Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+
Several years after the Thunderbolt high-speed cable standard was first introduced, most of the drives using Apple’s connector are large, professional-grade, desktop-specific devices. Some time ago, Elgato introduced a more portable solution in the Thunderbolt SSD, and nearly two years later, it has returned with a sequel called Thunderbolt Drive+ ($500-$900). The price has jumped significantly from the original model, but so have the performance and capacity of the new drive. Updated December 20, 2013 with new photos and hands-on testing results!
Packed into the same size enclosure, which is capable of being carried around anywhere, the drives are now available in 256 or 512GB configurations, up from the prior max of 240GB. Transfer speeds are also faster now, jumping 150MB/second to a promised 420MB/s. A USB 3.0 port ensures that you’re able to use the drive even on non-Thunderbolt machines, including Windows computers. And the Thunderbolt cable is included in the package, something of a rarity but welcome given the price tags here.
Update - Hands-On Impressions: In person, the Thunderbolt Drive+ is even more interesting than it looks in photos, with two positive characteristics immediately standing out relative to Seagate’s impressive, $200 Wireless Plus portable drive: the presence of the Thunderbolt port, and the use of pricier SSD memory rather than a hard drive mechanism. The drives are otherwise surprisingly similar in size and cosmetics, with nearly identical footprints. On the surface, Elgato’s 5.1” by 3.2” by 0.8” design looks like Seagate’s, but is made with actual metal rather than metallic-flecked plastic, and promises IP64 dust and water resistance. It also has more rounded corners, akin to an extruded pill, and doesn’t require a separate adapter to add the USB 3.0 port, which sits immediately next to the Thunderbolt port on one of the drive’s two short sides. Two rubber port covers, one USB 3.0 cable, and one black Thunderbolt cable are all in the package along with the drive.
During initial hands-on testing, we noted that the drive and cable run warm to the touch during active use, though they’re completely silent—something that can’t be said about the Wireless Plus, which is quiet, but has a traditional 1TB hard drive inside. Seagate’s emphasis with Wireless Plus is on integrated Wi-Fi accessibility rather than speed, while Thunderbolt Drive+ is purely for high-speed, solid state wired use with computers. Elgato notes that the drive is built with “server-grade controller chips” for “sustained high performance,” with atypically excellent flash memory and software to “provide the lowest average annualized failure rate (AFR) in the industry.” A three-year warranty covers the drive.
Our test results with the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test were somewhat surprising. While the Thunderbolt Drive just slightly exceeded Elgato’s promised 420MB/s read speed, hitting 422MB/s in our testing, we achieved this speed using a USB 3.0 connection rather than Thunderbolt—the proprietary connector maxxed out at 373MB/s during our testing. Write speeds of roughly 300MB/s were virtually identical between the two connections.
The performance gulf with the Wireless Plus drive was gigantic. Seagate’s USB 3.0 connection peaked at 77MB/s for reads and 72MB/s for writes during our tests, which is to say that the Thunderbolt Drive+ was nearly 5.5 times faster at reading and over 4 times faster at writing using an identical USB connection. In other words, you’ll pay a considerable premium for Thunderbolt Drive+, but regardless of whether you’re using Thunderbolt or USB to connect it, you’ll see tremendous performance differences versus a lower-priced non-SSD drive.
If there’s any down side to the Thunderbolt Drive+, it’s merely that there are even faster options on the way. The SSDs built into the latest Retina MacBook Pros, for instance, achieve 733MB/s read speeds and 676MB/s write speeds. Thunderbolt 2, the latest version of the Thunderbolt standard, may help future portable drives to deliver even more amazing performance. You can decide for yourself whether to sink $500 or more into a current-gen SSD; we certainly love the performance and reliability of solid-state drives, and if price wasn’t an issue, would prefer them by a wide margin over traditional hard disks.
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