Top 7 Best External SSDs of 2020

Patience is a virtue when transferring data to a mechanical external hard drive. That’s where external SSD drives come in. They enable you to transfer data at a much faster speed and are also perfect to actively work on. We test out the latest SSD’s and decide which one is the best.

Last year, there was a shortage of memory chips and both SSDs and work access memory were extremely expensive. By now, prices have halved, so there’s no better time to replace your slow external hard drive for a faster SSD. While they’re more expensive per gigabyte, it becomes a non-issue when you can buy an SSD the size of 500 GB for a hundred bucks.

Solid-state drives are an improvement over mechanical drives in every way. They are able to transfer enormous amounts of data at a faster pace, which makes them ideal for professionals that work with large files – for instance, photo or video editors – or anyone who doesn’t feel like waiting for minutes or even hours to transfer data.

Perhaps even more important is that they handle large amounts of small files better. In ideal circumstances, a typical mechanical USB 3.1-drive will write over 100 to 130 MB per second, but when you’re doing a full back-up with lots of small files, the speed might decrease to 10 MB per second. In both situations, an external SSD is faster.

An SSD is also more compact, weighs less, and is more resistant to vibrations or impact. An SSD has a far smaller chance to break down compared to a mechanical drive, although you never should save all your data on just one drive. Everything will break eventually.

The question isn’t if you should purchase an external SSD, but which one you should choose. We’ve tested the best current SSDs on the market, but next to our test protocols there are a few things to keep in mind. Just one drive is waterproof, and not all drives support encryption on a hardware level – important for when you’re carrying sensitive data. All drives do support encryption on a software level, but that can be cumbersome and takes a hit on the performance.

For making the best choice, we’d advise you to read all the test results to inform yourself about the specific pros and cons of each SSD. Certain unique features can be determinative of your purchase.

More of a console gamer? Check out our Best Extern Hard Drives For PS4

WD My Passport SSD

Pros:

  • Quite the looker and very lightweight
  • Encryption on a hardware basis

Cons:

  • The competition is faster
  • Doesn’t do enough to set itself apart

My Passport SSD is available in different versions with various capacities, from 250 GB to 2 TB. The neatly designed product is compact and weighs less than 1,4 ounces. It comes with a USB-C cable with an adapter from USB-C to USB-A to connect it with a classic USB-port. When connected, the SSD has WD software, which enables you to use built-in hardware encryption. This SSD works on both PC and Mac.

On its own, the WD My Passport SSD functions just fine as far as speed goes. But compared to the competition, it lags behind the other available options on the market, while its biggest pros are also not exclusive to the drive. Especially the speed of the SSD when using it as an active drive is disappointing. Compared to qualities found elsewhere, the pretty looks or the small advantage in weight aren’t enough to consider the WD My Passport SSD as an option.

SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD

Pros:

  • Great performance
  • Good balance between price and quality
  • Splash-proof

Cons:

  • There are faster options available for active work drives

SanDisk has been a part of WD for a while now and that is obvious when placing the packaging and cables of both SSDs next to each other. They clearly come from the same factories. Just like the WD, the SanDisk works on both PC and Mac and is very light. Thankfully, that’s where the comparisons end, as the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD has much better performance and differentiates itself well enough from the competition. For one, it’s the only SSD that is resistant to rain and spilled liquids.

The Extreme Portable SSD also has encryption. While its one security step less than most other SSDs, it is still practically uncrackable. The 500 GB version that costs around $100 is the most interesting choice, as it’s a bit cheaper than comparable models from Samsung and Lacie. The versions that come with 1 and 2 TB are a bit more expensive. Thanks to the all-round excellent performance, this is one of the best SSDs available right now.

HyperX Savage Exo Portable SSD

Pros:

  • Attractive design
  • Great performance as an active drive

Cons:

  • Writing speed lags behind
  • More expensive than competitors

HyperX is mostly known for its gaming accessories, so it’s no surprise its external SSD focusses on gaming. The Savage Exo Portable SSD is being marketed as the ideal SSD to increase the storage capacity of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Very handy indeed, but also mostly a marketing term, as other SSDs worked just fine on our PS4.

While we are impressed by the oblong design and the metal finish, the performance doesn’t stand out in a positive way. The writing performance with our datasets frequently remained under the 200 MB per second, lagging behind other SSDs. HyperX doesn’t justify this with a lower price or unique features. The performance as an active drive is fine, but there are better options for a lower price. When compared to the competition, the Savage Exo Portable SSD doesn’t do justice to its impressive name.

Minix Neo Storage

Pros:

  • Hybrid Dongle
  • Good reading and writing speeds

Cons:

  • USB-C port only functions as a charger
  • Below average performance as an active drive
  • Only comes in a maximum size of 240 GB

The Minix Neo Storage comes with a twist: it’s both an external SSD and a USB Dongle. Just like other SSDs, it fits in your USB-C port and offers extra storage, but you also get two extra HDMI ports, two USB-A ports, and one extra USB-C port. The USB-C port is meant to power up other devices and the HDMI-ports only work on a MacBook, but it’s still an obvious advantage.

An advantage that also has its drawbacks, however. The 240 GB version of the Minix Neo Storage is just as expensive as the SanDisk of 500 GB. It also has a shorter, fixed cable. Factoring in defective cables, we’d have preferred a replaceable one. The performance also leaves something to be desired. Its performance as an active drive isn’t as good as various other SSDs, but the reading and writing speeds of both large files and mixed datasets aren’t bad in any sense of the word.

The Minix Neo Storage isn’t the best or cheapest SSD. But if you’re fine with 120 or 240 GB and ae also in the market for an external USB-C Dongle with HDMI and USB-A ports, this is a unique and satisfying option. In that case, the Neo Storage is the cheaper and more practical option.

Lacie Portable SSD

Pros:

  • Great reading and writing speeds
  • Solid construction
  • Data recovery is part of the warranty

Cons:

  • Performance as an active drive isn’t as good
  • Right now it’s very expensive

The Lacie Portable SSD is coated in steel, which adds a bit to the weight and gives the drive a secured feeling. When looking at the reading and writing speeds, this drive is one of the fastest in our test. Only the much more expensive Samsung X5 is faster in both datasets. As far as using the drive for active working goes, there are faster options out there.

The Lacie is relatively expensive and lacks encryption on a hardware level, which is why this SSD isn’t the winner in this comparison. The increase in price can be explained by the data recovery service from Seagate that is part of the warranty. If the drive breaks in the first three years, Seagate tries to recover your data and you receive a new SSD as well at no additional charge. Especially the data recovery service is a great deal: normally, it would cost you hundreds of dollars.

Our experience with hundreds of SSDS, however, dictates that the chance of a drive breaking in the first three years is extremely small. Also, data recovery is never guaranteed, so you need to make back-ups anyway. To justify the higher price, you have to place a great deal of value on these extra options. If and when the price of this SSD drive comes down, it’s the one to get.

Samsung T5

Pros:

  • Great performance as active drive
  • All-round performance is excellent
  • Competitive prices

Cons:

  • Maximum speeds are higher elsewhere

The Samsung T5 combines low weight and a posh, compact aluminum construction with encryption on a hardware level and a great price. The performance on all levels is also great, which creates an incredible offer. It also has the best all-round performance when used for active work, making it the best SSD in that scenario.

When using the SSD to frequently transfer data, there are better options out there, especially the SanDisk, which has comparable writing and reading speeds with bigger datasets and is splash-proof. As far as prices go, they are in the same range. The Samsung T5 is an excellent purchase any way you look at it.

Samsung X5

Pros:

  • Extremely high reading and writing performance
  • Great for live image and movie editing

Cons:

  • Very expensive per gigabyte
  • In extreme situations, there can be thermal throttling

It might seem the difference is just one character, but the Samsung X5 is very different from the T5. The X5 isn’t a USB drive, but a Thunderbolt 3 drive. Both use USB-C ports, but only laptops and Macbooks from the higher segments have a Thunderbolt chip to make use of this SSD.

The advantage of Thunderbolt is that the SSD gets instant access to the PCI-express lanes of the system. This results in higher speeds and lower latency compared to a USB drive. The build-in nvme-SSD in the X5 is almost as fast as an internal nvme-SSD inside of your computer. More importantly, the performance as an active drive is comparable with that of a fast internal SSD. This makes the X5 ideal for photo and video editing.

The X5 has 5.08 ounces of cooling, making the SSD a bit bigger than the competition. Even with the cooling, the SSD can get so hot that it activates the thermal throttling security. Only when we put the SSD on writing 600 GB of mixed files in a room temperature of 73.4 degrees Fahrenheit, did the performance drop. This isn’t a problem for regular users unless they frequently overwrite more than half of the SSD. Even when using the SSD for live video editing, it isn’t a problem.

The biggest con is its price: you pay double the amount of an external USB SSD per gigabyte. The X5 is meant for demanding professionals who are willing to spend extra for extreme performance.

Conclusion

The Samsung X5 is without a doubt the fastest external SSD, but that also comes with a hefty price tag. When also in the market for a USB-C Dongle, the Minix Neo Storage is the perfect combination, as long as you don’t need more than 240 GB. Most folks will want a regular external USB-SSD with both good performance and a competitive price. For those, the Samsung T5 and SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD are the best choices. Depending on their current prices, choosing one of those is your best bet.

The SanDisk is especially interesting as it can withstand fluid spills and rain, and the Samsung for its excellent performance as a working drive. They both are viable options, but keep an eye out for possible price reductions for competitors like Lacie.

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