Testing the Pieces

Before we get to the display and Thunderbolt specific testing I wanted to confirm that the individual controllers in the Thunderbolt Display were just as capable as those in the Mac it was connected to. For the most part, they are.

Following in Brian Klug's footsteps, I created two RAM disks - one on a MacBook Air and one on a MacBook Pro. I connected both systems to my local GigE network and copied giant files between them. I measured over 780Mbps going from the MacBook Air to the MacBook Pro, and 832Mbps in the other direction (images below). That's about as good as it's going to get.

Next I tested performance over FireWire 800 and USB 2.0. For FireWire 800 I used a Western Digital My Book Studio Edition II configured in RAID-1 and measured peak read speed from the device. For USB testing I turned to a Corsair Flash Voyager 3.0 (USB stick) and a SF-2281 SSD connected to a SATA-to-USB bridge. In both of the USB tests I measured write speed to the USB 2.0 devices. Apple appears to have chosen its FireWire controller well as performance was only off by 2MB/s compared to the FW800 port on the 15-inch MacBook Pro. USB 2.0 performance wasn't nearly as good however, I maxed out at 16.4MB/s and saw typical rates closer to 15MB/s:

Transfer Rate Comparison
  FireWire 800 USB 2.0 (stick) USB 2.0 (SSD)
Apple Thunderbolt Display 70.0 MB/s 14.1 MB/s 16.4 MB/s
Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro (2011) 72.0 MB/s 21.2 MB/s 32.2 MB/s

Both the audio controller and FaceTime HD cameras interface via the Thunderbolt Display's internal USB controller. It's likely that one of those devices is forcing the controller to negotiate at a lower speed and thus ultimately limit peak USB 2.0 performance through the display. Note the gap in performance is much smaller if you're looking at transfers to a USB stick vs. an SSD. I happen to have a lot of SSDs around so I tend to use them as glorified USB sticks, I suspect the majority of users won't notice much of a difference due to the lower overall performance of standard USB sticks.

FaceTime HD Camera

Although Photo Booth in Lion captures at 1080 x 720, using iSightcapture I was able to confirm that the sensor in the Thunderbolt Display appears to be able to capture 1280 x 720 natively. Quality is what we'd come to expect from the current generation of FaceTime HD cameras.

I tested the camera both in Photo Booth and in a FaceTime chat with our own Brian Klug. The experience worked fine in both cases.

FaceTime seems to have issues when one party is in a noisy environment but that doesn't appear to have anything to do with the Thunderbolt Display hardware as I duplicated the issue on a MacBook Air as well. If you're curious, the problem I'm talking about occurs when the party in a quiet environment is trying to talk to the person with a lot of background noise. The quiet party will hear audio just fine but the noisy party will get a lot of broken up audio from the other side. It seems like FaceTime is trying to do some active noise cancelation that ends up doing more harm than good. I confirmed it's a FaceTime software problem by calling Brian via Skype without any issues.

The Changing Role of Displays Thunderbolt Performance
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  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    We do not accept payment for any review, this one included.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    I needed to start somewhere :) The next video review won't be an Apple product ;) And we do try to take great photos of everything we review when possible. I believe some of the best photos to-date have been of Android smartphones imho done by Brian Klug.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Aikouka - Saturday, September 24, 2011 - link

    It's a good review overall, but I do have a comment or two:

    - When switching to a completely different view, I would recommend using a quick transition such as a fade. It's rather jarring to just suddenly switch to a completely different picture like that.

    - If you'd like to make video reviews a bit more common, it might be worthwhile to consider a slight site change to make them a bit more accessible. Some sort of thing (tabs, buttons, etc.) near the top to switch between a text review and a video review.

    I'm trying to figure out though... did you build that entire stage area for the review, or is that a blue screen behind you? The shadows on the lettering made me wonder.
    Reply
  • G-Man - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    I'm guessing they make the extra effort on Apple-products, simply because A LOT more people read those articles than the odd generic laptop review.

    If you've been following Anandtech for a while, you will see that they recap and explain (basic) technology and concepts in Apple review, because more people read them, and less tech savvy people read them.

    So it's only natural for them to put extra effort into Apple-reviews.

    PS: Anand, LOVE the video review. Please keep making them! :)
    Reply
  • gevorg - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Anandtech just loves Apple products, hence the special treatment. :) Reply
  • MrX8503 - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Maybe you're the fanboy. Its a good review just like any other, accept it. Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Monday, September 26, 2011 - link

    B3an is definitely the fanboy, there is massive bias when he posts in DT threads Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Part of it is that Apple products generally photograph better than others. It is hard to polish a turd, no matter how well you frame or light it. On the other hand, a beautiful object can photograph well under most circumstances.

    As for effort into reviewing Apple products, it is generally because they are on the leading edge of physical interfaces, form factors, and technologies. Three years after the debut of the Macbook Air and now there is a massive push from other companies to deliver comparable machines.

    The reasoning behind the Thunderbolt review is that it points to a very probable future for PCs, one in which your laptop is also your main computer. One option will be to have a laptop that plugs into a Thunderbolt hub (which may or may not be integrated into a display) which has all of your external devices and other things such as a dedicated desktop GPU, etc etc.

    It is interesting how much anti-Apple bias there is here. I'm typing this on my PC but I"m not blind to how vital Apple is to the industry.
    Reply
  • seapeople - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    You're comparing the reviews Anand does himself to what some of the other editors do for cheaper/less advanced products. Look at Anand's SSD reviews (especially when its for a new/unique controller) and you'll see the same detail. Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Saturday, September 24, 2011 - link

    And at the same time, many SSD reviews consist of just benchmarks and a small introduction. Take for example the Samsung 830 SSD review, it's not that massive, mainly because Samsung isn't that big player. Reply

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