Pros: Extremely versatile, Solidly built, Tool-less design, Portable, Reliable, and Intensely useful.
Cons: Price (Premium for new technology), Low Availability
With that business out of the way, I can now actually review this device.
The AKiTio Thunder3 is produced in California and is currently only shipping from the manufacturer to distributors in drop orders of 6 or more as of May 2017. The lack of stock makes acquisition and pricing a bit flaky. Luckily, my company sales representative from TigerDirect PCM had a distributor with a 10 piece order coming in for stock which allowed me to get two of these at near wholesale manufacturer price. As product begins to appear in the market, expect to find this device for around $300 until competition brings the price nearer to $200.
The Thunder3 comes in a simple, almost elegant, white box designed with a minimalist approach. Opening the outer carton reveals a secondary packaging box that is sturdy and well equipped for parcel shipping. The Thunder3 is well insulated by formed hard foam approximately one inch thick. The foam has separate enclosures for the device and the box cables. The instructions are a bit sparse, but the device is fairly straight-forward.
Physically, the Thunder3 would easily pass as an external hard drive at first glance. Upon further examination, the thick silver metal gives the Thunder3 a hefty and quality feel. The internal slide for the PCIe card mounting is secured with two mounted thumb screws. The external case operates as both a mount and protective covering. The tool-less design allows for fast changing of the internal PCIe card, furthering the usefulness of the Thunder3. The Thunder3 has two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports and one full-size Display Port. It is capable of being daisy chained with other Thunderbolt 3 devices, per the Thunderbolt 3 spec.
The whole purpose of obtaining this device was to allow ad hoc data retrieval from newer PCIe NVME SSDs in the event of device failure and also potentially cloning PCIe NVME SSDs when the SSD is approaching capacity or having errors. Unlike SATA compliant devices, a standard USB adapter has not yet been created, nor do I believe one to be available in the near future. Current ImageMASSter cloning devices also fail to have compliant adapters for PCIe NVME SSD solutions. As such, several hours of research and a few forum threads later, I found the Thunder3. After getting purchase approvals, the order was placed and I soon had my hands on two Thunder3 boxes.
The Thunder3 is simply a PCIe expansion slot that adapts to Thunderbolt 3. The device needs to have a PCIe card installed to be of any actual use.
The setup I used to test the Thunder3 is as follows:
Dell Precision 15 5510 Windows 10 laptop w/ 1 TB Samsung 960 Pro SSD (NVME) and Samsung Data Migration software installed
Dell TB16 Thunderbolt 3 dock
AKiTio Thunder3 Expansion box
Startech PCIe Interface Card: 2 x m.2 SATA ports and 1 x m.2 NVME port w/ Samsung 960 Pro 512 GB
The Dell Precision 15 5510 laptop was connected to the TB16 Thunderbolt 3 dock. Our department uses Samsung SSDs because the data migration software is the best we've ever found and it comes bundled with the drive. We also use AOMEI Backupper on occasion when Samsung drives are not available for use. The Startech PCIe card interface was mounted in the Thunder3 which was then daisy chained to the backside of the TB16 docking station.
The Thunder3 performed phenomenally and everything was up and running in seconds. With the daisy chain the migration software capped out at 230 MB/s (not Mb/s) on the transfer. 130 GB of data took approximately 15 minutes to copy and verify. The newly copied drive worked perfectly, as expected. I did some file transfer testing, but nothing I had on my local drive was large enough to test the throughput on the device.
Final Thoughts and TL;DR
The Thunder3 is a beautifully crafted tool that fits a newly arising need. It can provide an unlimited amount of expansion to Thunderbolt 3 enabled devices. My particular needs were very specific, but I could see several uses for this device after just a single testing session. The AKiTio Thunder3 held up to my scrutiny and seems to be a well-made tool to add to any information technology toolkit.
Any questions about the Thunder3 are welcome in the comments or by PM. Thanks for reading!
The AKiTio Thunder3 Box has come into play several times with dying systems now. Apparently, we ordered a bad batch of Dells with the NVME ports. While waiting on replacements, we were able to leverage the AKiTio Thunder3 box to retrieve data and keep our users with as little downtime as possible. We also bought a few 10Gbps NIC to try out and definitely saw the speed boost. On normal file transfers, it was nearly instant and large file transfers were much faster. For a standard machine, definitely wouldn't look to replacing the 1Gb card yet though.