The LaCie Biggest F800 RAID (redundant array of independent disks) drive consists of four hot-swappable 250GB ATA drives stacked vertically, all contained in a sturdy aluminum casing. Each drive has its own door on the front of the drive, making it easy to swap out an individual drive. The unit doesn't require drivers, but before you can begin using it, you'll need to initialize, partition, and format the drive. If you're new to this, the included quick-install guide is well written and easy to follow. The drive supports RAID levels 0, 0+1, 5, and 5+hot spare, and you can set the level with jumper switches on the back. We opted for 5, the default setting and the most used RAID level because of its fault tolerance and fast transfer rate. With RAID 5, only 75 percent of the disk (or three of the drives) is available for file storage, because the fourth disk stores parity information that lets you reconstruct lost data should one of the drives in the array fail. When finished, we had 698GB available. The initialization process took 95 minutes, and partitioning took another 24 minutes.
The Biggest F800 comes with several types of cables, ensuring that you get the fastest connection possible with your system no matter what ports you have. In the box, there's a USB 2.0 cable, a FireWire 400 (1394a) to FireWire 800 (1394b) cable (also known as a bilingual cable), a FireWire 800 cable, and an RS-232 cable (which you can augment with the included USB-to-RS-232 adapter). LaCie's drive works with both Windows and Macintosh systems without drivers, and while it's easy to set up, we wish that it came with a printed user manual, not just one on CD. We also wish the Biggest F800 had some of the convenient features of the comparable and less expensive Buffalo TeraStation: four USB ports for daisy-chaining additional drives or a USB printer, a dedicated print server, and a Gigabit Ethernet port for seating the drive on your network, allowing multiple users to share the drive. While you can daisy-chain an additional drive to the F800 using the available USB or FireWire ports, LaCie recommends against it, for optimal drive performance.
A blue two-line LCD sits below the drive bays and lets you know the Biggest F800's status. The drive comes with a second CD that includes drivers, should you have a problem but no backup software. Since this drive seems to target one-person businesses without a network backup system, the lack of automatic-backup software strikes us as a glaring omission.
LaCie advertises the Biggest F800 as having burst data-read speeds of up to 80MB per second, but of course the rate you'll get for sustained work is lower, especially if you're not using FireWire 800. We were impressed with our test results, though. We tested the drive with both FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 connections (we didn't have a FireWire 800 test system) with the free DiskSpeed utility and found the results nearly identical, although surprisingly, the FireWire 400 was a hair faster. With FireWire 400, the Biggest F800 achieved linear read rates of 29.7MB per second and random read rates of 2.3MB per second. With USB 2.0, our linear read was 29MB per second and random read was 2.6MB per second. Those rates are fast enough for many audio and video professionals who need a larger space to work on huge files. Our only complaint with the drive is that the cooling fan is distractingly loud, which makes us want to place it in a server room, not near a desktop or a workstation.
The Biggest F800 comes with an industry-standard two-year warranty. LaCie provides phone support weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. As always, one of our gripes about LaCie is that phone support is toll based. At LaCie's technical support page, you'll find FAQs, a link for e-mail support, and tutorials.