Thunderbolt PLUS Solid State Drive

While the price and size of Solid State Drives (SSD) is coming down – and up, I’m still waiting for the ready made SSD via Thunderbolt solution. Until then, heres an alternative.

Using the Seagate Thunderbolt Adapter – aka “The Sled” you can attach any 2.5inch bare drive and use the Thunderbolt connection to your Mac. Seagate Thunderbolt Adapter

Seagate Thunderbolt Adapter
I paired mine with a 128GB SSD from OWC last year for a few reasons:

  1. Highest transfer rate via the Thunderbolt port
  2. Fastest read /write speed via the SSD
  3. Security of data writing while in a mobile situation (no moving parts)

Seagate Thunderbolt Adapter w/ SSD
Since the SSD is slimmer than the seagate drives the sled was designed for I attached a couple of rubber bumpers to keep the drive level and take the strain off the connection.Rubber Bumpers
SSD drive attached

Finally for a little more security in those mobile situations I strapped a rubber band to prevent the lateral slide. Tip: the bands from Broccoli bunches work great.
SSD drive attached w/ Rubber Band to secureSo how does it work?

There are various ways to compare by using the published stats such as “up to 92x faster” but I wanted this for a specific purpose – to transfer files quickly and safely. I compared with the next fastest alternative on my MacBook Pro, Firewire 800 using OWC’s Mercury On-The-Go drives (Hitachi 5400rpm and 7200rpm)

I transferred almost 72GB of images, a busy days shoot.

The SSD via Thunderbolt managed the transfer in 13mins
The 7200rpm via Firewire managed the transfer in 19mins
The 5400rpm via Firewire managed the transfer in 36mins

It probably comes as a shock to most that there is such a significant difference between the two spinning drives as most people rarely take that into consideration when buying a drive. We know USB2 is slower so we can be fooled to thinking that simply getting a Firewire drive (USB3) is the best option. A better option yes, but theres a massive difference in write speeds between the 5400 and the 7200.
As for the SSD/ Thunderbolt comparing to the 7200/ FW drive the difference of only 6 minutes may not seem much, and for most applications its not, especially when we consider the price difference.
A 500GB 7200rpm FW/USB3 drive from OWC runs between $100-126
Assembling a 240GB SSD with the sled will run between $247-332.

But for me there was an additional consideration: Security. Often I am transferring files while actually moving, either in a vehicle or a rolling cart, and once in a boat. For me a spinning drive was too susceptible to damage to keep running in those situations. Thats where SSD in a laptop and external rocks.

The timings above were transfers from a 5200rpm internal drive. Running the same tests from an internal SSD yielded the following:
8.5 mins / 19 mins / 38 mins. So it would seem that the spinning drives were writing as fast as they could while the 5400rpm internal drive was reading but the SSD was capable of taking more data.

If your budget allows then I would definitely go for internal and external SSD’s but if you have budget constraints or space challenges then Internal SSD matched with external spin drives (7200rpm) connected via Firewire/USB3/Thunderbolt would be ideal.
Check out these portable solutions.

1TB Buffalo drive from OWC (TB and USB3)
1TB Mercury On The Go (FW / USB3)
1TB Mercury On The Go Pro  (TB)

UPDATE: 5/30/14
OWC have a SSD/Thunderbolt solution ready made in the form of the Elgato (240GB) from $240. (on sale so may not be available by the time you read this)
The fact that its a fully enclosed metal case concerns me a little as I know my setup gets quite hot when transferring large amounts of data.