Today we are going to take a look at the first of a number of Thunderbolt 3 drives here on LensVid.
If you are not familiar with Thunderbolt 3, it is a real game-changing connector and data transfer protocol developed by Intel here in Israel. In 2015 I had a chance to interview the head of the team which developed this technology in Intel (you can see parts of this interview on the video above – and an article that was published on IEEE Spectrum as well). Thunderbolt 3 brings ultra-high data transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps (or 5GB/s) which is 4 times as fast as USB 3.1 as well as a whole host of other capabilities and supported protocols.
Unlike Thunderbolt 2, the new Thunderbolt 3 uses the same physical connector as the USB type C. What is important to understand though, is that although every Thunderbolt 3 can be used as a USB type C connector – the opposite isn’t the case and regular USB-C connectors do not support the fast transfer speeds of Thunderbolt 3 nor many of its other features.
The G-RAID drive – fast TB3 connection
Thunderbolt 3 setbacks…
After we prized the technology I do want to share our own personal experience with Thunderbolt 3. This is not particular to the G-Raid drive and true for other TB3 devices that we used.
First I want to say that our experience is based on two Windows 10 based desktops. On new PC laptops which comes pre-installed from the factory this might not happen and from our understanding MACs still have much better Thunderbolt 3 support out of the box than Windows machines.
The only way to describe our experience in trying to get Thunderbolt 3 to work on both of our computers was horrific. On our secondary machine which has Thunderbolt 3 on the motherboard we had to install, drivers, play with the bios, change settings in Windows and finally after hours reading forums and tweaking we finally got to hear the Windows device connected sound and then we still had to “authorize the Thunderbolt device” – a completely redundant extra step in our opinion (have you ever authorized your USB hard drive?).
With our main machine which is based on an ASUS X99 motherboard and requires an add-on card to connect TB3 – our experience was much worse – and despite countless hours and hardware and software changes as well as forum tips and even e-mails to ASUS – we are still unable to make it work at all.
Bottom line – if you have a Windows PC which did not come pre-configured to handle TB3 out of the box – be prepared for some potential deep troubleshooting (we really wanted this to be more plug & play like USB – alas this isn’t the case from our experience).
Update: after we finished this review we had a talk with Intel again and they told us that Apple had better compatibility out of the box because of the work they have done on the OS and that Microsoft has been hard at work and still is, to improve Windows TB3 compatibility and we shall see improvements in this aspects coming as part of upcoming Windows 10 updates.
That’s enough bitching about TB3 on Windows – let’s take a closer look at the G-Technology 16TB Thunderbolt 3 drive.
Design, build and connections
The drive is extremely well built with a full metal enclosure and it feels very nice. There is nothing on the front aside from the big G which has a LED inside to let you know what the drive is doing and when it is powered up. The only other thing on the front is the door to the drives – our unit came with two Enterprise class Hitachi HGST 8TB drives which on their own cost over $700 if you buy them off the shelf online (G-technology has similar units preconfigured with up to 24TB and you can replace the drives yourself easily if you want).
On the back of the unit is where all the action happens. You have a large power button (we still prefer a switch but at least it is large enough so you don’t have to look too much), a power cable connector (it comes with a pretty large power brick), USB 3.1 type C connector, HDMI out and two Thunderbolt 3 connectors so you can connect another TB3 device (we tried and it worked well).
Also on the back is a Kensington security slot if you want to lock the drive and the grill for the internal 40mm fan which sadly you can’t control (more on noise later).
The back of the unit – lots of connectivity options
The unit isn’t huge, it measures over 25cm (10″) over 12.5cm (5″) with a height of 8.5cm (3.5″) but it is fairly heavy with the drives and all that metal, weighing over 2.8kg or 6.3 pounds.
The device comes with two cables, a relatively long Thunderbolt 3 20Gbps cable and a USB 3.1 type C to type A cable. We like the long Thunderbolt 3 cable but we really wish it was the faster 40Gbps cable although these cables can be very expensive. It did not affect our drive in any way as it doesn’t even get close to saturating it but if you start connecting other things to the drive (other drives, monitors etc.) this might become an issue so keep this in mind.
There are three main things to test when it comes to a drive like this, transfer speed, noise, and reliability. One note before we start, the drive did come pre-formatted for MAC. If you are using a PC like we do, you will need to use G-Technology’s format wizard software.
We will start with transfer speeds – we tested the drive in RAID 0 (14.5TB available to the user) and in RAID 1 (7.45TB available to the user). We tested the drive using CrystalDiskMark (ver. 6.0) and we also did a real-world test moving files to and from the drive to the computer which used a Samsung 840 SSD. We tested speeds in CrystalDiskMark on both TB3 and using USB 3.0 (and just for comparison also with USB 3.1). We didn’t test the JBOD mode. Here are the results:
The drive performed pretty well in RAID 0 with 385MBs read and 381MBs write with about half the speed in RAID 1 (as you would expect). Using either USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 brought the speed significantly lower and if you are considering connecting this drive using anything but TB3 we would suggest that you look for a different, less expensive option.
Real world results of transferring 3.6GB of data (15 video files) were kind of strange. It took 19 seconds to transfer the files from the drive to the computer but only 12 seconds to write them to the drive (or around 190MBs to the computer, but about 300MBs to the drive). We suspect that our system had some bottle-neck with the SSD (or possibly somewhere else) and we will try and redo this test with a different system and update our article later on.
G-Technology G-RAID transfer Speeds in MB/s using CrystalDiskMark 6
The USB 3.0 RAID 0 results are a bit strange (lower read than write) and so are the low write speed results in direct file transfer.
As for reliability, it is still way too early for us to tell with only two months of use and we might do a follow up in a year’s time if people might be interested. We can say that at Backblaze 2017 Q3 data stats report, out of 45 8TB HGST drives similar to the ones used on the G Raid for over 6 months there have been 0 fails (that is nice to hear but in all honesty this is too little time and too small of a sample rate to make any real statistical observations).
When it comes to noise level there are a few things that you need to keep in mind including the fan in the back, the spinning and seek noise of the drives themselves. In our noise test, the ambient noise was usually under 30db and the drive from about 50cm or about 20 inches registered a jump to about 35db. This might not sound like much but from time to time it does get louder with clear seek noises and in general, we would say that this is the biggest downside of this otherwise well-performing unit.
So what do we think about the G-RAID 16TB TB3 drive? as one of the first large capacity TB3 drives on the market, this drive is very well built has plenty of connectivity, easy to replace enterprise level drives and a nice transfer speed for a two (spinning) drive solution (particularly in RAID 0).
G-RAIDD TB3 – a nice pro solution (as long as you won’t place it on your desk)
On the downside, at $950 this isn’t an inexpensive solution and you can get the same capacity out of a WD My Book Duo Desktop RAID for under $600 (although certainly not with the same speed, drive quality or extra functionality). For us, the biggest issue with this drive as we have mentioned is the noise. If you have a way to hide this drive relatively far away under the desk for example – this might be O.K., but if you must put it on your desk and you also do some recording for example – this can be distracting. We really hope to see more soundproofing and less audible drives in the future.
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