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Samsung's Portable SSD T5 reviewed

64 layers on the run

The density wars are in full swing between the major flash players, and the name of the game is 64-layer 3D NAND. We recently experienced Toshiba's 64-layer BiCS TLC firsthand in the company's excellent XG5 SSD. IMFT's 64-layer stuff is already out on the market in the Intel 545s, but we've yet to spend any hands-on time with it. Samsung's 64-layer V-NAND has been on our radar for just about a year now, but the company has really been talking up a storm about the technology in the last couple of months.

Well, brace yourselves: we've made it to the eye of the storm. Today, Samsung officially unveils the first client drive with 64-layer V-NAND inside: the Portable SSD T5. The company was kind enough to send us 500GB and 1TB versions of its latest to run through the wringer.

The T5 closely follows in the footsteps of its forebear, the Portable SSD T3. It retains the same compact size and feathery weight, ringing in at 3 x 2.3" x 0.4" and 51 grams. The housing construction has changed slightly in this version, though. The T5 sheds the T3's two-piece metal and plastic body for an all-aluminum unibody. The 250GB and 500GB versions are finished in, ahem, "Alluring Blue," while the 1TB and 2TB models are clad in a simpler "Deep Black."

The big news, of course, is the move from 48-layer TLC V-NAND to the 64-layer stuff. Samsung reckons that the newfound speeds engendered by that transition require outfitting the T5 with a USB 3.1 Gen 2 interface instead of Gen 1. The company claims the T5 can hit peak speeds of 540 MB/s, which should theoretically fit within the 5 Gb/s maximum that USB 3.1 Gen 1 (or USB 3.0, if you prefer) affords. In reality, encoding overhead can be a buzzkill for the older standard. More on that later.

The 500GB drive drew the short straw, so it had to endure being stripped down to its skivvies. The 64-layer TLC V-NAND is distributed across only two packages on the same side of the PCB as the controller. That controller appears to be a variant of the same MGX chip found inside the T3. In a rare but sensible deviation from complete vertical integration, Samsung seems to be passing USB controller duties off to an ASMedia mSATA-to-USB bridge controller.

The T5 supports AES 256-bit hardware encryption, accessible via Samsung's Portable SSD software. As it did with the T3 before, the software provides easy interfaces for encrypting, decrypting, and updating the drive's firmware. The software is available for PC, Mac, and Android. Unlike the T3, the T5 includes a USB Type-C to Type-C cable in addition to the vanilla Type-C to Type-A cable, so consuming your encrypted files on-the-go should be dead simple. At the time of this writing, however, the Android app for T5 was not available for experimentation.

Now let's get down to testing and and bring RoboBench to the stage.