For the last year, we've heard faint rumblings about new Thunderbolt 3 NVMe SSDs that should be the most powerful portable storage products ever made. Finally, several vendors displayed new Thunderbolt 3 SSDs in many shapes and sizes at this year's CES. Today we test the first truly portable unit to hit the market.
Intel plans to slap Thunderbolt technology on nearly every new desktop and notebook that comes out this year. Most mainstream and premium notebooks shipped over the last two years featured the technology, but it's been a struggle on the desktop side. That might change in the future. The rumor is that Intel will eventually bring Thunderbolt to the CPU die. When that happens, it will reduce the cost for motherboard and system builders to enable the high-speed peripheral interface because they won't need a dedicated chip.
There is a mad rush to design Thunderbolt-capable products as companies look to take advantage of the speedy interface. Storage is the obvious choice, but other markets have also taken notice. Thunderbolt's pass-thru capabilities allow you to daisy chain devices. DisplayLink signals also pass through the new low-cost Type-C cables, so you can even place monitors in the chain. Professional hardware, like advanced audio interfaces with multiple ins and outs, will soon come to Thunderbolt. We may even see digital recording devices like high-resolution video cameras come with the interface.
The awesome power of Thunderbolt will eventually revolutionize the professional A/V market, but it all starts with storage.
* 32Gbps Data Transmission
The TEKQ Rapide is roughly the length and width of a credit card, but it is quite a bit thicker (12mm). The build quality is impressive with tight tolerances and the kind of precision you would expect from a part coming out of a Formula One machine shop. It all starts with a solid block of aluminum that goes through a milling process before a laser etches the text on the bottom.
TEKQ will ship the Rapide in three capacities that range from 240GB to 960GB. An Intel Thunderbolt bridge chip resides inside the enclosure and provides a PCIe 3.0 x4 connection to the SSD. TEKQ has said it might release a DIY enclosure option without a drive, but it hasn't brought that product to market yet.
The three existing models use the Phison PS5007-E7 controller and Toshiba 15nm MLC flash. The combination was very common in low-cost consumer SSDs for all of 2017, but 15nm flash production wrapped up in early 2018. TEKQ hinted at a possible second-generation enclosure with the upcoming Phison E12 NVMe controller.
All three capacities share the same performance ratings. The sequential read performance tops 2,700 MB/s and the MLC flash pushes sequential writes up to 1,700 MB/s. The drive delivers up to 300,000/250,000 read/write IOPS, but you won't be able to hit those numbers with typical workloads.
The performance specification is apparently relative. The retail package lists 2,300 MB/s for sequential reads and 1,300 MB/s for writes. The package also states in another section that it provides 'up to 2,500 MB/s depending on computer."
The Rapide is completely bus-powered through the Thunderbolt 3 Type-C port. It will not work with USB, including USB outfitted with a Type-C connector that delivers higher amperage than older USB specifications.
The small size, relatively low weight, and robust construction make this drive extremely portable as well as strong enough to survive a destructive event that would cripple a typical portable disk drive.
Pricing & Warranty
Pricing varies depending on where you find the TEKQ Rapide. The company has a campaign on Indiegogo right now with discount pricing of $255, $383, and $712 for the 240GB, 480GB, and 960GB drives, respectively. The Rapide is $319, $479, and $899 on Amazon. We obviously prefer the lower prices.
TEKQ didn't release an endurance rating for the Rapide drives. It would be difficult to reach the limit of Toshiba 15nm MLC flash during the one year warranty period, but the warranty is short compared to other a consumer/prosumer SSDs. The disappointing warranty may push some users to the DIY version when it comes to market.
Accessories & Software
The TEKQ Rapide ships with a nice Thunderbolt 3 cable with Type-C connectors on each end. All you need to get started is Intel's Thunderbolt driver.
The TEKQ Rapide package is very sleek for a device sold primarily online. The full-color box lists the performance specifications and features.
A Closer Look
The drive is truly stunning for those of us that appreciate high-quality construction. It starts off as a single piece of aluminum and then moves through CNC machines that mill the groves that increase surface area for cooling. There is a PCIe 3.0 x4 bridge chip inside the enclosure along with the SSD. TEKQ outfits the drive with thermal pads between the components and the aluminum, so the entire enclosure acts as a heat sink. This is not a typical stamped steel, plastic, and rubber portable SSD that comes from the big box stores.
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