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.
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.
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.
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.
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-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.
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).
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 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.
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 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.
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 (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!