Elgato's data-pumping SSD comes to Thunderbolt's aid

Thunderbolt is a fast interface that so far has been available only on Macs. Elgato is joining the fray with new flash-based drives announced at CES.

Elgato's Thunderbolt SSD will ship in February in 120GB and 240GB models.
Elgato's Thunderbolt SSD will ship in February in 120GB and 240GB models. Elgato

Thunderbolt, the high-speed port technology from Intel that so far appears only on Apple computers, just got a shot in the arm from Elgato with new portable solid-state drives.

At the CES show today, Elgato announced two models of its new Thunderbolt SSD. The $429.95 120GB model and the $699.95 240GB model will ship in February, the company said.

The drives can transfer data at 270MBps and will work with both Macs and Windows machines. They draw power from a computer over the Thunderbolt cable itself, with no need or ability to get power on their own.

SSDs remain a premium purchase, but they can respond much quicker than conventional hard drives. That advantage is squandered with the ordinary USB 2.0 connections most computers today offer, but the Thunderbolt interface--as well as USB 3.0 that's on the verge of becoming a standard feature--help unlock SSDs' potential.

What's not yet clear is the degree to which Elgato will help unlock Thunderbolt's potential. Thunderbolt products remain a rarity--not a huge surprise given that it's limited so far just to newer Macs and that it comes with premium pricing.

Elgato's Thunderbolt SSD has a single Thunderbolt connection, unlike LaCie's more expensive Little Big Drive with two, and no other ports.
Elgato's Thunderbolt SSD has a single Thunderbolt connection, unlike LaCie's more expensive Little Big Drive with two, and no other ports. Elgato

Apple sells a 2-meter Thunderbolt cable for $49, for example. And LaCie's Little Big Disk--the top challenger so far to Elgato's products--costs $899.99 for a 240GB SSD model. Even LaCie's hard drive versions cost more than conventional external drives, $499.99 for a 1TB 7200rpm model and $599.99 for a 2TB 5400rpm model. But LaCie's drives include two Thunderbolt ports to Elgato's one; with two, you can daisy-chain more drives, displays, or other Thunderbolt devices, something useful for MacBook users who get only a single port.

Neither LaCie nor Elgato offer any other ports on their drives, something that could be handy for people who might use them to bring work on the road and plug into more than one machine. That utility would add expense, of course.

The next big boost for Thunderbolt will come with the arrival of new computers such as Lenovo's upcoming ThinkPad Edge S430 . But with USB 3.0 coming on strong and more of an industry standard, Thunderbolt still has an uphill fight for relevance ahead.

 

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