Ultimately, how well do these drives perform?
Two things could immediately strike you when you look at the results of our benchmarking tests. The first is how much hard disks struggle with random reading and writing (compared to sequential read/write; SSDs are comparably good at both), which makes them fine for file storage, but suboptimal as main system drives.
Happily, it’s probably as the former that these drives will be used, so the fact that even those drives that performed much faster for large, sequential file sizes barely distinguished themselves with random read/write for small file sizes isn’t much of a differentiator here.
The other thing that should strike you, however, is that poor old FireWire – even FireWire 800 – is as comparatively sluggish as Thunderbolt is impressive.
Only one drive in this group has Thunderbolt, but its very clear spikes in the graph of data transfer rates make it instantly appealing if you need or just want very fast transfers.
The fastest speed we got out of it was 410MB/sec which, while not quite SSD speeds, is pushing towards it. Of course, this is a bestcase scenario, which you’re unlikely to see replicated much once you start filling it. And because the RAID drive is striped to get you that capacity and speed, it’s a slightly risky strategy, but it’s nevertheless impressive. This drive uses Thunderbolt 2; be clear that you’re not even saturating Thunderbolt 1 speeds here, but since it has dual Thunderbolt 2 ports it’s great for daisy-chaining.
If you’re stuck with USB 2.0 but have FireWire 800, the LaCie 2big Quadra just edges the G|RAID in speed, but there’s not much to it.
The good news is you don’t need Thunderbolt to get good speeds; even USB 3.0 can produce great results. Here too the 2big Thunderbolt 2 records the best speeds, but the G|RAID isn’t far behind. The Seagate and LaCie Porsche Design are slower, but you’re still looking at 160– 180MB/sec or so when dealing with big, contiguous files.
The Western Digital My Book for Mac proved to be most consistently the slowest (barring drives that connected over FireWire), but even here it’s not as if it’s unusable; its speeds of around 125MB/sec are perfectly practical.
4 LaCie 2big Thunderbolt 2
£799 lacie.com/uk LaCie Porsche Design
5 Desktop Drive
£200 lacie.com/uk Western Digital
6 My Book for Mac