The Best External SSDs 2020 TESTED: OWC, Crucial, Samsung - Rolling Stone
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The Best External Solid State Drives to Backup Your Computer Quickly and Safely

Keep an extra copy of your most important information without relying on the cloud

Samsung T7 Touch

Amazon

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Cloud services like Dropbox have made it easier than ever to store your data in the cloud, which is incredibly convenient, but a little dangerous. Accessing your files (or uploading new ones) requires an internet connection, and storing a lot of data requires you to pay a monthly subscription. Your information can also be compromised if the cloud service you subscribe to gets hacked.

That’s why we recommend keeping a local backup of your entire computer (or at least the most important files) on an external SSD. External SSDs differ from traditional external hard drives in two significant ways. First, they store your data on memory chips (like your phone or tablet), not a large, spinning disk. This allows them to read and write data a lot faster than external hard drives can. Second, an SSD has no moving parts, which means its far less likely to get damaged, especially when it’s moving around in a backpack or piece of luggage.

The trade off is that external SSDs have a smaller storage capacity than external hard drives. If you mostly rely on streaming services for your music, TV shows, and movies, you likely don’t have a lot of big files on your computer. You’re photo library, which should be backed up multiple times, is likely the largest and most important set of data on your machine. Data loss because of a computer crash can mean recreating important documents and presentations (at best), or losing the ability to access one of a kind pictures of your family (at worst), which is why keeping a local backup on an external SSD is a great idea.

What Are the Best External SSDs?

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right external SSD for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.

Storage capacity: The amount of data an external SSD can hold is measured in GB (Gigabytes) or Terabytes (TB). A good rule to follow is to have one that’s twice the size of your computer’s internal hard drive or SSD, so it can store multiple versions of the same files, or different backups. Our external SSD recommendations are available in multiple sizes, and run the gamut between 240GB and 2TB, so check how much data is on your computer’s drive before you make a final decision.

Read and write speed: The speed at which an external SSD and writes data is important to consider because it ultimately determines its performance. We chose drives that support the USB 3.0 standard, which has a maximum data transfer speed of 640mbps, USB 3.1 standard, which has a maximum data transfer speed of 1,280mbps, and USB 3.2 standard, which has a maximum data transfer speed of 2,000mbps. Your actual speeds will vary based on how many files you’re trying to transfer at once, or the size of the files you’re transferring.

Connector: You can connect any of our external SSD picks to your computer with a USB-A cable, but most of them are also compatible with USB-C. Using a USB-C cable will substantially improve your external SSD’s read and write speeds.

Portability: All of our external SSD recommendations are bus powered, which means they draw electricity from your computer’s USB port. Because they don’t need to connect to an outlet, you can take your external SSD with you everywhere. We also made sure our picks were small, which makes them even easier to carry.

Compatibility: External SSDs are one of the few tech accessories that are universally compatible, which means all of the ones we recommend in this guide can be used on either a PC or Mac. Keep in mind both MacOS and Windows use different file systems, so you may have some difficulty moving files back and forth between a Mac and PC.

1. OWC Envoy Pro Mini

OWC Envoy Pro Mini

OWC

OWC’s Envoy Pro Mini is an external SSD that looks (and operates) like a super powered flash drive. It’s available in two storage sizes: 240GB and 480GB, which means its the lowest capacity drive in our guide. OWC says the drive has a maximum read and write speed of “over 410mbps,” but I ran a benchmark using BlackMagic’s Disk Speed Test application on my Mac, and got a read speed of 425mbps and write speed of 143mbps. Your results may vary, but in practical everyday use the Envoy Pro Mini performed really well; it never felt slow.

The limiting factor based on my external SSD tests is that the Envoy Pro Mini connects to your computer via a USB-A jack built into it. There’s no way to connect it to your computer via USB-C. That said, having the jack built right into this external SSD makes it the most portable pick in this guide. You don’t have to carry any wires around, you just grab it and go.

If you don’t need to store a lot of files, and want an external SSD that performs well and is especially easy to carry, OWC’s Envoy Pro Mini is the right choice.

2. Crucial X8

Crucial X8

Amazon

Crucial’s X8 is the company’s newest external SSD, and it’s an excellent all-around choice if you need a quick way to backup all of your data. It’s available in two sizes: 500GB and 1TB, which should be enough to make a full backup of your computer with space to spare.

Crucial says the X8 has a maximum read speed of 1,050mbps (the company doesn’t mention a write speed), but I ran BlackMagic’s Speed Test application and found the following. When connected to my computer with a USB-C to USB-C cable, the X8 has a maximum read speed of 931mbps and maximum write speed of 956mbps. When I used a USB-C to USB-A cable, those numbers dropped to 422mbps and 422mbps respectively. The moral of the story is to use this external SSD with a USB-C to USB-C cable if your computer has the right ports.

In my day to day experience the X8 really impressed me. It didn’t matter if I was transferring a lot of small files or one giant one, it felt instantaneous. I exclusively used it with a USB-C to USB-C cable, though, so your results may vary if you connect it to a USB-A port.

If you don’t have a ton of data, and need to make full backups of your computer in a very short time, I can’t recommend Crucial’s X8 highly enough.

3. Samsung T7 Touch

Samsung T7 Touch

If security is your main concern, the best external SSD I can recommend is Samsung’s T7 Touch. All of the external SSDs we’re recommending can be password protected and encrypted, but this is the only one that has a fingerprint reader, so you can unlock it biometrically. Don’t worry, if your fingerprint can’t be read for some reason, you an still unlock the drive with a password.

The T7 touch is available in three sizes: 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB, so you should be able to find one that suits your needs pretty easily. Samsung says this external SSD has a maximum read speed of 1,050mbps and maximum write speed of 1,000mbps. I was able to test the non-Touch version of the T7 (they’re identical in every other way), using BlackMagic’s Disk Speed Test.

When it was connected to my computer with a USB-C to USB-C cable, I got a read speed of 897mbps, and a write speed of 919mbps. When the drive was connected to my computer with a USB-C to USB-A cable, the numbers fell to 413mbps and 417mbps respectively. Again, connect this external SSD to your computer over USB-C if possible.

My experience with the T7 was largely the same as it was with Crucial’s X8. It handled any file transfer I threw at it quickly, and never disconnected or broke down mid-transfer. If you have a lot of data, the 2TB model should be of specific interest, because it’s the largest capacity external SSD in our guide.

Samsung’s T7 Touch is a good pick if you want to make multiple backups of your computer, like the idea of unlocking your external SSD without a password, and need a way to transfer a lot of data really fast.

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