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Nine External Thunderbolt Storage Devices, Rounded Up

Nine Thunderbolt Devices Feel The Need For Speed

Delivering up to 1 GB/s data of throughput and the ability to communicate over PCI Express externally, it's no surprise that Thunderbolt has the attention of enthusiasts today. Those same savvy buyers see that the technology still bears a prohibitively high price premium, though, and decry its lack of value. If you aren't yet familiar with Thunderbolt and want a low-level lesson on it, check out Everything You Need To Know About Thunderbolt.

Nevertheless, several Thunderbolt-based external storage solutions are now available with the potential to nearly double the peak performance of today's most popular interfaces. The question is: are vendors able to populate these enclosures with the right hardware to enable blazing-fast transfers?

Finding Its Place

We certainly understand if you're reluctant to spend extra money on a new and unproven connectivity standard that looks like it's being set up to replace USB. But take solace in Intel's insistence (for now) that Thunderbolt is meant to complement USB 3.0 and not replace it. Although the two interfaces appear at odds, they're decidedly ideal in very different ways and for equally disparate applications.

USB 3.0 does, for example, enable impressive performance across a bus rated for 5 Gb/s. However, its inefficiencies knock what, on paper, appears to be a 500 MB/s interface down far below that theoretical maximum. As an interface for storage, Thunderbolt's 10 Gb/s (1 GB/s) peak has no trouble nudging USB 3.0 from its pole position.

It's perhaps more accurate to think of Thunderbolt as the spiritual successor to the FireWire standard, aimed at users with high-end applications unable to compromise performance—and willing to pay top dollar for it.

And like FireWire 800, which was exorbitantly-priced when it debuted, today's Thunderbolt-based adapters cost more than $150 and require expensive cabling that isn't included. Intel says that it's committed to bringing down the cost of second-generation Thunderbolt controllers and cables, hopefully allowing the technology to dangle within reach of value-conscious customers sooner rather than later.

A large number of Thunderbolt-related product announcements at this year's Computex give us some indication that a flood of products should be emerging soon. But there are already dozens of Thunderbolt-based storage devices available. We gathered up nine and put them to the test.

  • 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