For all the technologically benighted let us enlighten you first on what a Thunderbolt is all about – it is nothing but an interface that connects peripheral devices via a bus; simply put, yet another alternative to an USB. Co-designed by Apple and Intel (with the rights being held by the latter) Apple decided to embrace Thunderbolt and chose to completely ignore the USB 3.0 in all their gadgets, thus leaving Mac patrons no choice, but to thoroughly rely on it if they wished for super fast portable devices. Now, Thunderbolt SSD is one such portable storage device designed exclusively for Macbooks operating on the Thunderbolt protocol. There is just a single cable that handles both data transmission and powering the device, which is backed by a SSD (solid state drive) that boasts of blazing RW speeds in comparison to a magnetic disk drive. One such SSD would be the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD, which is being reviewed here. Well, Thunderbolt sure does have a lot of speed, no doubt there, but thus far the stuff that can actually be plugged into such a high-speed connection has been really sparse. Elgato sure seem to have done their homework right by venturing into such a rarefied arena with the Thunderbolt SSD, the portable drive that does precisely what the name suggests. Backed up by BUS power, it sure is capable of transferring multiple gigabytes – More on this after the break!
ELGATO THUNDERBOT SSD QUICK SPECS
- Drive Type – External Thunderbolt Hard Drive
- Available Capacities – 120/240GB
- Available colours – Black Matt Aluminium Finish
- Power Source – Bus Powered
- Manufacturer Warranty – 3 years
- Dimensions (LxWxH) – 5.2 x 2.1 x 0.8in/13.1 x 5.33 x 2.1 cm
- Weight – 270g / 9.5oz
- Maximum Transfer Rate – 270Mbps
- Oses Supported – Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later
- Robust metal casing
- Outperforms high-tech portable USB/FireWire devices
- Designed to extract power directly the PC via the Thunderbolt port
- Blazing data speeds via Thunderbolt interface
- True portability, thanks to Bus-powered operation
- Whisper quiet
- Exceptional reliability with flash storage
- Perfect storage solution for users always on the go
- • Deigned to function without a noisy fan
DESIGN & BUILD: FIRST LOOK
If the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD had to be described in one word, well one can call it a minimalist – simple design, minimal features, and absolutely simple storage. The German manufacturer sure does know how to make a smooth transition from EyeTV line of tuners/ video capture gears to external storage. Now Elgato is a fairly known kid in areas like digital TV adaptors, digital media and enabling digitalized terrestrial and satellite TV that can be viewed on a Macintosh or Windows PC. But this is the very first time the company has decided to venture into storage products making their debut through the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD.
Upon unboxing the drive, you get greeted by a barebones, matte-finished gray aluminum enclosed drive that boasts of no fancy switches or LEDs, excepting for a lone Thunderbolt port at the dead center towards the rear, and is indeed a perfect aesthetic companion for a Macbook. It feels quite robust and weighs almost similarly as the Rugged Compact FireWire drive from LaCie. Intel’s Thunderbolt interface packs twofold potential bandwidth of a USB3 to such an extent that conventional mechanical hard disks don’t really have it in them to neither keep pace nor take advantage of the same; which is exactly why Elgato decided to go with a SSD in their debut Thunderbolt model. The 2.5-inch SSD inside the drive requires no additional power cord as it derives its power from the Thunderbolt bus, akin to most portable FireWire and USB hard drives.
It might not seem like the largest of drives, but the blazing transfer speeds together with the advantage of an SSD storage including absolute resistance to magnetic field interference and no moving parts reliability sure does make up for it amply. Again, mainly catering to Apple patrons, the disk comes preformatted in the HFS format out of the box and is compatible with Time Machine. There are no additional software backups, leaving a small segment of Windows users using the Thunderbolt motherboard high and dry. Also they (windows users) might have to reformat their disk to NTFS if they are looking at saving any files. Unfortunately, the box is devoid of any Thunderbolt cable, (similar to other Thunderbolt storage devices) so that leaves users to factor in the price of the cable before deciding on this SSD. To be more precise users might have to shell out $60 dollars for the Elgato 0.5 meter Black Thunderbolt capable or if you choose the white 2.0-meter Apple Thunderbolt cable, it would be an additional $49. Now if you find the cost of the cable ($50) to be ridiculous, picture this. The standard 6-foot cable from Apple is annoyingly oversized making it absolutely impossible to take the drive anywhere near your Macbook with the cables running almost all over the place. Actually, it is so long that you will still find something to spare despite wrapping it round a notebook for atleast a few times, not at all convenient, to say the least. Hopefully, a shorter cable in the future might really make the drive portable as the name suggests.
There is no doubt that the SSD and Thunderbolt combo makes this an obscenely priced drive with users having to shell out a whopping £2.08/GB. Now, if you are someone with a constant need to download large files, it is worth the buy else there are always cheaper and reasonable options like the Seagate Backup Plus portable 500GB to consider. Evidently, Elgato has this drive targeted at video producers and photographers particularly with their track record in the Mac-oriented EyeTV industry. When they first unveiled the drive, the company claimed themselves as the first manufacturer to introduce a Bus-powered SSD that runs on the Thunderbolt interface. Nonetheless, the FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-Portable offering from Seagate has a Thunderbolt adaptor on offer that turns the drive into a bus-powered Thunderbolt device. Again, there is also the Little Big Disk Thunderbolt SSD from LaCie that boasts of a Thunderbolt interface onboard, but then unlike the Elgato SSD, it requires an external power cord.
As mentioned earlier, as this is a bus-powered drive and designed exclusively for Thunderbolt, there is just a single Thunderbolt port towards the top and that is all you get – No USB, no power adaptor or FireWire ports; not even an activity light to indicate that something is happening inside or to makes sure that the drive is connected. Now while this simplicity might appeal to some users, others might find it limiting the accessibility of the drive. While the lack of interfaces makes this non-compatible to older Macbooks, the availability of a single Thunderbolt port makes it a must for this to be the last drive to be connected to a daisy chain, upon being used in that capacity. Though daisy-chaining of devices and drives is supported by Thunderbolt (in fact up to 6 at a time), the single port of the Elgato drive means this has to be the last in a chain. This as per the company is a deliberate decision, the reason being, if not there will be a need for the SSD to share its bus power with the one that comes next in line. Fair enough!
This solid-feeling metal hunk is made up of two cast aluminum halves that are held in place by 4 hex-head screws. There is a coat of gunmetal finish over the natural metal, which can peel off with use. So getting back to the screws, there is one such screw that has glued on top of the drive that clearly discourages removal of the same. As a matter of fact, there is an explicit warning from the company that warns users against exploring the case. Suppose if your inquisitiveness gets the better of you and you still dare open it, well you get greeted by the following warnings:
“WELCOME! WE’VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU. THIS ELGATO THUNDERBOLT SSD WAS CAREFULLY ENGINEERED AND TESTED FOR RELIABILITY AND PERFORMANCE. DO NOT REPLACE THE FACTORY-INSTALLED SSD. PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT OPENING THE CASE HAS VOIDED YOUR WARRANTY. PEAK POWER CONSUMPTION OF THE SSD MAY NOT EXCEED 3.5W”
Besides Intel’s DSL2210 controller there is an ASMedia ASM1061 SATA 6Gbps controller found on the PCB together with an older variant of SanDisk 3Gbps 240 GB Ultra SSD. As per Thunderbolt’s design criteria of 10Gbps full-duplex (10Gbps in each direction concurrently) which is equivalent to 1250Mb/second, it ought to have bandwidth to spare to utilize a third-gen SSD with the capacity of at least 500Mb/second of sequential R/W speeds. Now the supposed reason for choosing such a slower/older drive is owing to limitations on the power budget. So though, Elgato’s spec sheet claim that there is an allowance of 10W for bus-powered gadgets, the SSD spinning inside is left deprived by the excessive power requirements of the supporting electronics. In fact with the Thunderbolt cable itself consuming large watts, the latter cable looks no different which is the active transmission line device that hides 2 power-hungry chips on either end of the plugs. Thus, though Thunderbolt promises to deliver up to 10 watts, there is only 3.5 watts practically available for the SSD, as is evident from the label warning inside the casing. With use, the unit indeed gets evidently does get warm, but the casing faithfully toggles up as a heat sink that takes care of the excess heat.
Noise & Thermals
Thanks to the immovable mechanical parts, SSDs are less prone to accidental damages in comparison to conventional mechanical drives. Especially with Elgato’s rock-solid metal casing, the drive looks to be a real macho in protecting your valuable data. Also the drive has been designed to function without the need for any noisy fans, thanks to the inaudible SSD and advanced metal casing users get to enjoy some whisper quiet exceptional performance. Well, the drive gets kind of lukewarm to touch while copying long files, but as it is devoid of any fans, one can only barely hear a hum, that is with the drive being held close to the ears.
Speed is what the Elgato has been designed for and well it delivers on that front. Performance is well within expectations and as claimed by Elgato in saying that their SSD is capable of handling up to 270Mbps. With files ranging from 1MB to as big as 100MB, it drive hits a read/write speed of 263Mbps and 255Mbps respectively; pretty much close to the company’s claim! With transfer of small files, the transfer rates does trail off, but that is barely noticeable. Then again, it is with browsing a large library of photos in Aperture or with working on a HD video footage that you get to see the drive shine through. Again, it takes around 20 seconds or if anything less in transferring 2GB videos from a Mac to the drive, which is sure to highly impress professionals like photographers, video producers or graphic designers, who would better be able to appreciate the importance of external storage. Now, this makes the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD literally the fastest demon in comparison to a USB2.0 that might barely measure 1/5th of such speeds or for that matter a FireWire 800 which is sure to max out at about 1/3rd.
Service and Support
The Elgato Thunderbolt SSD is backed by an impressive 3-year warranty, as against some drives that come with a 2-year warranty like the Pegasus R6. All info pertaining to the same can be downloaded from a dedicated page in Elgato’s official site www.elgato.com
By and large, there seems to be a lot going on for the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD. It is indeed the fastest external drive floated in the market until date especially given its size. Again, because it is a solid-state with no movable parts, the durability is also taken care of. Disparate from a spinning disk, it is not gonna lose data or be nothing other than a brick upon being dropped from a tabletop. Well, the Thunderbolt and Solid state drive makes one hell of a combo and its either got to be your livelihood or you better be rolling in dough if you want to justify purchasing this drive, else there is always the option to get a 6TB platter-based drive for the same price as the 240GB variant, but you might have to compromise on the performance factor. So, unless you are in dire need of blistering copy speeds, you are better off settling for a regular and cheaper drive, because it comes at a hefty price. The hefty premium that you pay for this drive (€399.95 for the 120GB variant and €649.95 for the 240GB) depends on what exactly do you intend doing with such a speedy storage. So let us just say that if you can afford and justify the cost, it isn’t a wise idea to not invest on this speedy little portable demon, and if you are a casual user then this definitely is a overkill.
Thunderbolt SSD Specifications
|Model Name||Thunderbolt SSD|
|Type of Drive||External|
|Dimensions||83 x 21 x 131 mm|
|Hard drive type||External|
|Compatibility||Mac Thunderbolt port|
|Power Source||Bus Powered|
|In the Box||Elgato Thunderbolt SSD
|Warranty||3 years limited warranty|