Feeds

Thunderbolt interface strikes YOUR PC: What's the damage?

10Gbps, you say? Now for the reality check

High performance access to file storage

Testing...

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.

Thunderbolt Performance Chart

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.

Seagate GoFlex Desk Thunderbolt

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. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Feast your PUNY eyes on highest resolution phone display EVER
Too much pixel dust for your strained eyeballs to handle
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Report: Apple seeking to raise iPhone 6 price by a HUNDRED BUCKS
'Well, that 5c experiment didn't go so well – let's try the other direction'
Rounded corners? Pah! Amazon's '3D phone has eye-tracking tech'
Now THAT'S what we call a proper new feature
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Nvidia gamers hit trifecta with driver, optimizer, and mobile upgrades
Li'l Shield moves up to Android 4.4.2 KitKat, GameStream comes to notebooks
AMD unveils Godzilla's graphics card – 'the world's fastest, period'
The Radeon R9 295X2: Water-cooled, 5,632 stream processors, 11.5TFLOPS
Sony battery recall as VAIO goes out with a bang, not a whimper
The perils of having Panasonic as a partner
NORKS' own smartmobe pegged as Chinese landfill Android
Fake kit in the hermit kingdom? That's just Kim Jong-un-believable!
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.