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Patriot's Evlvr 1-TB external SSD reviewed

A Thunderbolt 3 SSD for you and me

When you hear the name Patriot Memory, your first thought may be of well, memory. The company has more tricks up its sleeves than just RAM, though. Last year, we got Patriot's first NVMe SSD into our labs, and we loved it. The Hellfire was a no-frills M.2 gumstick whose price and pep earned it our hearty endorsement.

This year, Patriot's moved on to another challenge—stuffing NVMe sticks into pocketable cases to turn them into portable SSDs. Meet Patriot's Thunderbolt 3-equipped Evlvr 1 TB.  It's a tiny little sliver of a device, at 4" x 1.8" x 0.4" (101.6 x 45.7 x 10.2 mm) and only 3.5 ounces (99.2 g). It's not much smaller than Samsung's similarly-TB3-powered Portable SSD X5, but it's quite a bit lighter.

The company's naming sense has always been colorful. Its last solid-state portable was called the "Supersonic Phoenix." The new guy's name is supposed to be pronounced "evolver." Patriot bills the drive as "a major evolution in SSD technology." The technology evolution seems to boil down to the drive's Thunderbolt 3 interface. The TB3 SSD market is a fairly young one, so we can forgive Patriot's hyperbole here. Much like the TB3 port of the Samsung X5 we tested recently, though, the Evlvr's USB Type-C port will only function when mated to a bona fide TB3 host—not a USB port. That makes the Evlvr's evolution an incomplete one.

Patriot encases the Evlvr 1 TB in a bead-blasted aluminum shell that will be immediately familiar to owners of Apple devices. The drive's light weight doesn't inspire a lot of confidence, but the shell feels quite stiff when squeezed in any orientation. That said, the Evlvr's packaging somehow seemed to wear some indelible lines into its outer shell. Even high-purity isopropyl alcohol didn't remove those marks, suggesting mechanical wear to the finish. Those lines might be unique to our sample, but as you'll soon see, we'd expect more attention to detail in a product this expensive.

We couldn't take the Evlvr apart, since Patriot wanted its baby back intact after this review. We do know the drive inside is powered by Phison's E8 controller. You might think the E8 is a straightforward upgrade over the E7 chip that powered the Hellfire, but think again. This controller is limited to two lanes of PCIe 3.0 bandwidth. The other half of the Evlvr equation is Toshiba's battle-tested 64-layer BiCS 3D TLC NAND chips. These days, that flash seems to be hiding around every corner. Intel's JHL6340 Alpine Ridge controller is in charge of Thunderbolt-wrangling. It's distinct from yet functionally identical to the DSL6340 part inside the X5.

Since the Evlvr's heart is a PCIe 3.0 x2 SSD, it won't be able to match the X5's dizzying speeds. But there are all kinds of ways to compete. Samsung's suggested price for the X5 1TB is an exorbitant $700, and it appears that online retailers are holding to that figure. Patriot expects a more attainable $500 for the Evlvr 1 TB at its own online store, while Newegg and Amazon are only charging $435 and $430, respectively. The $270 difference for the Samsung drive might be justified by the X5's higher performance potential, three-year warranty, and encryption-acceleration capabilities. Patriot offers only a two-year warranty, and the Evlvr doesn't support hardware encryption acceleration.

While the Evlvr is much cheaper than Samsung's TB3 drive, it's still a whole lot more expensive than the myriad USB 3.1 Gen 2 drives available. Time to run the Evlvr through our benchmark gauntlet to see whether it's worth its price.