Mac User Re­views

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY JON L. JACOBI

Once Ap­ple fi­nally in­tro­duced sup­port for third-party NVME drives in macos 10.12 Sierra, NVME ( go.mac­ 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 ( go.mac­— but the bumpy ride is over now thanks to Sam­sung’s Por­ta­ble SSD X5 ( go.mac­world. com/byx5), a ready-made NVME over Thun­der­bolt 3 storage so­lu­tion that de­liv­ers blaz­ingly fast 2Gbps-plus read and write speeds

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


The X5 is a blaz­ingly fast and ex­pen­sive drive: $400 for 500GB, $700 for 1TB, and $1,400 for 2TB. If it helps, that’s ac­tu­ally not as “Ap­ple-priced” as it looks; a bare 1TB Sam­sung 970 EVO NVME SSD goes for around $300. By the time you add an en­clo­sure (as far as I’m aware there are no “por­ta­ble” Thun­der­bolt 3 NVME/ PCIE en­clo­sures avail­able), you’d be some­where in the neigh­bor­hood of $400 to $500. You might save a cou­ple of bucks at the 2TB level, but the re­sult­ing de­vice would hardly fit in your pocket.

On the other hand, you can get a 1TB Sam­sung T5 ( go.mac­ or a San­disk Ex­treme ex­ter­nal SSD with a USB 3.1 10Gbps in­ter­face for less than $300. I love NVME, and it does make a per­for­mance dif­fer­ence, but 500Mbps isn’t ex­actly chicken feed. I di­gress.


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 at the X5 and make up your own mind. Don’t let my men­tion of a hand phaser in­flu­ence you.

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) 5.3 ounces 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

re­view­ers 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 adapter board with an 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.


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 adapter—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. Bummer.

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.


If your Mac or PC has the chops (Thun­der­bolt 3), you’ll like the X5 (shown in the charts as the gold bars). Read ’em 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 be­low), 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 10Gbps por­ta­ble SSDS. The X5 flat out whomped ’em.

The X5 did just fine on our 48GB real-world copy tests (next page), but I did man­age to slow it down by do­ing an­other copy af­ter wait­ing only about 5 sec­onds. You will see per­for­mance drop to 1Gbps 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 20GB copy tests com­pared per­for­mance with other por­ta­ble SSDS, the 48GB test 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 sev­eral dif­fer­ent read and write work­loads thinks quite highly of the X5. Note that 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 the ap­peal of an

NVME is 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 above), 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.


To get the fastest pos­si­ble por­ta­ble storage for your Thun­der­bolt 3 Mac, the X5 is it. The big­gest is­sues are price and a lack of com­pat­i­bil­ity with the ma­jor­ity of Macs and PCS. If that’s a con­cern, go USB 3.1.

But USB 3.1 is bor­ing, while back­ing up and do­ing big data trans­fers us­ing the X5 and a Thun­der­bolt 3 Mac is a hoot. If you can af­ford it, have a hoot. ■

Phasers on stun. Sam­sung made some in­ter­est­ing style choices with its first Thun­der­bolt 3 NVME drive.

Black Magic’s Disk Speed mea­sures only large file trans­fers. Note: NVME over Thun­der­bolt is only slightly slower than in­ter­nal NVME. Larger num­bers are bet­ter.

There’s re­ally noth­ing com­pa­ra­ble to the X5 on the mar­ket. The Sam­sung T5 and WD My Pass­port SSD are both fast USB 3.1 10Gbps drives, and the X5 smokes them. Shorter bars/ smaller 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.

You still get those spec­tac­u­lar seek times that NVME pro­vides. Roughly 10 times as fast as SATA. Shorter bars/smaller num­bers are bet­ter.

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