Review: Samsung’s external SSD

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Samsung's T1 SSD

Credit: Samsung

Samsung this week released its first external drive, a svelte little flash device that has up to 1TB of capacity and blazing fast speeds of up to 450 MBps.

When Samsung first sent me an invitation to review it's new T1 SSD, I declined. After all, I thought, it's just another external solid-state drive (SSD) among a sea of drives out there. Then they told me the drive weighed one ounce, and I changed my tune.

If you're going to make a portable drive, you either want it rugged or small and light.

The T1 SSD comes in a packaging reminiscent of an iPhone 5 or 6: a bright white, thick cardboard box that screams quality product inside. The SSD rests snuggly inside a form-fitting cardboard holder, and even the tiny 5-in. long USB 3.0 cable it comes with slips into a fitted trough.

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Samsung's new T1 external SSD

Once out of the box, set up is fast and easy. After you plug it into your computer, the disk utility automatically sends you pop-up messages to take you through the steps of naming the disk and setting up your password. Before agreeing to use a password, the disk first warns you that if you forget it, there's no way to recover it and that by using the password reset feature, you will permanently erase all data on the drive.

Well, that's one way to ensure data security.

The data is protected with the AES 256-bit encryption algorithm.

Known for internal SSDs based on SATA or PCIe connection standards, Samsung's first external SSD only uses the USB 3.0 specification. Being a Mac user, I would have liked to have seen a Thunderbolt port on it as well, or perhaps Samsung could have waited to include a USB Type-C connector (10 Gbps).

Benchmark speed tests

That notwithstanding, I do love USB 3.0. At 5 Gbps, it's 10 times faster than USB 2.0 (up to 480 Mbps). So uploading a 2 GB .MP4 movie onto the drive took just 6 seconds.

I then copied and pasted a file folder with 10 GB of data made up of 1,523 files of various kinds, from photos and videos, to PowerPoint decks and Word documents. The transfer took just 30 seconds.

Next, I conducted benchmark tests of the Samsung T1 SSD using Blackmagic Disk Speed Test software for Macs. I connected the external SSD to an Apple MacBook Pro running OS X Mountain Lion (v. 10.8.4) with 8 GB of RAM and a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor.

The results were pretty stunning compared to other external drives I've tested. The benchmark software revealed a maximum read speed of 432MBps and write speeds of up to 393MBps.

The test results weren't far off Samsung's performance claims. Samsung's specs state the T1 SSD has a sequential read speed of 450MBps, and a random read speed of up to 8,000 IOPS (input/output per second) and random write speeds of 21,000 IOPS.

One of my favorite external back drives is the LaCie Rugged USB3 Thunderbolt SSD. It's a full 2.5-in. form factor SSD, surrounded by a rubber casing. I've always believed it had some of the fastest performance numbers in the industry -- until now.

LaCie's own specs peg the Rugged USB3 Thunderbolt SSD as supporting data transfer speeds of up to 385MBps using either the Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 connection, so Samsung's T1 really blows it away. Actually, my Blackmagic benchmark tests of the SSD showed its write speeds topped out at 353MBps and the read speeds at 415 MBps.

Samsung credits its write speeds, which are better than some internal SATA SSDs, to its TurboWrite feature. TurboWrite, which the company first unveiled in 2013 in its 840 EVO internal SSD, creates a high-performance write buffer to which new data is first written.

The host system writes data to the drive's high-performance buffer at accelerated speeds and then during the idle periods, the data is moved from the buffer to the primary storage region of the SSD. In short, the TurboWrite feature is meant to simulate the performance of a single-level cell (SLC) NAND flash in multi-level cell (MLC) NAND that the T1 SSD uses.

On a 500 GB drive, Samsung allocated 6 GB of space for its accelerated write buffer; on a 1TB drive, it allocates twice that.

And, speaking of MLC flash, Samsung's T1 uses 3D V-NAND flash memory, which increases capacity density by stacking 32 cell layers vertically. By stacking NAND cells vertically, Samsung avoids having to further shrink the NAND process, which necessitates additional error correction software and slows the performance of the device.

Besides the speed of this little solid-state drive, its diminutive size fits easily into a shirt pocket. The T1 is just under three inches long by a bit over two inches wide and about one-third of an inch high (71mm x 9.2mm x 53.2 mm).

Samsung's 250GB external SSD is priced at $179.99, a 500GB drive is $299.99, and a 1TB drive is $599.99.

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