There’s been a lot of recent press about the relatively newly released Thunderbolt high speed data port that is available on most 2011 and new Apple computers. First introduced on the Macbook Pro, MacBook Air and iMac, it’s sure to soon find its way to the professional Mac Pro as well. Supporting speeds of up to 10 Gbps, the speed number leaves the still freshly available USB 3.0 technology in its dust.
There are however, a lot of good reasons to give this decision some thought if you are considering the purchase of a high end external hard drive to be used for I/O intensive applications such as video editing. As with any piece of new technology, there will always be a line up for the early adopters who want the latest gadget before everyone else. Even those who are in that line will readily admit that they are paying a premium for that privilege. If anything, there is now a bargain to be had in USB 3.0 technology after manufacturers have been forced to drop the price of USB 3.0 peripherals since the launch of Thunderbolt.
If you were to compare the cost of a new Thunderbolt Hard Drive to that of a similar USB 3.0 hard drive, you would be likely to find that USB 3.0 comes in at a much lower price point. I like to compare these two technologies to something I’m familiar with, in this example you could see USB 3.0 as a shiny new red Porsche sports car, and Thunderbolt as a Formula 1 race car. Obviously the Formula 1 race car is plenty fast and will usually beat the Porsche when it comes to speed - but the question you need to ask is - do you really need it for rush hour traffic?
At the end of the day when costs are compared I think USB 3.0 is more than capable of keeping up the pace. There is certainly a market for Thunderbolt Hard Drives, and Apple has done their customers a great service in our opinion by allowing their customers to take advantage of this new technology. If you’ve been using an external hard drive that is running on USB 2.0, it’s certainly worth considering that USB 3.0 will provide you with a great improvement at nearly 10 times the speed on paper. In real life, expect it to cut your file transfer speeds by a little more than half. When we ran a test a 60 second file copy on USB 2.0 took just 22 seconds over USB 3.0 but your own mileage may vary. Over Thunderbolt with a manufacturer’s demonstration drive we copied the same file in only 9 seconds.
There’s no question though that for some a Thunderbolt Hard Drive is a must have - especially if you spent a large part of your day waiting for data. I formerly worked with a company rendering 3D animations. The animations were often so large that we could never keep all of our work on our workstations and relied heavily on external hard drives. Buying a large Thunderbolt Hard Drive storage array would have been a no brainer then. Being able to go from working on only my Desktop’s storage to being able to perform renders directly on attached devices would have made us much more productive and reduced our cost to our clients. This is the reason why many of the first to market Thunderbolt Hard Drive devices were very large RAID devices, and were priced beginning at $3,000 USD and higher. That investment could pay for itself in weeks - or less - for the right customer.
Hopefully this article has shed some light on the things to consider when purchasing a Thunderbolt Hard Drive.
Kevin Matt is working with Thunderbolt Hard Drive