If you bought a new Apple computer in the past few years, you were told about this wonderful new Thunderbolt slot in which to insert the zippiest hard drive ever for storing and retrieving your data — way faster than a USB or Firewire drive.
The only problem: Thunderbolt drives were scarcely available, and the ones that were in stock were extremely pricey.
Finally Seagate and Western Digital, which dominate the hard-drive industry, have released Thunderbolt drives for the Mac, and they truly are super speedy and affordable.
And Thunderbolt is rolling out on some Windows computers. Chipmaker Intel showed off Windows computers with Thunderbolt slots at the big Computex trade show in Taiwan on Tuesday. Netbook maker Asus says it plans to add a Thunderbolt slot to an upcoming unit later this year. And Drobo, which makes multiple drive backup units aimed at photographers and videographers, will soon have a new Thunderbolt Drobo for both Mac and Windows.
If you edit video, you don't want your footage to bottle up in endless circular wheels of stall, which is what happens often when I use a pocket USB drive. Video editing is one of the most intense uses of computer power. Even when I switch to Firewire, which is faster than USB, those drives often freeze. Not so with the Thunderbolt drives I've been testing.
A closer look:
•The Seagate Thunderbolt. It's the most affordable, but it's not really a Thunderbolt drive. What Seagate sells is an adapter that takes your existing Seagate GoFlex hard drive and lets it plug into the Thunderbolt port on the computer. The $99 attachment works with portable USB GoFlex drives, while you'll need to spring for $189 to connect it to a desktop GoFlex. With the attachment, the desk GoFlex drive is as fast as competitors.
Beyond the Thunderbolt attachments, you'll need to spend an extra $100 to $200 for a GoFlex drive, and $50 for a cable to connect to the Thunderbolt port, which is currently made by Apple.
•The Western Digital Thunderbolt My Book Duo. This two-drive unit ($649 for 6 terabytes or $549 for 4 TB) can be combined into one big 6 TB drive, or as two 3 TB drives. If one drive fails, just pop it up and replace it with another, without losing data. (You can easily set this up as a "Raid" backup with Western's supplied software. The setup puts the data on both drives at the same time.)
I've been playing with both drives recently, as well as the heavy-duty Pegasus, favored by sound engineers and video editors. It's a hefty $1,799 and has slots for six 1 TB drives that can be swapped in and out and shared among a team.
On all three, it took only eight minutes to move a 60-gigabyte folder of video files from the desktop to the drive. By comparison, it took 12 minutes on the Seagate GoFlex with the Thunderbolt attachment, and 31 minutes and 19 minutes, respectively, on a USB 2.0 LaCie drive and a Voyager Q Firewire drive.
The Western Digital drive can be daisy-chained with other Thunderbolt drives. The GoFlex desktop can be, too, but not the portable.
If you have a Mac — especially an iMac — and an available Thunderbolt port, it seems crazy not to take advantage of it. The drives cost extra bucks, but isn't your time worth it?
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