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Benchmark Results: Single File Transfer

Nine External Thunderbolt Storage Devices, Rounded Up

Because Thunderbolt is so well-suited to the data-intensive needs of A/V professionals, we thought it fitting to measure the speed at which a 31 GB Blu-ray movie rip could be written to each device.

When it comes to raw sequential performance, a striped array communicating over Thunderbolt is formidable indeed. Promise's Pegasus R4 and R6 lead the pack, both units finishing the write task in 1:45. If you're willing to give up a lot of capacity in the name of solid-state storage, four SSD 520s in the R4 drop that completion time to 1:28.

LaCie’s 2big trails by only 10%, but it impressively outperforms the company's own SSD-equipped Little Big Disk. That shouldn't come as a surprise, though. According to Iometer, the 2big's hard drives outmaneuver the SSD 320s by ~15-25 MB/s in sequential read operations. There's a good lesson in there somewhere. Don't expect that, just because a device is armed with SSDs that it'll automatically move data around faster than an enclosure with hard drives.

Indeed, Western Digital's hard drive-based My Book Thunderbolt Duo matches the performance of LaCie's Little Big Disk, and the G-Technologies G-RAID Thunderbolt 8 TB follows behind by only a few seconds.

Even the performance of a single-drive Thunderbolt-based device should impress the folks who aren't interested in a multi-disk RAID enclosure, best illustrated by Seagate’s GoFlex Desk Thunderbolt Adapter’s small victory over the USB 3.0 version.

It's particularly notable that even a Thunderbolt link with multiple peripherals daisy chained onto it has sufficient bandwidth to enable full performance from downstream devices. Meanwhile, USB 3.0 slows down for every component added to a hub.

A quick breakdown of the single-drive observations:

  • With a 3.5” hard drive, Thunderbolt proves faster than USB 3.0 by a small margin.
  • With a 3.5” hard drive, the benefit of Thunderbolt compared to USB 3.0 increases as you add devices to the same interface.
  • With a slower 2.5” hard drive, Thunderbolt performs about on par with USB 3.0. A daisy chainable device is needed to demonstrate an advantage.
  • Regardless of the hard drive, Thunderbolt performs faster than FireWire 800 and USB 2.0 by huge margins.
  • Do not assume an SSD in an external enclosure is going to be faster than hard drives.
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