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
POST A COMMENT

289 Comments

View All Comments

  • JasperJanssen - Saturday, September 24, 2011 - link

    Not every product merits an in-depth review. 1 in-depth equals about 4 or 5 short reviews, and every site has to choose carefully how to spend its time.

    The first time we saw SF2000, there were *massive* reviews. If Samsung would suddenly put out an SSD that is a few dozen percent faster than the current fastest SSD, (and not cost the earth) it'll no doubt get an extensive review. When Apple puts out something very new that could well be the way of the future for the industry as a whole, they get a large review. Makese sense to me.

    And before you jump all over me on that score: Just look at the Sony implementation of Light Ridge on the current Vaio Z. That's a docking station that has everything this thing has (apart from the display) and some more.

    The market as a whole may well not go for integration into displays and integrated power supplies, but Thunderbolt/Thunderbolt-style docking stations seem likely to sweep the world.
    Reply
  • Zink - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    +1 top notch video review in every way Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Agree as well. While I definitely hope the text reviews will continue and receive the most resources, these video reviews are a great supplement, especially with less "numbers driven" products like displays and mobile devices.

    I wish all the CNET, television, etc. reviewers would take a look at this simple, engaging, intelligent review style and adopt it as well. Most reviewers spend way too much time trying to be entertaining and talking down to their audience.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    The text reviews will continue, this is simply something we're experimenting with to offer an augment :)

    It's always been my opinion that we should treat the readers as equals. It turns out that if you don't treat your readers like idiots then you'll find that you actually attract some really smart people :)

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

    The video was quite good indeed.

    And I like the eye-level-approach. Especially since you had a pretty good balance between talking about the actually interesting bits and still keeping it easy to follow.

    Maybe in some places you might want to slow down just a tiny little bit. ;-)
    Reply
  • Iketh - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    NOO!! If anything Anand, talk even faster! Throw it at me at full GigE! I'm a busy man! Reply
  • Constructor - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    Just play the video in fast forward then. ;-)) Reply
  • pmcg - Friday, September 23, 2011 - link

    I agree too. What an impressive setup and continuous, cogent presentation. I have never seen a video of Anand but now that I have, I demand more! Should there be an anandtech.tv? Reply
  • jleeworking - Saturday, September 24, 2011 - link

    Wow! nicely done, can we have more of those videos? Reply
  • mymoon - Saturday, September 24, 2011 - link

    Also agreed! Well done Anand on the video review. Felt my time well spent. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now