A few weeks ago at CES 2012, Seagate showcased their GoFlex Thunderbolt adapters. They come in two flavors: the GoFlex Desk Thunderbolt adapter takes 3.5" drives, requires an external power supply, and has two Thunderbolt ports; the GoFlex Thunderbolt adapter is suitable for 2.5" drives, is bus-powered, and has a single Thunderbolt port (i.e. no daisy-chaining).

The GoFlex Desk adapter won't be available until later this month, but Seagate has now updated their accessory page and started shipping the 2.5" GoFlex adapter. It's available from Seagate's online store for $100 (no cable included, so that's another $50), which is quite a lot more than a $15 USB 3.0 enclosure, but at least this is better pricing than the LaCie and Promise solutions we have seen so far. Unfortunately, you are still limited to using Seagate's GoFlex drives, but fortunately they are reasonably priced. By way of comparison, a solution using the GoFlex TB adapter and 1TB GoFlex external would cost around $230, whereas LaCie charges $400 for a similar setup.

UPDATE: It appears that a GoFlex drive is not needed and any 2.5" SATA drive should work.

MacWorld has already received a review unit and run a few basic tests. As you might have expected, Thunderbolt is noticeably faster than USB 2.0 but not much faster than FireWire 800. In terms of raw numbers, USB 2.0 had a maximum throughput of 33.7MB/s while FireWire and Thunderbolt had 70.3MB/s and 81.3MB/s respectively. Obviously, the 500GB 2.5" 5400rpm drive is the bottleneck here—the gap would be a lot bigger with a 3.5" hard drive, or better yet, an SSD.

To be honest, the GoFlex Thunderbolt adapter isn't really worth it unless you plan on using an SSD, which requires you to open the GoFlex enclosure and change the hard drive to an SSD, which is not supported by Seagate and may void your warranty. In the case of regular 2.5" hard drives, you're better off with the GoFlex FireWire 800 adapter ($50 from Seagate's online store and no $50 cable required), assuming you have a Mac with FireWire 800—otherwise USB 2.0 should be sufficient as well. For those not using Mac hardware, Thunderbolt may have more bandwidth, but right now USB 3.0 is a far more economical solution.

Source: Seagate

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  • ndelgrande - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    The cost of Thunderbolt just isn't worth it to me over USB 3.0. I built a 4TB RAID5 4 disk USB 3.0 enclosure for under $500. USB 3.0's 4.5 Gbps of throughput is fast enough for me. Yes Thunderbolt is twice as fast over copper and even faster over fiber, but right now the storage options are just way too expensive for what you get. I can push data to my USB 3.0 enclosure at 200-300M/B a sec. Price/performance is much better with USB 3.0.
  • zorxd - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    You probably wouldn't get anymore speed with thunderbolt. The limiting factor is still the hard drives themselves.
  • repoman27 - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    For connecting just one or two spinning disks, I'm not sure Thunderbolt will ever make sense, unless you happen to own a 2011 MacBook Air. They will most likely be the only PC's ever sold where the only external I/O options are USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt.

    I'm guessing that Seagate reckons that people will buy these because they are essentially just powered Thunderbolt to SATA adapters, so they can easily be used with any SSD's you might happen to have lying around. Unfortunately, even if Seagate is using a SATA 6Gbit/s controller in this product, it's unlikely that Mac OS will have native driver support and so it will end up only operating at 3Gbit/s.

    For the record, Thunderbolt provides 5x the bandwidth of USB 3.0 over a single cable. Even if you only consider its PCIe throughput capabilities, it's still 2.5x faster than USB 3.0. However, Thunderbolt would be no faster over fiber than it is over copper. Until we get faster Thunderbolt controllers, fiber will only allow for longer cable runs.
  • KPOM - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    @Repoman, I believe that OS X has support for SATA III. OWC sells 6Gbps blade SSDs for the MacBook Air and 2.5" drives for the MacBook Air, and I thought users have reported double throughput speeds compared with the stock 3Gbps drives.
  • repoman27 - Friday, February 3, 2012 - link

    Yes, all Sandy Bridge Macs have SATA 6Gbit/s. However, the only SATA 6Gbit/s controllers that Mac OS X natively supports are the ones included in the Intel chipsets that Apple has used thus far. Third party vendors of SATA PCIe add in cards for Mac Pros have also developed drivers for the controllers that they utilize, but these are often bound to specific hardware.

    Folks that bought the HDD based LaCie Thunderbolt Little Big Disk and swapped in SSD's found that although it worked, the Marvell 88SE9182 6 Gbit/s controller was only recognized by Mac OS as an "Unknown AHCI controller", and was only able to negotiate 3 Gbit/s connections.
  • crazzyeddie - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Just as an FYI, apparently the GoFlex contains a standard SATA connector, so one could easily use this with any available 2.5" or (with a small extension cable and external power) 3.5" drive.

  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Thanks, I have updated the article. Weird that I missed that thread and article totally, I should start spending more time in the MacRumors Forums again (FYI, I'm Hellhammer from the forums - a moderator and +20,000 posts :P).
  • dagamer34 - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    Just make a $100 Thunderbolt to USB 3.0 adapter already. -_-
  • Malih - Friday, February 3, 2012 - link

    Exactly, I'm curious as to why there doesn't seem to be any Thunderbolt USB 3.0 Hub out already.
  • joel4565 - Thursday, February 2, 2012 - link

    I still don't understand why companies are trying to push hard drives in the Thunderbolt market when they have very little advantage over USB3. The only things thunderbolt could be really useful for are single cable dock stations, external video cards, and multidrive nas. Anything else, the speed advantage is not going to overcome the price difference, not to mention the fact that almost no computers ship with Thunderbolt yet (excluding Apple).

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