Written by 6:00 pm FlixelPix Blog, Reviews

The Elgato Thunderbolt SSD

Elgato devices have been a major part of my setup ever since I moved to Mac over ten years ago. From epic TV devices for recording digital television, the brilliant Turbo.HD to speed up my video encoding and the simplicity of Elgato capture for analogue video Elgato devices are at the heart of my digital workflow. In my experience Elgato devices are the personification of reliability so when the company announced the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD (Solid State Drive) I was obviously very excited.

One of the biggest banes of my digital life has to be file storage. With each RAW file weighing in at 25mb (approx.) deciding on the best way to store and back up my photographs is something I spent many hours pouring over.

Elgato Thunderbolt SSDAll Photos : Fujifilm X-Pro1 with 35mm & 60mm (macro) lenses.

About the Drive

The Elgato Thunderbolt SSD is a Solid State Drive (SSD) employing a SanDisk Ultra SSD and is available in either 120GB or 240GB storage capacities. The drive uses the latest Thunderbolt technology found on the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, Mac mini and most recently some Windows PCs. No drivers or additional software is needed so the device is literally Plug and Play.

Interestingly the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD uses a SATA II drive even though it employs a SATA III interface, (The same applies in many computers featuring internal SSD drives). Although this means it doesn’t use the maximum bandwidth offered by Thunderbolt the benefits mean considerably better power consumption which is important if you are running a Macbook on battery. The Elgato Thunderbolt SSD offers a lightning 270Mbs/s file transfer speed blowing both USB2 (35 MB/s) and Firewire 800 (80 MB/s) out of the water.

The Sandisk Solid State Drive is housed in a strong, well finished aluminium enclosure that offers substantial protection for vital data.

My Storage Workflow

I run two Lightroom catalogues. A working catalogue of the current year’s work and an ‘Archive library’ of all the preceding years. Both catalogues are backed up via Time Machine when they are connected to my Macbook.

Elgato Thunderbolt SSD

Lightroom makes it easy to manage image catalogues and each year I import the working catalogue into the archive library and start afresh. My main working Lightroom catalogue is accessed multiple times per day whereas I only tend to dip in and out of the archive library and thus it can happily sit on a USB2 drive.

Why is the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD Important?

When it comes to my working Lightroom Catalogue speed and reliability are key. Thunderbolt drives aren’t about necessarily about large volumes of data but are more about speed which is ideal for a photography workflow.

Following a typical day of photography I would insert the SD card into my computer and wait for each 25mb file to be transferred to the external USB drive. Then having waited for the import to complete many of these images will be rejected and ultimately deleted from the drive.

Moving the catalogue from USB2 to the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD means a dramatically noticeable increase in speed. (Twenty times faster than USB and twelve times faster than Firewire800).

Size & Speed : Qualities for Different Purposes

Backups are about large volumes of data and speed isn’t necessarily a priority so a Firewire 800 or USB2 drive is ideal for creating Time Machine backups. For fast access to new photos the Elgato is all about blistering speed and it is remarkable to see large RAW files flying across from the memory card instantly ready to edit.

How fast is fast?

I am always cynical about the speed claims and benchmarks so I decided to put the drive to a very basic speed test comparing the transfer of a single 1GB video file. The Elgato Thunderbolt SSD uses the SandForce controller, this speeds up the transfer process by compressing data on the fly. As not all data can be compressed I decided to demonstrate the speed with video as (like photographs) these are transferred without compression.

I initially recorded the transfer of the 1GB video file to a host powered USB2 7200RPM hard disc drive. I then repeated the process with the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD. [The file is a video interview with the brilliant Rams’ Pocket Radio].

An “image says a 1000 words” and I think this moving image says it all…

As you can see there is a remarkable difference in transfer time, now consider such speed benefits when importing a memory card full of RAW images!

Host Powered

One of the first things you will notice when using the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD is the silence. Even a host powered USB drive sounds noisy alongside the Elgato device which is completely bus powered via a single Thunberbolt cable (included) to the Macbook.

Elgato Thunderbolt SSD

This makes the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD the fastest possible mobile storage solution for photographers who want reliability while at the same time travelling light. One drive and a single cable acts almost as an extension to my Macbook Pro’s primary drive.


Due to the lack of moving and mechanical parts The Elgato Thunderbolt SSD is far less prone to accidental damage than traditional hard drives. The build quality is to Elgato’s usual high standard, robust and built to last the device is the perfect companion to any Thunderbolt equipped computer.

The Negatives

Well, I am not sure it fair to include the cost of the drive as a negative as currently all Solid State drives cost considerably more than their magnetic alternative but this doesn’t mean they are not good value for money. In my opinion the move to Solid State is a worthy investment.

In all sincerity my main negative is that the Elgato Thunderbolt SDD is so good you end up hating waiting for your other storage devices to transfer data. There is a real sense of frustration going back to a USB2 after using the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD not only for speed but also for the sheer lack of noise.


Whether you shoot RAW or JPG the speed benefits of a Thunderbolt drive are a remarkable injection to a photographer’s workflow. You not only get used to the speed but you also the silence, even the quietest of mechanical hard drives sound loud by comparison.

The Elgato Thunderbolt SSD should be on every photographer’s wish list. If you are looking for storage that will accelerate your workflow look no further than the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD, I am really not sure there is a faster drive on the market.

The Elgato Thunderbolt SSD is available in two sizes (120GB and 240GB) from the Apple Store at £249.95/£399.95 (including the Elgato Thunderbolt cable).


More Information on the Elgato Website

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Tags: , Last modified: October 30, 2014