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.
IOMeter — Sequential and random performance
IOMeter fuels much of our latest storage test suite, including our sequential and random I/O tests. These tests are run across the full capacity of the drive at two queue depths. The QD1 tests simulate a single thread, while the QD4 results emulate a more demanding desktop workload. For perspective, 87% of the requests in our old DriveBench 2.0 trace of real-world desktop activity have a queue depth of four or less. Clicking the buttons below the graphs switches between results charted at the different queue depths. Our sequential tests use a relatively large 128-KB block size.
The Evlvr looks astonishingly fast across the board, but remember that the Portable SSD X5 specifically didn’t like our sequential IOMeter tests. Setting the delta between the X5 and Evlvr aside, the Patriot drive beats the USB external crowd handily, except for an uninspired showing at QD1 for reads. Let’s move on to random response times.
Read response times are ordinary, but the Evlvr’s write response times are as snappy as those of the Portable SSD X5.
Patriot’s first Thunderbolt 3 drive looks great so far. It excelled in our IOMeter synthetics, but the true test of any external drive is its real-world file transfer speeds. We have just the thing for that.
TR RoboBench — Real-world transfers
RoboBench trades synthetic tests with random data for 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||21.4 MB||9.58 GB||0.8%|
|Work||84,652||48.0 KB||3.87 GB||59%|
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.
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 we run in other SSD reviews. The average file size is measured in kilobytes rather than megabytes, and the files are mostly compressible.
Let’s take a look at the media set first. The buttons switch between read, write, and copy results.
Our media results line up neatly with our expectations. The Evlvr’s NVMe-over-PCIe speeds are much faster than the those of the USB drives saddled with SATA, but they’re still quite a bit slower than what the Portable SSD X5 and its fully-fledged PCIe x4 internal interface are capable of. The gains over the lesser drives are most pronounced in the read tests, but the near-70% write speed increase from the Patriot is nothing to sneeze at, either.
The work set should narrow the differences between all the drives, but as we discussed at length last time around, is probably not the natural use case for a TB3 device like this.
The Evlvr’s 1T read speeds lose to its cheaper USB competitors, but it just about doubles the write speeds of those drives.
An NVMe drive is an NVMe drive, even if it’s throttled to only two lanes of PCIe 3.0 connectivity instead of four. Patriot’s Evlvr makes good on its promise to serve your files up far faster than USB drives can manage. The next page covers our test methods, but feel free to skip to the page after for our concluding remarks.
Test notes and methods
Here are the essential details for all the drives we tested:
|Adata SE730H External SSD 512GB||USB 3.1 Gen 2||Silicon Motion SM2258||Micron 3D TLC|
|Intel X25-M G2 160GB||SATA 3Gbps||Intel PC29AS21BA0||34-nm Intel MLC|
|Patriot Evlvr 1TB||Thunderbolt 3||Phison PS5008-E8||64-layer Toshiba TLC|
|Samsung Portable SSD T5 1TB||USB 3.1 Gen 2||Samsung MGX||64-layer Samsung TLC|
|Samsung Portable SSD X5 1TB||Thunderbolt 3||Samsung Phoenix||64-layer Samsung TLC|
|SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD 1TB||USB 3.1 Gen 2||Marvell 88SS1074||64-layer SanDisk TLC|
The SATA SSDs were connected to the motherboard’s Z270 chipset. The portable SSDs were connected via the motherboard’s USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port.
We used the following system for testing:
|Processor||Intel Core i7-6700K|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte Aorus Z270X-Gaming 5|
|Memory size||16 GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 at 2133 MT/s|
|System drive||Corsair Force LS 240GB with S8FM07.9 firmware|
|Power supply||Rosewill Fortress 550 W|
|Operating system||Windows 10 x64 1803|
Thanks to Gigabyte for providing the system’s motherboard, to Intel for the CPU, to Corsair for the memory and system drive, and to Rosewill for the PSU. And thanks to the drive makers for supplying the rest of the SSDs.
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 4.0 GHz. 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 1920×1200 at 60 Hz. 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.
The Evlvr couldn’t keep up with the Samsung X5’s superior speeds, but we didn’t expect it to. At the same time, it offered concrete gains over every USB 3.1 Gen 2 portable we’ve tested. It’s a shoo-in for second place. We distill an overall performance rating using an older SATA SSD as a baseline. To compare each drive, we then take the geometric mean of a basket of results from our test suite.
Second best is by no means a bad thing, especially if the step up to the champ is a towering one. In this case, we’re talking about a difference of a few hundred dollars between second and first place. To elucidate the matter, let’s take a look at our price-per-performance scatter plot. In the graph below, the most compelling position is toward the upper left corner, where the price per gigabyte is low and performance is high.
Prices are down all across the board for portable storage, except for those of the Portable SSD X5 series. I’ve thought it’s been a good time to buy a portable SSD for a while now, and stickers keep getting slashed further. Prices for our USB 3.1 Gen 2 trio are down to the low-20-cents-per-gig range. If we go with its $430 price tag at Amazon, the Evlvr 1 TB comes out to $0.46 per gigabyte, and it offers a whole lot more performance for the extra scratch it asks over USB external drives. In sequential workloads, it’s more than twice as fast for reads and about 50% faster than the USB competition for writes.
The most glaring issue with the Evlvr is the same as with Samsung’s Portable SSD X5. The drive has no USB fallback mode, and that means its use cases are limited and its target market is narrow. TB3-equipped machines are certainly becoming more common, but having a single older machine in your regular workflow will render the Evlvr useless. In the case of the Portable SSD X5, we were also concerned with the possibility of the drive outstripping the peak speeds of host devices’ internal storage. That should be less of a problem for the Evlvr, since its two-lane PCIe 3.0 guts should be slower than most NVMe internal SSDs.
At the end of the day, it’s good to see the TB3 portable SSD market broadening. The X5 may be great for those with the most demanding portable storage needs around, but the Evlvr is more of an everyman’s TB3 drive. If you’ve got a thirst for speed and a bevy of TB3 devices to schlep data between, Patriot’s Evlvr won’t keep you waiting anywhere near as long as USB externals, and that’s good enough for us to call it TR Recommended.