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.