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ASUS ThunderboltEX on Maximus V Gene vs Onboard Thunderbolt on MSI Z77A-GD80

By Lionell Go Macahilig - 25 Jun 2012

ASUS ThunderboltEX on Maximus V Gene vs Onboard Thunderbolt on MSI Z77A-GD80

The Right Route to Take

In our previous encounter of the WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo, we have confirmed that a Thunderbolt device is faster than the one that uses USB 3.0 interface. We did this by comparing the benchmark results of the My Book Thunderbolt Duo with those of the USB 3.0-equipped HP SimpleSave 2TB and the WD My Passport 2TB. However, with the return of the ASUS Maximus V Gene bundled with the ThunderboltEX expansion card, a new question popped into our mind: will there be a difference in performance between an onboard Thunderbolt port and the one bestowed via an expansion card? Instead of just speculating, we decided to hit again the test lab and find out the answer to our inquiry.

Through the ThunderboltEX PCIe upgrade card, ASUS has provided users of their Z77-based motherboards, such as the Maximus V Gene, with an easy way to equip their platform with a Thunderbolt port.

We already have My Book Thunderbolt Duo’s results tested with the Thunderbolt-equipped MSI Z77A-GD80. Hence, the additional numbers that we’ll need to come up with a concrete answer are those to be extracted using the ThunderboltEX card on the Maximus V Gene. In this test, the following hardware and software parameters were employed:

Testbed

  • Intel Core i5-3570K clocked at 3.4GHz (Ivy Bridge processor)
  • 2x 2GB Kingston KHX1600C903X2K2
  • Gainward GeForce GTX 680 Phantom II
  • WD Velociraptor 1TB (WD1000DHTZ)
  • AcBel 1000 Watts PSU
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate

Benchmarks

  • ATTO Disk Benchmark
  • CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1
  • HD Tune Pro 5.0
  • Futuremark PCMark 7 Storage Test

 

Test Results

Beginning with the read speed result of ATTO Disk Benchmark, it appeared that the WD My Book Thunderbolt Duo is faster by 7% when it was connected to the ASUS ThunderboltEX than when it was hooked up to the onboard Thunderbolt port of the Z77A-GD80. Contrarily, the succeeding results show that the WD drive worked faster when it was linked to MSI’s motherboard in terms of write speed.

Proceeding to CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1, the sequential read and write speed of the My Book Thunderbolt Duo are virtually the same in both Thunderbolt interfaces. Nevertheless, the drive is consistently faster when it was run on the ThunderboltEX card in the 512K and the 4K QD32 categories of the benchmark, whether it is read or write speed. On the other hand, scores were in favor of the onboard Thunderbolt port in the 4K category.

In measuring access time by using HD Tune Pro 5.0, the lower numbers represent faster access time. In the five categories of this test, the My Book Thunderbolt Duo constantly got faster access time when it used the ThunderboltEX upgrade card than when it was linked to the onboard Thunderbolt port. The difference is most glaring in the random category of the test.

Still using HD Tune Pro 5.0, IOPS numbers of the My Book Thunderbolt Duo are virtually the same between the integrated Thunderbolt port of the Z77A-GD80 and the ThunderboltEX upgrade card on the Maximus V Gene.

The My Book Thunderbolt Duo registered better overall PCMark 7 score when it was connected to the ThunderboltEX card than when it was hooked up to the Z77A-GD80. Looking at the individual categories of PCMark 7’s storage test, four of them were in favor of the ThunderboltEX.

Conclusion

Based on the tests that we did, we can say that the performance of Thunderbolt device does not differ significantly whether it is connected to a built-in Thunderbolt port or linked to the one that is based on an expansion card. If there were instances in which the My Book Thunderbolt Duo got better scores with the ThunderboltEX, we associate it with the fact that the Maximus V Gene performs better than the Z77A-GD80 of MSI. The performance difference between the two Z77A-based motherboards can be seen in the following graphs below.

ASUS has not yet given us the official price of the ThunderboltEX but for those who have already purchased a compatible board like the Maximus V Gene, it would mean additional cost indeed. It would turn out that you can get better savings with the Z77A-GD80, particularly if you are yearning for a future-proof, Thunderbolt-equipped motherboard. However, if you are after performance than onboard features, we can say that the Maximus V Gene is a better route to take.