Coming in 120GB and 240GB capacities, and priced at $430 and $700 respectively, Elgato’s Thunderbolt SSD is a solid-state drive that offers a nice speed boost over FireWire 800, but is overall slower than other Thunderbolt drives we’ve tested. (We tested the 240GB version.)
In our series of hard drive tests, the Thunderbolt SSD performed well, with an average write time of 257.9 MBps, and an average read time of 268.6 MBps in the AJA System Test. When writing a 10GB file, the drive averaged 125.9 MBps, and read the same file at 187.4 MBps. Furthermore, for a 10GB folder, the Elgato drive averaged write and read speeds of 124.2 MBps and 139.1 MBps respectively.
In comparison to other Thunderbolt SSD drives, such as LaCie’s Little Big Disk SSD, the Elgato didn’t put up the fastest transfer speeds, but it is still a competent, high-performance drive.
While the combination of a SSD and Thunderbolt can be beneficial in a variety of applications, there’s no doubt that Elgato has targeted this product at photographers and video producers. After all, Elgato is most widely known for its EyeTV products for Mac, and the fast data throughput offered by this drive is definitely advantageous for users who are transferring large video files and photos.
When Elgato announced the Thunderbolt SSD, the company claimed to be the first manufacturer to produce a bus-powered, portable SSD with Thunderbolt connectivity. However, Seagate offers a Thunderbolt adapter that can turn an existing FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-Portable () drive into a Thunderbolt bus-powered device. Other drives, such as LaCie’s Little Big Disk Thunderbolt Series SSD (), have a built-in Thunderbolt interface, but unlike the Elgato drive, it requires an external power connection.
The overall design of the Thunderbolt SSD is very simple; it’s quite literally the embodiment of “the bare necessities.” Since it’s bus-powered and designed specifically for Thunderbolt, it has just a single Thunderbolt port at the top of the drive, and that’s it. There’s no power adapter, no USB or FireWire ports—there isn’t even an activity light to notify you that the drive is connected.
While some might see this simplicity as an attractive quality, others might find that it limits the drive’s accessibility. The lack of interfaces restricts integration with older Mac models, and because there’s only one Thunderbolt port, it must be the last drive connected to a daisy chain if it’s being used in that capacity.
There is also the issue of price. While SSDs have a more expensive price per gigabyte than regular hard drives, $700 for 240GB is rather high. External SSDs with FireWire 800 interfaces can be had for $350 to $400. Another consideration is the price of the cable. The Thunderbolt SSD doesn’t come with one, so you’ll have to pay $49 for Apple’s white 2.0-meter Thunderbolt cable, or $60 for Elgato’s black 0.5-meter Thunderbolt cable.
Benchmarks: Thunderbolt storage devices
Write 10GB file
Read 10GB file
Write 10GB folder
Read 10GB folder
Elgato Thunderbolt SSD
WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo
G-Technology G-RAID with Thunderbolt
LaCie 2big Thunderbolt
LaCie Little Big Disk SSD
LaCie Little Big Disk HD
Promise Pegasus R6
Seagate GoFlex Desk FW800
All scores in MB per second. Larger number is better. Best results in red.
We connected each drive to a 2011 17-inch 2.4GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro running OS X 10.7.2 with 4GB of RAM and an internal 250GB SSD. We timed the copy of a 10.77GB Zip file to the external drive and then timed copying the file back to the internal. We did the same with a 10.77GB folder of 7,420 smaller files. We then used AJA System Test with the Video Frame Size set to 1920 by 1080 10-bit RGB and a file size of 2GB.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith and Kean Bartelman
Macworld’s buying advice
With the combination of speed and portability, the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD is a great, high performance drive. However, this drive is not cheap, and owners of older Macs won’t be able to share the drive with their machines. But, for those that can afford the Thunderbolt SSD, its fast transfer speeds and attractive, pocket-sized package would make it a great addition to your Thunderbolt-ready Mac product.
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