A lot of attention has been paid to high-speed I/O interfaces for computing systems over the last five years. Flash-based storage media capable of multi-Gbps throughput have become very affordable. Display resolutions have also seen a rapid rate of increase. The necessity to support multiple such devices in both consumer and professional computing solutions have exposed the limitations of the traditional external I/O interfaces. While USB 3.x has become successful as an interface for high-speed peripherals, it does not handle display output. Intel has been attempting to solve this problem with Thunderbolt Technology since 2011. Unfortunately, the uptake outside the Apple ecosystem for the first two versions has been minimal at best. Thunderbolt 3, however, promises to be a game-changer. Systems and motherboards with Thunderbolt 3 support started shipping in late 2015. The first Thunderbolt 3 peripheral to appear in the market was the Akitio Thunder3 Duo Pro, a hardware RAID solution with two drive slots. This review looks at the various features of Thunderbolt 3 and what the Akitio Thunder3 Duo Pro brings to the table.

Introduction and Setup Impressions

Direct Attached Storage (DAS) units have been the go-to devices for consumers looking to store and have fast access to large amounts of data. The advent of high-speed interfaces such as USB 3.x and Thunderbolt have enabled a new generation of DAS units that allow the host system to access the member disks without any bottlenecks. We have looked at a few DAS solutions with Thunderbolt 2 before. Today, we are reviewing the first storage solution with Thunderbolt 3, the Akitio Thunder3 Duo Pro. The unit has daisy chaining support (i.e, two Thunderbolt 3 ports), a USB 3.1 Gen 1 device interface and a full-sized DisplayPort 1.2 output that is driven by the DisplayPort lanes in the Thunderbolt 3 link.

The Akitio Thunder3 Duo Pro is meant for desktop use and needs an external 90W power adapter (12V @ 7.5A). The chassis design also allows for stacking, if needed. In addition to the main unit and the power adapter / cord, the package also includes a Thunderbolt 3 cable (capable of 40Gbps data transfer) and a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-B male to Type-A cable. A cable-tie, quick setup guide, warranty terms and a reminder to update to the latest drivers / firmware for the host PC are also included. The detailed specifications of the unit are provided in the table below.

Akitio Thunder3 Duo Pro Specifications
Internal Storage Media 2x 2.5" / 3.5" Drives
Interface 2x Thunderbolt 3 + 1x USB 3.1 Gen 1
RAID Modes RAID 0 / RAID 1 / JBOD / SPAN - Hardware Selection Dial
Cooling Aluminium Chassis + Fan
Power Supply 100-240V AC Switching Adapter (12V @ 7.5A DC)
Dimensions 23.8cm x 14.3cm x 9.4cm
Product Page Akitio Thunder3 Duo Pro
Price $378

The gallery below takes us around the aluminum chassis. Important aspects to note include indicator LEDs for the two drives in the front panel and the perforations (which have a filter on the inside) that allow air to be pulled into the unit, over the drives and out through the fan. The rear panel is flanked on either side by screws that can be removed without the need for any tools. Loosening them allows for the external chassis to slide out.
The rear panel has a fan and a switch to control it (can be turned off for SSDs). Two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a full-sized DisplayPort 1.2 output, a power input jack and a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-B female port make up the lower part of the rear panel. A Kensington lock slot and the RAID-level selection indicator form the rest of the features.

The RAID-level selection indicator is covered by a plastic film from the inside that makes it impossible to accidentally change the RAID level without opening up the unit.  The gallery below shows the internal components of the Akitio Thunder3 Duo Pro.

On the board side of things, we have the Intel Alpine Ridge Thunderbolt 3 controller in its dual-port form (). The ASMedia ASM1153E fulfills the SATA to USB bridge functionality for the USB 3.1 Gen 1 device port. On the SATA backplane, we have the ASMedia ASM1062R SATA RAID controller that bridges 2x SATA III ports to two lanes of PCIe 2.0. The backplane also has an ASMedia ASM1456 signal switch to mux / demux SATA signals.

The setup process is simple, since the Thunder3 Duo Pro involves hardware RAID. Installing the SSDs or HDDs is a simple tool-less affair. Removal is a bit complicated, since the drives have to be gently tugged out from the SATA connector. A flat screwdriver can be used to set the desired RAID level (RAID0, RAID1, JBOD or SPAN). In case of a live switch of RAID level (i.e, change while the unit is powered on, it is necessary to press the 'Set RAID' button that is visible in the rear panel once the chassis has been slid off. Otherwise, one just needs to set the pointer to the desired RAID level and boot up the unit.

In the rest of the review, we first take a look at Thunderbolt 3 in detail, followed by a description of how our testbed was built and details of our evaluation methodology for the unit. We then talk about the various standard performance benchmarks. Following that, some special Thunderbolt-only aspects such as daisy chaining and its performance implications are discussed.

The Nuts and Bolts of Thunderbolt 3
POST A COMMENT

60 Comments

View All Comments

  • name99 - Thursday, April 14, 2016 - link

    There is obviously a market for this sort of thing for SOME people, but if you're trying to save money, the way you do it is to use standard (high-performance) USB-3 cases and software RAID-1; there's no need to do that in the case.
    OSX and Linux obviously support RAID out of the box; I've no idea about Windows but I'd assume they're also on board. The only reason I can see that you need this hidden behind HW is if you need to move the device between different OS's.
    Reply
  • danbob999 - Friday, April 15, 2016 - link

    well there is this one for $50:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9S...

    if you don't need a real case there are various dual dock for about $30. I also found dual 2.5" USB3 cases for $25.
    Reply
  • Great_Scott - Thursday, April 14, 2016 - link

    At $100 over the price of a normal enclosure, no one that really needs the extra features this offers will care. Thus the item will stay niche and the price will stay high.

    This is self-reinforcing problem.

    TB is putting up a good fight, but the future doesn't look bright. No interface has ever survived higher prices by having better features. See: Microchannel, Token Ring, EISA, ATM, e-SATA and, yes, FireWire.
    Reply
  • epobirs - Saturday, April 16, 2016 - link

    Look at the Cineraid portable models. I picked up one from Newegg a couple of years ago for about $20 because the things weren't selling. Either the target market didn't know they existed or just didn't see the value. Mine still sits unpopulated because I don't have any great need for a somewhat faster USB 3.0 drive, unless I'm getting the drives really cheap. At the time I bought the unit I was getting a lot of requests for laptop SSD upgrades. The customers would either get their original hard put in an enclosure or just let me keep it for a token amount. (I'd label it and put it in a drawer for a month or so, in case the SSD proved defective.)

    I expected I'd have a couple of drives to use or sell it to somebody converting two laptops but neither situation came along since obtaining the Cineraid.
    Reply
  • HideOut - Thursday, April 14, 2016 - link

    The good news for us is that you will be asleep until hell freezes over. No more trolling from you. Reply
  • danbob999 - Thursday, April 14, 2016 - link

    At $378 I might as well buy a PC... which will be able to hold at least 4 drives. Reply
  • jbrizz - Thursday, April 14, 2016 - link

    People are going to plug these things into their Mac Pro, then do some 4k video editing on their 5k screen. You are not it's target audience (although you still shouldn't be so ignorant as to think that just because you don't want/need it no one else will). Reply
  • danbob999 - Thursday, April 14, 2016 - link

    That's just one more reason why a Mac Pro is a crap PC. Such a professional PC should include room for at least 4 hard drives. Requiring an external $378 case just to get close to the same performance that you would get with internal drives is a joke. Reply
  • apoctwist - Friday, April 15, 2016 - link

    I had to log into the site for the first time because of how silly this comment is. People working in the pro audio/pro video side are not going to rely on internal storage for their work or software RAID. First of all what happens when the machine you are using dies? What happens with your software RAID array on all those internal drives? With this device due to hardware RAID I can just plug in a cable on a new machine and I'm up and running in minutes. I don't have to worry about taking hard drives out of the PC, I don't have to worry about rebuilding the array (if that's even possible since you are using software RAID tied to you OS). All I have to worry about is a cable.

    That's why devices like these exist. In Pro video workflows external RAID arrays are common and encouraged. You see less heartache in the long run that way.

    As an audio professional I have all of my projects/audio/recording on an external TB raid array. if my machine dies tomorrow I can pick up where I left off the next day. I also have multiple machines for DAW work and I can just plug my TB cable to them and continue working on whatever project I need to with no worries.

    You are looking at a device like this from a consumer level but that's not what it's made for and the price tag is rather in line with what you will find out there for a TB enclosure.
    Reply
  • theduckofdeath - Saturday, April 16, 2016 - link

    It might sound like harsh words, but, he is right. At the moment,. everything Mac related is stupid solutions to problems we didn't have. Thunderbolt has to die. It's a way to milk consumers for even more money on relatively limited sales.
    There are a ton of ways to make a better solution for your external storage you actually need. The first choice is exactly what he said, design the workstation case to allow for stortage expansion, instead of selling people an overpriced and under-powered garbage bin.
    There's a reason why companies like Oculus and HTC Vice refuse to support Mac OS these days. Because Mac devices are designed to work against the consumer from the foundation, Thunderbolt being one of the key culprits.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now