Not as fast as dual-HDD RAID setups (but admittedly cheaper)
Seagate has continued to expand its GoFlex hard drive system, which features interchangeable interfaces for interoperability between various connection types. The company's latest adapters enable users to upgrade their existing GoFlex drives with a Thunderbolt interface to take advantage of fast transfer speeds on Apple's latest Macs and a number of upcoming Windows machines. In our full review, we'll take a closer look at the Thunderbolt adapter for GoFlex portable drives.
Seagate's GoFlex drives are protected by enclosures, however a SATA connector is built into the housing rather than a USB, FireWire or Thunderbolt connection. This allows users to swap the interface adapter, which plugs directly into the SATA port. The Thunderbolt adapter joins existing adapters for USB 2.0/3.0, FireWire 800 and eSATA.
The existing connectors are only as thick and wide as the bottom of the portable GoFlex drive, however the Thunderbolt adapter wraps around the back of the drive and adds approximately 13mm to the overall thickness. We would have preferred the smaller size, though the larger package is not exceedingly voluminous.
The use of a standard SATA male connector on the dock side perfectly fits Seagate's GoFlex portable drives, though it also plugs directly into a standard 2.5-inch notebook drive that has been removed from a computer or housing. This may seem like an illogical and sloppy move, but it may be the only current way for someone to upgrade their non-Seagate 2.5-inch disk drive or create a makeshift external Thunderbolt SSD for several hundred dollars less than solutions offered by Elgato and LaCie. We caution, however, that we did not have a chance to connect the GoFlex Thunderbolt adapter to a third-party 2.5-inch SSD to test the transfer speeds or discover any incompatibility issues (this may also void the adapter warranty).
Despite its larger size, the new adapter only integrates a single Thunderbolt port. This is the same configuration that we observed on the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD, as both drives aim for portability. The LaCie Thunderbolt drives and Seagate's Thunderbolt adapter for desktop drives both provide several Thunderbolt ports for daisy chaining, however both products also require an external power supply that eliminates their portability.
We tested the Thunderbolt adapter with Seagate's GoFlex Turbo 500GB portable hard drive, which is the 7200rpm edition that is claimed to be slightly faster than the standard GoFlex portable drives. The adapter was attached to a late-2011 15-inch MacBook Pro running Mac OS X Lion, connected directly to the notebook and also tested when daisy chained to a Thunderbolt display.
Using QuickBench 4.0 to run benchmark tests, we were able to reach read speeds of approximately 100MB/s and write speeds above 90MB/s. The performance was only marginally better than what we've experienced with FireWire 800 drives, bringing approximately 25-percent faster read/write speeds, though the Thunderbolt adapter clearly outperforms USB 2.0 by a factor of three.
The tests demonstrate that Thunderbolt is decidedly faster than USB 2.0 and FireWire 800, but the Thunderbolt interface itself is clearly capable of much faster speeds than a single disk drive is capable of supporting. For users who just upgraded to a Thunderbolt-equipped computer from a FireWire 400 or USB 2.0 device, purchasing Seagate's Thunderbolt adapter is an obvious upgrade. For users who already have a FireWire 800 drive and a computer with a FireWire 800 port, the decision is not quite as obvious.
Only SSDs and multiple-disk HDD configurations have shown the ability to truly leap from FireWire 800 transfer rates. We recently tested the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD, which achieved 270MB/s transfer speeds but retails for $700, while LaCie's 240GB Thunderbolt SSD is claimed to write at up to 480MB/s and read at up to 245MB/s--for $900.
Despite the modest performance advantage over FireWire 800, the Seagate's new adapter is the cheapest way to upgrade an external hard drive to take advantage of the Thunderbolt interface. The adapter retails for $100, while Seagate's 500GB GoFlex Turbo drive retails for $140 and the 750GB variant jumps to $170.
The GoFlex system is even more advantageous in cross-platform environments where a user may want to use one backup disk for both a Windows and Mac computer. The Turbo drives already come with a USB 3.0 interface, which likely achieves comparable HDD transfer rates on many of the latest Windows devices.
In comparison to the 100MB/s Seagate Thunderbolt system, which totals $270 for 750GB in total storage, LaCie's 1TB 5400rpm Little Big Disk is claimed to sustain 150MB/s read/write speeds for $380, while the 1TB 7200rpm Little Big Disk is claimed to jump to 180MB/s for $450. The LaCie drives are able to achieve faster rates by organizing two disk drives in a RAID 0 array.
Overall, we view the Thunderbolt adapter as a logical addition to the GoFlex modular system. We are still curious to discover if the hardware is compatible with a standard 2.5-inch SSD, however, such as OWC's Mercury Electra drives.