The ultimate external Thunderbolt™ 3 storage solution for Mac and PC users who need to maximize their space.
For many years I worked for a video production company as a video/audio editor. We worked heavily with file transfers and I was working there when media made the switch from a physical disk or tape to a digital file. As nice as that was, it meant we had to find ways to store that data and at the time, that meant individual hard drives. We used Western Digital MyBook systems and it really wasn’t a very stable way to store irreplaceable information. Over the past few years, I’ve seen what proper data storage should look like with RAID, or Redundant Array of Inexpensive (or Independent) Disks, systems. You see, with a single hard drive standing alone, if it failed, the data was lost and there was no way to get it back. With a RAID system, data is backed up across multiple drives and if one fails, you might still have the option to retrieve the valuable information from the other drives that are still in operation.
My biggest issue with having a RAID system personally is the size. Even something as compact as a Drobo doesn’t really ‘fit’ my current desk set-up. Fortunately, there are different types of hard drive/RAID systems out there for people who might need something a little smaller like me. AKiTio has a really cool device in the Thunder3 Quad Mini. It’s a 4-bay Thunderbolt 3 storage system that is ultra compact. It works exclusively with 2.5″ hard drives and is designed to work with Thunderbolt 3 systems like my 2016 MacBook Pro.
The system is small. It measures 7.52 x 3.78 x 4.53 inches and it comfortably hides behind my 13-inch MacBook Pro. The Thunder3 Quad Mini is essentially a shell casing for hard drives. The case is made out of high-quality aluminum for optimized heat dissipation. It comes with aluminum trays and screws to secure the hard drives, but it is not sold with hard drives installed. That said, you can use solid state or standard hard drives with the Thunder3 Quad Mini. The system has an internal fan that is incredibly quiet. It only puts out 23 dB(A) when it’s in operation. You do have the option to turn it off if the sound is an issue. When it is on, I’ve only noticed a minor sound increase — like a gentle laptop fan. I actually have a battery operated fan on my desk that makes more noise. Even with the fan switch in the ‘on’ position, it will shut off when disconnected from a computer. It automatically kicks on when reconnected.
The Thunder3 Quad Mini uses an external power adapter that ships with it. The power adapter is a two-cord set-up with a brick power supply included. It’s a little bulky in comparison to the device and I would have preferred a single cord option. The Quad Mini does provide power output to compatible devices. It has a power output of 15W, which is usually enough to provide power adapter status for my MacBook Pro, but not actually charge the battery. The 13-inch MacBook Pro requires a 61W power output for charging, but somehow, my laptop’s battery was charging.
The Thunder3 Quad Mini has three output ports:
- Thunderbolt 3 interface for fast transfer speeds (up to 40Gbps)
- A second Thunderbolt 3 port supports TB3, USB 3.1 (up to 10 Gbps)
- One Display Port for additional monitor to expand the workspace
To date, I have not connected an external monitor or a secondary TB3 cable, but I have been using the drive with my MacBook Pro through a TB3 connection. One thing I want to point out before I get into my testing specs is that there are two types of TB cables out there — active and passive. An active Thunderbolt 3 cable will get you the 40Gbps speeds that you want from a TB3 connection. Earlier this year, I found a really great description from Startech about the differences between active and passive cables and what you can expect from Thunderbolt 3.
Active Thunderbolt 3 cables support Thunderbolt at 40Gbps data transfer at lengths of up to 2m. Optical cables are targeted later, with lengths of up to 60m. Passive lower cost cables are only capable of 20Gbps data transfer at 1m or 2m lengths but can achieve the full 40Gbps at a shorter cable length of 0.5m.
You can read the full article here: https://blog.startech.com/post/thunderbolt-3-the-basics
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to tell the difference between cables because they aren’t marked in any certain way. The length can be telling, but so can a speed test. I did two different speed tests on the Thunder3 Quad Mini. The first was a simple drag-and-drop some data and time it with a stopwatch test and the other was a speed test using Blackmagic Speed Test utility app.
For the first test, I transferred my Photos library from my MBP to the Thunder3. The file was 15.74GB in size and it finished transferring right at 1 minute and 9 seconds. That figures out to be around a 2Gbps transfer rate. The Blackmagic Speed Test was actually showing a bit slower transfer rate than that with a 644.5Mbps read/996.4Mpbs write time.
Even though it seems that I’m not getting the absolute fastest speeds possible with Thunderbolt 3, I’m VERY happy with this little storage unit. It does a great job of storing the data and allowing me to access it quickly. Some of that could be because I’m using SSDs in my Thunder3, but I believe the connection speed plays into that quite a bit.
The Thunder3 Quad Mini is very easy to set-up and work with. When I first started working with it, I carefully installed the hard drives, which slid into place very easily. They initially appeared as individual drives on my computer. You can use them that way, but I would recommend creating a RAID as I described above. On a Mac, it’s a very easy task. The RAID utility is built directly into the Disk Utility app as a part of the system software. You simply choose “RAID Assist” from the File menu and follow the wizard steps to creating the RAID you want. Within a few minutes, you have a redundant backup system. I did have one issue with one of my hard drives being faulty. The nice thing was that the Mac software kicked me out of the process and after I removed the bad drive, the set-up of the RAID completed without issue. Even after the RAID was created, the individual drives can be viewed in the Disk Utility in case you need to view their individual stats.
To date, I’ve not had any issues with the Thunder3 working properly. It stays cool and is available when I need it. I can happily recommend this to anyone who needs a storage system but doesn’t have a lot of space. It’s a really nice option for digital storage needs.
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