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Thunderbolt or USB3 for Hard Drives?

I’m seeing some reader confusion on USB3 vs Thunderbolt.

For an external hard drive, Thunderbolt has no speed advantage over USB3.

While a really fast SSD benefits from Thunderbolt speed, hard drives max-out at ~180 MB/sec, well below what USB3 delivers. Even a 2-bay USB3 enclosure is fast enough for two hard drives.

Using Thunderbolt for a single hard drive is fine and indeed preferable (cable strength and durability), but to date Thunderbolt entails a cost disadvantage both for the enclosure and the cable itself (expensive). And when three or more drives are used in a RAID configuration, then Thunderbolt becomes valuable for its higher throughput and more robust cabling.

One thing that makes me nervous is using USB3 over a splitter or hub device—if that is needed (shortage of ports), better to add drives via Thunderbolt. Ditto for those narrow (thin) USB connectors.

Bottom line: the most robust and more complex systems should useThunderbolt, but USB3 with appropriate connectors remains an excellent choice for many uses (e.g. backup and single drive setups, travel, etc).


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