Sam­sung Por­ta­ble SSD X5

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Once Ap­ple fi­nally in­tro­duced sup­port for third-party NVMe drives in macOS 10.12 Sierra, NVMe over Thun­der­bolt stor­age be­came only a mat­ter of time.

And for a while, the path to ex­ter­nal stor­age nir­vana was a bit of a rocky road, but the bumpy ride is over now thanks to Sam­sung’s Por­ta­ble SSD X5, a ready-made NVMe over Thun­der­bolt 3 stor­age

so­lu­tion that de­liv­ers blaz­ingly fast 2GB/s-plus read and write speeds

The X5 is now the por­ta­ble drive for mul­ti­me­dia pro­fes­sion­als, or any­one who doesn’t like to wait for their files to copy – if you can af­ford it, and of course, have Thun­der­bolt 3.

De­sign and fea­tures

The first thing that struck me about the X5 is that it doesn’t look par­tic­u­larly like ex­ter­nal stor­age. Sam­sung says it was in­spired by a super car, but I’m not see­ing it. Then again, I haven’t seen the super car they had in mind. Take a look op­po­site and make up your own mind. It looks a lit­tle like a hand phaser from Star Trek.

Only the USB-C/Thun­der­bolt 3 port is a hint as to the X5’s func­tion, though by that mea­sure it could just as eas­ily be a USB 3.1 drive. It’s not. Not by a long shot.

The X5 is dark sil­ver on the top, and a bright off-red on the bot­tom. I’m a bit puz­zled about the bot­tom of the drive, as it’s a rather hard sub­stance that pro­vides lit­tle fric­tion or hor­i­zon­tal sta­bil­ity. You rely on its not in­con­sid­er­able (for a por­ta­ble SSD) 150g of heft and the Thun­der­bolt 3 ca­ble to ward off ac­ci­den­tal move­ment. For­tu­nately, the drive is largely con­structed from mag­ne­sium and is said to be able to with­stand a two me­ter drop.

Part of the afore­men­tioned heft is an in­ter­nal heat sink, which no doubt ra­di­ates heat to the ex­ter­nal shell. I didn’t no­tice un­due heat, so the co­pi­ous amount of mag­ne­sium is do­ing its job well.

Since I didn’t want to de­stroy the unit by pry­ing it open, I had to rely on Sam­sung’s re­viewer’s guide and a few ques­tions to me­dia re­la­tions to as­cer­tain the con­tents of the drive. Ac­cord­ing to a cut­away pic­ture in the guide, there’s an NVMe adap­tor board with a M.2 NVMe SSD sit­ting in a slot. Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­la­tions, the drive is based on a 970 EVO with the same 64-layer, TLC NAND. The X5 also fea­tures en­cryp­tion and can be pass­word pro­tected us­ing the sup­plied Sam­sung util­ity.

Not so com­pat­i­ble

Sadly, users of older Thun­der­bolt 1 and 2 Macs won’t be able to use the X5. The drive runs on bus power and Ap­ple’s adap­tor – the only one I’m aware of that al­lows con­nect­ing Thun­der­bolt 3 de­vices to ear­lier-ver­sion ports – doesn’t trans­mit bus power. The X5 has no AC jack, so there’s sim­ply no way to power it. The X5 seems to have enough room for a jack, but I guess wires aren’t sexy and di­rect AC would add ex­tra cir­cuitry. In the end, you have a drive that’s only com­pat­i­ble with Thun­der­bolt 3 Macs, and the rel­a­tively rare Thun­der­bolt 3 PC. The drive comes for­mat­ted in ExFAT for cross-plat­form com­pat­i­bil­ity, but if you’re us­ing it only on your Mac, you can get bet­ter small file write per­for­mance by for­mat­ting it to HFS+ or APFS.

Per­for­mance

If your Mac or PC has the chops (Thun­der­bolt 3), you’ll like the X5 (shown over­leaf in the charts as the gold bars). Read them and weep Thun­der­bolt

1/2 and USB users. The Black Magic Disk Speed test was run on a 2018 MacBook Pro.

The MacBook Pro’s in­ter­nal drive is even faster (Disk Speed re­sults shown over­leaf), but you’ll never be able to tell the dif­fer­ence with the naked eye. Note that I re­for­mat­ted the drive to NTFS for test­ing on our Win­dows stor­age test bed, so that small file write per­for­mance wouldn’t suf­fer. Next up are 20GB copy tests com­pared to the Sam­sung

T5 and WD Pass­port SSD USB 3.1 10Gb/s por­ta­ble SSDs. The X5 flat out trounced them.

The X5 did just fine on our 48GB real-world copy tests shown op­po­site, but I did man­age to slow it down by do­ing an­other copy after wait­ing only about five sec­onds. You will see per­for­mance drop to 1GB/s or lower if you copy a file that’s much larger than 50GB. Batches of files and fold­ers will gen­er­ally main­tain the same pace as the SSD

has more time to clear the cache in be­tween files. While the chart on the pre­vi­ous page com­pared per­for­mance with other por­ta­ble SSDs, the chart be­low com­pares the X5 with in­ter­nal SSDs. If you ever doubted that Thun­der­bolt is PCIe over a wire, you won’t any­more.

Crys­talDiskMark 6, a Win­dows bench­mark that mea­sures dif­fer­ent read and write work­loads thinks highly of the X5. We test many dif­fer­ent SSDs, but it’s likely one of the 970s serves as the in­nards for the X5. Hence their pres­ence on the chart.

Part of NVMe’s ap­peal are its star­tlingly short seek times (the time it takes to lo­cate a file). You don’t lose much of that ac­cord­ing to AS SSD 2 (shown be­low), though the Thun­der­bolt pro­to­col does im­pose a tiny bit of over­head. Note that this test varies quite a bit from run to run.

All in all, the X5 is nearly the same speed as an in­ter­nal NVMe drive. In my sub­jec­tive tests, run­ning macOS from the X5 drive didn’t feel quite as smooth. But the dif­fer­ence is tiny, and im­proved driv­ers may rec­tify this over time.

Mac­world’s buy­ing ad­vice

If you want the fastest pos­si­ble por­ta­ble stor­age for your Thun­der­bolt 3 Mac, the X5 is it. The big­gest is­sues are price and a com­plete lack of com­pat­i­bil­ity with the vast ma­jor­ity of Macs and PCs. If that’s a ma­jor con­cern, go USB 3.1. But USB

3.1 is bor­ing, while back­ing up and do­ing large data trans­fers us­ing the X5 and a Thun­der­bolt 3 Mac is a hoot. I’m all about the hoot. At least when I can af­ford it. Jon L. Ja­cobi

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• 1TB ca­pac­ity

• Up to 2,800MB/s se­quen­tial read speed

• Up to 2,300MB/s se­quen­tial write speed

• Sam­sung Por­ta­ble SSD Soft­ware with Optional Pass­word Pro­tec­tion

• AES 256-bit hard­ware en­cryp­tion

• NVMe

• 118x62x19.5mm

• 150g

Black Magic’s Disk Speed mea­sures only large file trans­fers. Note that NVMe over Thun­der­bolt is only slight slower than in­ter­nal NVMe. Larger num­bers are bet­ter

The X5 isn’t quite as fast as the MacBook Pro’s in­ter­nal NVMe SSD, but few drives are. Larger num­bers are bet­ter

Crys­talDiskMark 6 mea­sures both sus­tained and shorter trans­fers. Q stands for queue depth, and T for the num­ber of threads read­ing or writ­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously

You still get those spec­tac­u­lar seek times that NVMe pro­vides. Roughly 10 times as fast as SATA

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