Any product showcasing a new and burgeoning technology has two obligations to fulfill: it must be superior on its own merits, and it must uphold the potential of new and better gadgets down the line.
These are the unfortunate burdens carried by LaCie’s Little Big Disk 240GB Thunderbolt series SSD, the first third-party solid-state drive equipped with a new Thunderbolt transfer port. It will be available through Apple’s website in late November.
Introduced in the latest line of MacBook Airs, Thunderbolt (itself a joint collaboration between Apple and Intel) enables transfer speeds at 10 gigabits per second, 20 times better than USB 2.0 and twice as potent as USB 3.0. What you do with that throughput is up to you, but to this point, your options were limited to hooking up your Mac to one of Apple’s swanky HD displays.
While the Little Big Disk SSD doesn’t blow away other external drives on functionality or price, Thunderbolt is the star here, and one can’t help but think beyond this device and what other applications may eventually benefit from its inclusion.
With this connection now standard on all new MacBook Airs, Mac Minis, iMacs, and MacBook Pros, the immediate future of Thunderbolt is not in high-def displays, but in external drives that can transfer HD movies, entire music libraries, and years of iPhoto backups in several minutes, not hours. While the Little Big Disk SSD doesn’t blow away other external drives on functionality or price, Thunderbolt is the star here, and one can’t help but think beyond this device and what other applications may eventually benefit from its inclusion.
From the design end, the Little Big Disk doesn’t look out of place in a cabal of Cupertino-produced gadgetry. With a svelte form factor that’s roughly 25 percent larger than an iPhone, the drive comes with a cushioned stand that you screw on after unboxing. It’s powered by an external adapter, which can feel clunky for those used to USB-powered drives, but at least the folks at LaCie include four different plug adapters that should cover you on international jaunts. The drive automatically turns on once you connect to wall power and plug your computer into one of the two Thunderbolt ports in the back. You’ll know it’s functioning when the bright, dime-size blue light in front illuminates like a friendlier-looking HAL 9000 clone. The light also serves as an on/off switch, should you ever want to give the constantly humming internal fan a needed respite.
As a serviceable solid-state drive, the Little Big Disk delivers, with speeds that would’ve made my USB 2.0 ports blush in shame. Transferring of a 5GB collection of MP3s to my dependable Toshiba 1TB hard drive using USB 2.0 took 3 minutes, 52 seconds. The Little Big Disk did the same work in 34 seconds flat.