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Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ review: Blazing fast portable drive

Don't let the compact design of the Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ fool you! It's the fastest portable storage device on the market. Here's CNET's full review of the drive.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
4 min read

The Thunderbolt Drive+ is the second Thunderbolt portable drive from Elgato and it's a major upgrade to the already very fast predecessor, that came out two years ago. Apart from the support for USB 3.0, the new drive shares the same compact and bus-powered design as its older brother.


Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+

The Good

The <b> Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ </b> portable drive offers top performance when used with either Thunderbolt or USB 3.0. The drive is easy to use and includes both USB and Thunderbolt cables.

The Bad

The drive is expensive and there's no bundled software.

The Bottom Line

The Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ is by far the fastest portable drive to date and, for power users, totally worth the investment.

The new device now includes a Thunderbolt (and a USB 3.0) cable, which previous model didn't at launch, making it ready to use right out of the box. That is, if you can afford its current hefty price of $480 for 256GB (or $900 for 512GB).

But it's going to be money well-spent since the Thunderbolt Drive+ is by far the fastest portable drive on the market to date. However, if top performance is not a mandate, you can always check out this list for other great, more affordable portable drives.

The new Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ shares the same compact design found in the previous model.
The new Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ shares the exact compact design found it the previous model. Dong Ngo/CNET
Drive type External Thunderbolt hard drive
Connector options Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, USB 2.0
Available capacities 256GB, 512GB
Product dimensions (LWH) 5.2x0.8x3.3 inches
Weight 9.5 oz
Capacity of test unit 256GB
OSes supported Windows 7 or later, Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later.

Frill-free plug-and-play design
The new Thunderbolt Drive+ share the same design as the previous Thunderbolt SSD, which is a typical portable drive that's based on a 2.5-inch internal drive. It measures just 5.2 inches by 0.8 inch by 3.3 inches and weighing only 0.5 pound. Its housing is made of aluminum with a grainy finish that doesn't attract dust or fingerprints. On the inside, the drive houses an internal solid-state drive (SSD) from Plextor, which is accountable for its great performance.

On the bottom of the new Thunderbolt Drive+ drive has four small screws that presumably allow you to take the take apart and replace the SSD on the inside. Doing so would void the warranty, however.

The bus-powered portable drive now can work with either Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 (USB 2.0 compatible).
The bus-powered portable drive now can work with either Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 (USB 2.0 compatible). Dong Ngo/CNET

The new drive comes with one Thunderbolt port and one USB 3.0 port. It doesn't support Thunderbolt 2 but also worked with USB 2.0 in my trial. Since this is a single-volume storage device, there's no need for it to support Thunderbolt 2 since the top speed of the original Thunderbolt (10Gbps) is already much faster than the top speed of the internal SSD (6Gbps). The lack of a second Thunderbolt port, however, means that in a daisy-chain setup, the drive can only be used at the end of the chain, since you can't plug another Thunderbolt device to it. This is a normal design for a compact drive, however.

Out of the box, the Thunderbolt Drive+ is formatted in HFS+ and will work right away with a Mac. You can easily reformat it to make it work with Windows computer however. The included Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 cables means that you can really use the drive right out of the box. There's no setup necessary. This is a bus-powered drive and that means you only need to use just one of the cables at a time. If you plug it into a computer with both the USB and Thunderbolt cable, only the first connection will work.

Outstanding performance
I tested the Thunderbolt Drive+ with both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0. With the former it was tested with a new Macbook Pro (late 2013 model), the latter was done with a Windows computer. With both, it offered unprecedented real-word copy speeds.

CNET Labs Thunderbolt performance

Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ 283.85 308.02Pegaus J2 (RAID 0 - with power adapter) 201.93 180.80Promise J4 (RAID 0) 200.31 156.26LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt (RAID 0) 179.22 180.96WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo (RAID 0) 156 167.47Promise Pegasus R4 (RAID 5) 150.47 171.10Elgato Thunderbolt SSD 129.61 168.97LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt (RAID 1) 126.96 147.2LaCie 5Big Thunderbolt (RAID 1) 121.11 141.63WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo (RAID 1) 107.73 109.15Drobo Mini 106.03 94.66Pegaus J2 (RAID 0 - bus-powered) 83.83 153.32
  • Write
  • Read
Note: Measured in megabytes per second

When used with Thunderbolt, the drive offered the sustained speed of 284MBps for writing and 308MBps for reading, by far the fastest I've seen for portable Thunderbolt drive. It's not the fastest Thunderbolt storage device, but just trails behind the recently-reviewed Pegasus2, which is an advanced RAID system. Note that when used with older Thunderbolt-enabled Macs, however, its performance was a little slower, slightly less than 200MBps. This means, if you really want to have the best performance, you need to get the latest Mac.

CNET Labs' USB 3.0 external drive performance

Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ 242.9 289.53Buffalo DriveStation DDR 215.5 216.78Toshiba Canvio Slim II 118.8 118.49WD My Passport Ultra 118.5 117.87Silicon Power Armor A15 113.0 112.09Seagate Slim 110.4 111.49IoSafe Solo G3 109.1 110.98WD My Password Slim 107.7 107.89LaCie Christofle Sphere 105.5 111.43Canvio Connect 97.4 97.1LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt 92.29 112.23Seagate Backup Plus 90.94 110.1Drobo Mini 59.26 76.79
  • Write
  • Read
Note: Measured in megabytes per second

With USB 3.0, it registered 243MBps and 290MBps for sustained writing and reading, respectively. Note that the Windows test machine also use SSD as its internal drive, if you use the Thunderbolt Drive+ with a USB 3.0-enabled computer that uses a regular hard drive as its internal storage, the copy speed will be much lowered since the computer's storage is the bottleneck.

All in all, the Thunderbolt Drive+ offered superb performance for a compact portable drive. In fact it can rival the speed of other high-end advanced RAID storage system. In my testing, the drive also stayed cool during and worked without any hiccups.

The Thunderbolt performance of this Elgato is outstanding and impressive, even when compared to much more advanced storage devices. However, what makes this drive special is its unprecedented USB 3.0 speed. It's by far the fastest to date, even faster -- faster than the Buffalo DriveStation DDR, which is a desktop drive with special caching. This means end users can now tab into real-time HD video editing kind of performance without having to invest in Thunderbolt, but rather just a decent computer with USB 3.0. In all, if superfast performance and portability are what you need, look no further than the Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+.


Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 8Performance 10Support 8