Thunderbolt: What you need to know

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Thunderbolt RAID provides boost over eSATA

How does Thunderbolt performance stack up against eSATA? Macworld Lab's test results show that Thunderbolt’s provides a sizeable boost over eSATA—it's not as dramatic as the improvement over FireWire 800, but still very impressive.

Macworld Lab recently compared Thunderbolt and FireWire 800 performance. In response to that report, Macworld readers want to see how Thunderbolt speed stacks up against other interface technologies—specifically, eSATA.

As with the Thunderbolt/FireWire 800 tests, we still have an issue of coming up with similar external devices. The Promise Pegasus R6 has six drives and only one type of connection: Thunderbolt. We don’t have access to a six-bay array with eSATA, so for comparison, we used the Promise SmartStore DS4600, but it has four drive bays and FireWire 800, USB 2.0 and eSATA ports. With both external arrays formatted as RAID 0, we found the Thunderbolt performance to be nearly four-and-a-half times faster than eSATA in our AJA System Test read results, and about eight times faster than eSATA in our AJA System Test write results.

With our 2GB file tests, we copy a 2GB file from the Mac’s internal drive to the external array, which tests the write speed of the external array. Then we copy the 2GB file back to the internal, which tests the external’s read speed. We repeat the tests with a folder conatining 2GB worth of files.

At first, these tests showed different results compared to the AJA System Tests—the eSATA results were very similar to the Thunderbolt results, and FireWire 800 even put up decent numbers. The problem was the slow internal drive in the MacBook Pro, so we pulled the SSD out of the 15-inch MacBook Pro and installed it into the 17-inch MacBook Pro. The bottleneck was removed, and we again saw large performance differences between the three interfaces.

When reading a 2GB file, Thunderbolt was 39 percent faster than eSATA and twice as fast as FireWire 800. Writing that 2GB file, Thunderbolt was over two times faster than eSATA and 2.8 times faster than FireWire 800. Reading a 2GB folder, Thunderbolt was 30 percent faster than eSATA and 73 percent faster than FireWire 800. Writing the folder, Thunderbolt was two times faster than eSATA and 2.4 times faster than FireWire 800.

Benchmarks: Thunderbolt vs. eSATA
Promise Pegasus R6

AJA
System
Test
AJA
System
Test
2GB
File
2GB
File
2GB
Folder
2GB
Folder
Read Write Read Write Read Write
Promise Pegasus R6
Thunderbolt
532.1 707.6 177 212.8 128.2 162.6
Promise SmartStor DS4600
eSATA
125.3 87.2 127.4 95.2 99 79.1
Promise SmartStor DS4600
FW800
84.4 78.1 86.2 77.2 74.1 67.6

All results are in megabytes per second (MBps). Higher results are better. Best result in bold.

Macworld Lab is working on more Thunderbolt tests, including more RAID 0 results with the Pegasus R6, and speed results when using Target Disk Mode. If you have a suggestion for a Thunderbolt test, please post it in the comments section below.

[James Galbraith is Macworld’s lab director.]

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