If you need really fast external storage for your laptop, you might be interested to know that you can buy an external solid state drive that connects over USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt… and it is crazy fast. We had to buy one for the office, so we’re reviewing it for you today.
The first question you might ask yourself is the same one a reader posed to me when I mentioned the purchase on Twitter: What reason would you possibly have to need a hard drive this fast? Our answer: we’re using this drive to host virtual machines and connect to the MacBook Air. But does that really matter? We have the need for speed!
It’s true, you probably don’t need an external solid state drive most of the time. For backup purposes, a regular USB3 drive is going to be fast and efficient, and for transferring files in a portable fashion, an external USB3 flash drive will work just fine. Or even a USB2 drive, if you don’t have to transfer a ton of files all the time.
After getting the drive out of the shipping box, the first thing you notice is that the rubber is very orange, like a road sign or something. Points removed for looks for sure. Of course, you can remove the rubber outer layer if you aren’t going to be doing anything with the drive but sticking it on a desk. We would recommend leaving it on though, because they claim you can drop it from 4 feet without any damage — and that’s referring to the spinning hard drive version. (They don’t recommend dropping it while it is spinning). Since the version we tried was the SSD with no moving parts, you could probably drop this thing from even higher without harming it. Not that we are telling you to try that out and let us know or anything.
The next thing you’ll notice is that the included cables are pretty short. For just connecting the drive they should be fine, but you may want a longer one.
And then you’ll notice the big thing: there is no power cable, because this drive is bus-powered. All that speed and it is much more portable, although it’s worth noting that plugging this drive into a laptop is going to drain your laptop battery pretty quick. This isn’t the type of drive that you’re going to want to use all the time while you are mobile, but for regular usage it should be fine.
The only thing left to point out about the hardware is that this drive has two ports: The USB 3.0 port is rated at 5 GB/s and Thunderbolt runs at 10 GB/s, though with the SSD drive on an SATA bus rated at 6 GB/s and max transfer rate going around 385MB/s for the SSD model… it doesn’t much matter which one you plug it into. The spinning hard drive version is rated at 110 MB/s throughput on USB 3, and that’s an awful lot faster than your old USB 2.0 flash drives. It’s also worth pointing out that it only has one Thunderbolt port, so you’d have to use it at the end of a chain of devices or use a hub if you want more than one device to hook to your Mac or PC.
This drive comes in a variety of sizes and prices — we bought the 256 GB one since that met our needs, but you can also grab one of the others depending on how much you want to spend. If you want the ultimate performance at the cheapest price and you don’t need a ton of space, you can go with the 120 GB version for a little more than half the price.
The Benchmarks: It’s Fast!
As you can see from the silly free benchmark app we found, the write and read performance of this drive is impressive and right in line with what the manufacturer claims. The built-in SSD drive in a MacBook Air is probably rated at twice that, so you’re talking about some serious performance in an external drive.
In the real world, however, this is sorta meaningless. We tested copying some files and came up with the following (the files were copied from a 2013 MacBook Air with the 256 GB internal SSD). Please note that these are not scientific tests.
- Copied a 3.5 GB ISO image to the drive in ~ 10 seconds.
- Copied 18 GB of ISO images to the drive in ~ 60 seconds.
- Copied 5 GB of small files (12,000 of them in many folders) in 40 seconds.
Unless you are doing something that requires insane speed, we can’t imagine you needing something faster, and if you are, you should be looking into a Thunderbolt RAID array.
- It’s extremely fast.
- It’s so fast that you could use Truecrypt and encrypt the entire drive without losing much performance.
- Rugged rubber wrapper resists regular roughhousing.
- Not cheap, at all. Crazy expensive, in fact.
If you need blazing fast external storage like we did for something write/read intensive like a virtual machine, this drive is awesome, and was well worth the price. They also have a cheaper model, but it’s not quite large enough for it to make any sense, so the 256 GB model is probably the one you’d want.
If you just want a backup drive, there are a lot of other options that would be better suited to your needs and much cheaper.