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There’s fast, and then there’s really fast, and then there’s the disbelief that you’ve been driving in the slow lane for so long. After the debut of the Thunderbolt I/O, we were excited at the idea of syncing at 10Gb/s speeds, but the first batch of portable drives with Thunderbolt were all platter-based HDDs, and those internal discs can only spin so fast. Speedier solid-state drives can take better advantage of Thunderbolt’s potential, as Elgato’s Thunderbolt SSD clearly demonstrates.
The Elgato Thunderbolt SSD comes encased in a very barebones, slate gray, matte-finished aluminum enclosure with no fancy lights or switches. Aesthetically, it’s a gorgeous companion drive for your Mac. The Thunderbolt SSD is HFS+ formatted right out of the box, which is a no-brainer considering that PCs don’t yet have Thunderbolt support.
Elgato advertises that the Thunderbolt SSD can handle up to 270MB/s, but our tests with QuickBench 4 maxed out the drive at 248MB/s and 246 MB/s read and write speeds, respectively. That’s actually faster than the onboard flash memory of the 11-inch MacBook Air we tested the Elgato with. That Core i7 Air with 4GB of RAM posted QuickBench speeds of 220MB/s reading and 210MB/s writing. Additionally, it took less than 20 seconds to transfer 2GB of video from the Mac to the drive. These numbers are a godsend to video producers, graphic designers, and photographers who need external storage that won’t lag behind. This is, quite literally, the fastest portable drive we’ve ever seen--an ordinary USB 2.0 connection would have barely been able to manage a fifth of that speed, and FireWire 800 would max out at about a third.
Because it’s fast, and because the Thunderbolt SSD includes two of the most expensive technologies manufactured for the consumer market, you really have to be rolling in dough to justify this drive--or using it as part of your livelihood. You can buy a 6TB RAID with platter-based drives for the same price as the 240GB version of the Thunderbolt SSD, but the performance would pale in comparison. Another minor caveat of the Thunderbolt SSD is the limited Thunderbolt cable offerings. Currently, only Apple sells the proprietary cable for a whopping $49, and it’s 6 feet long and so bulky when wrapped up that it doesn’t bode so well for the Thunderbolt SSD’s portability. However, the speed is worth the inconvenience of carrying around the cord, and as soon as PCs begin adopting the Thunderbolt port we’ll hopefully see cheaper, shorter cables from third-party manufacturers.
The bottom line. If you can afford it and you can justify the cost, you’d be a fool not to invest in this portable little speed demon.
Thunderbolt-equipped Mac, Thunderbolt cable (sold separately)
Stylish. Lightweight. Super fast. Comes with a three-year warranty.
Gets a little hot during use. Very expensive.