If Samsung isn't in a market, is there really a market at all?
Ultra-High-Speed portable SSDs over Thunderbolt 3 has been a niche market for close to a year now. The devices we've tested from this category all show impressive performance but you need a powerful computer with high-speed internal storage, and a healthy budget to fully take advantage of the technology.
The drives we've seen all come from smaller companies that took the leap early. We're glad they did, but the limited number of products made it clear that the user base for such products wasn't there, yet. Even today, Thunderbolt 3 ships on less than half of all PCs sold today. It's a rich man's technology, available on premium motherboards and "creator" - type notebooks that often ship with the highest binned processors, ample system memory, high-resolution displays, and premium storage.
There is a market for ultra-high-speed Thunderbolt 3 storage. Content creators have begged for NVMe-based portable devices to transport high-resolution content with massive data sets. When time is money, a 6x performance increase adds up quickly.
Today Samsung jumps in the Thunderbolt 3 storage game with the Portable SSD X5. The premium series leverages NVMe technology and pairs it with a futuristic design that counters the challenges of combining high-speed storage in a compact design. Samsung also raised the bar for this category by doubling the capacity of existing products.
Samsung didn't bother to build small capacity drives for this series. The Portable X5 is a creator's product for users with higher capacity needs. The X5 starts with a 500GB model, the smallest of the three sizes released today. The series takes the logical progression up with a 1TB and massive 2TB models.
The series operates over Thunberbolt 3 with standard Type-C cables. The 40-gigabit interface (32-gigabit for data transfer, 8-gigabit for video) is perfect for NVMe-based storage. Samsung claims up to 2,800 MB/s sequential read and up to 2,300 MB/s sequential write performance. Samsung does not specify random performance for the X5 series.
Inside the housing is an NVMe-based SSD like the 970 EVO with 3-bit per cell (TLC) flash using TurboWrite technology to improve sustained write speeds. The housing features a plastic shell covering a large magnesium heat sink. Magnesium is lighter than both aluminum and copper.
The magnesium heat sink makes the Portable SSD X5 one of the lighter Thunderbolt 3 drives available. It weighs just 150 grams (5.3 oz) or about a third of a pound.
Samsung also tackled some of the issues we've found on other Thunderbolt 3 devices. Many of these drives get very hot on the surface. The designs where the entire enclosure is a large heat sink, like the Patriot EVLVR (Patriot should have called this the Scorch), get insanely hot. Samsung reduced the thermal throttle temperature compared to an M.2 system drive; this ensures the surface never reaches above 45C.
Samsung includes AES 256-bit hardware encryption with an easy to use software that locks and unlocks the drive. Enabling encryption doesn't decrease performance as we've seen on some other models.
Pricing, Warranty, And Endurance
Samsung's most advanced portable SSD doesn't come cheap. The Portable SSD X5 500GB starts the series off at $399.99. That jumps to $699.99 for the 1TB model and then leaps to $1,399.99 for the only 2TB NVMe-based Thunderbolt 3 drive shipping today.
Samsung covers the series with a 3-year warranty. We reached out to the company to clarify the endurance portion of the warranty. Samsung didn't limit the coverage with an endurance rating. Given the extremely high endurance ratings for the 3-bit per cell flash in the 970 EVO series, it would be difficult to wear the flash cells out even with extreme use.
A Closer Look
The design is straightforward in its use. There is a single Thunderbolt 3 Type-C connector and a solo LED that shows connectivity and disk activity.
The Portable SSD X5 ships with a Type-C cable and a paper manual that serves as a quick start guide, it also covers warranty information.
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