The Elgato Thunderbolt SSD is the first true portable Thunderbolt storage device. Like USB portable drives, it only needs one cable for both data and power. The Elgato could be even more portable, however, if it came with a short Thunderbolt cable of its own. Instead, like all Thunderbolt storage devices I've seen, it doesn't come with any cable, forcing you to buy the 6.6-foot long cable from Apple, which is bulkier than the drive itself. The Elgato is also very expensive; it costs around $700 for 240GB, and $430 for 120GB.
To the device's credit, it does host a solid-state drive on the inside, which is already very expensive. In my tests, it offered faster performance by far than any other bus-powered portable drives. Since Macs generally don't offer USB 3.0, it's basically the only option for a fast and portable storage solution. So for those who have the funds, the Elgato will deliver.
That said, unless you absolutely need a very fast storage device, you might want to get a USB-based portable drive, which costs around 10 times less for the same amount of storage space.
|Drive type||External Thunderbolt hard drive|
|Available capacities||120GB, 240GB|
|Product dimensions (LWH)||5.2 x .8 x 3.3 inches|
|Capacity of test unit||240GB|
|OSes supported||Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later.|
Design and features
The Elgato Thunderbolt SSD looks like a typical 2.5-inch portable drive. Measuring just 5.2 by .8 by 3.3 inches and weighing only 0.5 pound, the drive is compact and light. Its housing is made of aluminum with a grainy finish that doesn't attract dust or fingerprints.
On the bottom of the drive are two long rubber feet to help it stay put. There are also four small screws in case you want to take it apart. I didn't try to, but presumably that allows you to replace the SSD inside.
On one side, the drive has just one Thunderbolt port. This means it won't be able to connect another Thunderbolt device to it, so in a daisy-chain setup, the drive can only be used at the end of the chain. I tried it with a few other Thunderbolt devices and it worked well. The lack of the second Thunderbolt port also means that you can't use two units with your Mac, since Thunderbolt-enabled Macs also tend to come with just one Thunderbolt port, as well.
Like other Thunderbolt storage devices I've reviewed, the Elgato doesn't come with a Thunderbolt cable. When it comes to the other devices, this is rather ridiculous since a cable is $50. But with the Elgato, this is downright not acceptable; Apple's standard Thunderbolt cable currently comes in just one length of 6.6 feet. This oversize cable makes it almost impossible to have the portable drive near your Macbook without having cable running all over the place. In fact, the cable is so long that you can literally wrap it around the notebook a few times and still have some to spare. It's not very convenient, to say the least. When it introduced the drive at CES 2012, Elgato told me that it was working with Apple to make its own cable. Hopefully you'll be able to find a shorter cable to make the drive as portable as it's intended to be.
There's nothing to setting up the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD. Out of the box, it's preformatted in HFS+; once connected to a Mac via Thunderbolt, it's immediately available to the computer, with an icon automatically appearing on the desktop and the Finder. The drive doesn't come bundled with any software.
Though the Thunderbolt standard has the ceiling throughput of 10Gbps, since the Elgato hosts a single SSD, its top speed should be that of the SSD. And this was exactly what I found in my testing. The portable drive was about as fast as an internal SSD, which, by the way, is very fast for any external drive but slower than other multiple-volume Thunderbolt drives I've reviewed.