Thunderbolt 3, Part 2: How Much Speed Do You Need?

In our last blog article, we looked at the forthcoming Thunderbolt 3 storage interface. We examined its top benefits, including daisy chaining, USB Power Delivery, and a doubling of bandwidth from Thunderbolt 2’s 20 Gbit/s to the new generation’s 40 Gbit/s. However, we should probably answer the most basic question of all: Yes, Thunderbolt 3 is better than Thunderbolt 2, with much less USB 3.0/3.1. So what?

When You Don’t Need More Bandwidth

When you plug a Thunderbolt 3-based storage drive into your computer, you have a 40 Gbit/s (also 8 GB/s, or 8000 MB/s) freeway between your system and the storage device. However, the hard drive inside of that device won’t approach anything close to 40 Gbit/s. Even HGST’s 8TB Ultrastar Helium He8 tops out at a sustained throughput of 205 MB/s. This spotlights the difference between how fast data can move across a drive’s data port versus the slower rate at which bits can be written to or read from its platters.

In English, this means that if you’re only running one or even two hard drives in an external storage solution, you don’t need the speed of Thunderbolt 3. You might get value from Thunderbolt 3’s other benefits, but if you’re, say, a photographer moving a few hundred images a week, then Thunderbolt 3 is overkill. Thunderbolt 2, or even USB 3.1 (which we’ll cover soon in another blog article) should suffice.

When You Do Need More Bandwidth

Experienced amateurs and professionals don’t rely on single-drive approaches to external storage. They segregate external storage into capacity and performance tiers based on workflow stage, and they always build in data-protecting redundancy. G-Technology advocates a multiple-drive strategy not to sell more hardware but because it’s the most prudent, effective way to conduct creative business.

Now, a high-performance hard drive might achieve an internal sustained transfer speed of 200 MB/s, but by striping data across multiple drives, you can achieve an aggregated throughput significantly higher than that of any individual drive. Why do this? Because creatives require more storage performance every year or two. Computing’s laws are inescapable — capacity and processing needs scale exponentially.

Today, you might have a business focused on producing HD (1080p) videos. For this, an external solution such as the four-bay, Thunderbolt 2 G-SPEED Studio has all of the capacity and speed you’re likely to use for the next couple of years. The four internal drives can conjoin to deliver up to 700 MB/s of throughput. That’s fast, but you could daisy chain in a second G-SPEED Studio and still not hit Thunderbolt 2’s effective bandwidth ceiling.

However, you’ll be doing more demanding work two years from now. If you add a third enclosure, or if you begin adding ultra-fast SSD-based solutions into your mix 4K and 5K workflows, then the Thunderbolt 2 interface may become a bottleneck impeding your performance scaling.

Put simply, Thunderbolt 3 is at the very least a smart future-proofing play. If you remain a creative amateur or professional — and especially if you’re already feeling constrained by first-generation Thunderbolt solutions — odds are that your capacity, performance, and protection needs will grow. When they grow large enough, you will need Thunderbolt 3’s capabilities.

G‐Technology external hard drives serve as an element of an overall backup strategy. It is recommended that users keep two or more copies of their most important files backed up or stored on separate devices or online services.