Videoguys' 2014 Update on Thunderbolt & Thunderbolt version 2

We bring you up to date on all the latest Thunderbolt news, products and developments. This guide also includes our recommended configuration for a new iMac as well as our Thunderbolt Wish List for 2014.

Thunderbolt was the new, high-speed, dual-protocol I/O technology designed by Intel and introduced by Apple a couple of years ago that was supposed to set the world on fire. So far it hasn't, but with the launch of the new Mac Pros, that may soon change. Thunderbolt delivers amazing performance, with ease & simplicity. Attaching blazing fast Thunderbolt enabled storage is a breeze. Thunderbolt gives you high speed expandability to add video capture and output devices, high speed networking, LTO archiving as well as professional RAID storage solutions.

All of the current Apple Macs have Thunderbolt. Soon so will all HP workstations. You can find Laptops from HP, Asus and others that have one or two Thunderbolt ports. Thunderbolt is finally taking off! We now carry a much broader range of Thunderbolt storage and devices.

The sexy, sleek, round new Mac Pro includes 6, count 'em 6, Thunderbolt 2 ports!

With the introduction in late 2013 of the long anticipated new Mac Pro Apple also launched the new Thunderbolt 2 spec. Twice as fast as the existing Thunderbolt 1 spec, it will allow you to attach RAIDs with 6 or more drives and give you performance and sustained throughput that approaches existing Fibre Channel storage arrays. This is amazing, considering that a good Fibre Channel RAID controller will set you back a grand or more! Now you can get the same level of performance with plug & play ease and no need to install any special hardware. That is amazing!!

While we're on the subject of the new Mac Pro, it is quite an amazing computer. We don't have one here yet, but we have played around with the $3,999 step-up base model. It was running FCPX and we were blown away be the performance. The Mac Pro is optimized for FCPX and FCPX is optimized for the new Mac Pro. It takes full advantage of the dual ATI GPUs. If you're a Mac editor, there is no reason not to get one of these puppies. I don't even think most of our customers will need a build to order, fully loaded model. The $3,999 model we played with slices through HD footage like butter. Like BUTTER!

HP Z420 Workstation configured for VideoguysHP announces Thunderbolt 2 across all HP z workstations and z books

We've been waiting forever to see Thunderbolt on the PC. Late last year Asus released a full line of Thunderbolt equipped motherboards and we posted our long awaited DIY10 article featuring them. Shortly after that HP released their new line of z Books with Thunderbolt ports. We have one of the 15 inch z Books here at Videoguys and we love it! We are running Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro, Grass Valley Edius and Sony Vegas Pro on it and we're editing HD DSLR & GoPro footage with it. Our zBook only has a single Thunderbolt 1 port for now, but a new update with Thunderbolt 2 is expected before NAB.

HP will also be bringing Thunderbolt 2 to their full line of z workstations. They are doing it via a proprietary daughter card which will as a single Thunderbolt 2 port. What's really cool is that owners of existing zX20 series workstations will be able to purchase the Thunderbolt 2 daughter card for under $200 and install it themselves. SWEET!

Thunderbolt 2 and 4K video.

Almost every article you read about the new Mac Pros or Thunderbolt 2 mentions 4K video. 4K is the new Ultra HD resolution that delivers pictures four times sharper and larger then HD. Unlike 3d, 4K isn't a passing fad. It's a new standard and we are already seeing 4K TVs and 4K camcorders. In fact, they are saying that the next generation of smart phones will shoot 4K video! As you may have already guessed, 4K footage also requires a lot more storage and much bigger pipes. With Thunderbolt 2 you will be able to transfer and edit 4K files. While you may not have to worry about working with 4K footage today, mark my words - 4K is coming and it is in your future.

Thunderbolt Bridge for networking

The Thunderbolt 2 spec also includes a new feature called Thunderbolt Bridge which allows two Thunderbolt computers to connect directly to each other and copy files. This development could be huge for video editors, who constantly have to transfer GBs of huge video files from one machine to another. So far the only decent article I've found about this was over at arstechnica. It is easy to imagine a small 3-5 editor shop using Thunderbolt Bridge to share files and collaborate together on projects, at a fraction of the cost of current shared storage solutions.

So I could imagine a single Mac Pro connected to 5 iMacs and a RAID via Thunderbolt 2 to create as a small workgroup shared storage solution, at a fraction of the cost of anything available today. This one is worth keeping an eye on as future developments unfold.

Thunderbolt 1 vs Thunderbolt 2 vs USB3 vs FireWire vs HDMI are super excited about Thunderbolt this year, and we see it finally taking off. That said we do not expect it to replace USB3. According to Intel, they expect to see both Thunderbolt and USB3 side-by-side in all new computers down the road. This makes both technical and economic sense.

While Thunderbolt2 is the latest and greatest flavor, it does not make any Thunderbolt 1 products obsolete. It should be noted that with a single drive or a dual drive RAID, like a G-Tech G-RAID, Thunderbolt 2 gives the same sustained throughput performance as Thunderbolt 1. Even with a 4 bay external enclosure you will not see any improvement between Thunderbolt 1 & Thunderbolt 2 using 7200 RPM drives. If you use faster drives, such as 10K or SSD, then you will be able to get throughputs with a 4 bay RAID that exceed Tbolt 1. The real benefits of Thunderbolt 2 will not be realized until you have 6 or more drives in your RAID array. At that point the RAID performance will be greater than Thunderbolt 1 can deliver.

USB3 is far less expensive to implement and it has backwards compatibility with all the existing USB devices. The Thunderbolt interface requires additional hardware and chips to achieve its high data rate, which is great for devices that demand that data rate, but overkill for so many low cost peripherals like mice, keyboards, webcams, card readers, etc. USB3 is going to allow you to transfer files from your SD card five times faster than FireWire. We're also big fans of USB3 storage, especially when you need something inexpensive and portable in the field.

It is clear that the days of FireWire are numbered. As I mentioned earlier, fewer and fewer computers come with a Firewire port, and with the move to tapeless acquisition, today's new camcorders and DSLRs use USB and HDMI as their connections.

We do not see Thunderbolt replacing or even impacting HDMI in the short term. HDMI has become the standard for connecting HD televisions and home theater gear. Thunderbolt is not intended for the living room..... however .... if and when Apple decides to ship an IOS equipped Apple iTV television it would most likely have a Thunderbolt port on it. So depending on how fast this new Apple iTV gains marketshare, you could see Thunderbolt become integrated into other consumer electronics devices, but that is several years away.

Apple iMacs & Mac Book Pro with Retina display are an excellent choice for HD video editing.

The current iMac comes with two Thunderbolt super-high speed ports, 2 USB3 ports and best of all they now include NVIDIA graphics. This means the Mercury Playback Engine in Adobe Premiere Pro will no longer be limited by your GPU. Avid Media Composer and Symphony will run better as well. With each new update to FCPX, it is becoming clear that Apple is also optimizing it to take more and more advantage of NVIDIA graphics processing.

We also recommend the 15" Mac Book Pro with Retina display for video editing. Make sure you get it with 16GB of RAM, today's NLEs really need it.

While you can use a Thunderbolt equipped Mac Mini for video editing, we don't recommend it because of the limited GPU performance. If you plan on working with DV, HDV or ProRes files it will get the job done just fine. If you plan on working with the latest HD Tapeless workflows this will become a bottleneck for you.

Avid Media Composer and Adobe Production Premium run great on iMacs, Mac Book Pros & HP zBooks!

You'll get outstanding performance and be able to easily handle AVCHD, DSLR & GoPro footage with some pretty multiple layers of video and fairly complex timelines. We even have customers editing RED footage on their iMacs and MBP w Retina - WOW!

We get asked all the time what kind of computer you need to run the latest NLE software. If you want the best configuration for a new iMac or laptop for HD video editing, Videoguys recommends the following minimum specs:

  • Intel Core i7 processor
  • 16GB RAM
  • 256GB SSD or 1TB Fusion Boot Drive
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX or QuadroM GPU with at least 1GB of RAM on board

Note: Videoguys does not sell iMacs or Mac Book Pros, we only sell HP NLE optimized z workstations and zBooks.

Thunderbolt Video Storage

One of the biggest and best advantages of Thunderbolt is how easy it is to add super high speed storage. While you will pay a premium for Thunderbolt, the ease of use, performance and expandability makes it a top choice for video editing. Thunderbolt is dramatically faster than FireWire800, eSata or even USB3! You can learn more about that later in this guide. We have many Thunderbolt storage options available for you to choose from:

  • G-Tech G-RAIDs offer you the best price performance/value for your buck. They are configured in a RAID0 for maximum throughput. The downside of RAID0 is that you do not get any redundancy or data protection.
  • G-Tech G-Dock is an expandable Thunderbolt storage solution that gives you outstanding throughput, flexibility and expandability. G-DOCK is an amazing product and I know that many of our customers will agree. G-Technology calls it the next evolution of storage. I think they are onto something. With today's tapeless media, we need the fastest, most flexible storage solutions we can get. G-DOCK delivers on this and more. You can read our G-Dock FAQ here
  • G-Drive Pro gives you throughputs that are almost as fast as external 4-bay Thunderbolt solutions. You'll get up to 480MB/s, allowing you to transfer files in a fraction of the time a single external thunderbolt drive requires. Studio

The G-RAID Studio is a high-performance storage system with hardware RAID, enabling digital content-creation workflow. User-selectable in RAID 0, RAID 1 or JBOD, the G-RAID Studio features Thunderbolt 2 technology and has transfer rates up to 360MB/sec for editing high-resolution photos or multiple streams of compressed 2K and 4K projects. The G-RAID Studio ships with two removable enterprise-class 7,200 RPM hard drives for total capacities up to 12TB, complete in a sleek black enclosure.

Starting at... $699.95

G-SPEED Studio

The G-SPEED Studio with hardware RAID is a four-bay Thunderbolt 2 storage solution that supports user selectable RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 for ultimate flexibility and speed. With its built-in RAID controller, the G-SPEED Studio is not tied to a single workstation and can be easily transported and used on a Mac® laptop or desktop in the studio, edit bay or on the road. The G-SPEED Studio boasts sustained transfer rates of up to 660MB/sec in RAID 0 and can be daisy-chained via dual Thunderbolt 2 ports. This G-SPEED Studio solution ships with four removable enterprise-class hard drives, designed to support multi-stream compressed 4K and 2K workflows. In a RAID 5 (data redundant) configuration, the G-SPEED Studio RAID can easily handle up to 30 hours of 4K footage in ProRes 4444 and can seamlessly edit three streams of compressed 4K.

Starting at... $2,199.95

G-RAID Thunderbolt Starting at... $599.95

G-DOCKev $749.95 Special includes 2 extra G-DRIVE ev plus a FREE Thunderbolt Cable

G-DRIVE Pro Starting at... $699.95

  • Promise Pegasus 2 RAID towers offer you the fastest possible Thunderbolt 2 I/O speeds and data protection. Available in 4, 6 or 8 bay versions, the 8 bay units deliver over 850MB/s throughput in RAID 5! They can be configured for RAID5 or RAID6. We recommend RAID5 as the most cost effective RAID configuration for data protection and sustained throughput for video editors.

Promise Pegasus 2 R Series 4-bay, 8TB RAID with Thunderbolt2

Pegasus 2 4-Bay 8 TB with Thunderbolt 2 $1,454.00

Promise Pegasus 2 R Series 6-bay, 12TB RAID with Thunderbolt2

Pegasus 2 6-Bay Starting at... $2,230.00

Promise Pegasus 2 R Series 8-bay, 32TB RAID with Thunderbolt2

Pegasus 2 8-Bay Starting at... $3,491.00

  • CineRAID Areca gives you the option of buying a pre-configured storage solution or to roll your own. Their 4 enclosure supports both USB3 and Thunderbolt 1 for under a thousand bucks! The 8 bay Thunderbolt 2 enclosure is now available for $1,799. Both work great, as long as you out in quality drives designed for RAID. We strongly recommend that you populate them only with Enterprise call drives from either Hitachi or Western Digital for best results.

CineRAID Areca 4 BAY Thunderbolt & USB 3.0 RAID ENCLOSURE (no drives)

CineRAID 4-Bay with Thunderbolt & USB 3 Enclosure only $899.00

CineRAID Areca 8 BAY Thunderbolt RAID ENCLOSURE (no drives)

CineRAID 8-Bay Thunderbolt Enclosure $1,499.00

CineRAID Areca 8Bay Thunderbolt 2 RAID Storage Enclosure Only

CineRAID 8-Bay NEW! Thunderbolt 2 Enclosure $1,799.00

  • Mlogic mLink Thunderbolt chassis allows you to use your existing SAN or SAS storage by installing your PCIe host adapter, such as a G-Speed eS Pro with ATTO R680 RAID controller, into the mLogic mLink Thunderbolt to PCIe Expansion Chassis. You can also use the mLink to run a 10GbE adapter to attach your Mac via Thunderbolt to your shared storage environment. mLogic also sells a special version of the mLink with a high speed LTO tape backup storage unit pre-installed. They also have a special mLinkr for the full size Red Rocket card.

mLink Thunderbolt Chassis $399.00

mLogic mLink R Thunderbolt Expansion Chassis for full length PCIe cards

mLinkr Thunderbolt Chassis for full-size PCIe cards $599.00

  • Highpoint has introduced a whole line up of Thunderbolt storage products. The Rocketstore 5212 Thunderbolt drive port allows you to port 2 drives SATA HDD or SSD for lightning fast file transfers and duplication. The NA211TB TurboBox thunderbolt expansion chassis allows you to add 3 PCIe expansion cards and the NA211TB-LD version adds 4 laptop drive bays for a complete expansion solution with storage. The NA333TB 16- bay and NA381 24-bay rack mounted Thunderbolt storage solutions also include 2 PCIe expansion bays.

Rocketstore 5212 External Thunderbolt Drive Port

RocketStore 5212 External Thunderbolt Drive Dock $199.00

NA211TB TurboBox PCIe Expansion Enclosure $866.00

NA333TB 16-Bay Rackmountable Expansion Chassis $2,141.00

  • We offer 2 meter Thunderbolt cable for $29.95. These cables work great with any Thunderbolt device including Promise, G-Tech, Aja, Matrox, mLink and any of the other Thunderbolt products available from!

Thunderbolt I/O Devices

Today you have a wide range of very affordable options for adding analog, SDI and/or HDMI connectivity to your iMac, Mac Mini or Mac Book Pro.

  • The AJA T-TAP adds low cost SDI/HDMI monitoring and output via Thunderbolt. It's the simplest, smallest way to get 10-bit, SD, HD and 2K video and embedded audio out of your Mac or PC. You get the world famous Kona quality in a super small, portable and affordable I/O box.
  • The AJA IoXT gives you full SDI, HMDI and analog IO via Thunderbolt. For just $1,495 you get all of the features and performance of the Kona 3G card in a portable Thunderbolt device. SWEET! IoXT has a full complement of 3G/HD/SD- SDI and HDMI I/O, HD/SD analog video output, reference and LTC inputs, plus digital and analog audio. It also supports Thunderbolt "daisy Chaining" so that you can connect additional Thunderbolt devices.
  • The AJA Io4K harnesses Thunderbolt2 to deliver all of the features of the IoXt plus resolutions up to 4K for just $1,995! Io 4K has the professional connectivity required for today’s variety of productions. With full-sized BNC connectors for 4K input and output as well as HDMI 1.4 in and out, Io 4K can handle professional 4 x SDI 4K signals as well as capturing and outputting 4K over HDMI for use with more affordable 4K equipment.

AJA T-TAP Thunderbolt powered SDI and HDMI output

AJA T-TAP SDI & HDMI Output $295.00

AJA IoXT Professional I/O for 3G/Dual-link/HD/SD-SDI, Component Analog, and HDMI $1,499.00

AJA Io4K Professional I/O for UltraHD and 4K Support $1,995.00

  • The Matrox MXO2 Mini w/ Thunderbolt is a low cost I/O solution that gives you analog & HDMI I/O via Thunderbolt. The MAX option adds faster than real-time H.264 encoding, great for making videos for iTunes, Apple TV, YouTube or Vimeo. If you require SDI workflows, the MXO2 LE w/ Thunderbolt gives you SDI I/O as well.
  • If you already own a Matrox MXO2 family device you can add a Thunderbolt connector for just $199, or get the new MXO2 Dock $349 for a wide range of connectivity along with support for your existing MXO2 I/O device.

MXO2 Mini with Thunderbolt $499.00

MXO2 LE with Thunderbolt $1,095.00

MXO2 Dock $349.00

  • MOTU 828x 28x30 Audio Interface $849.00

    If you are into audio editing, with either ProTools, Cubase or Logic, then the Motu 828x Thunderbolt audio interface is a great choice! With 28 inputs and 30 outputs MOTU packs it in, like no one else can: two combo-style mic/guitar inputs with preamps, 8 balanced analog in/out, XLR main outs, 16 channels of ADAT optical (8 channels at 96 kHz), plus S/PDIF, word clock and MIDI. Connect all of your studio gear, including microphones, guitars, synths, keyboards, drum machines and even effects processors. If you need compatibility with legacy Firewire or USB gear then the 828mk3 Hybrid system will do the job. Either way you get incredible state-of-the-art connectivity with massive bandwidth.

Videoguys Thunderbolt wish list - STILL WISHING!

OK, I have a couple of dream products I'd love to see someone make. I think they would fill some huge holes in the market. They are the same products from last year's wish list, only the priority order has changed.

1. Thunderbolt input devices for Live Streaming

I've now got three different devices I'd like to have for Live Streaming.

  1. First thing I want is a $200 Thunderbolt input box. Something like the AJA T-Tap turned around, so that you could cheaply pump HDMI or SDI video into your computer via Thunderbolt for streaming. Ideally I'd like to be able to run 2 of them into Mac Book Pro or zBook with two Thunderbolt ports. If they also had a USB 3 flavor, then you could get up to 3 or 4 inputs for Live streaming via Laptop.
  2. Speaking of multiple inputs, I can't tell you how many times I get asked for a multiple Input device that would allow you to feed 3 or 4 HD cameras into a laptop or iMac for use with programs like Wirecast or vMix. Basically it would allow anyone to have a completely portable production studio. Since this device is input only, I don't see any issue with bandwidth, although the device might need hardware encoders inside to get the job done.I see several flavors of this box as well - an all HDMI version, an all SDI version and a deluxe unit that allowed for both HDMI & SDI.
  3. If you can make an input only version, why not also make a version with 3 inputs and 1 output. This would require the bandwidth of Thunderbolt 2. That would allow you to run a full 3 camera shoot from your laptop, with SDI & HDMI outputs to drive the screens on location.

2. Thunderbolt Legacy Converter

Let's face it, there are millions of older DV and HDV camcorders out there. We also have tons of older analog devices, both SD and HD. Well, we need an affordable way to get this legacy footage into our new tapeless workflows. Firewire ports are getting harder and harder to find as most of today's laptops, desktops, workstations and motherboards do not have FireWire anymore. I've never been a big fan of USB2 based capture devices. We need something better, something more than just I/O.

Now a $399 Thunderbolt box that allows you to capture these older legacy formats via Firewire and/or analog I/O, and include the ability to up/down/ & cross-convert would be just what I need. If you need to tap into the CPU it's not a problem, since this device is for people with new computers that lack FireWire.

Ideally, this device would support all of the popular tapeless CODECs including ProRes, Avid DNxHD, XD CAM, AVCHD, H.264 and more. That would allow me to bring in my legacy footage at the same settings as my preferred tapeless format, streamlining it into my overall workflow. If we could get some basic proc amp type of controls on ingest that would allow me to improve the image quality during capture, that would be even better. Give the pros some scopes and waveforms and it's over the top.

I could also see a $199 Thunderbolt I/O box that only had I/O without any of the up/down/cross conversion for the FCPX crowd.

3. Thunderbolt PCIe Expansion Box for GPU Acceleration

We get asked all the time by Adobe Premiere Pro editors for a way to attach an NVIDIA CUDA card via Thunderbolt to their iMac in order to get the full benefit of the Mercury Playback Engine. We also hear from VFX guys who need to run multiple GPU cards for faster rendering in 3D applications. They like the idea of using an iMac, but can't give up the need for multiple GPU cards.

This is the Thunderbolt holy grail for video editors, and it remains just a dream. We now have Thunderbolt expansion boxes that allow us to use our old Kona or Declink card and attach it to an iMac via Thunderbolt, but you can't run a graphics card like the GTX670 or 770 in them. I've spoken to the product and engineering teams who make Thunderbolt expansion devices and they all tell me the same thing. It can be done, there is no technical limitation here. It's just that you can't do it without support and help for Apple. The new Mac Pros have dual ATI graphics cards in them, so I guess Apple still doesn't want this to happen, so it won't ;-(

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