SSD + Thunderbolt = Speed

I’ve been eyeballing external Thunderbolt enclosures ever since I started running my iMac startup disk off a separate SSD. It was sitting in an old USB 2.0 enclosure but not only did it take up a precious USB slot but because SSD read/write speeds can out perform USB 2.0 transfer speeds it also wasn’t reaching its true potential, a turn of phrase I’m all too familiar with from high school.

I had opened up my mid-2011 iMac a while back to see how hard it was to implant the SSD into space that I knew was reserved for such a thing. Perhaps as a warning of things to come, the guts of this computer are an impenetrable fortress - I got as far as having to take the entire logic board out before I bailed.

I’m usually pretty comfortable taking stuff apart but the iMac felt so delicately put together with every wire in its proper place that I decided it was not worth the cost of breaking something. A fear perhaps perpetuated by my experience replacing my home button on my iPhone (so many tiny screws!) in which I didn’t properly thread a ribbon cable and ended up tearing the thing in two and having to replace the screen entirely. It was frustrating but cheaper to fix than a similar potential problem in the iMac.

That’s how I got stuck with the USB enclosure which, for most purposes, has still been a great improvement over spinning disks. Even if I’m maxing out the USB transfer speed, I was getting much better performance than I would on a standard disk.

But that’s not good enough for nerds. Not. At. All.

My options for SSD enclosures were pretty limited until recently. Everything from LaCie looks nice but is pretty expensive and they insist on bundling spinning disks with the damn enclosure. Elgato has one that ships with an SSD but no empty option and I’ve already had an off-brand SSD fail on me so no thanks, I’ll bring my own.

Enter Buffalo Technology. They make routers and hard drives and various internal components… your standard modern computer component manufacturer. And their MiniStation Thunderbolt drive (kickback link) is inexpensive enough to warrant taking apart, or so I thought. Also Amazon has the terrible habit of delivering most of my prime items next day, which is probably why I made the impulse purchase in the first place.

In short, this enclosure is not designed to be taken apart, by anyone, ever. Why would you ship an enclosure with two incredibly fast communication channels and then toss some slow spinning disk in it and top the whole thing off with super strong adhesive, plenty of screws and enough clips to secure the thing during liftoff to Mars? My guess is that they just don’t know how many people are looking for something external to put their SSD inside. Or its a hardware test run for more dual thunderbolt/usb3 components down the line.

Do I have a working thunderbolt enclosure with an SSD now? Yes, it’s awesome. Did I struggle to extricate the guts out of it in the first place? Absolutely. I do not recommend it for those uncomfortable with a lot of prying at new hardware. I put a few scratches on the case.

Verdict: purchase only if you are desperate, or if your inner nerd is nagging at you. It came with a thunderbolt cable, at least.

Mon, Aug 20, 2012