Once the domain of external, bus-powered hard drives, these days the market for external storage has been almost completely consumed by portable SSDs. Rapid technological advancements in NAND flash technology (including the advent of 3D NAND) has allowed their capacity to eclipse 2.5-inch HDDs, all the while multiple improvements in host interface speeds (such as the move from USB 2.0 to 3.0, and onwards to 3.2 Gen 2 / Gen 2x2 / USB4) has made portable SSDs faster and more reliable than the hard drives they replace. All of which has helped to make portable SSDs the go-to solution for external storage, both big and small.


2023 Q4 PSSD Introductions
Samsung T5 EVO USB 3.2 Gen 1 PSSD (Left), ADATA SE920 USB4 PSSD (Right)

Recent product introductions in this segment point to the market demand for compact high-speed PSSDs with a low power consumption profile. Multiple vendors have introduced USB 3.2 Gen 2 / Gen 2x2 'SSD-in-a-stick' models based on native flash controllers. On the other hand, established vendors are pushing the boundary with ultra-high capacity options and true 40 Gbps USB4 PSSDs.


New 'SSD in a Stick' Models from 2H 2023

Consumer requirements in the portable SSD market vary greatly. At the entry level, we have folks taking a step up from thumb drives for backing up their data or transferring files from one system to another. Short bursts of high speed, low power consumption for extending host battery life, and multiple capacity options are important here. Performance consistency under sustained stress is not a factor. In the mid-range, we have casual gamers and amateur content creators. While they require a certain level of performance consistency guarantee under sustained traffic, SLC cache sizes in the 40 - 100 GB range are often enough for that purpose. At the top end, we have professionals in the content creation industry, IT workers, and tech-savvy consumers. This demanding segment expects high-end internal SSD performance in their PSSDs for backing up data in the field, running portable operating systems across multiple computers, and transferring large amounts of data between different systems frequently. PSSDs with DRAM for the flash translation layer and / or those with high-end transfer rate specifications (USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 / Thunderbolt drives) are suitable for such use-cases.

The tuning of this PSSD guide is based on multiple factors. The obvious one is the speed rating / host interface connection protocol. At the lowest end, we have USB 2.0 thumb drives - but those are not the focus of this guide. For our purposes, the entry level is the 500 MBps-class. On the left of this, we have USB 3.2 Gen 1 ( 5 Gbps ) drives like the Samsung T5 EVO family. On the right, we have families like the Crucial X6. It is a USB 3.2 Gen 2 ( 10 Gbps ) drive, but the 500 GB model employs a SATA SSD behind the Gen 2 bridge, capping it at 540 MBps. The other capacities use the Phison U17 native flash controller. While it also has a USB 3.2 Gen 2 upstream interface, the controller characteristics and use of QLC NAND restrict them to sub-800 MBps speeds even under the best of conditions. At the highest end, we have the 2.5 GBps-class Thunderbolt 3 drives. Between these two extremes, vendors have provided consumers with multiple options for 1 GBps-class, and 2 GBps-class PSSDs.

2023 Q4 PSSD Recommendations - Interface / Peak Speed Basis
(as of November 28, 2023)
Interface / Speed Category Drive Family Capacity ¢/GB Purchase Link
Thunderbolt (2.5 GBps) SanDisk Professional PRO-G40 4000 10 $400
(Amazon)
[ 10¢ / GB ]
USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (2 GBps) PNY EliteX-PRO 4000 5.88 $235
(Amazon)
[ 5.88¢ / GB ]
USB 3.2 Gen 2 (1 GBps) Crucial X9 Pro 4000 4.58 $183
(Amazon)
$183
(Newegg)
[ 4.58¢ / GB ]
USB 3.2 Gen 1 / Entry-Level USB 3.2 Gen 2 ( 400 - 800 MBps ) Crucial X6 4000 3.75 $200
(Amazon)
$150
(Newegg)
[ 3.75¢ / GB ]

Another factor influencing consumer choice is the physical size of the PSSD. Some scenarios dictate the use of a thumb drive, and thanks to technological advancements, we now have affordable high-performance SSDs in that form-factor.

2023 Q4 PSSD Recommendations - PSSD Category Basis
(as of November 28, 2023)
PSSD Category Drive Family Capacity $/GB Purchase Link
SSD in a Stick (UFD) Transcend ESD310C 2000 0.08 $150
(Amazon)
[ 7.5¢ / GB ]
Cabled External Drive Crucial X6 4000 0.04 $200
(Amazon)
$150
(Newegg)
[ 3.75¢ / GB ]

There is always a trade-off between performance and power consumption in any computing category, and PSSDs are no exception. Bridge-based solutions provide more flexibility and, depending on the SSD behind it, can provide better performance compared to native flash controllers (which are almost always DRAM-less). However, the latter has the advantage of lower BOM cost (translates to lower consumer pricing). Replacing a two-chip solution (SSD controller + bridge) with a single native flash controller brings power consumption benefits as well. This may also influce consumer choice while selecting a PSSD for purchase.

2023 Q4 PSSD Recommendations - Controller Basis
(as of November 28, 2023)
Controller Category Drive Family Capacity $/GB Purchase Link
Native Crucial X6 4000 0.04 $200
(Amazon)
$150
(Newegg)
[ 3.75¢ / GB ]
Bridge Samsung T7 Shield 4000 0.05 $200
(Amazon)
$200
(Newegg)
[ 5¢ / GB ]

The type of NAND in the PSSD is yet another factor, with consumer QLC to be avoided for write-intensive and sustained performance-sensitive use-cases. However, the same QLC can be a cost-effective choice for entry-level PSSD workloads where consumers are migrating from either thumb drives or external hard drives.

2023 Q4 PSSD Recommendations - NAND Type Basis
(as of November 28, 2023)
Controller Category Drive Family Capacity $/GB Purchase Link
3D TLC Crucial X9 Pro 4000 0.05 $183
(Amazon)
$183
(Newegg)
[ 4.58¢ / GB ]
3D QLC Crucial X6 4000 0.04 $200
(Amazon)
$150
(Newegg)
[ 3.75¢ / GB ]

For our guide, we are narrowing down the vast field of PSSDs into a few select product lineups. These are the ones which we have analyzed in great detail - either through hands-on review, or as part of their launch coverage. If there are any PSSD models from the top tier vendors that you would like us to consider for future guides, a mention in the comments will place them in our review consideration queue.

Aspects of Interest

Almost all of the PSSDs considered in this buyer's guide have been subject to hands-on review. The relevant links along with other aspects of interest are provided in the table below.

Portable SSDs - Aspects of Interest
PSSD Model Category Upstream Port Hardware Configuration Additional Coverage
SanDisk Professional PRO-G40 Cabled External Drive Thunderbolt 3 Type-C (Female) Toshiba / WD BiCS 4 96L 3D TLC +
WD In-House Controller +
DDR4 RAM (SN750E SSD)+
Intel JHL7440 & ASMedia ASM2362 Bridges
SanDisk Professional PRO-G40 SSD 2TB Review
Crucial X10 Pro Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C (Female) Micron 176L 3D TLC +
Silicon Motion SM2320 Native UFD Controller
Crucial X10 Pro 2TB Review
Kingston XS2000 Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C (Female) Micron 96L 3D TLC +
Silicon Motion SM2320 Native UFD Controller
Kingston XS2000 2TB Review
PNY EliteX-PRO Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C (Female) SK hynix 128L 3D TLC +
Phison U18 Native UFD Controller
PNY EliteX-PRO Portable SSD 4TB Review
Samsung T9 Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C (Female) Samsung 136L V-NAND TLC +
Samsung S4LR033 Pablo NVMe Controller +
ASMedia ASM2364 Bridge
Samsung T9 Portable SSD 4TB Review
SanDisk Extreme PRO v2 (SDSSDE81) Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C (Female) Toshiba / WD BiCS 4 96L 3D TLC +
WD In-House Controller +
DDR4 RAM (SN730E SSD)+
ASMedia ASM2364 Bridge
SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD v2 4TB Review
Seagate FireCuda Gaming SSD Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C (Female) Toshiba / WD BiCS 3 64L 3D TLC +
Phison E12 NVMe Controller +
DDR4 RAM (FireCuda 510 SSD)+
ASMedia ASM2364 Bridge
Seagate FireCuda Gaming SSD 1TB Review
WD_BLACK P50 Game Drive Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C (Female) Toshiba / WD BiCS 4 96L 3D TLC +
WD In-House Controller +
DDR4 RAM (SN750E SSD)+
ASMedia ASM2364 Bridge
WD_BLACK P50 Game Drive SSD 1TB Review
WD_BLACK P40 Game Drive Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C (Female) Toshiba / WD BiCS 5 112L 3D TLC +
WD DRAM-less In-House Controller (SN560E SSD)+
ASMedia ASM2364 Bridge
WD_BLACK P40 Game Drive SSD 1TB Review
Crucial X6 Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (Female) (1TB, 2TB & 4TB Models)
Micron 96L 3D QLC +
Phison U17 Native UFD Controller
(500GB Model)
Micron 96L 3D QLC +
Silicon Motion SM2259XT SATA Controller +
ASMedia ASM235CM Bridge
Crucial X6 Portable SSD 4TB Review
Crucial X9 Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (Female) Micron 176L 3D QLC +
Phison U17 Native UFD Controller
Crucial X9 Portable SSD Launch Coverage
Crucial X9 Pro Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (Female) Micron 176L 3D TLC +
Silicon Motion SM2320 Native UFD Controller
Crucial X9 Pro 2TB Review
Kingston DataTraveler Max SSD in a Stick (UFD) USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (Male) Micron 96L 3D TLC +
Silicon Motion SM2320 Native UFD Controller
Kingston DT Max 1TB Review
Kingston DataTraveler Max A SSD in a Stick (UFD) USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (Male) Toshiba BiCS5 112L 3D TLC +
Silicon Motion SM2320 Native UFD Controller
Kingston DTMAXA/256GB Review
OWC Envoy Pro Mini SSD in a Stick (UFD) USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (Male) +
Integrated Type-C (Female) to Type-A (Male) Converter
??? 3D TLC +
Phison U17 Native UFD Controller
OWC Envoy Pro Mini 1TB Review
PNY Pro Elite V2 Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (Female) SK hynix 128L 3D TLC +
Phison U17 Native UFD Controller
PNY Pro Elite V2 Portable SSD 1TB Review
Samsung T7 Shield Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (Female) Samsung 136L V-NAND TLC +
Samsung S4LR033 Pablo NVMe Controller +
ASMedia ASM2362 Bridge
Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch 1TB Review
Samsung T7 Touch Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (Female) Samsung 92L V-NAND TLC +
Samsung S4LR033 Pablo NVMe Controller +
ASMedia ASM2362 Bridge
Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch 1TB Review
SK hynix Beetle X31 Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C (Female) SK hynix 128L 3D NAND TLC +
SK hynix In-House NVMe Controller +
LPDDR4 RAM (SK hynix BC711 M.2 2242 OEM NVMe SSD) +
ASMedia ASM2362 Bridge
SK hynix Beetle X31 Launch Coverage
Transcend ESD310C SSD in a Stick (UFD) USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A (Male) + Type-C (Male) Toshiba BiCS5 112L 3D TLC +
Silicon Motion SM2320 Native UFD Controller
Transcend ESD310C 1TB Review
Samsung T5 EVO Cabled External Drive USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C (Female) Samsung 176L V-NAND QLC +
Samsung S4LR069 Metis SATA Controller +
LPDDR4 RAM +
ASMedia ASM235CM Bridge
Samsung T5 EVO 8TB Review

The above table also lists some of the key consideration aspects that are usually not part of the marketing specifications. For example, if frequent usage with a mobile device is a use-case, it is important to choose a low-power option. PSSDs employing native UFD controllers almost always win on this metric over bridge-based solutions. Some use-cases may preclude the possibility of utilizing a separate cable. For such scenarios, one of the 'SSD-in-a-stick' models may be the optimal choice. QLC-based options should be avoided for write-heavy use-cases. Users planning to run a portable OS on their portable drive may be better off using PSSDs with DRAM built in for the flash translation layer - that greatly helps with small-sized random disk accesses common in such use-cases.

Pricing Matrices and Concluding Remarks

Multiple pricing matrices are provided below based on the speed class of each PSSD family. Readers who have already decided upon the host interface type for their PSSD can narrow down their options based on the relevant table.

PSSD Pricing Matrix (as of November 28, 2023)
( USB 3.2 Gen 1 / Entry-Level USB 3.2 Gen 2 ( 400 - 800 MBps ) )
PSSD Model 250 GB 500 GB 1000 GB 2000 GB 4000 GB 8000 GB
Crucial X6 - $40
(Amazon)
$40
(Newegg)
[ 8¢ / GB ]
$50
(Amazon)
$62
(Newegg)
[ 5¢ / GB ]
$80
(Amazon)
$82
(Newegg)
[ 4¢ / GB ]
$200
(Amazon)
$150
(Newegg)
[ 3.75¢ / GB ]
-
Samsung T5 EVO - - - $190
(Amazon)
$190
(Newegg)
[ 9.5¢ / GB ]
$350
(Amazon)
$350
(Newegg)
[ 8.75¢ / GB ]
$650
(Amazon)
$650
(Newegg)
[ 8.12¢ / GB ]

 

PSSD Pricing Matrix (as of November 28, 2023)
(USB 3.2 Gen 2 (1 GBps))
PSSD Model 250 GB 500 GB 1000 GB 2000 GB 4000 GB 8000 GB
SanDisk Professional PRO-G40 - - $170
(Amazon)
[ 17¢ / GB ]
$230
(Amazon)
$230
(Newegg)
[ 11.5¢ / GB ]
$400
(Amazon)
[ 10¢ / GB ]
-
Crucial X9 - - $76
(Amazon)
$80
(Newegg)
[ 7.6¢ / GB ]
$127
(Amazon)
$110
(Newegg)
[ 5.5¢ / GB ]
$256
(Amazon)
$221
(Newegg)
[ 5.52¢ / GB ]
-
Crucial X9 Pro - - $60
(Amazon)
$64
(Newegg)
[ 6¢ / GB ]
$88 (OoS)
(Amazon)
$113
(Newegg)
[ 5.65¢ / GB ]
$183
(Amazon)
$183
(Newegg)
[ 4.58¢ / GB ]
-
Kingston DataTraveler Max $29
(Amazon)
$33
(Newegg)
[ 11.6¢ / GB ]
$47
(Amazon)
$56
(Newegg)
[ 9.4¢ / GB ]
$90
(Amazon)
$100
(Newegg)
[ 10¢ / GB ]
- - -
Kingston DataTraveler Max A $32
(Amazon)
[ 12.8¢ / GB ]
$60
(Amazon)
[ 12¢ / GB ]
$99
(Amazon)
[ 9.9¢ / GB ]
- - -
OWC Envoy Pro Mini $68 ( $65 w/ coupon )
(Amazon)
[ 26¢ / GB ]
$85 ( $81 w/ coupon )
(Amazon)
[ 16.2¢ / GB ]
$120 ( $114 w/ coupon )
(Amazon)
[ 11.4¢ / GB ]
- - -
PNY Pro Elite V2 - $40
(Amazon)
67
(Newegg)
[ 8¢ / GB ]
$65
(Amazon)
$87
(Newegg)
[ 6.5¢ / GB ]
- - -
Samsung T7 Shield - - $80
(Amazon)
$99
(Newegg)
[ 8¢ / GB ]
$120
(Amazon)
$120
(Newegg)
[ 6¢ / GB ]
$200
(Amazon)
$200
(Newegg)
[ 5¢ / GB ]
-
Samsung T7 Touch - $123
(Newegg)
[ 24.6¢ / GB ]
$111
(Amazon)
$143
(Newegg)
[ 11.1¢ / GB ]
$150
(Amazon)
[ 7.5¢ / GB ]
- -
SK hynix Beetle X31 - $50
(Amazon)
$50
(Newegg)
[ 10¢ / GB ]
$93
(Amazon)
$92
(Newegg)
[ 9.2¢ / GB ]
- - -
Transcend ESD310C $39
(Amazon)
[ 15.6¢ / GB ]
$50
(Amazon)
[ 10¢ / GB ]
$85
(Amazon)
[ 8.5¢ / GB ]
$150
(Amazon)
[ 7.5¢ / GB ]
- -

 

PSSD Pricing Matrix (as of November 28, 2023)
(USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (2 GBps))
PSSD Model 250 GB 500 GB 1000 GB 2000 GB 4000 GB 8000 GB
Crucial X10 Pro - - $92
(Amazon)
$95
(Newegg)
[ 9.2¢ / GB ]
$130
(Amazon)
$131
(Newegg)
[ 6.5¢ / GB ]
$315
(Amazon)
$261
(Newegg)
[ 6.52¢ / GB ]
-
Kingston XS2000 - $86
(Amazon)
$73
(Newegg)
[ 14.6¢ / GB ]
$115
(Amazon)
[ 11.5¢ / GB ]
$162
(Amazon)
$200 ( $160 w/ promo code )
(Newegg)
[ 8¢ / GB ]
$296
(Amazon)
[ 7.4¢ / GB ]
-
PNY EliteX-PRO - $48
(Amazon)
$76
(Newegg)
[ 9.6¢ / GB ]
$117
(Amazon)
$99
(Newegg)
[ 11.7¢ / GB ]
$120
(Amazon)
$245
(Newegg)
[ 6¢ / GB ]
$235
(Amazon)
[ 5.88¢ / GB ]
-
Samsung T9 - - $110
(Amazon)
$110
(Newegg)
[ 11¢ / GB ]
$150
(Amazon)
$150
(Newegg)
[ 7.5¢ / GB ]
$250
(Amazon)
$250
(Newegg)
[ 6.25¢ / GB ]
-
SanDisk Extreme PRO v2 (SDSSDE81) - - $110
(Amazon)
$120
(Newegg)
[ 11¢ / GB ]
$187
(Amazon)
$150
(Newegg)
[ 7.5¢ / GB ]
$240
(Amazon)
$280
(Newegg)
[ 6¢ / GB ]
-
Seagate FireCuda Gaming SSD - $100
(Amazon)
$153
(Newegg)
[ 20¢ / GB ]
$201
(Amazon)
$214
(Newegg)
[ 20.1¢ / GB ]
- - -
WD_BLACK P50 Game Drive - - $180
(Amazon)
[ 18¢ / GB ]
$367
(Amazon)
[ 18.35¢ / GB ]
$430
(Amazon)
[ 10.75¢ / GB ]
-
WD_BLACK P40 Game Drive - $75
(Amazon)
$90
(Newegg)
[ 15¢ / GB ]
$100
(Amazon)
$120
(Newegg)
[ 10¢ / GB ]
$160
(Amazon)
$160
(Newegg)
[ 8¢ / GB ]
- -

 

PSSD Pricing Matrix (as of November 28, 2023)
(Thunderbolt (2.5 GBps))
PSSD Model 250 GB 500 GB 1000 GB 2000 GB 4000 GB 8000 GB
SanDisk Professional PRO-G40 - - $170
(Amazon)
[ 17¢ / GB ]
$230
(Amazon)
$230
(Newegg)
[ 11.5¢ / GB ]
$400
(Amazon)
[ 10¢ / GB ]
-

Crucial was one of the first vendors to release a mainstream PSSD with QLC in the late 2010s. Vendor confidence in QLC has been improving steadily in the last few years. Solidigm even has an enterprise line based on QLC flash. On the PSSD front, Samsung joined the QLC fray recently with the launch of the T5 EVO. It is currently the sole choice for a compact 8 TB PSSD from a tier-one vendor. There is a narrow set of use-cases where consumers would be willing to pay a huge premium for a unique product that sacrifices plenty on the performance table. The Samsung T5 EVO at $650 is the only choice for such use-cases.

Products such as the Transcend ESD310C and the OWC Envoy Pro Mini serve their own unique niche. These 'SSD-in-a-stick' products are compact, but still carry both Type-A and Type-C ports. The OWC model at $120 ( $114 w/ coupon ) has a more pleasing case design and is more rugged, which is why it carries a bit of a premium over the Transcend one at $85. There are more options coming in this dual-interface segment, but these two are the currently recommended ones in the category.

For the absolute best performance, the SanDisk Professional PRO-G40 in Thunderbolt mode with write caching turned on delivers the goods. It is also compatible with legacy USB ports as a 1 GBps-class drive. At 10 ¢ / GB, the capabilities are going to cost a pretty penny. Pure Thunderbolt drives may offer better performance, but it has been quite some time since we saw one in the market. With USB4 in the picture, the envelop for the top category is getting pushed. ADATA is promising speeds as high as 3.8 GBps in the new SE920. The thermal solution is a challenge, and we will see how it plays out with tier-one vendors next year.

Overall, we see Crucial's PSSD lineup delivering good value for money across multiple categories. The current downturn in the flash market has been good for consumers, but the cyclic nature of the industry may soon bring back cheer to the flash vendors.

Comments Locked

5 Comments

View All Comments

  • nfriedly - Wednesday, November 29, 2023 - link

    I have a 1TB Transcend ESD310C and I'm a big fan. It's small enough that I can just keep it in my pocket which, for me, puts it in a different category than most of the rest of these. It's not so much of a portable SSD as a really good thumb drive.

    The USB-A & -C ports are just icing on the cake, ensuring I can use it with nearly any device without needing an adapter.
  • fazalmajid - Wednesday, November 29, 2023 - link

    Having just spent over half a grand replacing SanDisk Extreme PSSDs with Crucial X9 Pros to forestall the data loss issue the SanDisks are afflicted with, I would think twice before considering a SanDisk purchase in the future. For TB3 use, I have some OWC Envoy Express enclosures that can be fitted with a standard NVMe M.2 drive.
  • Maltz - Wednesday, November 29, 2023 - link

    What exactly differentiates these "SSD in a Stick" devices from a run-of-the-mill thumb drive, other than maybe speed and capacity? There's no discussion of wear leveling, or TBW rating, etc. that I would expect from an actual SSD, though I suppose the former could be determined by the controller specs, and a rough guess of the latter could be made from the NAND type used.
  • meacupla - Wednesday, November 29, 2023 - link

    It's mainly speed
    most thumb drives struggle to hit 5Gbps sustained, while these portable SSDs can hit 10 to 20Gbps sustained.
    That is a huge difference when you want to transfer >500GB of data at once.
  • Roy2002 - Friday, December 15, 2023 - link

    I bought a Teamgroup TLC NVME and an NVME/M2 enclosure from Temu. Superb.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now