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Thunderbolt storage now gets bus-powered with Elgato

Elgato announces at CES 2012 the first Thunderbolt drive, the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD, which draws power from a Thunderbolt port to power itself.

The new Elgato Thunderbolt SSD bus-powered portable drive.
The new Elgato Thunderbolt SSD bus-powered portable drive. Dong Ngo/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Mobile Mac users now can finally say goodbye to their USB or FireWire portable drives.

Elgato showed off today at CES 2012 the first bus-powered Thunderbolt drive, the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD.

While bus-powered--a feature that allows storage devices to draw power directly from the peripheral port, negating the need for a separate power adapter--has been widely popular with USB portable drives, it has been a challenge for the Thunderbolt connection. The Thunderbolt port is slated to offer up to 10 volts of power, but because parts and pieces of the Thunderbolt interface, such as the cable itself, require energy to work, in the end there's not much left for the internal drive. For this reason, the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD is quite a big deal.

The new drive comes in about the same physical size as most other portable drives that are based on 2.5-inch internal drives. On the inside, the Elgato houses a solid-state drive (SSD) instead of a regular hard drive. This is because since the Thunderbolt standard offers up to 10Gbps of bandwidth, it doesn't make sense to use a single hard drive, which is much slower than a SSD. Even in this case, the top speed of the Elgato is capped at 6Gbps, which is that of the SATA 3 standard, used by its internal SSD. The second reason is SSDs generally use less power than regular hard drives.

The Elgato comes with just one Thunderbolt port. This means you won't be able to connect another Thunderbolt device to it in a daisy-chain setup. You can use the drive at the end of the chain, however.

Note that, as with other Thunderbolt storage devices I've seen, such as the LaCie Little Big Disk SSD or the Promise Pegasus, the Elgato won't come included with a Thunderbolt cable. You'll have to buy one yourself separately from Apple. Since Apple currently offers only one size of Thunderbolt cable, which is rather long and thick, this makes the portable drive a bulky solution.

Adam Steinberg, Elgato's VP of marketing, said there will soon be a new Thunderbolt cable that's shorter, and possible thinner, which is more suitable for use with the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD drive. The new drive itself will be available sometimes in February in two capacities, 128GB and 256GB, which are estimated to cost $400 and $650, respectively.

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Elgato Thunderbolt SSD (120GB)
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Elgato Thunderbolt SSD