Bus-powered Solid state USB 3.0 Storage usually comes in two categories: the 2.5″ Laptop form factor drives and thumb drives. The 2.5″ SSDs usually aren’t all that portable and even the fastest thumb drives aren’t all that fast. That paradigm is now changing. I’ve run a USB 3.0 SSD from VisionTek that isn’t that much larger than a thumb drive but has speeds close to a full SSD through its paces. The results make it one to watch.
A full SSD In Your Pocket
When OS X Yosemite entered public beta, I was very interested in seeing what the new OS could do. What I was not interested in was risking my MacBook Pro to an everyday OS that may or may not work right. I bought a 32GB USB 3.0 Thumb drive, one of the fastest on the market to run the OS. It turns out that a super quick thumb drive isn’t so fast in the scheme of things. The performance bottleneck made it practically unusable. On the other hand, most bus-powered drives have been based on the form factors of old mechanical hard drives. They’ll fit in your laptop bag, but still aren’t exactly portable. What’s where drives like this VisionTek come in offering True SSD performance while easily fitting into your pocket. I don’t say this much, but it lives up to the hype.
VisionTek offers the drive in two sizes: 120GB and 240GB. That is pretty comparable to the capacities of the SSDs in MacBook Airs, Pro Retinas, and most SSD-equipped PCs. It’s quite a bit of storage to fit comfortably in your jeans. While I’ll get into Benchmarks later, it’s SSD fast. The secret to its success is an LSI SandForce 2281 controller chip. This is the same kind of chip that’s used in the not so pocketable SSDs. The reason that it performs like an SSD drive is because it IS an SSD drive. The components just got small enough for this to exist.
Let’s talk about how you can use this.
Real World Use Cases
You can use this drive for anything you’d use any other 120GB and 240GB SSD. However, their small physical size makes them especially ideal for two tasks: video and running an operating system. For video, it is perfect for moving and storing large amounts of data. You can store multiple SSDs in your bag for minimal room.
Where this SSD also shines is use as a computer on a stick. I was able to load a full install of OS X Yosemite on the drive. Responsiveness wasn’t that different from my Mac’s internal SSD. Keep in mind, that it would barely run on a thumb drive that isn’t much smaller than the VisionTek. The possibilities for this are very interesting. The drive can be used as a backup to your primary SSD installation, an alternative OS, or it can be the location of your home folder. Other computers can be used as dumb terminals, booting from the flash drive. On the Mac, it can also be used for BootCamp though with the way the BootCamp install process works, this can involve many steps and the possible use of a Windows PC.
Bottom line, this drive is fast enough to do anything a traditional SSD can do. Let’s talk how fast.
You probably want something a little more quantifiable than my world on the Benchmarks. The two I’m going to use are Xbench and Blackmagic Disk Speedtest. These will change a bit from test to test, so consider them ballpark figures. In general, the USB 3.0 Pocket SSD was about half as fast as the MacBook’s internal SSD, but considerably faster than a legacy USB 2.0 mechanical drive or flash drive. Let’s get into the numbers. All benchmarks were obtained on a 2012 MacBook Pro Retina running OS X 10.10.2 Yosemite.
Xbench is pretty old at this point and hasn’t changed much in years. That said, it gives you the raw data on hard drive speeds very effectively. Let’s take a look at how the four drives performed.
In the end, the VisionTek was between 1/2 to 2/3rds as fast as the internal SSD. That’s honestly not entirely unexpected. The Internal drive is connected directly via SATA to the PCI-E bus. The VisionTek takes another step where the SATA bus on the Pocket Drive has to be translated to USB 3.0. The further away a drive is from the SATA bus, the higher the performance penalty. However, that doesn’t mean this is slow by any means. Compared to the 32GB Thumb Drive or Traditional USB 2.0 hard drive, the Pocket SSD is roughly 3-4 times faster than either one.
BlackMagic Disk Speed Test
Disk Speed Test is an app from professional video equipment maker BlackMagic. It tests the suitability of storage with video applications.
Compared to xBench, the internal SSD fared a bit better and the VisionTek a bit worse. Both the VisionTek and the thumb drive had read speeds far in excess of their write speeds while the internal SSD and mechanical hard drive both had write speeds relatively close to their read speeds. Honestly, this seems a little off to me. I wonder if there is an issue with USB 3.0 write speed in either the Disk Speed Test of Yosemite. That said, I can only report on what I see.
The VisionTek is generally where you’d expect it to be. About 60% of the speed of the internal drive. Once again, the internal and external SSDs were in a class all by themselves compared to legacy hard drive and thumb drive storage. I would recommend using your internal SSD for primary recording if using video, but this drive will offload files extremely fast.
Pricing and Availability
The 120GB model is $99 while the 240GB drive is $174.99. That’s similar to, if not a little cheaper than similar pocket SSDs on the market. However, it is going to be more expensive than full-size USB 3.0 SSDs. Compared to thumb drives, you can get a 128GB thumb drive for about $60, but the extra speed and utility of this drive is worth the $40 or so.
The VisionTek USB 3.0 Pocket SSD is a very good product. No, it won’t be as fast as your internal SSD but it’s still a phenomenally fast drive. Even a year ago, I couldn’t dream of this kind of performance from something that can fit in your pocket. That speed offers a lot of versatility for fast video offload or even running a full operating system. The ability to use a lighter bag or even no bag at all makes it attractive compared to full-size SSDs as well. Compared to what SSD prices have been in the not too recent past, $99 or $175 isn’t much of a price to pay. I would wholeheartedly recommend this product.