Near Thunderbolt Speeds with USB 3.0

If you do a lot of video or photo editing you will find out quickly how important a fast hard disk becomes.  The ability to read and write massive amounts of data is a must.  Depending on what kind of work you do a simple USB drive may be fine.  For those who need more may need an SSD drive or even a thunderbolt connection if you have a Mac or a PC with thunderbolt.  What is thunderbolt and what is USB…

USB 3.0

Right out of Wikipedia…

“USB 3.0 is the third major version of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard for interfacing computers and electronic devices. Among other improvements, USB 3.0 adds the new transfer mode SuperSpeed (SS) that can transfer data at up to 5 Gbit/s (625 MB/s), which is about ten times faster than the USB 2.0 standard.”

Thunderbolt

Right out of thunderbolttechnology.net…

“Thunderbolt™ technology is a transformational I/O innovation that provides a leap in performance over current I/O technologies with 10 Gbps of full-duplex bandwidth per channel. It significantly simplifies the end-user experience by concurrently supporting data (PCI Express*) and display (DisplayPort) connections over a single cable. Thunderbolt products may be connected using electrical or optical cables. Thunderbolt technology enables flexible and innovative system designs by allowing multiple, high-performance, PCI Express and DisplayPort devices to attach to a computer through a single physical connector.

Gbps and Gbit mean the same thing…gigabit per second.  So on the surface it seems that thunderbolt is twice as fast as USB 3.0.  Before we go much deeper lets put the gigabits into a measurement that we can deal with.  I use the black magic drive disk speed test software for my tests and it measures in MB/s or megabytes per second.  So 5Gbps would be equal to 625 megabytes and 10 Gbps 1250 megabytes.  Both are very very fast.  So lets get a relative sense of speed.  Here I have tested a western digital 2.5″ backup hdd using USB 3.0 interface and lets measure some speed.

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So indicated by the Black Magic disk speed test this drive would not be suitable for editing video.  It is able to write 86.5 megabytes per second and read 93.4 megabytes.  It works just fine for moving data, data storage and files that are smaller in size but not good enough for the huge throughput that A/V requires.  The main reason for this lack of speed has nothing to do with the interface.  We know that the USB 3.0 interface can handle more but the drive is a basic spinning disk at 5900 rpm and is slow in todays world.  No matter how much throughput you have the disk will only provide so much.  We are limited at the disk.  Think of it like driving a Yugo on the Audubon.  You couldn’t go 150 miles an hour if you wanted to.

So the obvious next step would be to use the USB 3.0 interface with an SSD drive to reduce the bottle neck.  I did just that.  I found the most highly rated, least expensive, drive on Amazon.

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I mounted this silicon power disk into the inateck case and gave it a whirl.  The drive on the Black Magic now performed very well at speeds of  about 400 megabytes per second.  This is easily enough to edit video except for some of the most demanding resolutions and color depths.

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With the new 4k resolution craze and some new video formats around there still could be a need for even more speed.  I started looking at thunderbolt devices and specifically 2 drive bay cases.  I found out quickly that thunderbolt is very expensive.  Even thunderbolt version one products cost 3-5 times as much as the equivalent usb 3.0 devices.  I decided to try a test to see what kind of speed I would get if I created a raid 0 array with a second SSD drive and case and this is how I did it.

With the Mac and OS X you can actually create various raid arrays through the disk utility and their software controller.  This is called a software raid.  A hardware raid is made by the actual hardware or disk cases having various switches and settings.  Hardware raids are more versatile but I am on a budget.  Software raid it is.

What is raid 0?  Raid 0 is a way to “tie” together two disks and letting the computer see them as one “virtual” disk.  Why would you want to do this?  Allowing the computer to access two disks allows it twice as much space and throughput as the normal configuration.  Example:  lets say the computer has to send 10 pieces of data to the drive.  On a normal single drive system it would send them 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, then 5, then 6, then 7, then 8, then 9 and finally 10.  Now if it had two drives to write to it could send by twos… 1,2 then 3,4 then 5,6 then 7,8 then 9,10.  More lanes, bigger roads easier to drive fast…

Pro’s and Con’s

A risky con…A normal single drive is a bad idea for back up.   If the drive dies, the data dies with it.  In a Raid 0 scenario if either of the drives in the array dies then all of the data dies with it.  Even if the other drive is working it only has pieces of all the data it needs and can’t make any sense of whats left.  So in effect by having two drives represent one whole set of data you have doubled your risk of drive failure because now you depend on two.

Another smaller con is that you use up two usb ports because you’re using two drives and this software raid will only work with the software that created it and not on all computers.

BUT

Lets look at the pros

SPEED…Check this out.

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With both drives in a Raid 0 array they achieved more than 700 megabytes throughput!  That is ready for any kind of video or photo editing you can throw at it.  WOW!

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I literally strapped the two drives together to keep movement to a minimum so cable wouldn’t come loose.

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I then went into the Disk Utility on my mac arranged the two drives as Raid 0.

The new Mac OS x made things a little more complicated for me.  There is no longer a user interface for creating Raid arrays in disk utility.  I had to go to the terminal window and type:

diskutil appleRAID create stripe [arrayName] JHFS+ disk0 disk1

** ! make sure you select the correct drives for the array…mine happened to be disk0 and disk1 yours could be different ! **

Disk0 being one of my SSD drives and Disk1 being the other SSD.  Once I hit return the array was created and showed up as one drive on my desktop with the name I gave it.

 

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You can plug in the usb cables for the array in any order.  They did not however work through a usb hub.  I plugged them directly into the back of my machine.

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Now make sure you don’t just yank the cables out when you’re finished using the drive.  You want to eject the drive first…let it complete the exit and then pull the cables out.  Remember if you corrupt the data on one drive its ALL gone!

Anyway at these speeds I am comparable to most Thunderbolt 1 drives that are similar that I have seen.  Yes there are combinations that are faster but not for this price.  I paid a grand total of $312 for all of this and a thunderbolt drive setup similar would cost double or more.  Its a good option if you’re on a budget so try one on your Mac.

Feel free to ask any questions.

 

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Any advice or suggestions? Lets hear them. Thanks!