Review: OWC ThunderBlade provides silent & fast Thunderbolt 3 storage

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited June 12
The updated ThunderBlade drive from OWC offers absolutely stunning storage speeds alongside a completely fanless design with Thunderbolt 3 while undercutting the price from the previous generation. Check out how we integrated it into our workflow.

OWC ThunderBlade
OWC ThunderBlade

The professional's desktop storage

This is the latest incarnation of the ThunderBlade line which keeps much of the same aesthetic as prior generations. The body is nearly all encompassed by a series of "blades" that give it a stylish look while providing a practical purpose we will touch on in a moment.

Around the back of the device reside two Thunderbolt 3 slots and a power input jack. Thanks to the dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, this can easily be slotted into any Thunderbolt 3-based workflow, all daisy chained together.

OWC ThunderBlade
OWC ThunderBlade


For example, we could run our MacBook Pro into the Thunderblade V4, possibly then some more external storage such as the LaCie 2Big RAID system or the Akitio Node Lite, followed possibly by a Thunderbolt 3 hub/dock, which then runs to an eGPU unit, and finally a Thunderbolt 3 monitor such as the new LG UltraFine 4K display.

The front has a status light that runs blue across the front to let you know when the drive is in use.

Also bundled with the ThunderBlade is a rugged storage case that is perfect for taking the Thunderblade out to job sites and can hold the drive, the Thunderbolt 3 cable, and the (rather bulky) power adapter.

Passive cooling is no small feat

Inside the ThunderBlade isn't just a single SSD, it is actually four M.2 NVMe SSDs. They are some of the Aura Pro modules that OWC sells on their own, just outfitted with the Thunderblade enclosure. They also get liberal coatings of thermal paste used for the impressive passive cooling of the ThunderBlade.

OWC ThunderBlade
OWC ThunderBlade front status light


M.2 SSDs can get incredibly hot and it takes quite the cooling system to compensate for that. As a video producer and podcaster, it is of the utmost importance to remove all noise from our recording area. We've plenty of impressive and expensive storage but any residual noise can be an issue when trying to record.

The thermal paste applied to the SSDs helps dissipate that heat and transfer it to the series of blades that radiate across the entire enclosure. This allows for complete passive cooling and doesn't rely whatsoever on any fan, making this drive wholly silent.

SoftRAID

Because this drive is made up of independent modules, they can be configured together in a RAID array using the SoftRAID software included with the ThunderBlade. OWC's SoftRAID app gives you six different options to choose from. You can opt for non-RAID which presents you all four individual SSDS. You can choose RAID 0 which will give you the fastest performance by combining them all into one volume. There is also RAID 1 (mirrored), RAID 1+0 (stripe of mirrors), RAID 4 (striped with parity), and RAID 5 (striped with distributed parity).

OWC ThunderBlade in the SoftRAID app
OWC ThunderBlade in the SoftRAID app


As we mentioned, RAID 0 is going to be the fastest of them all but doesn't give you any protection on your data. There is no mirror of data onto the other drives, it simply gives you one volume but writes to all four SSDs at once which gives you the impressive speeds. The downside is that should one of those SSDs die, all your data is gone.

That sounds scary, but considering most external media shows as one volume and will kill all your data if it goes bad, that doesn't make this much different. Just let this be a reminder to always back up critical data in one way or another.

Performance

The OWC Thunderblade is configurable up to 8TB, but we were provided the 2TB model. The 8TB will be slightly quicker, but we still achieved some stellar numbers with our review unit.

OWC ThunderBlade speed test results
OWC ThunderBlade speed test results


In the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, we got 1282MB/s for our write speed and 1358MB/s for our read speeds. Quick enough for even the most demanding storage-heavy workflows.

In a simple real-world test, we dumped a folder of 300 images, weighing in at 7.75GB, onto the ThunderBlade and it managed to transfer the folder in its entirety in just a mere 5.32 seconds. So quick that our machine hardly had time to actually pull the interface window up to show the progress.

Going for the larger 8TB will yield even better results.

A tool for high-end workflows

OWC ThunderBlade
OWC ThunderBlade


Most people don't need a drive like this. This isn't something that a college student needs to back up term papers. This is a tool to tie into those high-end workflows where one is editing 8K films or dealing with massive RAW image repositories.

For those situations, a Thunderbolt 3 enabled, completely silent, blazing fast drive is a welcomed addition.

As the cherry on top, compared to the previous generation, this new model is also far more affordable as well.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Where to buy

You can grab the ThunderBlade V4 from OWC with capacities ranging from 1TB to 8TB running $679 to $2679.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    deminsddeminsd Posts: 140member
    The review doesn't make it clear if all configurations include 4 SSD's.  If so, the speed for the 2TB (4 x 512GB) seems rather underwhelming.

    Given the enclosure is the same across all capacities, the 1TB is $679 and the 8TB is $2679.  So 4 x 2TB SSD's are more than $2000?  WOW.  Wonder if one can buy the 1TB and replace the SSD's with something more realistically priced?
    edited June 12
  • Reply 2 of 18
    thttht Posts: 3,212member
    What’s the power output of the external power brick?

    Can it be powered by TB3 bus power?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 18
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 244member, editor
    tht said:
    What’s the power output of the external power brick?

    Can it be powered by TB3 bus power?
    Only 15W of power is making it to my machine. I wouldn’t make this the first in my daisy chain of TB3 devices.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 18
    lorin schultzlorin schultz Posts: 2,711member
    Two questions:

    1. What mode was the drive in for the speed tests? I get roughly the same speed from a single M.2 drive. Seems like four of ‘em should be a lot faster.

    2. Is the power brick required to run the drive? Will the power from a Thunderbolt port on the MacBook Pro be enough to run the drive?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 18
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 244member, editor
    Two questions:

    1. What mode was the drive in for the speed tests? I get roughly the same speed from a single M.2 drive. Seems like four of ‘em should be a lot faster.

    2. Is the power brick required to run the drive? Will the power from a Thunderbolt port on the MacBook Pro be enough to run the drive?
    It was the default MacOS Extended (Journaled) and yes, the power brick is required.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 18
    lorin schultzlorin schultz Posts: 2,711member
    Two questions:

    1. What mode was the drive in for the speed tests? I get roughly the same speed from a single M.2 drive. Seems like four of ‘em should be a lot faster.

    2. Is the power brick required to run the drive? Will the power from a Thunderbolt port on the MacBook Pro be enough to run the drive?
    It was the default MacOS Extended (Journaled) and yes, the power brick is required.
    I was inquiring about the mode, not the format. I’m guessing JBOD and not a RAID configuration? Did it show 4 separate drives on your desktop? 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 18
    Are you able to compare this to the OWC Envoy Pro EX (VE). Both drives claim 2800mb/s on the owc website so paying extra for the Thunderblade seems a bit stupid. Admittedly, the thunder blade has larger capacity options, but for 1TB or 2TB the envoy is cheaper, has a built in cable, doesn’t require your cpu for RAID, and with only 1 drive it’s probably less likely to fail. What am I missing?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 18
    Andrew_OSUAndrew_OSU Posts: 244member, editor
    Two questions:

    1. What mode was the drive in for the speed tests? I get roughly the same speed from a single M.2 drive. Seems like four of ‘em should be a lot faster.

    2. Is the power brick required to run the drive? Will the power from a Thunderbolt port on the MacBook Pro be enough to run the drive?
    It was the default MacOS Extended (Journaled) and yes, the power brick is required.
    I was inquiring about the mode, not the format. I’m guessing JBOD and not a RAID configuration? Did it show 4 separate drives on your desktop? 
    It was RAID 0 as we talked about in the review. Going for peak performance.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 18
    Two questions:

    1. What mode was the drive in for the speed tests? I get roughly the same speed from a single M.2 drive. Seems like four of ‘em should be a lot faster.

    2. Is the power brick required to run the drive? Will the power from a Thunderbolt port on the MacBook Pro be enough to run the drive?
    It was the default MacOS Extended (Journaled) and yes, the power brick is required.
    I was inquiring about the mode, not the format. I’m guessing JBOD and not a RAID configuration? Did it show 4 separate drives on your desktop? 
    It was RAID 0 as we talked about in the review. Going for peak performance.
    Then the performance seems quite pitiful. I would have expected it to bottleneck on the TB link, hitting maybe 3.5GB/sec in each direction. Are you sure you tested this right? Those numbers seem insanely low, even for a single NVMe over TB. You can do much better RAIDing a pair of USB3 SSDs, at a fraction of the price. (I believe that this test is for sequential xfers. If I'm wrong, then all bets are off.)
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 18
    The real question is what is the authors opinion of the KEF LSX speakers in the background of the photos? I auditioned them a couple of months ago and was underwhelmed, which shocked me, given that I’ve been a KEF fan going back to the late 80s. The LS50s are truly stellar, but of course they cost twice as much. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 18
    I have two words for whomever took the photographs for this article: focus stacking. Yes, you can get completely sharp images across the whole field. It hurts my eyes to see such out of focus pictures in an article like this.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 18
    I have two words for whomever took the photographs for this article: focus stacking. Yes, you can get completely sharp images across the whole field. It hurts my eyes to see such out of focus pictures in an article like this.
    Low depth of field. The product is in focus but it only covers a small fraction of the product. It's considered artistic but not particularly useful when you're interested in the aesthetics of the product.
    cgWerkswatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 18
    lorin schultzlorin schultz Posts: 2,711member
    Two questions:

    1. What mode was the drive in for the speed tests? I get roughly the same speed from a single M.2 drive. Seems like four of ‘em should be a lot faster.

    2. Is the power brick required to run the drive? Will the power from a Thunderbolt port on the MacBook Pro be enough to run the drive?
    It was the default MacOS Extended (Journaled) and yes, the power brick is required.
    I was inquiring about the mode, not the format. I’m guessing JBOD and not a RAID configuration? Did it show 4 separate drives on your desktop? 
    It was RAID 0 as we talked about in the review. Going for peak performance.
    I still don’t see where the article says you used RAID 0 for testing, but thanks!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 18
    No answer about the performance? The quoted numbers are ridiculously low. Based on them, this should be a 1/5 star item and a hard pass from every possible potential buyer. That can't be right.
  • Reply 15 of 18
    deminsddeminsd Posts: 140member
    No answer about the performance? The quoted numbers are ridiculously low. Based on them, this should be a 1/5 star item and a hard pass from every possible potential buyer. That can't be right.
    From what I've researched, RAID 0 does not add performance like you think it should.  Possibly on writes, but I don't even see that here.  RAID 1 is supposed to double read performance, but not RAID 0.  

    Maybe what I read is wrong, so don't shoot me.  :)
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 18
    deminsd said:
    No answer about the performance? The quoted numbers are ridiculously low. Based on them, this should be a 1/5 star item and a hard pass from every possible potential buyer. That can't be right.
    From what I've researched, RAID 0 does not add performance like you think it should.  Possibly on writes, but I don't even see that here.  RAID 1 is supposed to double read performance, but not RAID 0.  

    Maybe what I read is wrong, so don't shoot me.  :)

    RAID 0 stripes blocks across multiple volumes. So, any write large enough to fill more than a stripe-unit-size (typically just a block) can be done with the writes to each volume done in parallel. Similarly for reads. Naively, for non-small reads and writes, you can expect to double (triple, etc.) your performance with RAID 0. You're mixing up RAID 0 and RAID 1 (which, BTW, will accelerate reads, not writes).

    However, RAID isn't even the issue here. The performance level of this unit as reported in the review would be a very bad joke even for a single midrange consume NVMe drive. You'd have to go all the way down to a QLC drive to find a drive that performs as badly as the unit reviewed here. And even then it will often do better.

    Something is really wrong with the numbers in this review. And it's not the first time, recently. AI, what's going on?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 18
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 2,191member
    JustSomeGuy1 said:
    Something is really wrong with the numbers in this review.
    That seems low to me too, but just curious if you're comparing against other real-world units (ie. external TB3 SSDs, for expectations), or against spec and theoretical. I've often been disappointed with real-world results when compared to what I was thinking in my head should be the outcomes. Sites that sell these things often say 'up to' some blazing fast speed, which is based on the specs.

    The other possibility is like this tech-note on Sonnet's site:
    "Most computers equipped with Thunderbolt 3 connect four PCIe lanes (x4 PCIe Gen 3) to Thunderbolt 3. Some computers connect only two PCIe lanes (x2 PCIe Gen 3) to some or all ports, which will result in performance of the Fusion Thunderbolt 3 Flash Drive being reduced to about 1400 MB/s when connected to those ports."

    So, maybe the wrong port, or chained into other devices using the bandwidth? I noticed the article said about how you could put one of these, then other devices, then a monitor, etc..... which yes, you could, but that wouldn't be a very good idea.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 18
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 2,191member

    commentzilla said:
    Low depth of field. The product is in focus but it only covers a small fraction of the product. It's considered artistic but not particularly useful when you're interested in the aesthetics of the product.
    I agree, it would be nicer to have the product shots (or at least some of them, or that type) done with a different lens. That kind of photo might be nice for, say, and iMac sitting on an island counter for an initial photo in an article, but more closeup product shots like that don't look good that way (and functionally, aren't good for us either).
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