LaCie 4big: The Enthusiast Data Jukebox

Some Issues To Start

Unfortunately, we had to solve a few issues before we could start testing the 4big Quadra. These issues are not directly related to LaCie’s product, but rather ones that will appear with all storage hard drives that exceed 2 TB capacity—they represent the next capacity barrier that has to be brought down.

The 2 TB Limit

Use GPT instead of MBR to enable partition sizes of over 2 TB in Windows Vista.

You might not be aware of it, but all of the storage companies certainly are, as this is a major issue for upgrade users. Many operating systems, including Windows XP and Windows Vista pre-SP1 aren’t able to address more than 2 TB per partition. The reason for this limitation is the Master Boot Record or MBR, which was laid out for 32-bit systems. A 512-byte block size times 232 limits the total capacity to 2 TB. As a result, the partition identifier had to be modified in order to allow users to create partitions larger than 2 TB.

The solution is called GPT or GUID Partition Table, which is part of the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) that was proposed as a replacement to the traditional system BIOS. It is based on logical block addressing and supports up to 128 partitions per drive, while the traditional MBR is limited to four. GPT is also more secure, as its header and partition table are written both at the beginning and the end of the storage medium, for redundancy.

GPT is available on practically all 64-bit systems currently available today, such as Windows XP x64. Most 32-bit OSes do not support it; exceptions are the 32-bit versions of Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 and up, and Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 and up. In these cases, GPT support was added to the operating system.

There is one other way around the 2 TB limit, though. You can use your operating system’s RAID capabilities to take various partitions of up to 2 TB and merge them into a massive RAID array.

Controller Limits

In addition to the partitioning issue, many controllers may also not be able to support large partitions. We first used a Promise FastTrak TX4310, which sometimes only displayed 1.7 TB, and sometimes didn’t recognize the 4big Quadra drive at all. Clearly, it is important to use a modern mass storage controller to be able to handle large partitions. We switched to an on-board Intel ICH10R, which is part of the test system we used for this review.

Benchmark Limits

Finally, our good old h2benchw benchmark, which was written by c’t magazine’s Harald Bögeholz in Germany, also terminated before starting any test run with a short message: “*** drive too large”. So much for benchmarking a storage device that offers an impressive capacity. Fortunately, there will be an updated version of the benchmark, which will be capable of handling GPT and partitions that will not limit anyone in many years. According to our information, the maximum currently is 18 Exabytes (EB) or 18,000,000 TB. Before we reach this we will hit the Windows limits of 256 TB per partition and per drive.

In all, we had to switch from our storage reference system to a different platform with ICH10R, and we had to swap h2benchw with HDTach.