For the video editors in our family who need to move big files around, apart from internet upload speeds, I was also researching the fastest connection types for portable hard drives.
- USB 2: 60 MB/s
- Firewire 800: 133 MB/s
- USB 3: 625 MB/s
- Thunderbolt 2: 1250 MB/s
(USB 3.1 will apparently be up to 1250 MB/s when it’s eventually out there.)
USB hard drive manufacturers even quote the full USB 3 speed on their specs. But these don’t reflect real-life usage when moving data to/from drives.
The bottleneck is the drive itself, and PC Pro found in tests that USB3 and Thunderbolt 2 basically achieved the same speed. Below I’ve put these results together with some MacWorld tests using a 7200 RPM drive.
So the practical speeds are:
- USB2: 41 to 42 MB/s
- FireWire 800: 55 to 74 MB/s (depending on read or write)
- USB3 or Thunderbolt 2: 112 to 116 MB/s
MacWorld also found that with SSDs, there was some additional benefit for USB3 and Thunderbolt, with Thunderbolt being between 6% and 35% faster than USB3. Presumably a similar boost would be available on USB3 flash drives.
Why is Thunderbolt so much lower than advertised? Probably because it’s not just designed for storage devices. It can also be used for displays, which need a much faster data transfer rate.
The Thunderbolt tax
Thunderbolt in drives is much much more expensive than other interfaces: for example for LaCie Rugged 2 TB drives at this place in South Melbourne, you’re looking at A$239 for USB 2/3, A$279 for USB 2/3 and Firewire, or A$389 for USB 2/3 and Thunderbolt. So it’s basically a $150 or 60% premium.
Thunderbolt also severely limits the range of drives you can buy. Most brands aren’t touching it.
My budding video editors have access to machines at uni that do USB 3 and Thunderbolt.
But at home we had neither; our old-but-still-good 2008 vintage “3,1” Mac Pros have USB2 or Firewire 800. They can’t be upgraded to Thunderbolt, but they can be upgraded to USB3 (for about US$60 each plus postage; cheaper than the “Thunderbolt tax” for single a high-capacity drive). So I’ve gone with USB3.
Yeah eventually I’ll have to replace the Mac Pros — they were secondhand when we got them 3 years ago — but they do have a bit of life in them yet… though one seems to be playing up a bit, grrr.
Back to some transport stuff in the next post