Review: OWC’s ThunderBlade V4 Offers Blazing Fast External Storage for Professionals

OWC this week is announcing the newest member of its family of "extreme performance drives," the ThunderBlade V4. The ThunderBlade V4 is an external drive targeted at professional users who need the fastest possible speeds, and it packs four M.2 solid state drive blades into a single enclosure that runs over Thunderbolt 3, with total capacities ranging from 1 TB to 8 TB. The result is what OWC says is the "fastest SSD ever made," with read speeds topping out at 2800 MB/s and write speeds up to 2450 MB/s.


We've spent a bit of time with the ThunderBlade V4, and it's definitely an impressive piece of technology, although its pricing that starts at $1200 and rises significantly from there will limit the potential market. This is an accessory for demanding professionals who need to squeeze every bit of performance out of their external drives and is undoubtedly overkill for consumers simply looking to back up their computers.

Design


The ThunderBlade V4 comes in a hefty aluminum enclosure covered in large fins to help with heat dissipation, as this drive can get fairly warm when you're reading and writing a lot of data. There is no active cooling in the drive, which helps with the ThunderBlade V4's ruggedness as there are no moving parts.

The ThunderBlade V4 measures just under 5 inches wide, a little over 7.5 inches deep, and just over an inch high. It weighs a little under two pounds, which gives it a solid feel and good stability on a desk. A separate power adapter also adds some bulk to deal with elsewhere.


The only feature on the front of the ThunderBlade V4 is a thin three-inch long LED that shines white when connected to power (and also when connected to a sleeping computer) and blue when the drive has an active connection to a computer. While the LED appears to be a single thin indicator, it's actually made up of four distinct segments, one for each M.2 drive in the ThunderBlade.

Each segment will blink blue when data is being written to or read from the corresponding drive. With the speed of the drive and the four onboard SSDs, you'll see a sort of flickering ripple effect across the LED as data is moved.

An ambient light sensor on the rear of the ThunderBlade V4 dims the front LED in dark environments.


In addition to the light sensor, the rear of the ThunderBlade includes a port for the power adapter connection and a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports. One Thunderbolt 3 port is used to connect the ThunderBlade to your computer using the included 0.5-meter Thunderbolt 3 cable, while the second is available for daisy chaining a display or other peripherals.

The Thunderbolt 3 ports are capable of supplying 15 watts of power each, but that won't be enough to power a MacBook Pro. This isn't intended as a true docking station, however, so it's not surprising that the power output is limited and primarily intended to drive downstream peripherals rather than host computers.

Speed Tests


We ran some QuickBench disk speed tests on the ThunderBlade V4, and while we didn't quite hit OWC's top numbers, the drive still showed some seriously fast performance. Connecting directly to a 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro, we saw read and write performance in the range of 2400 MB/s in extended testing mode with transfer sizes in the 20–100 MB range.


Similar speed tests using Blackmagic with larger transfer sizes of 5 GB yielded slightly lower speeds of over 1900 MB/s read and 2100 MB/s write, although it is difficult to directly compare the two different methodologies. Even that performance allowed the ThunderBlade to ace Blackmagic's "Will it Work?" rating system that determines whether a drive is fast enough to handle video in various combinations of formats, resolutions, and frame rates.


Results were similar in various configurations even when other peripherals up to and including a pair of LG UltraFine 5K displays were connected to the MacBook Pro's other Thunderbolt 3 ports.

With an LG UltraFine 5K connected to the downstream Thunderbolt 3 port on the ThunderBlade, we obviously saw lower speeds as some of the bandwidth was being dedicated to the display. Write speeds were impacted most significantly, dropping to around 800 MB/s, while read speeds dipped slightly to around 2050 MB/s.


RAID


The four SSDs inside the ThunderBlade V4 come preconfigured in RAID 0 format to offer the full stated capacity of the drive. A license for OWC's SoftRAID XT (formerly SoftRAID Lite) is included with the ThunderBlade, and the software can be used to reformat in RAID 1 to provide mirrored redundancy.

While RAID 0 and 1 give you the option to prioritize storage capacity or data redundancy, it would be nice if some of the higher RAID modes were available on the ThunderBlade to offer more flexibility.

With the downstream Thunderbolt 3 port on the ThunderBlade V4, you can daisy chain multiple units together for even more storage, although you're of course limited by the total bandwidth of the single Thunderbolt 3 connection they're all running over. You can even set up two ThunderBlade V4 units as a single RAID array.

PC Compatibility


While OWC is focused on Macs and the ThunderBlade V4 comes formatted for Mac as a RAID 0 Journaled HFS+ volume, it can also be used with PCs once the drives have been reformatted and reconfigured. Unlike on Mac, however, booting from the ThunderBlade is not supported on Windows.

Pricing and Availability


As should be expected for a product with large storage capacities using the fastest SSD designs and Thunderbolt 3, the ThunderBlade V4 isn't cheap. The 1 TB model is priced at $1199.99, with the 2 TB model at $1799.99, the 4 TB model at $2799.99, and the 8 TB model at $4999.00.

But for professional users who need the absolute fastest external storage, the ThunderBlade V4 looks like a solid option that takes maximum advantage of the bandwidth offered by Thunderbolt 3. All models come with a rugged case, a three-year warranty, and one year of complimentary Level 1 data recovery coverage. All four models will be available from OWC starting January 8.

Note: OWC provided the ThunderBlade V4 to MacRumors for the purposes of this review, and it will be returned to OWC. No other compensation was received.


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Review: OWC’s ThunderBlade V4 Offers Blazing Fast External Storage for Professionals

OWC this week is announcing the newest member of its family of "extreme performance drives," the ThunderBlade V4. The ThunderBlade V4 is an external drive targeted at professional users who need the fastest possible speeds, and it packs four M.2 solid state drive blades into a single enclosure that runs over Thunderbolt 3, with total capacities ranging from 1 TB to 8 TB. The result is what OWC says is the "fastest SSD ever made," with read speeds topping out at 2800 MB/s and write speeds up to 2450 MB/s.


We've spent a bit of time with the ThunderBlade V4, and it's definitely an impressive piece of technology, although its pricing that starts at $1200 and rises significantly from there will limit the potential market. This is an accessory for demanding professionals who need to squeeze every bit of performance out of their external drives and is undoubtedly overkill for consumers simply looking to back up their computers.

Design


The ThunderBlade V4 comes in a hefty aluminum enclosure covered in large fins to help with heat dissipation, as this drive can get fairly warm when you're reading and writing a lot of data. There is no active cooling in the drive, which helps with the ThunderBlade V4's ruggedness as there are no moving parts.

The ThunderBlade V4 measures just under 5 inches wide, a little over 7.5 inches deep, and just over an inch high. It weighs a little under two pounds, which gives it a solid feel and good stability on a desk. A separate power adapter also adds some bulk to deal with elsewhere.


The only feature on the front of the ThunderBlade V4 is a thin three-inch long LED that shines white when connected to power (and also when connected to a sleeping computer) and blue when the drive has an active connection to a computer. While the LED appears to be a single thin indicator, it's actually made up of four distinct segments, one for each M.2 drive in the ThunderBlade.

Each segment will blink blue when data is being written to or read from the corresponding drive. With the speed of the drive and the four onboard SSDs, you'll see a sort of flickering ripple effect across the LED as data is moved.

An ambient light sensor on the rear of the ThunderBlade V4 dims the front LED in dark environments.


In addition to the light sensor, the rear of the ThunderBlade includes a port for the power adapter connection and a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports. One Thunderbolt 3 port is used to connect the ThunderBlade to your computer using the included 0.5-meter Thunderbolt 3 cable, while the second is available for daisy chaining a display or other peripherals.

The Thunderbolt 3 ports are capable of supplying 15 watts of power each, but that won't be enough to power a MacBook Pro. This isn't intended as a true docking station, however, so it's not surprising that the power output is limited and primarily intended to drive downstream peripherals rather than host computers.

Speed Tests


We ran some QuickBench disk speed tests on the ThunderBlade V4, and while we didn't quite hit OWC's top numbers, the drive still showed some seriously fast performance. Connecting directly to a 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro, we saw read and write performance in the range of 2400 MB/s in extended testing mode with transfer sizes in the 20–100 MB range.


Similar speed tests using Blackmagic with larger transfer sizes of 5 GB yielded slightly lower speeds of over 1900 MB/s read and 2100 MB/s write, although it is difficult to directly compare the two different methodologies. Even that performance allowed the ThunderBlade to ace Blackmagic's "Will it Work?" rating system that determines whether a drive is fast enough to handle video in various combinations of formats, resolutions, and frame rates.


Results were similar in various configurations even when other peripherals up to and including a pair of LG UltraFine 5K displays were connected to the MacBook Pro's other Thunderbolt 3 ports.

With an LG UltraFine 5K connected to the downstream Thunderbolt 3 port on the ThunderBlade, we obviously saw lower speeds as some of the bandwidth was being dedicated to the display. Write speeds were impacted most significantly, dropping to around 800 MB/s, while read speeds dipped slightly to around 2050 MB/s.


RAID


The four SSDs inside the ThunderBlade V4 come preconfigured in RAID 0 format to offer the full stated capacity of the drive. A license for OWC's SoftRAID XT (formerly SoftRAID Lite) is included with the ThunderBlade, and the software can be used to reformat in RAID 1 to provide mirrored redundancy.

While RAID 0 and 1 give you the option to prioritize storage capacity or data redundancy, it would be nice if some of the higher RAID modes were available on the ThunderBlade to offer more flexibility.

With the downstream Thunderbolt 3 port on the ThunderBlade V4, you can daisy chain multiple units together for even more storage, although you're of course limited by the total bandwidth of the single Thunderbolt 3 connection they're all running over. You can even set up two ThunderBlade V4 units as a single RAID array.

PC Compatibility


While OWC is focused on Macs and the ThunderBlade V4 comes formatted for Mac as a RAID 0 Journaled HFS+ volume, it can also be used with PCs once the drives have been reformatted and reconfigured. Unlike on Mac, however, booting from the ThunderBlade is not supported on Windows.

Pricing and Availability


As should be expected for a product with large storage capacities using the fastest SSD designs and Thunderbolt 3, the ThunderBlade V4 isn't cheap. The 1 TB model is priced at $1199.99, with the 2 TB model at $1799.99, the 4 TB model at $2799.99, and the 8 TB model at $4999.00.

But for professional users who need the absolute fastest external storage, the ThunderBlade V4 looks like a solid option that takes maximum advantage of the bandwidth offered by Thunderbolt 3. All models come with a rugged case, a three-year warranty, and one year of complimentary Level 1 data recovery coverage. All four models will be available from OWC starting January 8.

Note: OWC provided the ThunderBlade V4 to MacRumors for the purposes of this review, and it will be returned to OWC. No other compensation was received.


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iMac Pro Base Model Teardown Reveals 2x SSD RAID Configuration and Four 8GB DIMM Modules

While we await iFixit's inevitable comprehensive teardown of Apple's new iMac Pro, third party Mac component supplier OWC has just published its own teardown video, providing some interesting tidbits on the internal configuration of the non-user upgradeable machine.

Whereas standard 27-inch iMacs have a small hatch in the back that allows the RAM in the machine to be upgraded after purchase, the iMac Pro does not. Fortunately, an Apple Store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider is able to open up the iMac Pro and swap out the RAM, and here's what they can expect to find upon doing so.


The teardown reveals that in the 32GB base model, there are four 8GB DIMM modules, a configuration type that appears to be mirrored in the 64GB (4 x 16GB) and 128GB (4 x 32GB) models. The good news is that this means the iMac Pro supports quad-channel memory, but the bad news is that it also means users looking to upgrade from, say, 32GB to 64GB will have to replace all four modules to do so.


The teardown also reveals that in the iMac Pro 1TB base model, Apple has chosen to use two 512GB SSDs in a RAID configuration. Rather than soldering the flash storage on the main board, both drives exist as separate modules that are attached via screws, so replacing them is at least technically feasible, even if Apple does not make it easy.

OWC says that in the near future it will be offering a DIY memory upgrade kit for the iMac Pro, although most users are likely to hand over such an undertaking to a qualified service provider. For more details on the iMac Pro's internals, including the Intel Xeon W eight-core processor, be sure to watch the video embedded above.

Related Roundup: iMac Pro
Tag: OWC
Buyer's Guide: iMac Pro (Buy Now)

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OWC Launches New USB-C Travel Dock Suitable for MacBooks

OWC has launched a new USB-C travel dock suitable for Apple's latest MacBook and MacBook Pro notebooks.


The dock connects to a Mac or PC with a single USB-C cable and provides access to the following five ports:
  • 2× USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports
  • 1× USB-C port for power
  • 1× HDMI 2.0 port
  • 1× SD card reader

The USB-C port provides up to 60W of pass-through charging, while the HDMI 2.0 port can drive a 4K display at 30Hz.

The compact-sized dock is available on MacSales.com in MacBook-like Gold, Rose Gold, Silver, and Space Gray for $49.99 in the United States.

It's also available on Amazon in select colors.

Tags: USB-C, dock, OWC

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OWC Confirms New Low-End 27-inch iMac Can Be Fitted With 64GB RAM

Apple announced a refreshed range of iMacs during its keynote at the Worldwide Developers Conference this week, offering three stock configurations of the new 27-inch model with Kaby Lake processors, Thunderbolt 3 ports, and faster graphics, with optional memory and storage upgrades at purchase.

While Apple offers a 64GB RAM upgrade option for its mid-range 3.5GHz and high-end 3.8GHz 27-inch iMacs, it only offers up to 32GB RAM for the least expensive 3.4GHz base model, which has led some observers to question whether the limit is arbitrarily imposed by Apple or hardware-related.


To answer the question, hardware maker OWC tested the low-end 3.4GHz iMac through its MaxRAM Certification program, which determines the maximum amount of memory that can be installed in a Mac as validated by a series of in-house laboratory tests, and found that it does indeed support up to 64GB of RAM, despite Apple not offering the option at sale.

OWC is offering its own 2017 27-inch iMac memory upgrade modules at MacSales.com, including a 64GB Kit (16GB x 4) for $579.99 that users can install themselves. Apple's 5K iMacs come with four user-accessible memory slots that support up to 16GB per slot, so Apple customers are advised to select the lowest RAM configuration when buying an iMac if they want to replace the existing modules with the less expensive OWC memory.

OWC notes that while MaxRAM configurations exceed Apple's officially supported maximums, all OWC-brand memory upgrades are "assured to perform flawlessly" and are covered by a Lifetime Advance Replacement Warranty and Money Back Guarantee.

Related Roundup: iMac
Tag: OWC
Buyer's Guide: iMac (Buy Now)

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Review: OWC’s Thunderbolt 3 Dock Gives Your MacBook Pro 13 More Ports to Work With

Last November, longtime Mac vendor OWC was among the first wave of companies to announce Thunderbolt 3 docks designed to expand the capabilities of the new MacBook Pro. It's taken a while to finalize the product design, testing, and manufacturing, but OWC's Thunderbolt 3 Dock is now just about ready to ship and we've had a chance to spend some time with a production-ready unit.


Priced at $299, OWC's Thunderbolt 3 Dock includes an array of 13 ports to allow you to connect a host of devices to your MacBook Pro. It all comes in a package measuring about 9 inches by 3.5 inches and an inch thick, with brushed aluminum around the sides and glossy black plastic on top and bottom.

The design is relatively unobtrusive, although the OWC logo and "Thunderbolt 3 Dock" text on the front are fairly prominent. The dock is powered through a decently large external power brick, which cuts down on the size of the dock itself but means there's one more piece of equipment to tuck away with all of your other cords.
Continue reading Review: OWC’s Thunderbolt 3 Dock Gives Your MacBook Pro 13 More Ports to Work With

OWC Debuts New Thunderbolt 3 Products: SSDs, PCIe Expansion Chassis, Six-Bay RAID, and External GPU

OWC has announced that it will be debuting a range of new Thunderbolt 3 products at the 2017 NAB Show this weekend in Las Vegas.

Envoy Pro EX with Thunderbolt 3

First up is the Envoy Pro EX with Thunderbolt 3, a pocket-sized, bus-powered SSD with desktop-class performance and speeds up to 40 Gb/s. Storage capacities will start at 240GB. As it remains a prototype, no release date was specified. OWC's existing Envoy Pro EX with USB 3.0 starts at $199.99.

Mercury Helios 3

OWC's new Mercury Helios 3 is a PCIe expansion chassis with a dedicated cooling fan and two Thunderbolt 3 ports with speeds up to 40 Gb/s. It can accommodate a half-length, full-height, double-width PCIe card. OWC said it will be available in the second quarter of 2017. Pricing was not disclosed.

Other products include the Helios FX external GPU powered by Thunderbolt 3, ThunderBay 6 six-bay RAID with Thunderbolt 3, and Mercury Viper portable Thunderbolt 3 SSD suitable for daisy chaining. OWC said the ThunderBay 6 is coming in late 2017, but no word on pricing or availability for the other products.


OWC's previously announced Thunderbolt 3 Dock and DEC for the 2016 MacBook Pro will also be on display at the show.


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Hands-On: OWC’s ‘DEC’ Adds an SD Card Slot, Ethernet, and USB Type-A Ports to the MacBook Pro

With the release of the 2016 MacBook Pro, there were a slew complaints over the compromising thinness and the removal of ports. For professionals who rely on the MacBook Pro, this latest iteration fell short of expectations. The outcry was so loud, in fact, that Apple slashed prices on its USB-C adapters, a move rarely seen from the company.

This is the DEC from Other World Computing. It's a new dock for the 2016 MacBook Pro that's designed to return some of the missing features Apple removed. It's unique in the way that it connects to the computer and the functionality it brings.

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The DEC attaches to the bottom of the MacBook Pro by replacing the screws that hold on the bottom plate. This method won't void your warranty, but it will allow for the dock to be securely attached at all times.

At first glance the DEC looks comically large, but in person the size and weight are more than manageable. OWC claims that when attached to a 2016 MacBook Pro, the DEC will be as thin as the 2012 MacBook Pro. Weight didn't seem to be an issue, but this is an unfinished prototype that doesn't have all the hardware in place.

When considering the functionality of the dock, the size and weight compromises may be worth it. The DEC connects to the MacBook Pro over Thunderbolt 3 and will bring USB Type-A ports, Gigabit Ethernet, an SD Card Slot, and up to 4TB of storage. Additional features are also being considered, such as an expanded battery pack.

The models shown here are still in prototype phase, but OWC assured us the final models will be available within months. The DEC will come in both Silver and Space Gray, and at release it will be available for the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Pricing is not yet available, but OWC expects it to be priced lower than the BTO 2TB storage upgrade available from Apple.

Tags: OWC, CES 2017

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