Apple

Transfer your files 20 times faster than USB with Thunderbolt

Read about Erik Eckel's experience with a Thunderbolt drive, which transferred his files 20 times faster than using USB.

 

Thunderbolt drive
 Photo by: Stephen Shankland/CNET
 

There’s text book life, and then there’s the real world. You know the difference? In text book life, things work according to instructions, training, and expectations within a controlled environment. But the real world is a messy place where manufacturers’ products fail, repair instructions don’t work, and advertised performance doesn’t measure up.

As a group, IT professionals are largely pessimistic, and rightfully so. Software products rarely work as well as advertised. Hardware devices frequently disappoint. Occasionally, however, a product works as promised.

Thunderbolt is different

The Thunderbolt hardware specification, developed by Intel and popularized by Apple in 2011 (Thunderbolt ports are now included on every new Mac), marries PCIe and DisplayPort technologies, combines DC power and data transmission within a single cable, and connects up to six interconnected devices. What’s really important, though, is that Thunderbolt is really, really fast.

Here’s how Apple describes it. “Thunderbolt gives you two channels on the same connector with 10Gb/s of throughput in both directions. Ultrafast, ultraflexible Thunderbolt 2 pushes that to 20Gb/s. You can move data to and from peripherals up to 20 times faster than with USB 2.”

It really works

Like many IT pros, I’m subjected to a ceaseless stream of new product innovations, vendor assurances, and supposed technology breakthroughs. The frequency has become tiresome: almost every day. Messages bearing such promises arrive in my inbox, via telephone, and even unsolicited in-person visits at my office. Over time, just as has occurred with so many technology professionals, I’ve learned to become wary and guarded.

Then I was stuck with the need to move large amounts of data repeatedly between several computers. Normally I transfer photos, video, documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, and application installation files using a USB-powered external hard disk, in part because the method is typically faster than completing the same task leveraging a gigabit network. Even though I was using new hardware, transfer times reported they would require more than eight hours to complete. Keep in mind the transfer process I was attempting was one way. I needed to transfer files from one computer to the external disk and then again from the external disk to another computer, then repeat the action.

I broke down and decided to purchase a Thunderbolt drive. Keep in mind the cost for a single Thunderbolt drive, at least in my mind, wasn’t insignificant. The last USB 3.0 external hard disk I purchased stored multiple terabytes and cost approximately $79.00 (USD). The Thunderbolt disk I purchased from Apple stored only a single terabyte and cost $199.00 (USD).

But boy is it fast. Whereas the original USB-based file transfers I attempted required more than eight hours to complete, the Thunderbolt drive completed the task in 18 minutes.

I’ll let that fact sink in.

18 minutes.

As a result, in real life, I was able to perform tasks using Thunderbolt technology that completed some 20 times faster than when using USB. I’ll let readers fight it out in the comments as to why the USB 3.0 drives I tried all reported requiring more than eight hours to complete the task, and after several hours were still busy chunking data -- whereas, in my real-world experience (and ultimately, the only one that really counts), Thunderbolt completed the same task exponentially more quickly. I’m not interested in the seemingly Ford vs. Chevy minutiae of the USB 3.0 vs. Thunderbolt argument. I have a real business to operate and manage in the real world, and we don’t operate within the controlled confines of a text book environment.

Clearly, Thunderbolt is faster. Way faster. As Mac offices, users, and administrators continue managing ever-increasing amounts of data, the adoption of a new input/output technology that actually works as advertised is a pleasant and welcome surprise. Whether challenged to transfer large video files, photo archives, art images, backup operations, or other large sets of data, Apple organizations will find Thunderbolt worth the investment.

 

 

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

9 comments
rpetitpas
rpetitpas

Hi, something that puzzled me here is that in one hand we have the interfaces like USB or TB, which are indeed fast, and at the other hand we have the real bottlenecks which are the drives into which data has to be written down. If a Sata 3 drive can write at, lets say 110 MB/s, either USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt are working in a relaxed state and the throughput would not be that different. To an SSD it would make a difference. So in your case, did you measure the drive speed capacity with something like HDTunePro? Than would shed more light....

Regards,

Roberto

JeffrBrown
JeffrBrown

My ASUS laptop has a TB port.  I have yet to try it out though.

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

Thunderbird will be two to four times faster than USB 3, depending on the versions of the hardware.  Any speed difference outside this range is not credible, and likely the result of hardware issues or sloppy testing.

AKHandyman
AKHandyman

I read somewhere that some MB makers are finally including a TB port.  If that's the case, why has it taken so long for 1st tier manufacturers to adopt?  Could be the spec isn't as fast as some say?  And what if another PC doesn't have a TB port in case of transferring files? 

Gisabun
Gisabun

Let's see. Apple released Thunderbolt in 2011. It is now 2014. Outside of Apple users, is anyone else really touching this proprietary format? Yes, it is faster but also notice that they are comparing against USB 2 - not USB 3.

You then have the price [very high] and the lack of peripherals that use Thunderbolt.

About 4.5 years ago, my motherboard I bought was one of the first to have USB 3 - 2 ports. My latest has [I think] 12 USB 3 ports [8 directly available]. I think one variation of my board did have Thunderbolt port - yes one port.

Need a Thunderbolt card/adapter? Could be up to $150 for a single port.

Tiger-Pa
Tiger-Pa

How is it that your Gigabit network slower? Better fix your network. If you're transferring to TB on the first step, then transferring from TB to your your other computer(s), you're still reading and writing to the same slow computer HDDs.

scg8r
scg8r

I am a bit confused, in the third paragraph it states that TB is 20 times faster than USB 2 but then later the comparisons are to USB 3, implying that TB is 20 times faster. One would infer from this that there is no difference between USB 2 and USB 3 when in fact USB 3 is theoritically 10 time faster than USB 2, and from what I have read, is actually about five times faster. Also I have seen information from various testing sources that there is really little difference between TB and USB 3 when used with "spinning" hard drives. In an article written by James Galbraith in MacWorld on May 14 of last year he determined that there was very little difference between USB 3 and TB.  Therefore, I am bewildered at the huge difference that this article implies.  Seems to be something missing here.

wizdave
wizdave

Isn't this stating the obvious?

Gisabun
Gisabun

@AKHandyman Like I said below, you need an adapter for your computer to insert a TB device. That said, on a desktop is easy with a PCI card to get the full capabilities. Problem with a laptop is that any ports already on the laptop are slower than TB [i.e. USB, serial, etc.]. So you could transfer but won't get the speed.

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