Samsung X5 Portable SSD review

Samsung X5 Portable SSD review

Last Updated on by Daniel Lawrence

Laptops with Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) are becoming the defacto standard for universal connectivity, with every major laptop vendor offering multiple models, mainly at the high-end of the market.

As the cost and availability of Thunderbolt’s core component, the Thunderbolt controller, drop, the peripherals necessary to make full use of the technology are gradually emerging. On the official Thunderbolt community website, you can find a comprehensive list of TB3 devices.

Samsung has released its first external SSD, the X5, combining one of its own 970 Evo NVMe SSDs with an Alpine Ridge Thunderbolt 3 to PCIe bridge.

The drive is available in 500GB (the model we review here), 1TB and 2TB models for $219 (AU$347, around £175), $399 (AU$630, around £319), and $695 (AU$1,100, around £555).

As the X5 was originally released back in September 2018, Samsung has since released additional generations of its hardware, including the Samsung Portable SSD T5, which is currently the top-ranked item in our guide to the best portable SSDs.

Design

samsung x5

This is not a Samsung T3 or Samsung T5 (and one wonders if a Samsung T7 is in the works). Designers and engineers at the Korean firm created what has been called a ‘bicycle lamp’ design. With a weight of 150g, it is triple the weight of the Samsung T5, and with dimensions of 116 x 60 x 18mm it is more portable than miniature.

The X5 features an oblong pebble-like shape, an internal heat sink, a protective guard, a metal body with a glossy finish, and a nonslip bottom mat, which is red in color.

Samsung explained the decision to choose metal for the chassis to our sister site, Anandtech. It is a portable device that must be durable against external impacts, lightweight, and disperse heat well.

Aluminum is heavier and less durable than steel and magnesium, Samsung said. Despite aluminum’s superior thermal conductivity, the company concluded that magnesium is the best metal to meet all three requirements: weight, durability and heat dissipation. There is no explanation as to why a pebble-like shape was selected – a design with minimal surface contact.

You get a 45cm Thunderbolt cable in the box, as well as a single USB Type-C port next to a white status LED. Despite the fact that it can withstand drops of up to 2 meters, this is a premium product. However, it is not IP68 rated, so be careful not to drop it in liquid.

BENCHMARKS

Based on our benchmark tests, the Samsung X5 Portable SSD performed well:

  • CrystalDiskMark: 3412MBps (read); 1884MBps (write)
  • Atto:  2452MBps (read, 256mb);  1925MBps (write, 256mb)
  • HD Tune Pro: 1587MBps (read); 0.031ms (access time)
  • AS SSD: 1561MBps (seq read); 1618MBps (seq write)

Usage and performance

samsung x5

The X5 is the fastest external storage device we have tested to date. Once it’s connected to your Thunderbolt host device, it’s simple to set up, a welcome security feature. With an exFAT format, the device has Samsung’s own portable SSD software that offers optional password protection, as well as AES 256-bit hardware data encryption (which means there will be no performance penalty for enabling encryption).

Using all four PCIe lanes, Samsung claims read speeds of up to 2.8 Gbps and write speeds of up to 2.3 Gbps (2.1 Gbps for the 500GB model). Even though it’s still far from Thunderbolt 3’s theoretical limit (40 Gbps or 5 Gbps) this is still plenty fast enough for transferring those pesky multi-Gigabyte files.

It took 83 seconds for a 100GB file to move from the host system to the drive on our test system (a Lenovo ThinkPad X1) – that is about 1.25 Gbps. Why is this? The X5 aims to maintain low temperatures by heavily throttling the transfer speed of the drive using Dynamic Thermal Guard (DTG) technology.

Such a drastic step is understandable given that high temperatures have a negative impact on SSD data retention.

Please note that the X5 is not compatible with traditional USB ports – it’s TB3 or nothing.

The competition

Despite the fact that the Patriot Evlvr was just released, its read and write speeds are much less impressive than the X5. Even so, 1.6GBps read and write speeds are still impressive, especially with suggested retail prices of $300 (around £230) for the 500GB model and $500 (around £385) for the 1TB drive.

With rated read/write speeds of 2.4GBps and 1.2GBps, Plugable Technologies has a Thunderbolt 3 SSD drive with 480GB capacity. With a price of $311 (around £240) from Amazon, this is a cheap alternative, but we don’t care for the Thunderbolt 3 cable.

Also, system vendors appear to have jumped on the TB3 bandwagon. The HP P800 1TB drive costs $452 (around £350) and has similar read/write speeds to the Plugable Technologies model we just mentioned. We consider the integrated TB3 cable as a disadvantage, but it does come with a three-year warranty.

Dell sells a 1TB SSD Thunderbolt 3 drive for $640 (roughly £590), so it costs more than HP’s. At the time of writing, Dell usually offers a number of coupons throughout the year, including one for 17% off.

Pros Cons
3-year warranty Not compact or waterproof
Exceptional performance DTG tech affects performance
Hardware encryption Expensive

Conclusions

If you plan to move content from Thunderbolt 3 devices to other TB3 hardware, the X5 is a godsend. Although it is expensive and the transfer speeds aren’t as high as one might expect, this drive is still exceptionally fast if you choose the right connector.

In marketing messages, Samsung made it clear that this is a ‘halo effect’ product, meaning it isn’t something destined for the mass market, since that audience has the T5 (and the T3) to choose from. As a result, the X5 will appeal to (and likely convince) those who are looking for the best performance possible regardless of price.