Why the ability to boot from Thunderbolt on a Mac is huge

thunderbolt-macbookpro

Pocketable drives that carry not just your data, but your entire computer for use with any Mac you encounter that much closer to a reality today, thanks to the discovery that Thunderbolt on new Macs supports booting from external storage.

Until today, it wasn’t clear whether users could boot from an OS X install on an external drive attached via the new high-speed Thunderbolt data transfer specification, as is possible using FireWire. AnandTech (via MacRumors) has already got a new Promise Pegasus 12 TB RAID system with Thunderbolt, however, and they’ve found that booting over Thunderbolt is indeed supported.

That means that you could run an entire OS X install, complete with your apps, files and preferences, on an external Thunderbolt drive, and then unplug said drive and take it with you wherever you can find another Thunderbolt-equipped Mac. In theory, working with an SSD drive attached via Thunderbolt should feel much faster than working with even a 7200 RPM HDD installed inside your MacBook, for example. Depending on how pricing of third-party external Thunderbolt drives goes, you might even see users buying the minimum onboard storage for Macs and just booting every time from a much speedier or more capacious desktop drive.

This will probably have the biggest impact for mobile workers and Macs in the enterprise. Employers could use Thunderbolt storage to make workstations hot-swappable, allowing them to shift around staff to different machines in different offices or departments as needed. Mobile workers might be enticed to use coworking temporary office facilities that rent Thunderbolt-equipped Macs by the hour, day or month instead of buying high-end gear that they only use sporadically.

Consider also that adding a RAID card and 8 TB of storage to a Mac Pro costs $1750 before tax using Apple’s customization options at the time of purchase. An external Promise Pegasus Thunderbolt RAID system boasting the same storage costs only $1500, and that price will likely drop as Thunderbolt costs drop and more competitors enter the market. Thunderbolt could help make professional-caliber rigs more affordable for prosumers and consumers.

If you thought $50 was expensive for a single cable, this feature alone makes it worthwhile in my opinion. What do you think?

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