External bus-powered storage devices have grown both in storage capacity as well as speeds over the last decade. Thanks to rapid advancements in flash technology (including the advent of 3D NAND and NVMe) as well as faster host interfaces (such as Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.x), we now have palm-sized flash-based storage devices capable of delivering 2GBps+ speeds. While those speeds can be achieved with Thunderbolt 3, mass-market devices have to rely on USB. Read on for a detailed review of the various high-speed external SSDs targeting the mainstream market.

Introduction

High-performance external storage devices use either Thunderbolt 3 or USB 3.2 Gen 2 for the host interface. Traditional SATA SSDs (saturating at 560 MBps) can hardly take full advantage of thebandwidth offered by USB 3.2 Gen 2. Last year, we took a look at a couple of NVMe to USB 3.2 Gen 2 enclosures from MyDigitalSSD and Plugable. Since then, we have had various leading vendors come out with their own solutions for this market segment. A steady stream of USB 3.2 Gen 2 external SSDs have been coming in to our lab over the last six months, with SanDisk's Extreme Pro Portable SSD and Samsung's Portable SSD T7 Touch (announced at CES) being the latest.

UL / Futuremark also updated their PCMark 10 benchmark with a storage bench recently. Our usual synthetic benchmarks - CrystalDiskMark and ATTO - have also had newer versions released since we last updated our benchmark suite for direct-attached storage devices in 2017. Over the winter holidays, we tweaked our evaluation suite and processed all the USB 3.2 Gen 2 SSDs that had come in over the preceding months through it.

The list of DAS units being reviewed today is provided below.

  • Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch 1TB
  • SanDisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD 1TB
  • Crucial Portable SSD X8 1TB
  • DIY Plugable USBC-NVME and MyDigitalSSD SBX 1TB
  • Lexar SL100 Pro 1TB
  • OWC Envoy Pro EX USB-C 2TB

A quick overview of the internal capabilities of the storage devices is given by CrystalDiskInfo.

Drive Information

CrystalDiskInfo allows us insight into the internal drive without opening up the unit. The most interesting aspects to note include the fact that UASP is supported by all drives, and all except the Plugable USBC-NVME and the Lexar SL100 Pro support NVMe 1.3.

Testbed Setup and Testing Methodology

Evaluation of DAS units on Windows is done with a Hades Canyon NUC configured as outlined below. We use one of the rear USB Type-C ports enabled by the Alpine Ridge controller for both Thunderbolt 3 and USB devices.

AnandTech DAS Testbed Configuration
Motherboard Intel NUC8i7HVB
CPU Intel Core i7-8809G
Kaby Lake, 4C/8T, 3.1GHz (up to 4.2GHz), 14nm+, 8MB L2
Memory Crucial Technology Ballistix DDR4-2400 SODIMM
2 x 16GB @ 16-16-16-39
OS Drive Intel Optane SSD 800p SSDPEK1W120GA
(118 GB; M.2 Type 2280 PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe; Optane)
SATA Devices Intel SSD 545s SSDSCKKW512G8
(512 GB; M.2 Type 2280 SATA III; Intel 64L 3D TLC)
Chassis Hades Canyon NUC
PSU Lite-On 230W External Power Brick
OS Windows 10 Enterprise x64 (v1909)
Thanks to Intel for the build components

Our evaluation methodology for direct-attached storage devices adopts a judicious mix of synthetic and real-world workloads. While most DAS units targeting a particular market segment advertise similar performance numbers and also meet them for common workloads, the real differentiation is brought out on the technical side by the performance consistency metric and the effectiveness of the thermal solution. Industrial design and value-added features may also be important for certain users. The reamining sections in this review tackle all of these aspects after analyzing the features of the drives in detail.

Device Features and Characteristics
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  • zebrax2 - Thursday, January 23, 2020 - link

    I don't know about the others but I'm not a fan of having the benchmarks hidden inside a drop down box unless selected. I also feel that for some of the benchmark 1 or 2 charts containing all the data ,e.g. ATTO and CrystalDiskMark, would be better instead of the screenshots. Reply
  • chaos215bar2 - Thursday, January 23, 2020 - link

    Agreed. Did I miss something, or are there no actual direct comparisons between the drives (aside from the feature table at the end)?

    This reads like 6 separate reviews, where I have to keep messing with drop downs to follow each one. It’s all but impossible to follow in a mobile browser. On desktop, I could at least open the screenshots side by side.
    Reply
  • sonny73n - Friday, January 24, 2020 - link

    Who reads news on desktop anymore? Unless working on PC and want to have a peek at what’s on, nobody would give up the comfort of reading while lying down on the sofa or in bed with a mobile device. Therefore, drop down comparison is useless to most readers. Reply
  • s.yu - Saturday, January 25, 2020 - link

    Sorry, I visit Anandtech almost exclusively on my PC. Reply
  • dontlistentome - Sunday, February 2, 2020 - link

    This forum is increasingly populated by people with zero concept that other people may think or do things differently to them. Guess it's a microcosm of the wider no-platforming world.
    My advice? Spend a morning learning keyboard shortcuts and you'll understand why we oldies still prefer to browse on desktop rather than mobile when doing anything other than *really* casual browsing.
    Reply
  • bigboxes - Monday, February 3, 2020 - link

    Yeah, reading this on mobile platform sucks. Desktop is way more comfortable. Then again, my workstation is fairly ergonomic (and badass!). Get off the couch if you want to live to old age. Reply
  • Sivar - Thursday, February 6, 2020 - link

    I find mobile devices to be extremely annoying for web browsing. Small screen, slow CPU, extremely limited browser plugins, frustrating data entry, more difficult copy/paste.
    I have a tablet and smart phone, but my web browsing on them tends to be light and often only directs me on what to read later on my "real" device.
    Reply
  • JanW1 - Monday, January 27, 2020 - link

    That was my first thought on this review as well. Plus, the scales of the charts hidden behind the dropdown menu are all different for no good reason. This almost looks like every effort was made to prevent readers from comparing the drives. Just let the throughput scale on all charts go to 1000MB/s and the temperature scale to 70°. This fits the data from all drives nicely and readers can see the differences in a glimpse. Reply
  • alphasquadron - Thursday, January 23, 2020 - link

    Yeah I agree as well. Don't it was like this previously or maybe it was a different reviewer. Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, January 23, 2020 - link

    Would it help you if I were to keep the 'Expand All' option as the default and allow readers to use the drop down to 'compress' it down to 1 graph / make the analysis text visible along with?

    As for the ATTO / CDM 'graphs' instead of 'screenshots' - the aspect I need to trade off with is the number of data points. For example, CDM has 12 sets per drive (or 24 if you include the IOPS version also). ATTO has more than 20 sets * 2 (R/W). That would be 64 graphs. It doesn't make sense to have that many graphs for two synthetic benchmarks.
    Reply

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