SMART drive status reporting, rebuilding an array and firmware updates.

Thunderbolt 3 is the main attraction here, as it is the fastest external connection going around, providing up to 40 gigabits per second of bandwidth. Lacie claim that with Thunderbolt 3, sequential read speeds of 1400MB/s are possible. The 6big also supports USB 3.1, USB 3.0 and even USB 2.0. There’s even a Thunderbolt 3, USB-C and USB-C to USB-A cable in the box.

Using Blackmagic Design’s Disk Speed Test on a 2016 MacBook Pro, with the 6big configured as a six-disk RAID 0 128KB block size array and caching disabled, sequential write speeds of up to 820MB/sec and 1183MB/sec read were achieved in the 5GB speed test. That’s SSD levels of throughput, but with 48TB of storage available. That’s fast, but not quite the 1400MB/sec Lacie use in their marketing material.

What is odd however, is USB 3.1/USB 3.0 performance. Doing the same tests as with Thunderbolt 3, but using a USB 3.1 cable, on the same Mac, only managed 360MB/sec writes and 330MB/sec reads. The same Blackmagic Design Disk Speed Test, but on an iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) that only supports USB 3.0, managed similar speeds to USB 3.1 - 354MB/sec writes and 320MB/sec reads. Normally reads are faster than writes, but when using USB, the opposite is true.

For most people just wanting somewhere to store a lot of data, a NAS is the way to go. But for those who need fast access to a mountain of data, like video editors, locally attached storage is required and that’s clearly who Lacie have built the 6big for. 

With sequential write speeds of over 800MB/sec, the 6big’s forte is ingesting 4K media without dropping frames. Sequential reads of over 1200MB/sec make the 6big ideal for multicam 4K video editing without needing to transcode footage to a proxy video format. Lacie even teamed up with Pelican to provide an optional carry case for the 6big, highlighting how the primary audience for it are people wanting to capture high bandwidth video on-set. 

If you fall into this category and need something with Thunderbolt 3, well there’s not a lot of choice anyway, so your main decision is if you want 12 disks or 6 disks and what capacity disks you need. The 6big is horrendously expensive at $8,199 for the 48TB model, so you really must need bandwidth Thunderbolt 3 provides to justify the purchase.

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