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LaCie's eSATA Thunderbolt Hub pushes data transfer to the max

The move from traditional I/O options toward Thunderbolt across the Mac line (with the notable exception of the Mac Pro) has meant some headscratching moments for users of high-end storage. Buying all-new Thunderbolt-ready RAIDs isn't an option for those on a budget, especially when there may be big investments already in eSATA-connected equipment.

As more Thunderbolt peripherals and accessories have made it to market, this conundrum is beginning to clear. LaCie's eSATA hub Thunderbolt Series, at $199, delivers eSATA performance and convenience for high-end video and graphics users at a price that's not out of balance.

Design

The eSATA hub is clearly a product of LaCie's industrial design DNA, strongly resembling the company's Little Big Disk SSD unit. The aluminum ridged case provides maximum surface area for heat dissipation, and the removable base is heavy enough to help keep the hub upright when it's plugged into multiple cables. The hub can also be deployed without the base and laid flat.

The hub has two Thunderbolt ports for passthrough support, plus two eSATA ports. Power and a Kensington-style security port round out the back panel. The unit gets warm in normal operation, but not painfully so -- just don't use it on your lap. It ships without a Thunderbolt cable, so you'll need one of Apple's or the Elgato short jumper cable.

Performance

Expectations for eSATA always come down to speed, and with the bandwidth of Thunderbolt behind it the LaCie hub delivers. I tested the hub on a MacBook Pro with a G-RAID dual drive external RAID 0 unit, first using Firewire 800 as a baseline; I measured about 40-60 MB/s transfer speeds with Blackmagic's Disk Speed Test utility. Reconnecting the drive to the eSATA hub transformed it from a middling performer to a speed demon. I saw transfer rates in excess of 200 MB/s both for writes and reads.

Obviously the speed of your storage device will be a limiting factor in the performance you get from the eSATA hub, but I didn't see anything to belie LaCie's assertion that the hub is delivering full eSATA speed. In fact, compared to the ExpressCard solutions of the past, you're gaining back some of the missing eSATA bandwidth (3 Gbps) that overshot the card slot's specification (2.5 Gbps).

The passthrough Thunderbolt port also worked as advertised, allowing me to drive a Cinema Display or connect an Ethernet adapter off the back of the unit. Display performance seemed unaffected as I copied multi-gigabyte files to and fro via the hub.

Wrap-up

At $199, the eSATA Thunderbolt hub might be a little expensive for the casual user. For anyone who has a stack of eSATA drives in constant use, however, it's a bargain. Adding this unit to your interface arsenal will upgrade your connectivity choices and enable you to consider modern Mac models without sacrificing your legacy drives.

[As commenters have noted, the LaCie hub does not support port multiplexing, which would allow attaching multiple drives on each of the eSATA ports; the Sonnet product combo of the Thunderbolt-ExpressCard adapter & a Tempo eSATA card would do that, but would not allow Thunderbolt pass-through.]

Pros

  • Fast and trouble-free
  • Solidly designed
  • Passthrough Thunderbolt port

Cons

  • Priced for prosumers

Who is it for?

  • eSATA storage users with a Thunderbolt Mac in mind.

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