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Portable SSD Storage - Do You Need It?

The many benefits of SSD are obvious when it comes to internal storage, so is portable SSD worth it for gaming and creative workflows?

 

Portable SSD Storage - Do You Need It?

 

If you think about portable storage, more often than not you think USB sticks or chunky external HDD enclosures that take up as much room as your mousemat. Now, though, portable SSD drives are much more versatile and take up very little space or weigh more than a phone, making them perfect for most use cases. Fast access storage with a portable SSD has enough flexibility and performance to satiate the needs of gamers, creative professionals, photographers, videographers and more.

One burning question on this topic, however, is why you would spend the extra money on portable SSD over HDD and USB storage?

Portable SSD vs USB

Although portable solid state drives use USB for the most part, and offer USB 3.1 as the main connectivity, many people still believe they can get the same capacity and performance from a USB flash stick or pen drive.

Capacity

USB sticks now come in large capacity, but are still a way off SSD and HDD capabilities. The SanDisk Ultra 512GB USB 3.0 Drive (Black) offers half a terabyte of storage for around £90, and would be considered good value considering the brand reliability of SanDisk. But when we compare to the lowest storage tier of the Crucial range - 1TB - you can pick up a Crucial 1TB X6 USB3.1 External SSD for around £100. For larger capacity,

Other USBs of note include the SanDisk Extreme PRO® USB 3.2 Solid State Flash Drive, which will set you back north of £350 if you want ultra compact storage. With 1TB of storage in this tiny USB stick, it is one of the largest capacity drives you can find - but the price tag almost makes it comedic.

Once you start going higher than 1TB, you are in the territory of portable SSD and HDD, which makes sense both for your wallet and your data safety. USB sticks - whilst hardy, versatile pieces of kit - have a problem, and most of us will have faced it at one point or another.

Failure Rates

USB sticks - or flash sticks as they are often called - do seem to fail more often than any other portable storage. You can plug in a USB stick one day and Windows will pick it up straight away. Try that the next day, and nothing will happen. There are many reasons - a damaged or corrupted USB device, a disabled USB port, incorrect settings, incorrect or out-of-date USB controller drivers, software conflicts and more.

A USB storage device lives in the most unusual places for most of its life, where you wouldn't usually put data - your pockets, a drawer, a desk tidy etc. - and will be subjected to many things the manufacturers always tell you to avoid. These include dust, dirt, heat, moisture, humidity and contaminants. This can mean those contaminants work their way into the USB plug, causing damage or failure.

Portable SSDs, on the other hand, tend to be well looked after, and generally live in a safe place in transit! A portable SSD also usually has USB-C 3.1 connectivity, which can be used with any decent USB 3.1 to USB-C cable. What's more, a portable drive like the Crucial 1TB X6 can also withstand drops from as high as 6.5-feet, being shock, vibration and extreme temperature resistant.

Speed

Both USB sticks and portable SSDs store files in solid-state flash RAM, and both plug into a computer or laptop using a USB port. The speed difference in transferring files will be noticable, however, and that is because SSD portable drives are built with large transfer in mind.

Most external or portable SSDs use a DRAM cache to maintain consistent speeds in transferring data. DRAM does not wear out or degrade in the same way flash memory does, so the lifespan of SSD flash memory is significantly higher.

With our example, the DRAM-less Crucial X6, the 4TB drive makes use of SLC - a "dynamic cache" - where the the size of the write cache starts at 800GB and scales back as the drive fills up. The SLC write cache means speed will reduce as the cache diminishes, down to a 27GB cache. In effect, this means even when you have filled the X6 with files, if you are writing files of 27GB or less, you are getting optimum speeds.

Portable SSD vs HDD

While we already know that HDDs are much better value for large capacity storage, the speed, longevity and durability of SSD cannot be matched by traditional hard drive storage.

Portable SSDs are 3x to 6x times faster when transferring files than portable and desktop hard drives. Portable SSD is also more secure, significantly more compact and durable, and as an added bonus run cooler using less power.

SSDs store data in non-volatile memory, and - as the name suggests - in a solid state. This means there are no mechanical movements when accessing data, and it won't disappear when you switch off the power. Hard Disk Drives use a mechanical read/write arm to move and read data, making the failure rate higher in the majority of cases.

That said, technology in HDDs has changed enough that failure in mechanical action has been significantly reduced.

Are Portable SSDs Good For Gaming?

Boot times are typically better when using SSD, and although you can't expect to see an increase in framerates. If you have an older PC or laptop and you want to expand your storage, then portable SSDs could well be your answer. Having the ability to store your Steam library and other games on a portable drive means you can take your gaming anywhere, and play where you want.

Game consoles can also benefit from portable SSDs, being compatible with PS4 and Xbox One. Notably, Android devices are also capable of using the storage for media files and watching videos etc. So, if you like to download movies from Netflix, you can store them on your portable SSD until you're ready to watch them.

Most of the time, you will see a faster load time with a portable SSD over SATA HDD or portable HDD, and - depending on the game - you'll also closely match the speeds of an internal NVMe SSD. YouTubers, Hardware Canucks, found this out with a recent test of internal and external storage.

 

Jedi Order game load speed from portable SSD

 

Red Dead Redemption 2 game load speed portable SSD

Screenshots Courtesy - Hardware Canucks (YouTube)

 

Are Portable SSDs Good For Creative Work?

For video editors, photographers, videographers and other creative professionals, the fast USB 3.1 transfers are perfect for moving files from place to place. SSD offers a stable and durable storage medium, with the ability to read and write data quickly from a desktop or laptop.

Even when video files are stored on the SSD and you need to check it by scrubbing through footage, you will see the same speeds as if it were stored on an NVMe drive in your PC. This kind of versatility makes them an ideal choice for professionals who will naturally run out of storage that came with their machine.

CCL Recommends

Two very affordable portable SSDs that we can recommend are from Crucial - a name synonymous with high performance storage.

 

Crucial 1TB X6 USB 3.1

 

First up is the Crucial X6 USB 3.1 external (portable) SSD, available in three flavours - 1TB, 2TB and 4TB. With data transfer speeds of up to 540 MB/s, USB 3.1 Type-C interface, and weighing in at a mere 42g, this portable SSD is ideal for all kinds of data transportation.

The X6 comes with a 3 year warranty from Crucial, and is compatible with Windows, Mac OS, Android, IPad OS 13, PS4, and Xbox X|S/Xbox One operating systems, making your life easy when it comes to cross-platform usage.

 

Crucial 1TB X8 USB3.1 External SSD

 

The Crucial 1TB X8 USB3.1 External SSD is 94.44% faster than the 500 GB, 1 TB and 2 TB X6 SSDs at maximum sequential reading, according to

When you compare similar capacities, the 500 GB, 1 TB and 2 TB X8 SSDs are 94.44% faster than the 500 GB, 1 TB and 2 TB X6 SSDs at maximum sequential reading according to SeekingTech.com, where it was also found that the X8 had better drop protection (7.5ft vs the X6's 6.5ft) The Crucial X8 also has a USB 3.2 Gen-2 Type-C to USB-A adapter.

Available in 1TB and 2TB options, and offers a sleeker, more slimline design to the Crucial X6, and is also backed by a 3 year warranty.

Check out our current deals on storage, where you will find portable and internal SSDs at our lowest prices.