Samsung’s Portable SSD T3 reviewed

Our SSD coverage is typically geared towards drives for the system builder, but today we’ve got a welcome break from tearing down another 2.5″ SATA drive. Samsung’s 850 EVO SSD has enjoyed widespread success since its introduction a while back, but the company isn’t resting on its laurels.

With the Portable SSD T3, Samsung has gone ahead and stuffed its TLC V-NAND into a tiny, pocketable chassis. Following in the footsteps of its previous portable SSD, the T1, the T3 comes in 250GB, 500GB, and 1TB capacities. However, it also paves new ground with a whopping 2TB version at the top of the line. That 2TB monster is the one we’ve got on hand to test.

The deceptively diminutive 2TB T3 measures 2.9″ by 2.3″ by 0.4″ (73.6 by 58.4 by 10.2 mm), a slight increase over the 2.8″ by 2.1″ by 0.36″ of its predecessor. In practical terms, the thing is still freakin’ tiny. It’s so small I’d almost be worried about losing it if I were carrying it around town with me. Just take a look at it alongside its 2.5″ cousin, the 850 EVO 2TB.

Slightly larger dimensions aren’t all that set the T3 apart from the T1. The T3 ditches the all-black, textured plastic shell of its older brother in favor of a metal body. Aside from the sleek look, the metal gives the T3 a reassuring heft. The numbers reflect that fact: the T3 weighs in at 51 grams, a noticeable increase over the 38 grams of the T1. It certainly feels like a premium product.

That premium feel is welcome, since the Portable SSD T3 commands a premium price over its 2.5″ brethren. While prices on the T3 have fallen since its launch, you’ll still need roughly $750 to take a 2TB T3 home with you from your choice of retailer. That’s more than the price tag on the entire budget build in our last System Guide. The faint of heart and light of wallet need not apply here.

What do all those dollars buy you? To start, what they don’t buy you is a speed increase over the T1. Due to the undecipherable quagmire of USB naming conventions, the “USB 3.1 Gen 1” port on the T3 is only rated for up to 450MB/sec, the same speed that the T1 offered through its USB 3.0 port. That also means the USB Type-C physical connector on the T3 is there for convenience rather than speed. Just because the Portable SSD T3 is rated for the same performance doesn’t mean it’s the same drive, though, so let’s crack it open and have a look inside.

After a mildly harrowing disassembly, the T3 bares all. The controller is the same MGX controller found in the 850 EVO and the Portable SSD T1, so let’s move on to the flash itself. The 850 EVO 2TB had its NAND distributed among eight packages, but Samsung packs this drive’s 2TB capacity into just four packages—two on either side of the PCB. That impressive density comes courtesy of Samsung’s newer 48-layer TLC V-NAND, which replaces the older 32-layer stuff found in the T1.

 

Software and smartphone connectivity

External drives often come with software that falls somewhere between “useful tool” and “bloatware,” and the T3 is no exception. Privacy-minded users will appreciate Samsung’s bundled utility for full-disk protection via AES 256-bit hardware encryption.

An interesting feature of the T3 is that it works with smartphones. If you have a compatible Android handset, you can hook it right up to the T3, download the creatively-named “Samsung Portable SSD” app, unlock your encrypted drive, and peruse your files on the go. As luck would have it, my personal phone is a Nexus 5X equipped with the requisite USB Type-C port and companion cable, so I took the T3 out for a spin with it.

The Nexus 5X may have a Type-C port, but its speeds are limited to USB 2.0. USB Type-C and USB 3.1 are often conflated in the media, but they are completely distinct specifications. Fortunately, the USB 2.0 speed limitation didn’t have a noticeable effect on the drive’s usability. The T3 lets you shuttle files between the drive and the phone much faster than the pokey SD card speeds we’re used to (though Samsung also has a card-based solution to that problem). It’s not entirely clear who needs these capabilities in a phone, but the feature works seamlessly and without fuss. The only compelling use case I can think of is having a large offline movie library at hand to use with a tablet on long flights.

The “Samsung Portable SSD” Android app provides an almost identical interface to the one presented on the Windows side. Like the Windows utility, the app is required if you wish to take advantage of the drive’s security features while on the go. It even lets you enable encryption and set the password if that step hasn’t been completed yet.

Samsung backs the Portable SSD T3 with a three-year warranty. That’s a bit shorter than the five-year warranty the 850 EVO series boasts, but an internal SATA drive is less likely to a take a physical beating than a portable one.

We’re impressed with the T3’s mobile tricks and app experience, so let’s move on to more traditional testing.

 

TR RoboBench — Real-world transfers

Since our usual storage fare tends to be internal components, we weren’t exactly set up to test what is more of an external accessory. Nonetheless, we concocted a plan to put the T3 up against its closest non-portable brethren, the 850 EVO 2TB. Of course, weighing a USB storage device against a SATA one would be neither fair nor productive, so we found a way to give the 850 EVO an appropriate handicap: StarTech’s USB 3.1 dock for SATA drives. Paired with our standard Z97 storage rig (with its handy array of USB 3.0 ports), we’ve got all the ingredients we need to see just what the T3 can do. As a point of reference, we’ve also included results for the 850 EVO 2TB when used in its natural undocked SATA state.

As for the actual benchmarking, we’ve trimmed away all our tests that are irrelevant to a USB drive for on-the-go. This time around, Robobench is king, since it encompasses the natural use cases for an external storage drive.

RoboBench is comprised of real-world transfers with a range of file types. Developed by our in-house coder, Bruno “morphine” Ferreira, this benchmark relies on the multi-threaded robocopy command build into Windows. We copy files to and from a wicked-fast RAM disk to measure read and write performance. We also cut the RAM disk out of the loop for a copy test that transfers the files to a different location on the SSD.

Robocopy uses eight threads by default, and we’ve also run it with a single thread. Our results are split between two file sets, whose vital statistics are detailed below. The compressibility percentage is based on the size of the file set after it’s been crunched by 7-Zip.

  Number of files Average file size Total size Compressibility
Media 459 21.4MB 9.58GB 0.8%
Work 84,652 48.0KB 3.87GB 59%

The media set is made up of large movie files, high-bitrate MP3s, and 18-megapixel RAW and JPG images. There are only a few hundred files in total, and the data set isn’t amenable to compression. The work set comprises loads of TR files, including documents, spreadsheets, and web-optimized images. It also includes a stack of programming-related files associated with our old Mozilla compiling test and the Visual Studio test on the next page. The average file size is measured in kilobytes rather than megabytes, and the files are mostly compressible.

RoboBench’s write and copy tests run after the drives have been put into a simulated used state with 30 minutes of 4KB random writes. The pre-conditioning process is scripted, as is the rest of the test, ensuring that drives have the same amount of time to recover.

Let’s take a look at the media set first. The buttons switch between read, write, and copy results.



Those are pretty good numbers! Despite the USB handicap, the T3 puts up speeds that can compete even with some SATA drives. Additionally, the T3 is on par with or ahead of the docked EVO in every test across both queue depths. Its writes are particularly peppy, handily beating the USB-constrained EVO. It beats the pants off some of the slower SATA drives our regular data set, like the Trion 100 and BX200, whose writes languish below 200 MB/s. Faster drives like the undocked EVO 2TB still blow the T3 out of the water on the write side. Now what about the harder-to-tackle work set?



Mostly the same story. The Portable SSD T3’s reads are still competitive with the SATA pack, but it doesn’t keep up in the write or copy tests. It can claim a couple of victories over the X25-M, but the other drives are all faster. Nonetheless, we weren’t expecting a USB 3.0 drive to keep pace with SATA devices as well as it did.

 

Test notes and methods

Here’s are the essential details for all the drives we tested:

  Interface Flash controller NAND
Samsung 850 EV0 2TB SATA 6Gbps Samsung MHX 32-layer Samsung TLC
Samsung Portable SSD T3 USB 3.1 Gen 1 Samsung MGX 48-layer Samsung TLC

All drives were connected to the motherboard via USB 3.0 port. The 2.5″ drives were connected via a USB 3.0 drive dock for SATA drives.

We used the following system for testing:

Processor Intel Core i5-4690K 3.5GHz
Motherboard Asus Z97-Pro
Firmware 2601
Platform hub Intel Z97
Platform drivers Chipset: 10.0.0.13

RST: 13.2.4.1000

Memory size 16GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Adata XPG V3 DDR3 at 1600 MT/s
Memory timings 11-11-11-28-1T
Audio Realtek ALC1150 with 6.0.1.7344 drivers
System drive Corsair Force LS 240GB with S8FM07.9 firmware
Drive dock StarTech USB 3.1 Single-Bay Dock
Power supply Corsair AX650 650W
Case Fractal Design Define R5
Operating system Windows 8.1 Pro x64

Thanks to Asus for providing the systems’ motherboards, to Intel for the CPUs, to Adata for the memory, to Fractal Design for the cases, and to Corsair for the system drives and PSUs.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

  • IOMeter 1.1.0 x64
  • TR RoboBench 0.2a

Some further notes on our test methods:

  • To ensure consistent and repeatable results, the SSDs were secure-erased before every component of our test suite. For the IOMeter database, RoboBench write, and RoboBench copy tests, the drives were put in a simulated used state that better exposes long-term performance characteristics. Those tests are all scripted, ensuring an even playing field that gives the drives the same amount of time to recover from the initial used state.

  • We run virtually all our tests three times and report the median of the results. Our sustained IOMeter test is run a second time to verify the results of the first test and additional times only if necessary. The sustained test runs for 30 minutes continuously, so it already samples performance over a long period.

  • Steps have been taken to ensure the CPU’s power-saving features don’t taint any of our results. All of the CPU’s low-power states have been disabled, effectively pegging the frequency at 3.5GHz. Transitioning between power states can affect the performance of storage benchmarks, especially when dealing with short burst transfers.

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1920×1080 at 60Hz. Most of the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

 

Conclusions

Ordinarily we take some time to discuss price, performance, and the market as a whole when reviewing SSDs, but in this case we don’t have test results for a full field of comparable drives to weigh the T3 against. Nonetheless, we came away more than satisfied with the performance figures the T3 produced. A portable, external drive that can trade blows with the SATA competition is no mean feat.

We also can’t get over just how portable this thing is. If you need 2TB of fast storage for whatever reason, the T3 lets you put all those bits in a pocket. If external storage means clunky, wall-powered desktop drives to you, or heck, even if it means something sleeker like a WD Passport or Toshiba Canvio, the T3 makes them all look oversized, ungainly, and unrefined. Throw legitimate solid-state speeds and useful encryption features into the mix, and you’ve got a compelling package on your hands.

The only potential fly in the ointment is the price. At $750 on Newegg, the T3 2TB is going to empty your piggy bank and make you delay that high-end graphics card or monitor purchase in absolute terms. But that price works out to right around 40 cents per gigabyte, which isn’t all that bad for the portability and performance this drive offers. It wasn’t too long ago that even low-capacity internal SSDs were as expensive.

At the same time, the majority of consumers simply don’t need 2TB of storage that’s this fast and this totable. I’d say the ideal niche for this product is someone whose work requires transferring large amounts of assets between machines, but whose privacy, security, or bandwidth concerns prevent them from using a cloud or network file transfers. If you’re that specific person, then the density and speed of Samsung’s Portable SSD T3 should put it at the top of your shopping list.

Comments closed
    • StamosD
    • 3 years ago

    I am looking for such a drive, the review is interesting, but has one hugely important figure missing:

    What is the current consumption of these devices?

    Why is it so important?
    Well, those of us with experience with large capacity external USB drives know that all too often they simply will NOT work with all sorts of tablets and portable devices with USB ports.
    The USB2 power draw specification is to supply 500ma
    The USB3 power draw specification is supply 900ma

    I have a 2TB WD 2.5″ external drive. It works on USB2 desktops. It won’t work on USB2 tablets. Strangely it won’t work reliably connected to the USB3 port on an MSI all-in-one gaming PC. These are signs that the power draw of some external hard drives is marginal for a USB port to handle when the port power is not to spec.

    So I live in hope that the solid state external drives provide a solution to this annoying failing that interferes with my work.

    It is not just vanity that makes people prepared to pay hundreds of dollars for an external large capacity SSD.

    • havanu
    • 3 years ago

    I have the 256GB version, and it really is a great solution when you often have to copy gigabytes of data back and forth different machines. (Like say, as a portable mediaplayer drive…)
    The compact size, shockproof housing and lack of weight make it my favorite everyday storage device by far.

    • willmore
    • 3 years ago

    Looks like (except for a small size benefit) you’re just as well off taking a 2.5″ SSD and sticking it in an enclosure, no? Cheaper as well. That even leaves you the option to take it out and replace/upgrade it–and use the old drive for something else.

    I’m not sure I see the incremental benefit of this thing.

    • stmok
    • 3 years ago

    It looks like this uses a mSATA module connected to a USB-to-mSATA board…But for the consumer market, Samsung 850 EVO (mSATA version), only comes up to 1TB.

    How come they don’t sell the 2TB version (mSATA) for consumers, but sell it in the form of the Portable SSD T3 solution?

    …I wouldn’t mind having a 2TB version in my ThinkPad. (Which has a mSATA slot for SSD).

      • Dezeer
      • 3 years ago

      Samsung releasing the 2TB mSata as a standalone has been something that I have also been waiting. But I understand that releasing it to the consumer market as a standalone product would require some work on the software side and on customer support side.

      But I do wonder if one were to ‘salvage’ the mSata from the T3 and try to use it as a normal mSata, would it work normally. I haven’t seen anybody daring enough test it.

    • Shobai
    • 3 years ago

    It’s purely academic, but which module is inside the enclosure? And what format is that module? Is it M.2?

    It would be interesting to see how the SSD itself performs when it’s not [potentially] hampered by the USB interface. Also how a known quantity M.2 [or whichever] drive performs in the enclosure.

      • Freon
      • 3 years ago

      It certainly looks like an m.2 card in there plugged into an adapter, but I’d be amazed if it was not SATA protocol.

      I’d love to see the same tests.

      Also might be cool to see if someone would make a USB to m.2 adapter sans the card itself. Power might be an issue, not sure if USB is going to guarantee sufficient power for everything that is physically or logically compatible, ex. the high tier NVMe drives.

    • Chrispy_
    • 3 years ago

    As cool as these things are, I still struggle to see the point in having an SSD that expensive in your bag/pocket; If you need that much space you are [i<]by definition[/i<] working with mass storage and large files. The superior IOPS of an SSD are likely wasted. The 0.01% who run an OS over USB might care about this, but for the rest of us the ~100MB/s of a boring 2.5" USB3 hard drive is probably enough. Sure, it'd be nicer to only wait 20 seconds for my copy than a whole minute, but are those 40 seconds really worth [i<]$749[/i<]? Okay, subtract $69 for the mechanical you already own, but that still leaves an awful lot of loose change, and there's a good chance that the source you're copying from isn't SSD either :\

      • RAGEPRO
      • 3 years ago

      Not necessarily. Game development often involves working with thousands upon thousands of small, sub-10MB files, for example, and having the ability to filter through and load them quickly is very useful.

      Of course, I’m not really sure who would be doing that with a -portable- device, but there at least ARE applications for very large SSDs.
      [quote<]If you need that much space you are by definition working with mass storage and large files. The superior IOPS of an SSD are likely wasted.[/quote<]

      • localhostrulez
      • 3 years ago

      Eh, I’m not real keen on carrying around a spinning drive for durability/drop reasons (just one of the reasons my laptop is SSD only, even though it supports mSATA/2.5″ HDD). I could see using an external SSD if you need to transfer between machines, but don’t need gobs of space.

        • Chrispy_
        • 3 years ago

        Good point about the shock tolerance, but it’s 11x more expensive than a mechanical and those are really pretty robust as long as they’re not spinning when they’re knocked or dropped.

        There’s also the huge premium you’re paying for the 2TB capacity. For $250 you can pick up a 1TB ssd and still have change to buy yourself a USB3 2.5″ drive box.

      • hubick
      • 3 years ago

      I bought a 1TB T1 to take on a longer vacation with me for transferring photo/video from my camera to.

      The bangs and bumps of travel is not amenable to relying on a single mechanical drive to store a copy of all the memories for an entire trip on. And, no, I’d rather not lug around a RAID array of 2.5″ mechanical drives in my carry-on.

      • Brainsan
      • 3 years ago

      For me it’s a great backup device. I deal with a load of computers and some of them are not amenable to network backups. So having a huge amount of shockproof storage in my pocket is very helpful.

    • nico1982
    • 3 years ago

    The lack of an embedded cable nullifies the small factor advantage over a standard 2,5″ box. They should really add one to the endcap, so you can easily replace it if needed.

    • UberGerbil
    • 3 years ago

    Wasn’t expecting a storage review to read over the weekend. Thanks!

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