Samsung’s Portable SSD T1 reviewed

Samsung introduced a portable version of its 850 EVO SSD during the barrage of CES news earlier this month. The USB 3.0 drive crams up to a terabyte of storage into a tiny, featherweight shell small enough to fit inside the extra little pocket on a pair of blue jeans. We’ve been playing with the Portable SSD T1 in our labs, and we can now tell you what it’s like to actually use the thing.

Here’s the requisite money shot of the drive poking out of my Levis:

The 850 EVO is an ideal candidate for portable deployment for several reasons. First, its flash-based storage has much better shock tolerance than mechanical alternatives, allowing the drive to be tossed in and out of bags and pockets with impunity. Unlike mechanical drives, SSDs are actually fast enough to take advantage of the USB 3.0 interface. And, as we saw in our review of the SATA version, the EVO’s especially tiny circuit board is well-suited to a smaller portable enclosure.

With the accompanying cable detached, the T1 is a compact 2.8″ x 2.1″ x 0.36″. More impressively, our 500GB sample weighs just 0.93 ounces. The cable brings the total up to 1.32 oz, or 38 grams, which feels like practically nothing. I could have sworn the case was empty when I first picked it up.

The Portable SSD T1 (left) and its 2.5″ EVO sibling (right)

Although the weight—or lack thereof—is great for portability, the drive feels a little flimsy as a result. There just isn’t a lot of mass. The fact that the top and bottom walls flex slightly when squeezed doesn’t impart a sense of solidity, either. The chassis seems robust enough to handle a reasonable amount of rough treatment, but I wouldn’t leave it unattended in the hands of a destructive toddler.

Much of the exterior is textured plastic that’s easy to grip. The finish resists fingerprints and smudges, but the same can’t be said for the glossy stripe that runs around one end of the body. That part of our sample is a mess of smeared prints after just a few days of handling, while the textured portion looks good as new.

The only other aesthetic adornment of note is the single activity light next to the Micro-B USB port. The blue glow is pleasantly subdued, unlike the blinding output of all too many LEDs.

Samsung ships the T1 with a 5.1″ cable that plugs into conventional USB jacks. Reversible Type-C connectivity would be nice, along with support for the faster USB 3.1 spec, but hosts systems that support those standards were few and far between on the CES show floor, let alone in the real world. The current-gen setup ensures compatibility with pretty much every PC on the planet.

The cable is long enough to avoid interference from adjacent USB devices, and it’s flexible enough to fold over the drive without too much of a bulge. It feels sturdy, too, though I worry about repeated folding fracturing the internal wiring over time. It would be nice if there were another way to attach the cable to the body, even if it were just for transportation.

We didn’t have the courage to perform open-heart surgery on our drive, but Samsung tells us the T1 uses the same eight-channel controller and 32-layer V-NAND as the 850 EVO. Like in the 2.5″ version, the NAND is split between single-bit SLC and three-bit TLC zones. The faster SLC zones are used by TurboWrite, a caching scheme that buffers incoming writes before passing them along to TLC main storage. TurboWrite does a good job of accelerating write performance for short bursts, but sustained transfers will eventually burn through its capacity, forcing writes to proceed directly to TLC cells at slower speeds.

The 850 EVO’s controller has a SATA interface, so there’s probably a USB bridge chip lurking under the hood. According to Samsung, performance is ultimately bound by the USB interface. Peak sequential throughput is pegged at 450MB/s, compared to 520MB/s for the EVO. The difference in maximum random IOps is even more striking: 8k/21k read/write for the Portable SSD versus 90k/80k for the EVO. In a moment, we’ll see how the drive performs in our own sequential and random tests.

Before that, we should address the initial setup process. The T1 ships unactivated, with only a 128MB partition visible to the host. Windows and Mac installers on that partition unlock the drive’s full capacity and give users the option to protect the contents with a password. That password protection is tied to 256-bit AES encryption and handled by Samsung’s own software, which must be installed on any host that wants to access locked drives. Unencrypted drives can be used without additional software, though. When paired with the requisite USB OTG adapter, the unencrypted T1 even works with my Android smartphone.

On the next page, we’ll see what the drive can do when connected to a modern Windows machine.

 
Performance

To evaluate the Portable SSD T1’s performance, we connected it to a Haswell-based Z97 system using one of the Intel chipset’s native USB 3.0 ports. We don’t have an exact SATA match for our 500GB sample, so we drafted the 850 EVO 1TB to provide a frame of reference.
The original plan was to test the EVO not only with its usual SATA connectivity, but also with a SuperSpeed USB link using Thermaltake’s BlacX 5G drive dock. That setup would have given us a nice sense of how the T1’s USB translation compares to an off-the-shelf solution. Unfortunately, the dock suffered numerous disconnects during benchmark runs and even when trying to format the 850 EVO. We had to swap in an older 840 EVO 500GB to get our comparative USB results, and we ran that drive through the gauntlet in SATA mode for good measure.

Our first batch of results comes from CrystalDiskMark’s sequential and random I/O tests. We used the QD32 test for random I/O.

As expected, the Portable SSD T1 can’t keep up with the SATA drives. It’s about 100MB/s behind with sequential transfers and much slower with random I/O.

The data suggest those deltas are largely the fault of the USB interface. Note how the 840 EVO’s performance drops appreciably when that drive switches from a SATA to USB connection. The T1 is actually ahead of USB-bound EVO in most of our tests, though it falls behind with random writes.

Our second collection of results was generated with TR RoboBench, a slick utility developed by our in-house coder, Bruno “morphine” Ferreira. RoboBench copies files between the target drive and a wicked-fast RAM disk using Windows’ multi-threaded robocopy command. We used eight threads, the robocopy default, and two sets of files. The media set comprises large videos, MP3s, and RAW images, while the work set is confined to much smaller documents, spreadsheets, and images.

The T1 largely hangs with its USB competition in the read speed tests, but its performance with smaller files isn’t as good as that of the EVO-and-dock combo. As we saw in CrystalDiskMark, the SATA SSDs enjoy comfortable leads.

Before running RoboBench’s write speed tests, we put the target drive in a simulated used state by filling it to capacity and then unleashing 30 minutes of random writes. The drive is then formatted, which invokes the Trim command to clear unused flash pages, before RoboBench does its thing.

The SATA drives maintain their lead, and they utterly dominate the T1 with smaller work files. That said, the Portable SSD isn’t substantially slower when writing larger media files. It’s also way ahead of the USB competition.

The 840 EVO’s RoboBench write speeds are surprisingly sluggish when the drive is connected via USB, likely because our dock isn’t passing the Trim command correctly. Trimcheck doesn’t detect support for the command, and Windows sees the dock as a hard drive even with an SSD sitting in the bay. Those are hardly good signs for the SSD-specific feature.

Our data suggest the Portable SSD T1 executes Trim commands correctly, and trimcheck concurs. The T1 seems to take a little longer to clear flash pages than the 850 EVO, though. The first test after the format runs much slower than subsequent ones, a characteristic the EVO doesn’t share.

Conclusions

Despite being extremely compact and practically weightless, the Portable SSD T1 offers up to a terabyte of speedy, shock-tolerant storage. Performance is as good as we’ve seen from a USB drive—and pretty darned quick compared to SATA gear. Just keep in mind that the USB interface clearly isn’t ideal for heavy random I/O workloads. Good thing external drives typically face sequential transfers.

Now, miniaturization does come at a premium. Samsung prices the Portable SSD T1 at $179.99 for 250GB, $299.99 for 500GB, and $599.99 for 1TB, which is steeper than the going rate for the 850 EVO. The markup on the 500GB and 1TB variants is high enough to cover the cost of a nice external enclosure, and the three-year warranty is shorter than the five-year coverage that comes with the EVO.

DIY alternatives can’t match the portability of the T1’s tiny chassis, though. Trim support isn’t guaranteed, and neither is integrated encryption. There’s definitely something to be said for the pocketable, all-in-one approach.

Comments closed
    • LoneWolf15
    • 5 years ago

    Geoff,

    Do you think you know why you had the issues with the 850 EVO in USB in the BlacX dock? USB controller compatibility, or something else?

    Oddly enough, I’m using a BlacX (probably not a 5G) to clone an OS from a laptop to a 500GB 850 EVO –but I’m using it in eSATA mode, as that’s probably the fastest option I have. So far, it is going well.

    Edit: clarity.

    • willmore
    • 5 years ago

    The first photo needs a red baseball cap in it.

      • Dissonance
      • 5 years ago

      Like a boss.

        • willmore
        • 5 years ago

        [b<]The Boss[/b<]

    • HERETIC
    • 5 years ago

    Are we able to boot from USB 3 yet???????????

      • VincentHanna
      • 5 years ago

      Never tried it with windows(because its an enterprise only feature), but Linux Ultimate Edition and Kali both boot up from USB3.0

    • Techgoudy
    • 5 years ago

    And here I was thinking this would be perfect for my Xbox One so I could expand the already small 500GB HDD that comes with the system, but the cost of one of these outweighs the benefit for me.

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 5 years ago

    Why not just save yourself some money and just use the cable that comes with all SSD drives to clone. That setup is pretty cool and it has a LED on it as well. It might not be small, but it is cheaper.

    • ThatStupidCat
    • 5 years ago

    Very interested in something like this for backup and restore work. One question I have is how hot do these things get inside. Some backup files can easily reach 20 gigs and I’m thinking a sustained transfer of such a file could fry SSDs if not properly cooled. I really don’t know but I’d be curious on the temps of these things and what they use to dissipate the heat or if that’s even an issue at all.

    Since I’m asking this question here, what about effects of temperature on a 128GB or 256GB thumb drive constantly being used to transfer 20-30 GB files. Do they have problems getting extra crisply from the heat?

    Thanks for the answers.

      • Lianna
      • 5 years ago

      My older (2012/2013) USB3.0 128GB thumb drive after 5GB write at 120MB/s raises temperature of its metal housing to almost finger-burning level, which probably means about 50C or 120F. AT says their T1 got to 75C (167F) after transferring 200+GB at 250-350MB/s, after which it started throttling, very slightly though.

        • stdRaichu
        • 5 years ago

        This sounds utterly perfect for frying a quail egg whilst you wait for that backup to finish.

      • Flatland_Spider
      • 5 years ago

      From my experiences, flash drives throttle heavily once they heat up on large transfers to keep from imploding. The drive would get almost uncomfortably warm, but I hadn’t noticed any side-effects aside me getting aggravated about how long the transfer was taking.

      The Intel 240GB SSD and Inateck enclosure which replaced the flash drive would get slightly warm, but it wouldn’t throttle, or I didn’t notice that it was throttling.

    • albundy
    • 5 years ago

    So that’s what those little pockets inside a pocket are for!

      • Wirko
      • 5 years ago

      Certainly not. Using [i<]that[/i<] pocket for stupid non-essential chunks of electronics is nothing short of blasphemy.

        • ferdinandh
        • 5 years ago

        You only put your pace-maker in it?

    • chubbyhorse
    • 5 years ago

    With everyone comparing cost and size, I’m surprised nobody picked up this thing will read and write at 150GB/s with 4k block sizes! (over USB3 to boot)

      • aceuk
      • 5 years ago

      [quote<]this thing will read and write at [b<]150GB/s[/b<] with 4k block sizes[/quote<] 150 gigabytes per second? That's about 270-300x faster than the SATA interface itself! How is that possible? 🙂

        • derFunkenstein
        • 5 years ago

        You missed a typo in the article that chubbyhorse was humorously pointing out.

      • Dissonance
      • 5 years ago

      Ugh. I wish Excel handled axis labels correctly. Fixed.

    • Aliasundercover
    • 5 years ago

    [quote<]The T1 ships unactivated, with only a 128MB partition visible to the host. Windows and Mac installers on that partition unlock the drive's full capacity and give users the option to protect the contents with a password.[/quote<] What is with the installers and unlocking? Its a disk drive. Its a portable disk drive intended for use across multiple computers. What crapware did the installer bring? Did it phone home?

      • Flatland_Spider
      • 5 years ago

      It sends everything to the NSA. Because you’re a criminal if you encrypt your data and stuff.

      Yeah, I was wondering what silliness that was going to bring.

    • drfish
    • 5 years ago

    My understanding is that this thing supports UASP but not TRIM.

    • stdRaichu
    • 5 years ago

    [quote<]DIY alternatives can't match the portability of the T1's tiny chassis, though[/quote<] Well it would have been easier if you listed metric measurements as well as Imperial, but I built my own mSATA drive using [url=http://www.amazon.co.uk/Delock-42508-Multi-Port-External-Enclosure/dp/B00AWWDWY2<]this enclosure[/url<] that measures 8.3x6x1.2cm / 3.2x2.3x0.5" which is only a smidgen larger than the T1 and comes with eSATA(p) support as well.

      • DPete27
      • 5 years ago

      The board inside most modern SSDs are about the size of mSATA nowadays. (ie: [url=https://techreport.com/review/27464/samsung-850-evo-solid-state-drive-reviewed<]Samsung 850 EVO[/url<] or [url=http://www.anandtech.com/show/8520/sandisk-ultra-ii-240gb-ssd-review<]Sandisk Ultra II[/url<] off the top of my head. So the T1 is basically doing exactly what you did. 2.5" SSD [enclosures] are quickly becoming obsolete. It's not hard to see that M.2 is the future for SSD form factor.

      • VincentHanna
      • 5 years ago

      Metric? What’s that?

      #mur’ca

        • ferdinandh
        • 5 years ago

        F*CK YEAH!

        [sub<]Wow an 'offensive' words filter. In case of small children reading about the latest ssd controller.[/sub<]

    • liquidsquid
    • 5 years ago

    Seems to be a little overkill for picture backup, and too expensive for this purpose. However, portability is nice, especially to make it easier to have a backup of your stuff that is outside of your house when it burns.

    • Flatland_Spider
    • 5 years ago

    It wasn’t benchmarked against USB flash drives. 🙁

    I already know the outcome, but it would have been nice to see a little bit of shaming going on.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 5 years ago

      and external spinny hard drives. You get less storage, but if all you’re doing is File History in Windows, 500GB may be plenty for a long time to come. My wife’s File History drive is only about 1/2 full after 2 years of using Windows 8/8.1.

    • Deanjo
    • 5 years ago

    [quote<]Unfortunately, the dock suffered numerous disconnects during benchmark runs and even when trying to format the 850 EVO[/quote<] That's USB storage for ya which is why I don't miss using it at all.

    • nico1982
    • 5 years ago

    The separated data cable almost nullifies the compactness of the drive, IMHO. They should make it slightly larger and add a flush cable like some external battery packs.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 5 years ago

      A retractable cable would be cool, too.

      • cynan
      • 5 years ago

      On the other hand, when the cable wears out or just fails, the drive isn’t toast. That may be a fine prospect for a <$50 USB drive, but not so much for something this costly.

      [i<]Edit:[/i<] Oh wait, you meant something [url=http://the-gadgeteer.com/2014/09/12/tylt-energi-5k-5200-mah-battery-pack-review/<]like this[/url<]. Perhaps a slight improvement. But when I'm transporting the thing, I'd hardly find it an issue to put the cable in a different pocket. And again, good luck getting a replacement for that proprietary flat cable when it breaks/gets lost.

        • Flatland_Spider
        • 5 years ago

        Or for the times when 5 inches just isn’t enough. Sometimes I need a good 3 feet. 🙂

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