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Top five Thunderbolt storage devices: Performance meets capacity

CNET editor Dong Ngo rounds up the top five Thunderbolt-based desktop external storage devices on the market.

The Thunderbolt technology can be applied to a lot of things, but currently, the most popular use is in storage products. In this regard, it's similar to USB 3.0 but offers about twice the transfer speed, and you can also daisy-chain as many as five storage devices together using a single Thunderbolt port without degrading the data rates.

Despite the fact that Thunderbolt has gone multiplatform, most Thunderbolt storage devices are geared toward Macs. And their pricing, while progressively getting lower since Thunderbolt was first introduced a few years ago, is still quite high when compared with USB storage devices. The good news is that now most, if not all, Thunderbolt storage devices on the market come with a Thunderbolt cable included, which would cost another $50 if you had to buy one yourself.

If you own a Thunderbolt-enabled computer -- especially a Mac -- and need a superfast storage device for professional needs such as video editing or backups, Thunderbolt storage is worth the investment. The following are the top five storage devices of this type, designed for desktop use, that I have reviewed, sorted with the most recently reviewed first. This list will be updated on a regular basis as I review more of them.

Dong Ngo/CNET

LaCie 5big Thunderbolt
Introduced at CES 2013, LaCie's 5big Thunderbolt is the first five-bay Thunderbolt storage device that doesn't offer RAID 5. Instead, it's just a JBOD device that relies on Mac OS's software RAID to manage its internal drives. This is similar to the Pegasus J4 and hence offers only RAID 0 and RAID 1. Since this is a five-bay device, the best use of it is a dual-RAID configuration with two drives in RAID 1 for important data and the other three in RAID 0 for fast access.

The trade-off for the lack of RAID 5 support is the fact that the 5big Thunderbolt is comparatively affordable, with the 20TB version costing $2,200. The RAID 5-capable Pegasus R6 offers just 12TB at the same price.

In my testing, the 5big Thunderbolt offered excellent performance, making it one of the fastest storage device on the market. The 5big Thunderbolt also comes in a 10TB version that costs $1,200. Read the full review of the LaCie 5big Thunderbolt.

Dong Ngo/CNET

WD My Book VelociRaptor Duo
The My Book VelociRaptor Duo is the second Thunderbolt drive from Western Digital, the first being the WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo. Unlike the Thunderbolt Duo, which uses energy-efficient WD Green hard drives, the My Book uses two of the latest 1TB VelociRaptor hard drives in RAID 0 as its storage. In case you haven't heard, WD VelociRaptor internal hard drives are arguably the fastest and most reliable on the market. The result: the My Book VelociRaptor Duo is by far the fastest dual-bay Thunderbolt drive I've tested. This, plus the fact that a Thunderbolt cable is included, makes the My Book VelociRaptor totally worth its $850 street price.

And since the drive can offer top performance only when its two internal drives are set up in RAID 0, you should get two of them, daisy-chained together, for backup purposes. Read the full review of the WD My Book VelociRaptor Duo.

Dong Ngo/CNET

WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo
The WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo is the first Thunderbolt storage device from Western Digital. The drive is basically the Thunderbolt version of the My Book Studio Edition II. It has two drive bays accessible from the top. Inside, you'll find two SATA hard drives of 2TB, 3TB, or 4TB each, so the Duo can offer 4TB, 6TB, or 8TB of storage space when formatted in RAID 0. In RAID 1, you'll have half of that.

The My Book is shipped with low-powered hard drives, an in my testing, it was the slowest Thunderbolt storage devices on the market, although still much faster than any other non-Thunderbolt external hard drive. What makes it one of the best deals, however, is its price. At $800 for 8TB, it's the most affordable among all Thunderbolt storage devices, in terms of cost per gigabyte. Read the full review of the WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo.

Dong Ngo/CNET

Promise Pegasus R6
The Promise Pegasus R6 is the thoroughbred of the Thunderbolt standard. It's the first Thunderbolt storage device, and up to now it's still the fastest of its type. On top of that, it's one of the only two multiple-bay Thunderbolt storage devices (the other being the four-bay Pegasus R4) on the market that has built-in hardware RAID and therefore offers all types of RAID configurations, including advanced RAID setups such as RAID 5 or RAID 6. The device's six included hard drives are user-serviceable and can be hot-swappable in case failure occurs.

The negatives of the R6 include its high cost (about $2,200 for 12TB), and the noise and the vibration it generates during operation. But if you want something that is (for now) the be-all end-all of Thunderbolt-based storage, this is the one. Read the full review of the Promise Pegasus R6.

Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these storage devices head-to-head.