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NAS Reviews

Introduction

lacie-5big_front_beauty.jpg

At a Glance
Product LaCie 5big Network 2 (5 TB) [301511U]
Summary 5 SATA Drive NAS with dual Gigabit Ethernet
Pros • Lots of storage for the money
• Dual Gigabit Ethernet ports for load balancing or failover
• Supports Apple Time Machine backup
• "Eco" modes to conserve energy
Cons • Performance lags far behind other current five bay NASes
• Relatively poor logging
• No RAID migration or expansion

It’s been almost two years since we reviewed the original LaCie 5big Network.  The second generation of LaCie's 5 bay NAS, named LaCie 5big Network 2, looks virtually identical from the front, but the inside components have been beefed up with a newer, faster processor and more RAM. 

Also added is support for UPnP media players, a built-in print server, and a new “Eco mode” to conserve power.  However, it still lacks a built-in LAMP server found in other five Bay NAS products, and though its performance is double that of its predecessor, it still ranks at or near the bottom of the RAID5 performance charts.

Designed by Neil Poulton, the case of the 5big Network 2 looks like it was carved out of a large block of aluminum.  The monolithic design has a sandblasted finish which is great for obscuring fingerprints.  Only single large indicator/button adorns the front panel. Through the management console, you can elect to turn off the LED indicator. 

If configured, the button can activate a “deep sleep” mode that reduces power consumption from a measured average of about 38 watts to 18 watts.  Pressing the button again brings the 5big Network 2 out of deep sleep, but it takes slightly more than two minutes before the device is fully awake and storage is available to users.  Normally the LED glows a pleasant blue, but during a RAID failure, it pulsates a menacing red – much like the red eye of the HAL9000 computer in 2001 Space Odyssey.

The rear panel of the 5big Network 2 is slightly different than its predecessor.  As shown in Figure 2, the rear panel consists of 2 USB 2.0 ports, 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports and 2 eSATA ports.  The previous version had 3 eSATA ports, only a single Ethernet port and a single USB 2.0 expansion port. 

5big Network 2 Rear Panel

Figure 2: 5big Network 2 Rear Panel

The second Ethernet port can be configured for bonding or as a failover network connection. It doesn’t appear, however, that you can enable jumbo frames (see network portion of the Gallery). Each of the five hot-swappable eSATA drives has a two color LED, and each drive “locks” into the case.  It’s not much of a lock, however, as you can unlock the drives with a coin or the supplied LaCie “disk key”.

On The Inside

There's no board photo because getting the case apart still remains a mystery. But pulling out the drives yielded a clear enough view of the key components. The 500 MHz Marvell Orion 88F5182 used in the first generation of the 5big has been upgraded to a zippier 1.2 GHz Marvell Kirkwood 88F6281 processor.  RAM has been beefed up from 128 MB to 512 MB in the latest version, but flash memory has been downgraded from 4 MB to 512 KB.  A Marvell 88SM4140 SATA multiplier in the 5big Network 2 replaces the SX6081 found in the first generation.

LaCie has stuck with Hitachi CinemaStar 5K1000 1TB drives in the 5 TB version that it sent for review. Other available configurations are 7.5 and 10 TB.

Configuration

Out of the box, the 5big Network 2 is configured for RAID5.  The device also supports RAID0, RAID5+ (RAID 5 with a hot spare) or RAID6.  The net available storage after accounting for RAID5 fault tolerance is ~ 3.6TB.  The 5big Network 2 does not support RAID migration – you can’t change RAID configuration without reformatting, so you’d have to back up all of your data to change RAID levels. Online RAID volume expansion is also not supported.

By default, two shares are preconfigured:  Public and Share.  For the Public share, no credentials are required.  For the Share share, you need user credentials, but the administrator can also designate that share as a public share. 

To get started, you install the LaCie Network Assistant.  This small program identifies the 5big Network 2 on the network, provides a link to the web-based UI, and helps you map drives.  Windows, Mac and Linux versions of the Network Assistant are included.  The 5big Network 2 supports users and groups, which can be assigned read or read/write to each top level share.  Private shares for users are not automatically created when you create a user, and each user can be granted admin privileges.  (see the Gallery for screenshots)

Figure 3 shows the home page of the 5big Network 2.  The widget-based user interface is very similar to what I found on the LaCie Network Space 2 reviewed here.   However, instead of nine widgets, the 5big Network 2 has a total of 12 – one for each of the main menu entries. 

Admin configurable widget-based home page

Figure 3:  Admin configurable widget-based home page

There six locations on the screen where you can place a widget – three across the bottom and three on the right hand side of the screen.  The lower right corner of the screen is a placeholder for unused widgets.  Widgets can be dragged into the center of the screen to jump directly to their corresponding menu page.

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