Monday, February 25, 2013

STAE129 Seagate Thunderbolt Desktop Adapter Review

A few months ago, I reviewed the portable Seagate Go-Flex Thunderbolt adaper, the STAE121. Today, I am going to give a short review of the desktop version designed for the Backup Plus Desktop external drives from Seagate. The model is STAE129.

This dock/adapter is designed specifically for the Seagate external Backup Plus drives. I have about a dozen or so of these USB2/USB 3.0 drives in 3TB and 4TB configurations. They contained 7200 rpm Barracuda XT drives that are often way cheaper than buying internal versions. If you shop carefully, 3TB can be had for $100-120 whereas the 4TB can go for $150-180. I pretty much stock up when they go on sale.

The STAE129 is a pricey affair at $150 without thunderbolt cables (you can get cheap ones here).  Since I had a shelf full of these external Seagate drives, I figure, why not. I'll give this a spin. More importantly, my 2012 27" iMac does not have USB 3.0.  So this review will be based off a 27" Thunderbolt model iMac along with a brand new freshly HFS+ formatted 4TB Seagate drive. I will also compare USB 3.0 from my Macbook.

So here, I have a 4TB drive, STAE129 Thunderbolt adapter,  The USB 3.0 base that comes with the 4TB Seagate Backup plus, and the STAE121 2.5 portable Thunderbolt adapter for comparison.

You can use the dock with 3.5" bare drives if you are creative. However, I wouldn't recommend it.

Someone should make a 3.5" sliding cradle so you can use standard drives. 2.5" SSDs work fine (as I will show later). The power supply interchanges with the USB 3.0 base.

The main issue I have with the dock is the flimsy plastic pins that connect to the Backup Plus enclosures. They make a worrisome snapping sound when you dislodge the enclosures.
I was hoping to freely move my enclosures from USB 3 to Thunderbolt but I have to be extremely careful removing enclosures. There is a great likelihood you can easily snap them off.

After a few tries, it was best to gently dislodge from the front first.

Unlike the STAE121/128, the Desktop Thunderbolt adapter comes with two Thunderbolt ports for daisy chaining. Here I have 3 Thunderbolt daisy chained: Drobo 5D, STAE129, and the portable STAE121 at the end.

In order to use this drive, you need to install some drivers for both Mac and Windows. There is a USB stick supplied in the packaging. I opted to download the latest ones from Seagate's website.

The driver is only needed on the Mac if you wish to use 2TB with Thunderbolt which was the case with me. If you have data on an existing drive, I suggest you back it up. The Thunderbolt enclosure prompted me to re-format the drive before using.


So how does it perform? Well that depends on what you are using it with. If you are planning to use 2.5" SSDs, you are simply better off using the portable 2.5" Adapter. I tried a Samsung 830 SSD on both and the speeds were comparable.

Using Black Magic speed test, here is what I got with the Samsung 830 SSD.
 307 MB/sec Write, 360MB/sec Read on both the Desktop STAE129 and portable 2.5 STAE121.

So for SSDs, just save your save the cash and buy the STAE121/128 portable Thunderbolt Adapters.

Now, if you are like me and have a bunch of external Backup Plus drives, this is the adapter to get. And the point of this review is to see how it would perform in the most typical scenario - using the 7200 rpm HDD external enclosures.

With the 4TB Desktop enclosure, I was getting 177/176 MB/sec Write and Reads as shown below.

I would say this is pretty good. In fact, it performs better than the internal 7200 rpm 1TB internal drive, ST31000528AS, that came with my 27" iMac. The internal drive benches at 108/57 MB/sec Write and Read.

The internal drive is running at SATA II/3 Gb/s instead of SATA III / 6 Gb/s

I thought the benchmarking off the boot drive with a full OS may have caused some slowdowns. But that is not really the case as I cloned the internal drive onto the Thunderbolt drive and booted off the external Thunderbolt.

As you can see below, a full Mountain Lion clone install and boot did little to impact the performance of the 4TB Thunderbolt drive.In fact, booting and running off the drive via Thunderbolt was a pleasure. I clocked the boot time from fresh power to login screen at 29 seconds. That is not bad for a 7200 rpm HDD drive.

As you can see from the screenshots below, the first one shows the internal drive running at 3 Gigabit versus the Thunderbolt running at a full SATA III 6 Gigabit.

So it seems the Thunderbolt controller is running at full optimal speed. I was worried it might be a handicap device running at SATA I or II. This isn't the case with Seagate.

So how does it compare to USB 3.0? As I mentioned earlier, one of the incentive for me to get this was the fact my 27" iMac does not have USB 3.0. However, my newer Macbook does have USB 3.0.

Running Blackmagic off my Macbook, the USB 3.0 posts some good numbers. It is slightly slower than the Thunderbolt adapter. However, I probably attribute it to a slower USB 3.0 controller chipset. 

Hence, here lies the dilemma. Thunderbolt with standard platter hard drives are not a compelling sell over standard USB 3.0. The USB 3.0 connector comes free with practically every Backup Plus enclosures.There are advantages to Thunderbolt over USB 3.0. Most notably in smaller I/O operations. Booting off Thunderbolt and copying random files will be faster. In the case of boot time, it was 3X faster at 31 seconds versus 1 minute and 45 seconds for USB 3.0. Small I/O, random 4K seeks will suffer under USB 3.0. But for copying large files, E.G. movie rips and gigabyte files, it is a draw.

Now, if your computer doesn't have USB 3.0 as in the case of my 2012 27" iMac, it may be worthwhile to get this adapter. If you need proof, here is the exact same 4TB Backup Plus drive connected to the USB 2.0 ports of my iMac. 29 MB/sec Writes and 38 MB/sec Reads.

I think this last picture pretty much the reason for any pre-USB 3.0/Ivy Bridge Mac user who has Thunderbolt.


  1. This is a great review - Thank you!

    Have you tried using a SSD as your iMac boot drive (external via thunderbolt)? I'm thinking of doing this as an upgrade to gain the benefits of SSD for my 2012 iMac. The speeds you're getting look amazing. Any gotchas for making this my normal iMac configuration? (boot off external SSD, use internal drive for 'whatever')?


    1. In fact, I have. But not with this adapter. I used the portable Seagate Thunderbolt adapter with a Samsung SSD for over a period of 3 weeks on an onsite job.
      I was running it 9-10 hours a day for 3 weeks. My boot OS was the SSD and I never even touched the internal drive.
      The only issue was the cable got warm but I have not seen any ill effects. I also never put my machines to sleep so I don't know how that plays.

    2. Thanks fortysomethinggeek (from 50somethinggeek :)) - I've heard warm cables go with the territory. My iMac is up 24x7. I may give this a try or instead I may strategically move certain folders to the SSD (applications, home, etc). I found a helpful article on moving things to other drives ( Thanks again for posting things like this - very helpful to those of us who lurk and use google heavily. :-D

      Another note - I would use the portable adapter but it only has one Thunderbolt port. I have 3 monitors on the iMac and need the passthru/daisychain capability. I wish there was a simple low cost thunderbolt "hub" out there.


  2. Given how similar were the results for the Seagate Backup+ enclosure via either Thunderbolt or USB 3.0, I'd have loved to see the speed test results for the SSD connected via the USB 3.0 adapter.

    Good article, regardless; thanks.

    1. Hi, I've done several USB 3 to SSD speed tests on my blog. The issue is the chipset/controller on many USB 3 hosts/enclosures. So far, the ASMedia 1051e is , in my opinion, the fastest USB 3.0 chipset. The Seagate ones tend to cap around 180-200 MB/sec. They are also probably only running SATA I speeds.

  3. Great review!! Got a question with this config:

    7200 rpm 3.5" HDD external enclosure connected to the STAE129 Seagate Thunderbolt Desktop Adapter

    Daisy-chained to

    Seagate 2.5" Adapter with Samsung 830 SSD

    Do you notice a decrease in SSD write/read speed with the 7200 HDD first in the chain?

    I'd like to try this config but wasn't sure if the HDD with Seagate adapter (which has 2 TB ports, ideal for 1st position in the chain) would slow down the faster SSD on the 2.5" adapter which only has one TB port.

    Thanks for any info you can provide! Loved the review and I appreciate your efforts!!

    1. When daisy chain, the second device will run at full speed if the first device is idle. If you are not copying-reading files to the HDD, the 2.5" drive in your example will run at full speed. When you starting running both drives concurrently, the OS will negotiate the speed between the two devices. It is hard to tell if the second device degrades considerably or not.

  4. Nice and very helpful information i have got from your post. Even your whole blog is full of interesting information which is the great sign of a great blogger.

    Lenovo - 11.6" ThinkPad Notebook - 2 GB Memory - 320 GB Hard Drive - Black

    Lenovo - 14" ThinkPad Edge Notebook - 2 GB Memory - 320 GB Hard Drive - Matte Black

  5. Nice and very helpful information i have got from your post. Even your whole blog is full of interesting information which is the great sign of a great blogger.

    Lenovo - 11.6" ThinkPad Notebook - 2 GB Memory - 320 GB Hard Drive - Black

    Lenovo - 14" ThinkPad Edge Notebook - 2 GB Memory - 320 GB Hard Drive - Matte Black

  6. Is it possible to us an internal blu-ray burner with this adapter ? like BH16NS40

  7. Do you know if you can use the portable adapter to connect a 3.5" bare desktop drive? I have several extra bare drives laying around, and want an inexpensive way to connect them with thunderbolt.

    1. The portable dock doesn't connect to desktop drives because it doesn't have enough power from the bus. You will need to use the Desktop dock for that. The other option is to get an eSATA dock and use an eSATA cable jury rig to the portable thunderbolt dock.

  8. Heya mate,
    I've got a question. I'm planning to use a Samsung EVO 840 750gb SSD as an external bootdrive.
    I was planning to do that with the portable seagate thunderbolt-adapter. Problem is: I've read a post stating that the portable adapter isn't good for SSD's from over 500gb, since the bus doesn't contain enough power to sustain the disk.
    Did you (or anyone else) try it out? Is the portable good enough? Or should I go for the (more expensive) desktop-adapter (since it has a power-suply, there shouldn't be any problem there?)


    1. I agree. I think anything over 500gb may be problematic. The desktop adapter wont have any issues as it power 3.5" platter drives and they consume more power.

  9. i have a question. do you think any of those adapters are using 8:1 (4k/512e) sector translation?

    I'm planning to get the base from Seagate backup plus 3tb, to recover unreadable file system from my Seagate expansion 3tb (spoiled USB enclosure thus plugged directly to a computer would make it unreadable). What is your opinion?thnsk in advance!!