Is Thunderbolt (Formerly Light Peak) Overkill for Today’s SATA Drives?


I’m reading Intel’s press release for their new Thunderbolt I/O data connection technology that boasts a bi-directional data transfer speed of 10Gb/s through a PCI Express interconnect — which is awesome. However, today’s hard drives can’t take advantage of those speeds because SATA drives — even the latest SATA 3.0 drives [PDF] — aren’t that fast at pushing data through their SATA interface. As you can see from Seagate’s chart below, their SATA drives range from 3Gb/s (entry-level) to 6Gb/s (high-end SATA 3.0 Barracuda XT model). SSD-based SATA drives reflect the same speeds. So if today’s drive options aren’t up to the task… should consumers be excited when, say, a new storage drive like the LaCie Big Disk or this year’s MacBook Pro refresh with Thunderbolt connectivity is announced? Hmmm. On the other hand, Thunderbolt today is now faster than 5Gb/s USB 3.0 and will most likely become the new preferred standard.

NEW/RELATED: Intel Intros the SSD 510 with SATA 3.0 (500MB/s Read) in 120GB and 250GB Storage Capacities

Just added: see how the transfer rate achieved in this demo is less than 1Gb/s
(correction: I meant 1GB/s).
[VIDEO]




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7 Reactions to “Is Thunderbolt (Formerly Light Peak) Overkill for Today’s SATA Drives?”


  1. I would say a faster I/O allows for the current technology to continue maturing – although I’m pretty sure standard spinning disk are not saturating that SATA 6Gb/s interface as is. It’s up to the SSD’s for this new interface to be fully realized right?

  2. I would say a faster I/O allows for the current technology to continue maturing – although I’m pretty sure standard spinning disk are not saturating that SATA 6Gb/s interface as is. It’s up to the SSD’s for this new interface to be fully realized right?

  3. Sef Pinney says:

    No. Not overkill, in the simple respect that daisy-chaining peripherals off one another… even for example 2/4/8 RAID level 0 Hard drives, + Multiple (huge) mini Display Port Panels + Video Cameras (eventually.) I bet it will be possible to saturate the connection pretty quickly… though office productivity users won’t.

    You’ll be doing so with performance and work-flow capabilities previously unheard of, except in dedicated, high-end workstations. Read, w/out $$$.
    A small, flexible, standards based, high performance interconnect will foment even more innovation, backed by these innovative companies. Just as in the past. USB2 (3?)
    The ball is back in the RAID / Drive manufacturer’s courts. Where it should be. How about perfecting the hybrid drives? Blend the best of both worlds?

    I hope it kills USB3, daisy chaining and dual channels, with mDSP compatibility is a game changer. Plug them together 6 devices any way you want! It just makes sense.

  4. Will says:

    I think you need to check your math. 768 Mega*bytes* per second is not “less than 1Gb/s” by my math, in fact it’s a bit over 6Gb/s.

    • Technically 1,024MB is equal to 1GB. So if it’s transferring 786MB of data per second… that’s less than a 1GB of data per second.

      • M says:

        Hi Alexander. Actually, Will is correct. You were talking about the disk transfer rates of 3Gb/s & 6Gb/s. This means 3 gigabits per second and 6 gigabits per second, respectively. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_rate_units for more details. 768 (MB / s) = 6 Gb / s.

        The Thunderbolt transfer rates are crazy fast. The theoretical maximum is 10 (Gb / s) = 1280 MB / s. That is over one gigabyte per second. There are no normal disk drives that can come close to that speed. The new Sandforce 2 controller SSD drives like the OCZ (just tested on Anandtech) only reach about 500 MB/s. The only way to saturate the Thunderbolt connection with regular drives is with a huge array of normal drives or an small array of SSD drives.

        Best regards!