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Elgato's Thunderbolt SSD drive delivers speed, sticker shock

When it comes to external SSDs, speed costs

March 16, 2012 05:58 AM ET

Computerworld - When my editor in chief handed me a Thunderbolt-enabled solid-state drive recently, my first thought was: "I didn't think these existed yet." I was close to being right.

The Elgato Thunderbolt SSD is the first Thunderbolt storage device that will fit in your pants pocket. The drive weighs only 9.5 oz. and measures 5.2 x .8 x 3.3 in., typical of 2.5-in. external backup drives.

The Thunderbolt connectivity protocol, announced last year, offers twice the performance of the latest SuperSpeed USB (3.0) interconnect. So there's reason to believe it could someday overtake USB, the most ubiquitous external I/O technology ever created.

Apple has gone all in with Thunderbolt and there are a dozen or so manufacturers ready to ship Thunderbolt-enabled systems this year, according to Intel. At the Intel Developer Forum in September, a dozen new products were displayed with Thunderbolt ports.

OCZ plans to release its own Thunderbolt-enabled SSD this summer, and Windows systems with Thunderbolt support are expected to begin shipping later this year.

While I test quite a few drives, both external and internal, it's rare that I see anything but incremental performance increases with each new generation. But the Thunderbolt interconnect makes this drive a truly fast backup device, more than three times faster than an external hard drive using USB 2.0. However, there are drawbacks.

The Elgato Thunderbolt SSD

An issue with this particular drive is that it has only one Thunderbolt port. One of the cool attributes of the Thunderbolt specification is that it allows you to daisy-chain peripherals together. As many as five peripherals, for instance, can be connected to the Apple Thunderbolt Display, such as a Promise Pegasus desktop RAID array or a LaCie Little Big Disk, which was the first Thunderbolt-enabled external hard drive.

Another issue with Thunderbolt-enabled hardware is the price, which hopefully will change as more products hit the market. I tested the 240GB model of the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD, which retails for an impressive $700. A 120GB version sells for $430. Even the three-foot Thunderbolt cable I used for this review cost $50. Ouch!

By comparison, a 1TB LaCie Little Big Disk with Thunderbolt connectivity (7200rpm) goes for $400; the 2TB, 5200rpm version sells for $500. So you're paying a hefty premium for the portability and ruggedness of an SSD.

In terms of style, the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD has a modern, techy look. The dark-gray matte finish is good for resisting fingerprints and makes the drive easy to grip.

Performance tests

The hardware platform I used to test the drive was a new MacBook Pro with 8GB of memory and a 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 processor. The laptop was running version 10.7.2 of Mac OS X (Lion). (The SSD supports Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later.) The stock drive in the laptop was a 750GB 7200rpm SATA hard drive.

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