Thunderbolt hard drives & enclosures?

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
Is anyone here using Thunderbolt hard drives? The connector has been around for a year and a half and there are still barely any drive products that have a Thunderbolt interface. I'd like to get such a drive, but I'm not happy with the current offerings.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22


    When the frick are PCs supposed to have Thunderbolt? If they're "waiting for it to be part of the chipset", then Intel had better darn well FORCE the inclusion of Thunderbolt ports in computers that use that chipset.

  • Reply 2 of 22
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    Even the much-ballyhooed Sony Vaio Z with the USB Thunderbolt port doesn't seem to exist anymore.
  • Reply 3 of 22


    Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post

    Even the much-ballyhooed Sony Vaio Z with the USB Thunderbolt port doesn't seem to exist anymore.


     


    Oh, well, that's because that sucked and wasn't officially part of the spec. It was Sony doing what they always do: whining about standards, ignoring them, and trying to make their own proprietary stuff.

  • Reply 4 of 22


    As thunderbolt drives and interfaces are getting somewhat less expensive, I got recently two thunderbolt devices and I love the transfer speeds they deliver. I use the Buffalo MiniStation 1TB for my MacBook Pro and I got a LaCie Thunderbolt eSata Hub with two 3TB drives (in Macally enclosures) in RAID 1 on my MacMini Server (plugged into my Thunderbolt Display). It works great. I like the USB option of the Buffalo if I need to transfer files to older macs or PCs.

  • Reply 5 of 22
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    Thanks, I wasn't aware of the LaCie hub. Given I only want to connect one or two drives, that's a bit much.

    One product I thought looked interesting were from QNAP:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/5956/qnaps-jtb400-a-byod-4bay-thunderbolt-enclosure

    Going by their existing products that look just like those, it's going to be expensive and they're loud. I can hide one behind an acoustical panel, but the cost is probably going to be a bit much. $870 for the eSATA version:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822107084

    Elgato has a 120GB and 240GB SSDs:
    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?O=&sku=853559&Q=&is=REG&A=details
    http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/853558-REG/Elgato_Systems_10024024_240GB_Thunderbolt_SSD_Portable.html

    The problem is I can get an OWC 480GB internal SSD for the price of their external TB 240GB SSD.

    I was hoping to avoid opening up my iMac to upgrade or add a drive, but given the current prices, I'll just bite the bullet and get on with it. I was hoping the TB market would get more competitive like six months ago.
  • Reply 6 of 22


    Still today, there is a good price premium to Thunderbolt drives, no matter the solution you will go, it will be more expensive than USB 3.0 and Firewire 800 options.


     


    The eSata hub is a little more (179$ at B&H), but then it is easy to take any SDD or HD you want in a cheap (or not) eSata enclosure (even a 2 or 4 bays eSata enclosure) and use them quickly... 

  • Reply 7 of 22
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    imathieub wrote: »
    Still today, there is a good price premium to Thunderbolt drives, no matter the solution you will go, it will be more expensive than USB 3.0 and Firewire 800 options.

    The eSata hub is a little more (179$ at B&H), but then it is easy to take any SDD or HD you want in a cheap (or not) eSata enclosure (even a 2 or 4 bays eSata enclosure) and use them quickly... 

    I'm OK with spending more, it's a question of how much more before it gets ridiculous. Using that LaCie product puts it at $180 premium compared to alternatives and it's an additional box, for two external boxes and more cords. Save some other option, I've just resigned myself to opening the iMac, it results in a more optimal solution of no additional external boxes anyway, and it looks like half hour's to an hour's worth of work.
  • Reply 8 of 22
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,157moderator
    jeffdm wrote:
    I was hoping to avoid opening up my iMac to upgrade or add a drive, but given the current prices, I'll just bite the bullet and get on with it.

    I would avoid putting the OS on a big drive if it's above 1TB as it tends to slow down the system. There are mixed reviews of the following adaptor but it's an option:

    http://www.amazon.com/Seagate-GoFlex-Thunderbolt-Adapter-STAE121/dp/B006P1QWOQ

    You would just plug any 2.5" SSD or HDD onto it like the Crucial M4:

    http://www.amazon.com/Crucial-2-5-Inch-Solid-State-CT512M4SSD2/dp/B004W2JL3Y

    The good thing is it's bus-powered so minimal cables and if the adaptor messes up you can install the SSD internally or in a FW800/USB enclosure. Quite a fast option too:

    http://forums.macrumors.com/showpost.php?p=15272309&postcount=355

    Some people seem to have had better reliability with different TB cables.

    I wish Apple would make a portable 2.5" TB enclosure like their external superdrive. It would make a great Time Machine backup for SSD-based Macs as it would likely do sustained transfers of around 300MB/s+ between SSDs and would of course be fully bootable.

    3rd parties are fine for the drives themselves but they don't seem to be able to make reliable enclosures. G-tech drives are nicely built and they have a TB drive but it's just a big HDD RAID drive:

    http://www.g-technology.com/products/g-raid-thunderbolt.cfm
  • Reply 9 of 22

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post





    I'm OK with spending more, it's a question of how much more before it gets ridiculous. Using that LaCie product puts it at $180 premium compared to alternatives and it's an additional box, for two external boxes and more cords. Save some other option, I've just resigned myself to opening the iMac, it results in a more optimal solution of no additional external boxes anyway, and it looks like half hour's to an hour's worth of work.


     


    You are right, the optimal solution is to change your internal drive. I did it on my MacMini putting two nice 240GB SSDs without paying the big price. The iFixit guides are nice help for this. 


     


    Good luck! Let us know how it goes. I plan on getting an iMac and doing a RAM and SSD drive upgrade...

  • Reply 10 of 22
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    imathieub wrote: »
    You are right, the optimal solution is to change your internal drive. I did it on my MacMini putting two nice 240GB SSDs without paying the big price. The iFixit guides are nice help for this. 

    Good luck! Let us know how it goes. I plan on getting an iMac and doing a RAM and SSD drive upgrade...

    RAM is easy. Drives are a little harder. I think it might just look intimidating. The front glass can be pulled off with fingertips, the suction cups are totally unnecessary. The front LCD takes a few screws and cables then you can see the drive(s). Now, it's just the size of the LCD that has me nervous.
  • Reply 11 of 22
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    OK, I'm glad I waited to buy the drive. The process is longer than I thought. I think it is still manageable, but more complicated than replacing an iPhone 4 screen.

    This is OWC's instructional video on the process:



    I just need to either psych myself up for the process or pay to have it done.
  • Reply 12 of 22


    I've got two WD 6TB TB drives and love them.  The transfer rate increase over FW800 is awesome; video transfers in less than half the time.  When working with a lot of video, that is a lot of saved time.  

  • Reply 13 of 22
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    jeffdm wrote: »
    RAM is easy. Drives are a little harder. I think it might just look intimidating. The front glass can be pulled off with fingertips, the suction cups are totally unnecessary. The front LCD takes a few screws and cables then you can see the drive(s). Now, it's just the size of the LCD that has me nervous.

    I had just installed an SSD internally to a 2011 iMac rather than trying the Thunderbolt route. It would have been perfect if I didn't accidentally bend a pin on the camera cable socket. It's all fixed now and I've installed Mountain Lion and working on the updates.

    The LCD panel thickness was a big deal in the 2012 iMac update, and I really believe it now. The 2011 panel is about 20mm thick, I didn't think it was that thick.
  • Reply 14 of 22


    The problem with most Thunderbolt drives (aside from the price of course) is that the hard drive is just not fast enough to make sense for Thunderbolt most of the time (unless it's a SSD, and then we're really talking pricey).


     


    Unless you're using a RAID, a good 1-2 TB drive with a USB3.0 connection is the way to go IMHO.  

  • Reply 15 of 22
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    The problem with most Thunderbolt drives (aside from the price of course) is that the hard drive is just not fast enough to make sense for Thunderbolt most of the time (unless it's a SSD, and then we're really talking pricey).

    Unless you're using a RAID, a good 1-2 TB drive with a USB3.0 connection is the way to go IMHO.

    My iMac is pre-USB 3, but has Thunderbolt, which is why I asked. I was asking because I wanted to add an SSD and hoped to avoid getting inside the iMac. Given there were no reasonable options (in my opinion, because a good unit it would have added $200-$300 to the project cost), I went with opening the iMac anyway, and I'm glad I did, though I did have a setback with a mistake, it's all good now.
  • Reply 16 of 22
    frank777frank777 Posts: 5,770member


    I would imagine someone's going to introduce a PCI-based graphics card for the new Mac Mini, using Thunderbolt.


     


    Then I can kiss my iMac goodbye.

  • Reply 17 of 22
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    frank777 wrote: »
    I would imagine someone's going to introduce a PCI-based graphics card for the new Mac Mini, using Thunderbolt.

    Then I can kiss my iMac goodbye.

    Unless someing changes with how much Thunderbolt devices cost, I would imagine that the cost of a mini+thunderbolt external graphics would be close enough to or exceed that of an iMac with equivalent specs. I don't see it being a mainstream product.
  • Reply 18 of 22
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,157moderator
    jeffdm wrote:
    Unless someing changes with how much Thunderbolt devices cost, I would imagine that the cost of a mini+thunderbolt external graphics would be close enough to or exceed that of an iMac with equivalent specs. I don't see it being a mainstream product.

    Seagate can make a TB adaptor for $100 and Lacie has an enclosure for $199:

    http://www.amazon.com/Seagate-Portable-Thunderbolt-Adapter-STAE128/dp/B009HQCARY
    http://www.lacie.com/products/product.htm?id=10574

    While they are expensive, it should only cost $100-200 on top of a standard GPU to put a dedicated TB interface on it but it depends on the enclosure build quality. You can get a 6670 for under $100:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814121442

    and it will run off a 150W PSU. I could see a $300 solution being possible. Connected to a $599 Mini, it would be affordable. I think it would easier to build mobile ones using MXM slots. A GTX 460M is $170 (used):

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/NVIDIA-GeForce-GTX-460M-1-5G-DDR5-MXM-3-0b-VGA-Module-/200815905250?pt=PCC_Video_TV_Cards&hash=item2ec18f89e2

    It only uses 75W and scores quite well:

    http://www.notebookcheck.net/NVIDIA-GeForce-GTX-460M.33612.0.html

    Sonnet have some TB enclosures out and their entry 60W one is $399 but they are making generic PCI boxes. To get the price down, they'd have to build a proper external GPU. A TB GPU setup was tested here and the results are quite impressive:

    OpenCL:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/pci-express-graphics-thunderbolt,3263-6.html
    Gaming:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/pci-express-graphics-thunderbolt,3263-7.html
    Conclusion:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/pci-express-graphics-thunderbolt,3263-8.html

    They used a 6970 ($400?) connected to the top $800 TB chassis with an additional PSU of their own. That price is high but even the high-end setup could be appealling to some. The Luxmark score of 855 is higher than the latest E5 8-core Xeon chip and $600 cheaper:

    http://www.luxrender.net/luxmark/top/top20/Room/CPU

    You could hook up two to the iMac and between the iMac CPU, GTX 680MX, 2x Sonnet + 6970, that's still only $4600 and would score way higher for OpenCL than a top-end MP as it doesn't even use $1900 Xeon chips.

    A lot of things need to change for this to be a reality though:

    - manufacturers need to build proper GPU solutions
    - Apple needs to let GPUs work over TB

    edit: I just checked out some scores of the 7970 and I don't know what AMD did to make it run so fast but these scores are a factor of 3-4 faster than the last gen and much faster than the 680:

    http://www.clbenchmark.com/device-info.jsp?config=11905561
    http://www.clbenchmark.com/device-info.jsp?config=11905948

    http://www.legitreviews.com/article/1881/15/

    If you could run a 7970 in a TB enclosure, the compute power would be very worthwhile assuming the GPU was supported - NVidia is generally a safer bet for support:


    [VIDEO]
  • Reply 19 of 22
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    The problem I had was the Seagate sled got bad reviews for being rubbish and LaCie products in general seems to generate a lot of complaints.

    Does Apple disallow TB? I thought the interface was supposed to be generic PCIe. I don't know if that's a viable idea, isn't Thunderbolt the equivalent of two or four PCIe lanes?
  • Reply 20 of 22
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,157moderator
    jeffdm wrote: »
    The problem I had was the Seagate sled got bad reviews for being rubbish and LaCie products in general seems to generate a lot of complaints.

    Yeah, the STAE121 has complaints - it looked like the cable might have been partly to blame. There's a new model STAE128 but who knows if they've fixed it. Everyone will have USB 3 now so I doubt it'll be a popular purchase. Someone with the STAE127 used it with a 3rd party SSD:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Seagate-STAE127-Thunderbolt-Desktop-Adapter/dp/B007PJN50G

    He has the Elgato TB cable, which others reported helped the reliability.
    jeffdm wrote: »
    Does Apple disallow TB? I thought the interface was supposed to be generic PCIe. I don't know if that's a viable idea, isn't Thunderbolt the equivalent of two or four PCIe lanes?

    It's the same as PCI but the drivers need updated to support plug and play - standard PCI works at boot time. Apple writes the GPU drivers for OS X so they have to update them to work. Given that they can't put in OpenGL 4 support after 2.5 years, it's probably not going to happen in the short term and they probably won't bother with TB support as it's not something they will plan on supporting. If we could get 3rd party GPU drivers from NVidia/AMD it would be ok but, they are rivals to Intel and I don't see them going out of their way to support Intel's proprietary connection. It just happens to work under Windows because the drivers work ok at boot time but it's not plug and play like it should be.
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