Those of us Mac users longing for a fast, new Thunderbolt external drive have little choice in the matter in these early days of the newish interface.
Thunderbolt has a theoretical transfer rate of 10GB/second. Look again. That’s GB. Gigabytes, not megabytes. You can copy and transfer tons of data in a fraction of the time it usually takes. People who routinely deal with large volumes of data like video producers, animators, sound guys or graphic artists would love this technology if it were more affordable.
The problem with Thunderbolt is that they’re confined to Macs, and the technology is taking its sweet time to become mainstream. Most of these Thunderbolt ports in new Macs are left largely unused because the hardware that utilizes them still aren’t around, save for a precious few — like Thunderbolt hard drives. Or if there are any around, they’re still pretty expensive.
Granted there are actually any available in the local market, you’re left with expensive options from Western Digital, LaCie, Promise and a few other manufacturers who sell these external Thunderbolt drives at a premium. LaCie, for example, sells a 2-terabyte Thunderbolt solution called the Little Big Disk for P32,000.
Well, there’s finally some light at the end of the tunnel. Seagate has come up with a less expensive solution by providing the market with a Thunderbolt adapter for its FreeAgent GoFlex Desk external drives, and you can have a Thunderbolt drive at half the usual cost if you’re willing to put in the effort.
This is how you do it:
1) Get a large Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Desk external drive. You can get a 2TB solution for a little upwards of P5,000 (like I did), or if you can afford it, get a 3TB or even a 4TB GoFlex drive for more room. These drives come with a detachable adapter that comes in USB 2.0 or USB 3.0, or a Firewire 800 adapter. Since you’re not really going to use this adapter, best to get a USB 2.0 because it’s the cheapest (you have no choice, Seagate doesn’t sell the drives without ‘em.). Actually, you don’t really need to get a GoFlex Desk drive if you want; the Thunderbolt adapter can fit any standard internal SATA drive, and will work perfectly with them if you’re willing to sacrifice looks and a little bit of durability – but we’ll get to that later.
2) Next, get yourself a Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt Adapter, for something around P8000. A little expensive, I know, but this is the heart of the whole thing. It’s funny that the little adapter costs more than the external drive itself, but that’s how it goes. It’s a device that attaches to the GoFlex drive in place of the little adapter, and comes with its own power adaptor There are two Thunderbolt ports in the back, plus the port for the power adapter. I’m told it’s now available at the third floor of VMall in Greenhills, which is great (I had to get mine from abroad). Note: There’s also a Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt Adapter for their portable GoFlex drives that’s much smaller and doesn’t need a power adapter, and it goes for around P4,000 – P4,500, also available at VMall.
3) Then, lastly, get the 2-meter Apple Thunderbolt Cable from your friendly neighborhood reseller. This is an important step, as this whole enterprise won’t work without the cable. And don’t be shocked by the price – this short, innocuous-looking cable goes for around P2,500. It apparently has to do with the circuitry and the materials — it has chips inside, and something called the Gennum transceiver, which is required for the fast bi-directional transfer rate. Prices won’t come down until sometime next year when cheaper next-gen parts are available, and even then not by much.
And that’s basically it. You hook it all up, and you have a working, functioning Thunderbolt hard drive. This whole thing would’ve cost you around P15,000 – P16,000. Still expensive, I know, but a far cry from the other alternative — by literally half. While the theoretical drive speed is there, in practice though, you get a little less than what you’d expect. The technology is hobbled by the current state of SATA hard drives, and the speeds aren’t as great as they could be, although it’s still fast as hell.
I benchmarked my system (frankly, not very seriously yet, but I’ll get to it one of these days), and this is what I initially got with my new 2TB Thunderbolt setup:
The Thunderbolt adapter actually runs off of any standard, generic internal SATA drive, and you can just purchase a large one and jam it in there without using a Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Desk. The pins of the drive adapter correspond exactly to the pins of a SATA drive, and it fits perfectly, although it’s kinda exposed to the elements and a little wobbly, and you might have to pad it a little to make it stable and not topple over. But it works. And this is great for people who have to use and exchange lots of internal drives. For looks and durability though, it’s best to have a GoFlex Desk drive on there.
It’s just great that prices are finally coming down. To date, the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Desk and the Seagate GoFlex Desk Thunderbolt Adapter combination marks the most affordable Thunderbolt solution available, and we recommend it highly.
EDIT: The benchmark photo has been updated to better reflect the product’s capabilities.
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