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Nine External Thunderbolt Storage Devices, Rounded Up

Benchmark Results: Single File Transfer

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.
  • saiyan
    No benchmark for 8-drive Thunderbolt deivces such as Areca ARC-8050 ?
    Reply
  • acku
    9535164 said:
    No benchmark for 8-drive Thunderbolt deivces such as Areca ARC-8050 ?

    What the R6 isn't expensive enough? :p Honestly, we couldn't include the ARC-8050 (http://www.areca.com.tw/products/thunderbolt.htm) because it's not readily available for purchase (yet).

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
    Reply
  • mayankleoboy1
    storage is OK, but an externally powered GPU is the most interesting application of thunderbolt.

    with the external PCI-E device specification coming soon, i believe the days of thunderbolt are limited.
    Reply
  • web2dot0
    mayankleoboy1storage is OK, but an externally powered GPU is the most interesting application of thunderbolt.with the external PCI-E device specification coming soon, i believe the days of thunderbolt are limited.
    Thunderbolt IS ePCI-E. Well, using Intel's implementation. You think the specification will somehow make things cheaper? Nope.
    Reply
  • chovav
    Thank you Andrew for this review, it certainly makes it clear whether you should invest in thunderbolt or not.

    Could you maybe do add a random read/write graph comparing GoFlex Desk with USB3 and Thunderbolt?

    I was also wondering what the CPU usage is during read/write - is there any impact at all? or does the thunderbolt controller bear all the processing grunt-work?

    Thanks again, great article.
    Reply
  • CaedenV
    web2dot0Thunderbolt IS ePCI-E. Well, using Intel's implementation. You think the specification will somehow make things cheaper? Nope.thunderbolt is a medium that allows for multiple interconnect protocols to be transmitted over the same wire. It can send PCIe, it can send DP, it was supposed to be able to send USB 1/2/3, as well as Ethernet, all over the same wire... but we have not seen that happen over the copper version that was released.

    The external PCIe will be cheaper and easier because it will be hosted directly by the mobo chipset, or the CPU by tapping into already existing hardware. Chip makers will not have to add a new and expensive tech to the device, the connection will just siphon off lanes that are already there. And because it is already standardized and cheap technology it will be easier and cheaper to implement. Finally it will be an open standard that multiple manufacturers can adopt. Thunderbolt (as much as I love the idea) is made and operated by Intel, and Intel wants to charge a premium for it. Until there are multiple chip makers who can make it, then it will continue to be too expensive... and when multiple chip makers can make it then Intel will be the only one worth buying (much like their network interfaces) because nobody can do quality like intel, but at least the price will come down.
    Reply
  • mayankleoboy1
    ^ like the Marvell SATA controllers.

    And thunderbolt is not going optical fibre in the coming years. the cable is too expensive and cant carry much power.

    and the fact that apple is using it gives some clues about its price, compatibility, usability and openness.

    i remember how TB was promoted : one single wire from your PC to a TB brick. and from that brick you added USB, ethernet, firewire, DP, HDMI. basically it was touted as "1 wire for everything". supposed to be magical, and we all know how that turns out.
    Reply
  • acku
    CaedenVthunderbolt is a medium that allows for multiple interconnect protocols to be transmitted over the same wire. It can send PCIe, it can send DP, it was supposed to be able to send USB 1/2/3, as well as Ethernet, all over the same wire... but we have not seen that happen over the copper version that was released.The external PCIe will be cheaper and easier because it will be hosted directly by the mobo chipset, or the CPU by tapping into already existing hardware. Chip makers will not have to add a new and expensive tech to the device, the connection will just siphon off lanes that are already there. And because it is already standardized and cheap technology it will be easier and cheaper to implement. Finally it will be an open standard that multiple manufacturers can adopt. Thunderbolt (as much as I love the idea) is made and operated by Intel, and Intel wants to charge a premium for it. Until there are multiple chip makers who can make it, then it will continue to be too expensive... and when multiple chip makers can make it then Intel will be the only one worth buying (much like their network interfaces) because nobody can do quality like intel, but at least the price will come down.
    Read http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/thunderbolt-performance-z77a-gd80,3205.html Thunderbolt can externalize anything. It just has to have the controller. It is external PCIe. External USB 3.0 and ethernet are possible but unlikely because they are already on the mobo.

    From a practical standpoint, external PCIe may cheaper, but it's pointless from a performance standpoint http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PCI_Express#External_PCIe_cards. Everything is limited to a PCIe 1.0 x1 connection. The new ExpressCard standard (v2.0) ups bandwidth to slightly more than PCIe 1.0 x2, which still isn't that fast compared to TB (PCIe 2.0 x4 uplink). Plus ExpressCard only lets you connect a single device. It's one and done after that. For a mobile user, Thunderbolt is the way to go. Worse, you can't count on EC to be available. I'm already seeing Ultrabooks with TB. It makes sense because it doesn't require a lot of space. EC requires more space, hence it will be a greater rarity now that TB is out.

    It looks expensive now but be patient. TB is something you will want. Many people need to look past the role Apple played. It clearly is a performance oriented technology that opens up a whole new world, especially on the mobile side.

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    Tom's Hardware.com

    Reply
  • web2dot0
    CaedenVthunderbolt is a medium that allows for multiple interconnect protocols to be transmitted over the same wire. It can send PCIe, it can send DP, it was supposed to be able to send USB 1/2/3, as well as Ethernet, all over the same wire... but we have not seen that happen over the copper version that was released.The external PCIe will be cheaper and easier because it will be hosted directly by the mobo chipset, or the CPU by tapping into already existing hardware. Chip makers will not have to add a new and expensive tech to the device, the connection will just siphon off lanes that are already there. And because it is already standardized and cheap technology it will be easier and cheaper to implement. Finally it will be an open standard that multiple manufacturers can adopt. Thunderbolt (as much as I love the idea) is made and operated by Intel, and Intel wants to charge a premium for it. Until there are multiple chip makers who can make it, then it will continue to be too expensive... and when multiple chip makers can make it then Intel will be the only one worth buying (much like their network interfaces) because nobody can do quality like intel, but at least the price will come down.
    Thank you for your Wikipedia quote. Everybody can quote from the spec sheet. The trouble is you make it seem like Intel are bunch of morons building a interconnect that nobody uses. That's is plain wrong. Just like SSDs, they will come down in price and next thing you know, you'll be asking yourself why in the world would I not use Thunderbolt. Imagine running a external GPU on your Retina Display MacbookPro when you dock your laptop. There'll be a lineup of people buying that technology at a premium price.

    Partnering with Apple is no accident. 2 giant corporations backing the initiative is nothing to sneeze at. Give it a few years, and you'll soon find out the true power of Thunderbolt. USB 3.0 complements Thunderbolt.
    Reply
  • mayankleoboy1
    edit
    Reply