TMO’s Thunderbolt Roundup

| Product News

Forget Lion, iPads, and iPhones; the feature that we’re most excited by (and thus far disappointed in) is Thunderbolt. The new technology developed by Intel and available on Macs since early last year has the promise to revolutionize PC storage and connectivity. Thus far, however, there have been few Thunderbolt products released, and that cute little port on the back of my iMac is getting lonely.

Thankfully, this year’s CES brought several new announcements and demonstrations of upcoming Thunderbolt devices and the impending Macworld | iWorld Expo promises to bring even more.

For all those excited by Thunderbolt, we take a look at what’s already available and what’s just around the corner.

Available Now

Little Big Disk Thunderbolt

Little Big Disk (LaCie)

Released late last year, the Little Big Disk offers up two 2.5” drives in a small aluminum enclosure. The drives, either conventional HDDs or SSDs, are configured for RAID using OS X’s Disk Utility and, in the case of the SSD option, offer blistering read performance of close to 500 MB/s. The prices, starting at US$499.99 for the 1 TB HDD model, are steep, but if you need portable external storage and internal storage speeds, this is the drive for you.


Pegasus RAID Thunderbolt

Pegasus RAID (Promise Technology)

The first commercially available Thunderbolt storage option, the Pegasus RAID series from Promise Technology comes in both 4-bay (the R4) and 6-bay (the R-6) configurations. The arrays use standard 3.5” HDDs, although they can be configured with SSDs by the user. 

Like the Little Big Disk, the arrays are only available with included drives, so you’ll pay a premium, but if you’re looking for the absolute fastest throughput, these arrays can’t be beat. AnandTech clocked the 6-bay R6 Pegasus at 674 MB/s reads and 684 MB/s writes in a RAID-5 configuration while a RAID-0 configuration pushed the read and write numbers even higher, to 782 MB/s and 758 MB/s, respectively.

The arrays are available in four configurations and will run you between $1,149 and $2,499 depending on capacity.


Sonnet Echo ExpressCard Thunderbolt

Echo ExpressCard/34 Thunderbolt Adapter (Sonnet Technologies)

This neat device uses the Thunderbolt interface to provide access to ExpressCard/34 adapters, something that many professional Mac users have been clamoring for since Apple dropped the feature from all but its 17-inch MacBook Pro several years ago.

With the Echo, Mac users can add the functionality of a multitude of ExpressCard adapters to their Macs, including USB 3.0, eSATA, and additional Firewire ports. Available now for $149.95 the price is a bit steep, but for some users with professional needs, it may be a dream come true.


Coming Soon


Western Digital MyBook Thunderbolt

MyBook Thunderbolt Duo (Western Digital)

Hard drive giant Western Digital will finally release its first Thunderbolt products this year, starting with an update to its venerable MyBook line of external drives. The drives consist of two HDDs with up to 6 TB total capacity per enclosure. As demonstrated during CES, while each enclosure can reach about 250 MB/s, the drives can be daisy chained together to reach as high as 900 MB/s.

Western Digital has not yet released information on pricing and availability, but full details are expected to arrive at Macworld | iWorld.


G-Tech G-RAID Thunderbolt

G-RAID (G-Technology - Hitachi)

An update to G-Tech’s already conventionally-ported G-RAID drives, this new Thunderbolt-equipped model includes two drives and, like the Western Digital MyBook drives, is daisy-chain compatible. Although a specific release date is not yet known, the drives will be available in 4, 6, and 8 TB configurations and set you back $799, $999, and $1,199, respectively.


Elgato Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt SSD (Elgato)

The TV tuner and multimedia software company Elgato has decided to branch out into the storage industry and has announced its own branded external SSD with Thunderbolt connectivity. With speeds up to 270 MB/s the drive won’t be the fastest thing in town, but it’s small form factor may be attractive to some users. The drive will only have a single Thunderbolt port, however, so make sure you connect it at the end of your daisy-chain. Available in February in 120 GB and 240 GB capacities, the drives are priced in euros at €399.95 (about $510) and €649.95 (about $830).


Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock 

Thunderbolt Express Dock (Belkin)

As of today, Apple’s $999 Thunderbolt Display is the only available Thunderbolt “hub,” providing users with Thunderbolt-equipped Macs with Firewire 800, USB, and Ethernet expandability. Belkin looks to change that with it’s Thunderbolt Express Dock, a small hub with an aluminum finish that promises to fill the gap of Mac users who either can’t spend $999 or don’t want an additional 27” display.

The dock includes three USB 2.0 ports (unfortunately USB 3.0 is not available), one Firewire 800 port, one HDMI port, one Gigabit Ethernet port, one 3.5 mm audio port, and two Thunderbolt ports: one for connecting to your Mac and another for providing daisy-chain access to additional Thunderbolt peripherals.

Priced at $299, the Express Dock is no bargain, but it’s a far cry from Apple’s $999 Thunderbolt Display. Sadly, Belkin declares that we won’t be able to get our hands on it until September 2012.


LaCie Thunderbolt 2012

LaCie Thunderbolt Products

LaCie, already in the Thunderbolt game with its Little Big Disk, announced two more Thunderbolt products at CES: the 2big Thunderbolt, an extension of their already available 2big series of RAID drives, and the Thunderbolt eSATA Hub.

The 2big Thunderbolt RAID will be available in 4, 6, and 8 TB configurations and LaCie promises speeds of up to 311 MB/s. 

The eSATA Hub is the more novel of the two products: it gives Mac users the ability to connect to eSATA-interfaced drives, something that was previously only available to Mac Pro users with a dedicated PCI Express add-on card.

Pricing is not yet available but both products should be in our hands by the end of March.


OCZ Lightfoot Thunderbolt

Lightfoot (OCZ)

The SSD manufacturer OCZ will release its first Thunderbolt product within a few months. Taking an innovative approach, the external SSD drive will eschew traditional controller interfaces and will instead include a hard-wired PCI Express connection to the Thunderbolt port. This allows single-drive speeds to presumably reach 750 MB/s, making this a potential winner for single drive external performance.

The drive will be available in 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, and 1 TB capacities. While pricing is not yet official, AnandTech estimates pricing to be around $2 per GB.


GoFlex Thunderbolt

GoFlex Adapter (Seagate) 

Users of Seagate’s GoFlex mobile and desktop storage connections have long been able to take advantage of the company’s innovative method of changing interfaces. Both mobile and desktop versions of the series allow standard external drives to connect to computers via multiple different interfaces by utilizing a series of interchangeable dock connectors.

This forward-looking implementation now allows Seagate to release a Thunderbolt adapter which allows all of its users’ existing drives to become Thunderbolt drives with the simple changing of a cable. Ars Technica reports that the mobile version of the adapter will be released in the next few weeks for $100, with its desktop counterpart following in February for $190.


ioSafe Rugged Thunderbolt

Rugged Portable Thunderbolt (ioSafe)

Available in both single HDD and dual SDD configurations, the ioSafe Rugged Portable Thunderbolt drive looks to turn heads not just for its speed, but for its durability. The company, known for its “rugged” line of products, demonstrated just how much confidence they have in their product by zapping it with a million-watt Tesla coil during CES.

The drive will be available in the second quarter of 2012. The HDD version is expected to cost $500 while pricing for the SSD version remains unknown.


Echo Express PCIe 2.0

Echo Express PCIe 2.0 (Sonnet Technologies)

An exciting product, the Echo Express and Echo Express XL promise to provide Thunderbolt Mac users with the ability to connect up to a full length PCI Express 2.0 card. While you won’t be adding any advanced GPUs, Mac users will have the opportunity for the first time access high-performance audio interfaces and video capture cards, potentially turning notebooks as small as the MacBook Air into full-fledged production computers.

Pricing and availability are unknown at this time.

Did we miss anything? What Thunderbolt devices are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!

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Same problem getting peripheral products for SCSI and USB 1. Apple seems to be the trail blazer again. One has to learn patience, even in these times of instant gratification.


Where are the Thunderbolt PCI cards so we can add this port to our Mac Pros?


God only know why LaCie is still in business. Highest failure rte in the industry. Their power supplies fry drives. Recovery is expensive, I know first hand.

Dorje Sylas

nemesis, we won’t see those cards for years if ever. Intel wants to keep it proprietary to their motherboards as much as Apple wants to use it as a selling point for newer consumer devices. A PCIe thunderbolt card would negate both and most defiantly on Intel’s end more then Apple.


I have a 500GB USB drive used for Time Machine backup that is chronically full (esp. since my new iMac has 2TB+ internal storage).  I figured I’d look for Thunderbolt drives since I have that shiny new port, but the cheapest might be $500 according to this.

I guess Thunderbolt, being a high-end cable, will be targeted at high-end uses and cost lots.  Hopefully next year prices will be down a bit.

(I’d also prefer to have 3.5” HDD enclosure with no drive in it, then I can upgrade the drive as I please.)


Pity the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock is not yet available. That looks like exactly what I need. As a FileMaker Development contractor, it will allow me to use a MacBook Air at a client site and have all the connectivity options I need (external monitor, ethernet, USB, FireWire) with one connection. Often a client site will have a spare monitor, but it’s usually VGA, sometimes DVI, but never an Apple monitor.


Intel wants to keep it proprietary to their motherboards as much as Apple wants to use it as a selling point for newer consumer devices.

If so DS, wouldn?t that dampen any Apple interest into jumping from the Intel ship?

SheikNet Chris

One thing omitted from this list is Promise’ SANLink. With dual 4G Fibre Channel ports and dual Thunderbolt ports (for daisy chaining), putting a modern Mac mini on my FC SAN is a dream for me.

A welcome addition to my rack of my Xserves, I can’t wait!


Don’t get too excited about the Sonnet ExpressCard adapter. I bought one to put USB3.0 on a 2011 MacBook Pro 17” and returned it a week later. First, it does not now and probably never will support USB 3.0, even though every reviewer says it will. It turns out that it does not support a USB stack at all, not even USB 2.0. So all of those USB2.0 interfaced cards ExpressCards (memory readers, etc) will never work. Only PCI-E interfaced cards will work.

Second, they used an approach that guarantees this will always be a niche product. Rather than presenting a standard PCI-E ExpressCard interface to the card, the adapter is specific to Thunderbolt. This means that every card you use with it will need a new driver. Given the expected puny size of the market for this product it is highly unlikely that very many vendors will rewrite their ExpressCard drivers - it was hard enough to get Mac support in the first place. Even most of Sonnet’s ExpressCards are not supported, including many of there ESATA cards and their new USB3.0 card.

This might be OK if the supported cards operated in a stable manner, but they don’t. I bought one of these adapters, along with a compatible Sonnet ESATA ExpressCard, did the driver update dance, and used it to connect a 2011 MacBook (OSX 10.6.8) to an Iomega Multimedia 1TB drive enclosure formatted for MAC OS X. The interface was extremely unstable. The computer failed to recogize the drive when hot plugged most, but not all, of the time. Sometimes it would not recognize it even after a cold start. And the drive often “disappeared” in the middle of a transfer. This same drive is rock solid with a generic ESATA card direct plugged in the MBP’s ExpressCard slot.

I hope the upcoming Thunderbolt products work better than this one. I would expect more from a technology that pushes the price of a generic RAID array with two $200 3GB drives to $1000.

One mans opinion, but I think Thunderbolt will be short lived and both economically and technically painful for all involved.

Joe Rose

What is really needed to make this technology take off is a thunderbolt dock with 7 USB2 ports for peripherals and 5 DVI ports for monitors. We can then connect all our existing stuff to a Macbook Pro or iMac via ONE port.
You can buy 4 or 5 26” 1920x1200 monitors for the price of ONE apple cinema display or HP zx30 monitor. Why not have an easy way to connect these, in portrait mode, around your Macbook pro ?
You could keep a ton of work going, on-screen, but when you’re travelling, you throw the Macbook Pro and maybe an external hard drive into your bag, and board the plane - no syncing of machines required, no more than one computer to purchase/maintain…

Anyone else want this ?


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