I tested the drives and interfaces with the AS SSD benchmark as well as timing the transfer speeds of a 4GB image, a 17GB Blu Ray file and a 50GB folder of mixed file types and sizes.
So here's the theory...
Connecting the Elgato drive up to Thunderbolt delivered a bit of a shock in terms of performance. Certainly, it was much faster in the benchmarks than any of the other external interfaces, however, when it came to real life performance comparisons, it was slower when up against USB 3.0 – cue much scratching of head.
The answer to the surprisingly slow performance lies partly in the fact that the SanDisk Ultra uses a LSI SandForce controller – which has a real problem dealing with compressed data, such as media files – and the PCI-E to SATA interface that the Elgato uses. The ASMedia ASM1061 chip uses only a single x1 PCI-E lane and although it supports up to SATA 6Gb/s unfortunately, the SanDisk Ultra SSD relies on a SATA 3Gb/s interface.
Another thing to bear in mind is that although 10W of power can be delivered along the Thunderbolt cable, it also has its own power requirements, as both ends of the cable have active controller chips inside them each with their own draw on power before it reaches the external device.
I also got hold of Seagate’s GoFlex Desktop Thunderbolt adaptor which enabled testing of both 3Gb/s and 6Gb/s SSDs in the same device and doesn’t rely on power from the Thunderbolt cable as it is mains-powered. Although using the adapter showed the difference between using a 3Gb/s or a 6Gb/s drive quite nicely, the Thunderbolt performance still wasn’t that much faster than USB3.0.
Impressive performer: Seagate's GoFlex Desk Thunderbolt adapter
So after searching around for something that wouldn’t throttle the living daylights out of the bandwidth coming down the pipe from the PC, I acquired a WD MyBook VelociRaptor Duo. This is Western Digital’s latest external drive which packs two of the company's 1TB 10,000rpm VelociRaptor drives in an enclosure which can be set up in RAID 0 or RAID 1 array. Although the unit also uses an ASMedia ASM1061 controller (like the Elgato device), the VelociRaptor drives are running at the full 6Gb/s speed.
The resulting performance increase of just attaching the VR Duo drive was like night and day compared to the Elgato drive and showed just what speeds the Thunderbolt connection may be capable of. Getting another VR Duo and daisy chaining the two units together into a RAID 0 array sped the transfer speeds up, albeit only by a second for the 4GB image transfer but by a 90secs for the 50GB folder and by 14secs for the Blu-Ray image.
The Reg Verdict
So is the Thunderbolt interface a fast way of transferring data to an external drive? Well yes, but (and it’s a very big "but") to get the best out of if at the present time you have to choose the storage device(s) attached to the end of the cable very carefully. When it comes to data transfer, it suffers from bottlenecks in much the same was as other high speed interfaces. Even so, it proves itself as extremely capable of striking performance from external storage devices – those that are a match for its capabilities – with even an HDD topping the charts here.
Given the slow rollout of peripherals, Thunderbolt still has some way to go to prove itself, but its appearance on PC motherboards, at least, should see a ramping up of products that can match its performance potential. ®
Next page: Benchmark Tests
Re: Obligatory XKCD
Is it bad that I knew which one that was going to be before I even clicked the link? :o)
Re: USB 2.0
USB 2.0 doesn't fare well compared to either variation of FW for sizeable file transfers (especially not when individual files are large as well) unless there are FW-specific bottlenecks, because USB 2.0 is based on bursting whereas FW is based on sustainable transfer rates.
As far as Apple's Thunderbolt displays go, they are very nice - when they work. We've had two go become unusable due to regular (but intermittent) issues where they go to sleep and fail to wake up until you physically disconnect and reconnect them, which is tedious - and in both cases I've had Apple claim that it might be related to power management kexts in Mountain Lion while the approved 3rd party warranty repair service who eventually looked at the hardware (after being made to jump through over 2 months worth of "Have you tried this?" type nonsense with Apple support) and said pretty much "yeah, this is a known issue with the OS, we'll replace the hardware but there's no guarantee it'll fix the problem". Which is just what you want to hear when you're dealing with displays which, while shiny, cost at least 2.5x as much as similarly-sized displays from other vendors on our approved supplier list. (Though, of course, one of the reasons people want the TB displays is that there haven't been any TB hubs available elsewhere so far...)
I suspect TB is at risk of going the same route as Firewire - great for those people who might specifically benefit from it, but not sufficiently better than USB 3.0 for most people's real-world use cases to make it worth the upgrade cost. Which is a shame, because TB is the best option so far to allow adding an external GPU to portable device when needed.
give it 10 years
any thunderbolt gear you buy now is practically guaranteed to be expensive buggy and no better than regular alternatives. apple users are the beta test. its fast as hell of course theres no point wasting all that time and money to hook up a decade old piece of tech like a hard drive. thunderbolt is for things that dont exist yet.
This is an article about Thunderbolt/Lightpeak on PCs, you wretched twat. It comes as no surprise that you've never encountered Firewire peripherals such as external soundcards, high-resolution scanners or DV camcorders, y'know, tools used to create things like music and art.
Look, it's a fresh new year... why don't you try some creative activity for 2013 instead of trolling The Reg? It'l be good for you. Musical instruments are good, drawing or painting if you're more introverted... you really don't have to excel at it for it to be satisfying. Give it a go.