Review: Elgato Thunderbolt SSD

Elgato enters storage market with Thunderbolt SSDs (March 11th, 2012)

Although Elgato is better known for its EyeTV tuners, the company has entered the storage market with several Thunderbolt solid-state drives. The external storage devices pair flash chips with a Thunderbolt connection to enable much faster data transfer speeds than traditional disk drives. In our full review, we take a close look at how the Elgato drives stack up against similar offerings from storage industry veterans.

Electronista Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Elgato

Price: $699 as tested

The Good

  • Fast SSD transfer speeds
  • Sturdy housing
  • Thunderbolt compatible
  • Bus powered

The Bad

  • Not as fast as other SSDs
  • No USB or FireWire option
  • Expensive
  • Limited capacity compared to HDD

Although Elgato is better known for its EyeTV tuners, the company has entered the storage market with several Thunderbolt solid-state drives. The external storage devices pair flash chips with a Thunderbolt connection to enable much faster data transfer speeds than traditional disk drives. In our full review, we take a close look at how the Elgato drives stack up against similar offerings from storage industry veterans.

Design

Elgato's Thunderbolt SSD could easily pass for a traditional external disk drive, as the compact housing measures 82x21x131mm--comparable in size to a small external drive that contains a 2.5-inch disk. The drive is not adorned with rubber bumpers or any other ruggedized features--SSDs, with no moving parts, are naturally less prone to damage from shock and impact. The aluminum case appears to be sufficiently durable for the task.

Aesthetics should be the least important factor when choosing storage options, but Elgato's SSDs bring a matte black finish that blends in on a desk amongst other electronics. The design is not flashy and omits the gimmicky LED status lights that serve no practical purpose on most disk drives.





Connection options

The SSDs only integrate a single Thunderbolt port, without secondary USB or FireWire ports to broaden compatibility with older Macs or Windows machines. The housing also lacks a power connection, as the system pulls adequate power through the Thunderbolt connection.

The Elgato SSDs are technically compatible with Windows computers, but the current lack of additional connections effectively restricts them to the Mac platform until more Thunderbolt-equipped Windows PCs arrive on the market. The drives are also limited to the latest Macs that are no more than a year old.





Performance

Elgato claims its Thunderbolt SSDs can reach speeds of up to 270MB/s, and we give the company credit for publishing a realistic estimate. Several other storage companies highlight Thunderbolt's 1280MB/s theoretical maximum when referring to their SSD storage, despite the fact that the storage system itself is incapable of taking full advantage of such speeds.

We tested the Elgato SSD using QuickBench 4.0, which the company references in its speed claim. We were able to achieve peak transfer speeds of 272MB/s when reading large files at least 20MB in size, with write speeds topping out at 263MB/s in the same test.





When transferring smaller files, the storage averaged between 245MB/s and 250MB/s when running sequential or random read/write operations for 1MB files. Performance bottomed out with 4KB files, as expected, with speeds ranging between 16MB/s and 37MB/s.

The Elgato SSD clearly outperforms any storage option connected via USB 2.0 or FireWire 800, which typically max out at 35MB/s and 80MB/s, respectively. Performance is just slightly ahead of claimed transfer rates for some SSDs connected via USB 3.0, suggesting Elgato's drives are leaving Thunderbolt's speed advantage somewhat untapped.

Elgato's primary competition in the Thunderbolt-connected external SSD market is currently limited to LaCie's Little Big Disk Thunderbolt-series SSD. The latter is claimed to reach read speeds of up to 480MB/s, while write speeds are slightly under Elgato's at 245MB/s.





Final thoughts

The transfer rates of solid-state storage technology enable users to achieve faster boot times or migrate large files in a fraction of the time that is required by FireWire and USB 2.0 interfaces. In most situations, however, external storage does not serve as the boot drive. SSD storage also commands a much higher price per gigabyte when compared to spinning disks.

The 240GB Elgato drive that we tested retails for $700 and reaches maximum read/write speeds around 270MB/s. Alternatively, potential buyers can pick up LaCie's 2TB Thunderbolt-series desktop drive that is claimed to reach 190MB/s read/write speeds via two HDDs managed as a RAID 0 configuration. Although LaCie's option is larger and requires a dedicated power supply, it offers 70 percent of the maximum transfer speed, more than eight times the total storage volume, and a total savings of $120.

For users who want the ultimate in transfer speeds, with the added bonus of faster boot times and improved computer performance overall, an internal SSD may be the logical first step. OWC's Mercury Electra 6G, which costs $65 more than the Elgato drive, is claimed to sustain 556MB/s read speeds and 523MB/s write speeds.

Despite the apparent value discrepancy between Elgato's 240GB external SSD and Thunderbolt HDD storage or internal SSD storage, Elgato does serve a particular niche that has yet to be addressed. For production crews that need to process and store HD video streams from a MacBook without worrying about external power sources, the Elgato SSDs represent some of the fastest external drives that are truly portable.





by Justin King


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