There are external SSDs, and then it is ThunderBlade. This is the creme de la crème of portable external storage, and it is manufactured by OWC, a company ahead of external storage and Thunderbolt 3 accessories for Mac.
ThunderBlade is the OWC's fastest offer – a drive provides storage up to 8TB and speeds of up to 2800 MB / s are read – and they can be daisy chained, set up in a RAID configuration and they're quiet.
It is probably overkill for some users, but if you are a creative professional who needs the best of the best, then OWC ThunderBlade is one of the most impressive external storage options available today.
- Dual Thunderbolt 3 Ports ̵
- 2800 MB / s.
Synology RT2600ac: AirPort Extreme replacement.
- reader (single) 3800 MB / s reader (dual)
- Stable design
- Robust portability
- All metal cassette acts as a giant cool box
- Fully silent operation
- SoftRAID- tool compatible with several ThunderBlade devices
- Includes a custom ballistic hard shell case
- High quality OWC brand 0.5m Thunderbolt 3 cable included
- 3 year OWC limited warranty
- Price: $ 799 starting price for 1TB model
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OWC ThunderBlade unboxing and setting up
OWC sends its ThunderBlade in a lockable, custom ballistic hard shell that not only looks great but is convenient for portability and protection drive while traveling. 
Inside the hard-shell case you will find everything you need comfortably inside protective foam inserts. The case includes a single ThunderBlade device, power supply, power cable, 0.5m Thunderbolt 3 cable and initiated documentation.
ThunderBlade setup is as easy as possible. Just plug in power and connect the Thunderbolt 3 cable to your Mac. I chose to use the iMac Pro instead of a portable Mac like the MacBook Air because of its dual Thunderbolt 3 bus (more on that later).
OWC ThunderBlade Design
ThunderBlade has an industrial metal design with an all-black chassis and 23 fins go down the length of the unit. At less than an inch high, almost 5 inches wide and 7.5 inches long, it is a low profile, slim looking device that is different from most SSDs out there.
At the back of the unit, there is a barrel input for the power connector, along with dual Thunderbolt 3 ports that provide thousands of setup options.
There is a thin blue activity light on the front of ThunderBlade that appears as a continuous light. But this is an illusion thanks to the diffusion inside the case. Each of the four SSDs in ThunderBlade is assigned a portion of the light bar, and will flash accordingly according to activity. Watch our video for a demonstration.
Next to the power input, you will find an ambient light sensor that allows the device to dim the LED indicator lights at night. I am not usually a fan of bright LED lights, but I have to admit that the OWC implementation is well thought out and looks slim when in contrast to the industrial black chassis.
Opens the 8TB version of OWC ThunderBlade reveals the controller, four M.2 form factor NVMe SSD, and much and much thermal material to keep the individual drives cool.
When you understand how hot M.2 SSD Modules like those found in ThunderBlade can get, and that's no cool.
These modules produce a lot of heat, but designed by ThunderBlade, with metal fins that make up the entire body of the device, help move the heat out and away from the modules, and keep the device running at a reasonable temperature. In other words, the Finns are not just there to look cool.
As a video producer, the noise is the enemy. Even the largest storage solution is a non-starter if it is so noisy that it acts as a distraction. Fortunately, ThunderBlade is completely noisy because the passive cooling system eliminates the need for audible fans. It does all this while keeping the ThunderBlade cabinet cool to the touch.
I test out 8TB ThunderBlade, which only happens with the highest storage capacity that OWC offers. Inside the unit you will find a number of four 2TB M.2 NVMe SSD modules. These modules can then be configured together in a RAID system.
The main point of this part of the discussion is to make it known that 8TB ThunderBlade actually consists of four individual M.2 NVMe modules, and those modules, depending on how you configure them with SoftRAID, can be about 8TB or less.
To achieve the fastest performance, you need to configure ThunderBlade using RAID 0 disk strip. RAID 0, while fast, has a clear data integrity disadvantage because if a single module goes bad, all data on the array is lost. The likelihood of this happening with solid state media is much less than it is with a mechanical hard drive, but the possibility still exists so you should be aware.
Having said that, in all my years of using the RAID 0 with solid state media, not once I have had a matrix, goes bad because of a faulty disk. As I said, it is possible, but unlikely.
If you work on mission-critical data, you will most likely have backups of your data, or at least use a different RAID level that includes
SoftRAID is a tool I am quite familiar with , as I have used it with the OWC Express 4M2 do-it-yourself NVMe SSD cabinet. My experience with SoftRAID has been good – it's okay, and the interface is easy to follow even for first-time users.
Although it is technically possible to manage the individual SSDs in ThunderBlade via Apple's own Disk Utility, I recommend sticking with SoftRAID, as is software developed and maintained by OWC – the same firm that makes the hardware.
After installing SoftRAID and connecting ThunderBlade to your Mac, you can use OWC's tools to configure the drive. SoftRAID is fine, because along with RAID 0 there are many more RAID levels to choose from:
- Non-RAID (individual disk)
- RAID 0 (strip)
- RAID 1 (mirror)
- RAID 1 + 0 (strip of mirror)
- RAID 4 (parity stripe)
- ]] RAID 5 (Distributed Parity Strip)
As I mentioned earlier, I'm interested in getting the best performance out of ThunderBlade, so I set up the device with RAID 0 using SoftRAID.
OWC ThunderBlade Performance
Because Thunderbolt 3 only provides access to a maximum of four PCIe paths, it means that each SSD in ThunderBlade only has access to a single path. We can see proof of this by going to the PCIe section of System Information on macOS.
Here you can see the switching width is x1 for all four stations in ThunderBlade, for a total of four PCIe paths. Therefore, the stations are unable to reach their full bandwidth in such a cabinet.
Here is a black magic disk speed test of a single SSD configured in non-RAID mode:
And here's the same test with QuickBench:
Therefore, it is best to take advantage of RAID so that the drives can work together to utilize the entire x4 PCIe connector width.  The performance of 8TB ThunderBlade with RAID 0 is, as expected, very good. OWC notes in its marketing material a 2800MB / s read and 2450MB / s write rating. In QuickBench sequential tests, I average 2591MB / s read and 2683MB / s write, which provides more than enough bandwidth for 4K video editing.
Blackmagic's Disk Speed Test tool reports speeds of 2104MB / s write and 2212MB / s read. Again, this is more than fast enough to accommodate any 4K workflows that you can have, at 60 fps or higher.
These speeds are very impressive, even if you are super fast Freestanding SSDs that use all four PCIe paths given to it, don't speed me off as it would for a few years ago. For example, the recently mentioned G-Drive Mobile Pro Thunderbolt 3 SSD is a stand-alone device that is bus powered and has comparable read and write performance measurements.
A Double OWC ThunderBlade Setup
While a single ThunderBlade is probably more than fast enough alone for most users, I was curious to see how fast I could push this setup on the iMac Pro. Another ThunderBlade is configured along with RAID 0, should easily darken the speed offered by only a single device.
One of the nice things about the newly launched ThunderBlade Gen2 model is that it is stable. In my setup, I have two ThunderBlade greased on top of each other just below the iMac Pro screen.
A single ThunderBlade looks great with its robust design, but having the double ThunderBlade looks simply stunning. These are great external SSDs, and the look is only enhanced by having more than one.
Although ThunderBlade can accommodate millet throats with another Thunderbolt 3 port on each device, you will have direct connection of each device to your Mac to experience the best performance. Each ThunderBlade should be connected to a separate Thunderbolt 3 bus, providing the required headroom for peak performance.
In the case of iMac Pro, Thunderbolt 3 containers 1 and 2 operate on Thunderbolt 3 bus 0 and container 3 and 4 operate on bus 1. Therefore, I connected a ThunderBlade to container 1 and another to the container 3 to hold each unit on a separate bus.
As you can see from our Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, performance is significantly better when using two ThunderBlade SSDs:
QuickBench performance is also crazy: 
OWC notes that users can reach speeds around 3800 MB / s, and I think this is entirely within the ballpark of the company's estimates. This is down to the fastest external SSD setup I've ever tested. It even controls the speed of the internal iMac Pro 1TB SSD.
Just be sure to do as I said and connect each station to a separate bus. It also means that you should not use the extra Thunderbolt 3 port on each ThunderBlade for the daisy-chain the other ThunderBlade. Otherwise you will be stuck with speeds similar to a single ThunderBlade:
You can use the extra Thunderbolt 3 port on each ThunderBlade to daisy-chain and connect to other devices for your Mac, just Avoid connecting high-bandwidth devices like another ThunderBlade or other external SSDs to those ports.
The situation with the Thunderbolt 3 bus illustrates why such a setup is not ideal for lower products such as e.g. 2018 MacBook Air, which has two Thunderbolt 3 ports that share a single Thunderbolt 3 bus. Connecting Two ThunderBlade SSDs to the MacBook Air in a RAID 0 configuration does not provide the same type of speed benefits that you find with a higher machine with more Thunderbolt 3 headphones such as the iMac Pro.
OWC ThunderBlade References
Here are two charts comparing reference tests performed above. As you can see, the iTB SSD in the iMac Pro remains very fast and surpasses a single ThunderBlade in the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test results.
But when you create a dual ThunderBlade RAID 0 configuration, it's just ridiculously fast, and really shows the brutal power rate when the bandwidth of a dual Thunderbolt 3 setup is used.
8TB OWC ThunderBlade is an attractive external storage solution for several important reasons:
- It is fast, as illustrated by the reference marks above.
- It is passively cooled, but remains cool even under load.
- It's dead quiet, which is great for creative professionals.
- tons of storage space.
- It is robust, stackable and can be thousands of times with other TB3 devices.
- You can combine multiple ThunderBlade in a RAID array for an even faster experience.
- SoftRAID makes it easy to configure your drives.
Th e Downsides are kind of obvious:
- The price of a dual ThunderBlade setup is simply unsustainable for many users.
- It requires RAID 0 for the best performance, giving potential reliability disadvantages.
- Even though it comes with a portable bag, hesitate to call it portable since it requires external power.
- To make a dual ThunderBlade setup worthwhile, you need a Mac with two Thunderbolt 3 buses.
Make no mistake, OWC ThunderBlade, when in terms of price and performance, is clearly designed for creative professionals who rely on fast hardware to make the job easier.
Although OWC recently reduced rates with the launch of the Gen2 hardware, 1TB models are still starting at $ 799, with the 8TB model priced at an eye-watering $ 3499. Therefore, a double layout as shown in this post will set you back a cool $ 7,000.
If there is fast, ample storage space is extremely concerned, the price does not seem so bad when considering that the Standalone 8TB SSD is still very rare.
Only in my knowledge does Samsung have an 8TB NVMe module and it comes with a new form factor and is aimed at data centers. You can bet that this drive will cost more than $ 3499 when released.
OWC ThunderBlade is an impressive external SSD that is great for video workflow editing because it provides a large amount of storage, has a blistering performance and is dead quiet. If you are a creative professional and it is within your budget then OWC ThunderBlade is definitely worthy.
What do you think? Sounds in the comments below with your thoughts and opinions.