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  • ssj3gohan - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    So... thunderbolt is slower, more power hungry and more expensive than USB 3.0. And it's effectively unavailable. I can see why Intel integrates USB 3.0 into their chipsets and not Thunderbolt.

    Of course, I understand that this is a function of volume; Thunderbolt doesn't really sell and is an Intel exclusive whereas USB 3.0 controllers are made by every man and his dog, so it's much more optimized both in cost and data stream efficiency, not to mention driver compatibility. But this still begs the question: why even include Thunderbolt? It's objectively worse than USB 3.0 and just needlessly increases the price of both Apple and peripheral products.
  • mmrezaie - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    I would like to see the benchmarks under Mac OS too. They don't rely on bios drivers for thunderbolt and use their own. I think Linux will have the same driver later this year but I think on Mac thunderbolt driver is more optimised. Reply
  • Essence_of_War - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    Agreed. I'd really like to see a USB 3.0-Thunderbolt shoot-out under OS X and Linux as well!

    I don't know if this is possible Ganesh, but if you could get access to a mac with thunderbolt, it would be pretty neat to see! :)
  • techwiz2100 - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    Yea I'm a little concerned by these numbers, I mean... Isn't the Mac Pro supposed to be able to drive a 4K display over TB2? I would imagine that's a much more bandwidth heavy application than file transfer. Also maybe the devices themselves or the add-on card are the limitations? Reply
  • Essence_of_War - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    Yeah, I think it's pretty clear that in no case is the theoretical limit of TB being saturated.

    It's possible that the speed differences are within the margin of error, but my first guess would be some sort of driver/controller issue for TB on Windows.
  • M/2 - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    I'm a Big Mac Mini fan... I've been trying to rationalize TB, and just can't quite get there. I use external drive over the network for media and backups. I wound up buying a 4-bay USB 3.0 box for $250; with 4-4Tb drives, I have 12Tb of RAID 5 storage for under $1000. So I really don't get the price tag on a 2-bay TB drive.

    I get 230 MB/s on Blackmagic. That's not that much slower than my buddy's Promise 2 RAID, the reason being the spinning drive are the main limiting factor. And, 30+ % cheaper. And 230 is fast enough for anything I need . You really need 6 bays or SSDs to take advantage of TB.

    If I had to do it over, I'd consider the OWC thunderbay box. $450 vs. $250 for the Dyconn Quartz4 box I bought. Just depends what you're using if for. I'm almost there!
  • M/2 - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    I may be off on the TB speeds. ..just looked at a review on owc , it's twice the speed of USB 3 on RAID 5 ... Like I said, I might decide different today Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    As I mentioned in the concluding remarks, for these particular devices, TB is useful only in the daisy chaining scenario. Otherwise, USB 3.0 is going to deliver better performance.

    Apologies for not testing with Macs. I should have probably noted in the very beginning that we are going to start monitoring Thunderbolt performance on Windows from my side. For Mac-based coverage, Anand is the best bet (for example, the LaCie Little Big Disk review that he put out earlier this year -- which I have also linked in the article).
  • M/2 - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    Agreed! USB 3.0 beats any 1 or 2 drive configuration (IMO), simply because because the drives can 't fill the TB bandwidth (unless you're using SSDs). Sure, TB is cool, but adding USB3 would make a more versatile package.

    FYI, I see the OWC thunderbay price is now $500, up $50, people must be buying them. Still too much of a premium IMO (unless you're using SSDs and/or really need 500+ Mb/s)
  • ciparis - Friday, July 11, 2014 - link

    You really need to include the Mac numbers; otherwise, nobody will be holding PC manufacturers to task in making these devices perform remotely near their potential. The current situation is abysmal, and with zero reason other than near total incompetence. Reply
  • Kevin G - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    Thunderbolt has its niche of being a means to host PCIe devices externally. For laptops, this is a pretty nice feature but for systems like the Mac Pro, it doesn't make sense when internal PCIe could have been an option. The other catch is that the one specific devices users would like to connect via Thunderbolt is not officially supported: GPUs. Reply
  • AlValentyn - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    What it tells me is that TB over an add-on card with Windows is slow. Not that TB is slower than USB. That's false statement as TB2 is 20Gb/s, while USB3.0 is 5Gb/s.

    You don't see USB3 driving 60Hz 4K displays, or getting over 800MB/s on RAIDs, and SSDs.

    I'm surprised they didn't even bother with OSX, and Mac with built in Thunderbolt as well.
  • Shadowself - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link


    Even with the multi-hop (and hacked BIOS) TB2 is only 3% slower in RAID 0 mode. I suspect the greater *apparent* advantage USB 3.0 has over TB2 in RAID 1 mode has to do much, much more with LaCie's implementation of the hardware raid and translation from USB to RAID 1 versus translation from TB2 to RAID 1. Since RAID 0 is definitely more bandwidth hungry (given *zero* other bottlenecks through the entire system) then there should be no reason why TB2 is significantly slower at RAID 1 versus RAID 0. Ganesh should have caught this.

    To really test TB2 versus USB 3.0 for any external device, the test setup must include native implementations of both TB2 and USB 3.0 or else the results are hopelessly tainted.
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    This review is meant to address what a Windows user looking to get on the Thunderbolt bandwagon should expect.

    I stand by my conclusions: For 2-bay devices with no daisy chaining requirements, USB 3.0 is better than Thunderbolt for Windows users. When it comes to 5 bays, things may be different.
  • casperes1996 - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    With all due respect, the review was of the drives though. Not the drives (for Windows). I read the review as a Mac user, wanting to know the performance over TB. TRIM over TB on the Mac is also something I am now quite curious about.

    Would it be possible to perhaps get another review, or an addendum to this one, testing the drive on a Mac?

    The review was fine for what it was, but I think we are many curious about the Mac side, as it is where Thunderbolt is more proliferated.
  • Kristian Vättö - Friday, July 11, 2014 - link

    Thunderbolt in Windows isn't any different from Thunderbolt in a Mac. It's the same protocol with the same performance. The only difference is that in a Mac Thunderbolt is "invisible" to the end-user because Apple's EFI is locked and the drivers come with the OS, whereas in Windows you can play with some settings in BIOS and the drivers need to be installed manually.

    Testing these drives in a Mac wouldn't give any different results. Like I mentioned earlier, I have the same add-on card and have been able to reach speeds of over 700MB/s with a TB1 device, so the bottleneck in these LaCie drives is elsewhere.
  • repoman27 - Friday, July 11, 2014 - link

    I'm not going to argue that you should have tested with a Mac, and I can fully understand why Anandtech would stick with a Windows based testbed for DAS devices to make results comparable (and Ganesh doesn't currently have a Mac). But saying that Thunderbolt device performance is the same under both Mac OS X and Windows is like saying that games should perform the same on both OSes, or that you get the same performance and battery life from a Mac whether you run Windows or Mac OS X.

    At just a very base level, Apple's EFI implementation may offer performance benefits over Microsoft's hybrid UEFI / Windows software stack model. Also, each OEM's hardware implementation can have performance implications. Most Macs use PCIe lanes provided by the CPU, not the PCH. Since there's apparently a requirement for add-in cards to use the PCH lanes, they're inherently at a disadvantage. Even more so in real-world scenarios when using a board that has 5 PCIe switches on the PCH lanes alone resulting in a brutally oversubscribed DMI connection.

    Thunderbolt essentially looks like nothing more than a PCIe switch to the OS, which doesn't require any special drivers at all. The Thunderbolt "driver" is all about supporting PCIe hot-plugging, tolerating up to 9 µs of round-trip latency, and enforcing Intel's licensing agreements. What you do need to worry about is the drivers for the PCIe based controllers in any device you connect. This is obviously the same whether it is a PCIe add-in card or external Thunderbolt device, and no different under Windows or Mac OS X. The most glaring omission in this article is not reporting which host controllers are in the devices and what drivers were being used for testing. As readers we have no idea whether the Thunderbolt tests were performed using Microsoft or Marvell (or whoever's) SATA host controller drivers, whether AHCI was enabled, or whether the TRIM support issue was a result of the drivers being used. On the USB side, we can only infer that a native Intel USB 3.0 port was used (since the Asmedia controller was disabled in order to provide a PCIe x4 connection for the Thunderbolt add-in card) with whatever the current version is of the Microsoft driver under Windows 8.1 Pro, and UASP was supported by both drives. These types of details really need to be presented along with the other data to live up to the Anandtech ethos. I don't just want a quick benchmark; I want to understand the underlying limitations and how they factor into the results, and to see the hardware pushed as far as it can go.
  • Teo_ - Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - link

    The first review I can find on a quick search based on a Mac reports sequential read and write speed in RAID 0 412.7MB/s and 353.3MB/s, so I’m curious too to see the same sample folders and tasks tested on a Mac. Reply
  • GTVic - Friday, July 11, 2014 - link

    Thunderbolt is misunderstood, there is no "translation to TB2" it is an extension of the PCI Express Bus and also supports Display Port. Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    I think the performance is limited by the ASMedia chips (SATA & SATA to PCIe/TB bridge). I have the same add-on card as Ganesh and have been able to achieve speeds of around 700MB/s (this is with TB1). I'm getting a proper TB2 device soon, so stay tuned for a more thorough review of the add-on card (as well as more Thunderbolt stuff).

    As for OS X, as far as I know Ganesh does not have a Mac with Thunderbolt (and neither do I). Just because we don't test with something doesn't mean that it's due to our laziness -- Apple doesn't send review samples around like e.g. ASUS does so we would have to spend our own money to get one for testing.
  • Morawka - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    anand has been getting review samples of all mac products less the mini and mac pro, so yes they do send you guys review samples, your boss just gets them all :P Reply
  • ssj3gohan - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    But just to play devil's advocate again: you can drive 60Hz 4K displays with displayport. You can even daisy chain them. And I have 6 of those on my video card, and at least one on every other computer in my house. And most of my displays. Whereas nothing in my house has thunderbolt.

    And this article tells me roughly what I have been seeing otherwise: I shouldn't even start to bother with TB. For anything but very possibly macs (which I will probably never own) and OS X (which I will probably never run), it's a waste of time. And even on a mac, I'm paying a hefty premium to have the privilege of saving half a second of my valuable time transferring a 400MB file, once a day.
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    Even if we don't consider the daisy chaining scenario, Thunderbolt starts becoming relevant once you go beyond two bays. As one of the other readers mentions - A 5-bay RAID 5 delivers 700 MBps - simply not possible with USB 3.0

    Yes, the premium is there for now. Hopefully Intel relaxes some restrictions and makes it easier for mobo manufacturers to offer Thunderbolt ports in their products - This will also drive up DIY adoption, which, right now is close to a non-existent market.
  • ssj3gohan - Sunday, July 13, 2014 - link

    So, when is Intel finally going to relax their licensing and implementation specifics? It's been more than 3 years now, USB has gone through an entire major and minor revision since TB was announced. If Intel were serious about TB's chances in the open market and not just as an Apple FireWire 2.0, I would have expected it to at least be integrated into higher tier chipsets (e.g. Z87) by now. They've had more than enough time to do so.

    I don't believe in it anymore. TB is going the way of the dodo, by design.
  • Ubercake - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    Kind of already going by way of firewire, this thunderbolt is...

    But at least when firewire was released, there was an advantage over USB when the USB bus and the sharing between devices really wasn't all that great on throughput. Now, the problems of USB 1.0 are no longer present and here we are comparing what effectively equates to some new brand of firewire that can't even compete with today's USB 3.0. Thunderbolt specs are going to have to progress more quickly than USB if it's going to be practical and around any amount of time.
  • Shadowself - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    Firewire was first implemented back in 1990 as a 50 Mbps link, and at that time it's main competitors was SCSI. (But, most people don't think of it as being out there until the 400 Mbps variant submitted to the IEEE). Apple did a lot of things back in those early Firewire days to make it completely unpalatable to OEMs (not the least of which was the licensing scheme, e.g., a high base licensing fee plus a minimum of $1.00 per connector fee [making the fees for a simple 3 foot Firewire cable more than $2.00 each!]). Yet even when USB 2.0 happened for many applications the processing overhead required for USB was too high, which kept Firewire alive.

    Yes, TB needs to progress faster and more consistently. TB (or TB1 as it's sometimes called today) had two 10 Gbps channels in the full implementation. Those two channels could be bonded together in software to give an aggregate of 20 Gbps per link (with a little bit of software overhead).

    All TB2 did was aggregate those two 10 Gbps channels in hardware. That's all. Virtually zero increase in maximum throughput per link was achieved.

    TB2 *should* have doubled the signalling rate and the channel throughput AND done channel bonding in hardware to give a real, aggregate throughput of 40 Gbps. But, alas, Intel decided it was not necessary and we're stuck with what we have now in TB2.
  • repoman27 - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    I think you're confused on certain points. The first release of FireWire was 400 Mbit/s, which happens to be 50 MB/s, although it also supported S100 (100 Mbit/s) and S200 (200 Mbit/s) modes. And to be precise, the base rate is actually 98.304 Mbit/s. If you want to go back to the very first drafts of the spec and talk about pre-release data rates, development initially started in 1987 and called for a 2 Mbaud/s base rate with 4b/5b encoding.

    Also, that story about the licensing is apocryphal. FireWire is a trademark held by Apple and freely licensed to third party developers of IEEE 1394 enabled devices who comply with certain guidelines. IEEE 1394 is a serial bus interface standard maintained by the IEEE P1394 Working Group based on an open host controller interface. The standards essential patents required to implement IEEE 1394 are held by 10 corporations including Apple, which was one of the lead designers of the technology, and are licensed as a package by MPEG LA at a rate of 25¢ per finished product, regardless of the number of physical ports.

    There are some interesting tidbits about the history of FireWire here:
    and here:

    Thunderbolt technology is progressing at a completely reasonable pace considering the installed base, and appears mostly hobbled by Intel's arbitrary licensing restrictions.

    Thunderbolt 2 added both channel bonding and DisplayPort 1.2 support, both of which were not at all possible to implement in software. The maximum, real-world, PCIe throughput per link increased from 1000 MB/s to 1380 MB/s and is limited by the PCIe 2.0 x4 back end, not the PHY.

    The laws of physics make doubling the lane rate of Thunderbolt 2 much more challenging than you seem to comprehend. Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 use a lane rate of 10.3125 Gbit/s with 64b/66b encoding. The fastest lane rates for currently shipping (and considerably more expensive) I/O technologies are 14.025 Gbit/s for 16GFC Fibre Channel and 14.0625 Gbit/s for FDR InfiniBand. Once those technologies progress to 28.05 and 25.78125 Gbit/s respectively, which should happen in the very near future, we'll probably see Thunderbolt transition to 40 Gbit/s per link. Although it is unlikely for that to happen until Intel brings PCIe 3.0 to their PCHs. Expecting a $9.95 consumer I/O controller to provide faster lane rates than what is available to data centers and HPC clusters is just entirely unrealistic.
  • repoman27 - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    You really can't treat the results of this test setup with these devices as an indicator of how Thunderbolt compares to SuperSpeed USB in general. A single SATA SSD or a pair of spinning disks are really not enough to merit the use of a Thunderbolt interface. I think these devices are more for folks that either want to daisy chain multiple drives, or have 2011 Macs with Thunderbolt but not USB 3.0 ports. A pair of PCIe SSDs in RAID 0 and a 4K display are better at demonstrating what Thunderbolt 2 is all about: Reply
  • iAPX - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    The problem of Thunderbolt is latency, that impact negatively it;'s performance Reply
  • repoman27 - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    Not so much. Thunderbolt controllers, like any other PCIe switch, do add some latency. However, when all is said and done, you're looking at around 1.5 microseconds of round-trip latency per hop. AFAIK, Thunderbolt offers lower latency than any other external I/O interface aside from External PCIe. Reply
  • ciparis - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    Looks like a terrible Thunderbolt implementation on the PC side of things. Too bad, but it renders this review a lot less informative about the drive side of things that it would be if you did a quick Mac comparison to illustrate how a more native implementation can take advantage of these drives. Reply
  • repoman27 - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    Ganesh, the ASM1156 is most likely a SATA 6Gb/s switch (2:1 or 1:2 mux/demux) similar to the ASM1456:

    There should also be a SATA 6Gb/s host controller on the board somewhere, but it doesn't appear to be in any of your photos. The original LaCie Thunderbolt designs used a Marvell 88SE9182. This should show up in Device Manager as well, and I'm curious as to what drivers it was using and what link speed it was reporting. The performance of the SATA host controller vs. the SATA to USB 3.0 bridge is the most likely culprit in terms of why your USB 3.0 speeds were consistently higher than with Thunderbolt. Although they were using a Mac and the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, StorageReview showed much higher throughput over Thunderbolt in RAID 0 than you were able to achieve with your setup.

    If you're going to disassemble the device to take pictures of the internals, it would be much appreciated if you could provide photos of the PCBs in their entirety. Some folks, myself included, are quite interested in seeing the evolution of Thunderbolt device designs.

    Also, there's a minor typo in the introduction. The name of the 4C Thunderbolt 2 controller should be "DSL5520", not "DL5520".
  • repoman27 - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    "Given the bus-powered nature and the cost, it is not a surprising to find the PM851 inside.the unit."

    Although SSDs with PCIe controllers apparently command a premium at the moment, don't forget that they can be connected directly to a Thunderbolt controller, whereas SATA SSDs require the inclusion of a SATA host controller.

    I think there are several more likely reasons for going with SATA. First, they also produce versions of the Rugged with HDDs in them, which aren't available with PCIe interfaces. Second, you can make a dual-interface device like this by using a 1:2 demux and cheap SATA 6Gb/s to USB 3.0 bridge chip.

    Although you didn't touch on it in the article, these new tethered cable Thunderbolt designs are actually quite interesting. They're similar to the Apple Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet and Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapters. The DSL2210 Thunderbolt controller is embedded in the Thunderbolt connector, and the cable is actually a PCIe 2.0 x1 cable, not an active copper Thunderbolt cable. You can almost see the end where it connects to the device in one of your teardown photos. Eliminating the active cable saves a considerable amount of money and also uses way less power, leaving up to 9W of the 10W power budget for the device itself.
  • MikhailT - Wednesday, July 09, 2014 - link

    The one thing I'm very curious about is the latency but I can't find any good reviews on this. I was hoping this article will cover it but alas, no.

    If I put my collection of my virtual machines on those devices, would it be more responsive on USB or TB?

    Logically, TB should be much responsive but by how much?

    I'm constantly running out of space on my laptop because of the massive VMs and I'd like to get the rugged device here, does anybody think this is a bad idea?
  • Howard - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    IP ratings are not for ruggedness, with arguably the sole exception of IP69K. Reply
  • torp - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    Q1: Why nothing about CPU utilization? Back when it was Firewire vs USB 2.0, the difference was horrendously in favour of Firewire. I've personally observed 3% with Firewire vs 30% with USB 2.0 on the same enclosure, which had both options.
    Q2: (Which has been asked before) Why no OS X tests? I doubt anyone bothers to optimize Windows Thunderbolt drivers because almost no one will use it...
  • SirPerro - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    At this point it's pretty clear that Thunderbolt is a niche for Mac users who are willing to pay top dollar for a non-upgradeable cilinder for which they have to buy top dollar external storage because Apple decided so.

    For 99,9999% of the above users, USB3 and Thunderbolt performance differences are undetectable in real world cases. No matter how awesome the product is, or is exposed to the world by Apple.

    So quick question. Why the fuck the remaining us 99,99999% of the world should care about Thunderbolt and why on earth should the vast majority of OEMs build TB devices?

    I say that as a MBP owner which finds it POINTLESS to pay any premium for thunderbolt.

    In before the "convenience" comments. I find it pretty inconveninent to pay the $20 tax for Apple cables, and I couldn't care less about having one cable for the monitor and another for the external HDD.

    The "convenience" of using the same USB interface as 99,9999% of the world though... that DO is important.
  • repoman27 - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    Thunderbolt is for connecting external PCIe devices or displays. If you're not the type of user that opted to go with PCIe solutions for storage in the past, then you're not likely to be interested in Thunderbolt storage solutions.

    While the majority of PC usage may be for content consumption and recreation, there's a legitimate percentage of the population for whom PCs represent tools. Just as certain tools are more ideally suited for particular jobs, different PCs and peripherals are better tailored to particular workflows. Complaining about Thunderbolt serving the needs of a minority is like complaining about the existence of any other tool that you personally don't have a current use for. I don't need all the specialized tools that my car mechanic, carpenter, electrician and plumber have, but I do prefer them to have the best tool for the job if and when I require their services. You may not need a Thunderbolt peripheral, but you probably do enjoy the work done by professionals in the content creation, engineering and research fields, whose workflows can benefit tremendously from technologies like Thunderbolt.

    Or you can just go ahead and hate on the fastest external I/O interface to ever grace a consumer PC. All PCs already come with USB ports, and that isn't going to change. The whole point of USB is to be fast enough for most uses and as cheap as possible. Thunderbolt allows you to do PCIe 2.0 x4 over a miniDP port. If you don't need to add a PCIe device externally, just ignore the little lightning bolt icon next to the port and use it to connect a display instead.
  • mschira - Friday, July 11, 2014 - link

    Oh give the Mac Pro a break. It may not be a machine for you - it's not my machine either, but I can see people wanting it. And contrary to popular believe it is simply not overpriced. Have you looked at the prices HP or DELL ask for Xeon based workstations? They are BEYOND ridiculous and make the Mac Pro look positively cheap. I am not making this up, go check for yourself.

    And frankly - who needs internal storage these days anyway?
    I don't. I did not long ago, but no more. Our lab has a 5 bay Qnap with RAID 6 for storage. Plenty of space, pretty small and plenty fast for our purpose. We have WD myBook (3 TB and 4TB models) connected via USB3 for archive. Awesome, we put them in the shelf for cold storage. Yes you can do this with plain harddrives, and we did do that with hot adapter boxes - but the boxes are cumbersome and they break. And what when in 5 years getting an SATA interface will be hard? How long will it take until we will have trouble connecting with USB3?
  • HangFire - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    Interesting article, but I'm dissappointed the reviewer didn't test the implementations for vulnerabilities. I have used previous LaCie NAS products and they were immediately flagged by IT's security scanning as having outdated and insecure SSL and SAMBA implementations. I raised these issues with LaCie only to hear crickets. Reply
  • MikhailT - Friday, July 11, 2014 - link

    WTF? You do realize these are DAS and has nothing to do with NAS nor does the devices have any server running? Reply
  • mschira - Friday, July 11, 2014 - link

    I can't help finding this review a funny one. So the devices are faster via USB3 than with thunderbolt. (on a PC that is).

    So where is the usage scenario? Daisy chaining? Is that it? Am I unfair here or or is that ridiculous?
    So the verdict should be brutal, right? Am I missing the sentence? Because I can't see it.
    So where is the bottleneck?

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