Samsung Portable SSD T1 1TB portable SSD review

Samsung Portable SSD T1 1TB

As maker of NAND flash chips, ARM controllers and ultimately some of the best solid-state drives in the business, Samsung is in a privileged position to join the ranks of those brands already making external flash drive. See our group test: What's the best SSD?

The Samsung Portable SSD T1 is its first product in this emerging category – a portable storage drive little bigger than the mSATA card inside, and now with capacity to rival traditional laptop hard disks.

This example is leveraging the Korean company's breakthrough in 3D Vertical NAND (or V-NAND for short), with the T1's internal storage based on a Samsung 850 EVO mSATA SSD. The T1 is offered in three capacities of 250, 500 and 1000 GB. We tested the latter 1 TB version.

Samsung Portable SSD T1 1TB: Build and design

Many consumer gadget fans extol and elevate the virtue of being light in weight and possessing vanishingly small dimensions. And by that measure the Samsung T1 is a winner, measuring just 71 by 53 mm, and 9.5 mm thick. Compare that to one of the mSATA devices inside, which measure around 51 x 30, and you'll see there's not much space for the supporting electronics that translate between the data languages of SATA and USB.

It's incredibly light too at just 26 g. Adding its stubby little flat-ribbon USB 3.0 cable brings the net weight up to 38 g, making a data dongle so light it can hang in the air off any USB port – the drive being supported in mid-air thanks its flimsy construction and the stiff cable.

It's a matter of taste, but by our reckoning it's actually far too light, feeling too chintzy for something that will set you back nigh-on £500 for the 1 TB model.

Samsung's all-plastic christmas cracker construction would also benefit from some metal casework for purely practical heatsinking purposes. In our experience these little SATA SSDs can get very hot even under light loads, and the insubstantial plastic shell only serves to insulate the chips and keep all that heat bottled up inside.

Samsung's workaround to prevent meltdown is to rely on the drive's built-in thermal management algorithm to throttle back performance once it gets warm. (See all storage reviews.)

Samsung Portable SSD T1 1TB: Setup

For some inexplicable reason – and Samsung has stonewalled our questions on the matter – the T1 cannot be used out of the box, until you've installed a software utility on your computer from a tiny partition on the drive, which then unlocks the full capacity.

Available for Windows and OS X, the software demands on the Mac side that you install an additional kernel extension to complete the unlock stage. This SCSI ATA Translation (SAT) SMART extension, despite the name, does not ultimately provide any readable SMART data for Samsung's software. It really does look like an unnecessary hoop you must jump through, and an annoying extra kext left widowed in the computer's filesystem.

If you did want to evict it, you'll find its two components at /System/Library/Extensions/SATSMARTDriver.kext and /System/Library/Extension/SATSMARTLib.plugin. But once deleted you'll need to reinstall again if you wish to switch encryption on or off.

The Samsung Portable SSD.app software provides but one function, to access the drive's AES 256 encryption. Once the T1 drive has been setup by the user on either a Windows PC or Mac it does not require any proprietary software to access the data; unless you opted to switch on the password protection of course. See also: 13 best portable hard drives 2015 UK.

Samsung Portable SSD T1 1TB: Performance

We tested the Portable SSD T1 on Windows and Mac platforms to gauge its overall performance.

It's important to know that the optimum speed is only available when used with Mac OS X, or Windows 8 or above. The reason is the requirement for a UASP driver on the host OS, which is included as standard on the latter two platforms.

Users of Windows 7 or earlier – which constitutes around three-quarters of the world's computers of every flavour – will find the Samsung Portable SSD T1 is not fully supported. You can use the drive, but will only see a fraction of the speed for which you're paying so much money.

At heart is the issue of USB transfer mode, which directly impacts final performance. The standard get-you-by protocol for USB storage is Bulk Only Transport (BOT), but to get something closer to the native speed of the SSD inside you'll need to use USB Attached SCSCI Protocol (UASP).

Tested with Windows 8.1, we measured sequential reads at 425 MB/s and sequential writes at 387 MB/s (CrystalDiskMark 3.0), using a high-performance gaming laptop equipped with 2.5 GHz Intel Core i7-4870HQ.

Small file transfers were very fast, with 4 kB random read/write speeds of 24.9 and 41.0 MB/s. Ratcheted up to a queue depth of 32, the T1 could operate at 138 and 126 MB/s respectively for random reads and writes.

Samsung Portable SSD T1 1TB

The latter figures can be reinterpreted into good IOPS peformance, by the standard of external USB storage anyway, of 35 k and 32 k IOPS for 4 kB random reads and writes.

Turning to Windows 7, without the benefit of UASP mode, the same benchmark showed sequential reads at just 278 MB/s and sequential writes at 279 MB/s. That suggests you'll only get around 65 percent of the available performance when used with Windows 7.

Small file transfers in Windows 7 also showed that without UASP you don't get the benefit of multiple data threads through native command queueing (NCQ).

Using CDM's QD=32 test, the drive returned figures of just 28.3 MB/s random reads and 77.0 random writes. Curiously one metric showed an improvement when tested with Windows 7, namely single-threaded 4 kB random writes at 67.1 MB/s. When tested in Windows 8 the drive recorded 40.8 MB/s here.

On the Apple Mac platform, OS X now has the necessary driver (IOUSBAttachedSCSI.kext), included since OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion in 2012. You should have full speed supported on any 2012 or later Mac with USB 3.0 ports.

Using QuickBench, we saw maximum sequential transfers of 438 MB/s (reads) and 390 MB/s (writes). Turning to smaller file speeds, 4 kB reads and writes measured 20.1 and 30.0 MB/s respectively. And the average across incrementally larger sizes from 4 kB to 1024 kB was 197 MB/s for random reads, and 209 MB/s for random writes. These are the fastest results we've measured for an external flash drive. See also: 13 best portable hard drives 2015 UK.

Samsung Portable SSD T1 1TB: Specs

  • 1 TB portable flash drive
  • USB 3.0 with UASP
  • available in 250, 500, 1000 GB capacities
  • 110 mm Micro-USB 3.0 cable
  • 71 x 53 x 9.5 mm
  • 26 g (38 g with cable)
  • 1 TB portable flash drive
  • USB 3.0 with UASP
  • available in 250, 500, 1000 GB capacities
  • 110 mm Micro-USB 3.0 cable
  • 71 x 53 x 9.5 mm
  • 26 g (38 g with cable)

OUR VERDICT

The Samsung Portable SSD T1 1 TB is a fast and highly compact flash drive well suited to anyone that needs speedy storage without the fragility, noise and bulk of traditional disk-based portable drives. It's overall value is less assured while there's a hefty premium to pay for this mSATA USB 3.0 drive, since a comparable 840 EVO and USB 3.0 enclosure can be assembled for around £350. Build quality is poor for the money, and forcing users to install software just to use the drive is tiresome. This product majors on good speed, and lightness to a fault.

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