If most existing portable SSD drives are fast cars, the new Samsung X5 Portable SSD is like a private jet. It’s super-fast, luxurious, and expensive. Most importantly, it’s not for everyone. The reason is the drive works with Thunderbolt 3 exclusively. Consequently, it’s not compatible with any other connection types, including USB and even Thunderbolt 2.
If your computer, be it a Mac or Windows machine, is Thunderbolt 3-ready, the Samsung X5 is fantastic in every way. On the other hand, for those using the vast amount of existing computers with USB or older Thunderbolt standards, the drive is just an expensive paperweight. Considering the new X5’s hefty price of between $400 (500GB) to almost $1400 (2TB), make sure your computer has Thunderbolt 3 before getting it.
Dong’s note: This post was first published on Aug 28, 2018, as a preview and upgraded to a full review on September 28.
Samsung Portable SSD X5
- Super-fast performance
- Solid, pretty, rugged design
- Compatible with Windows and Mac right out of the box
- Useful and effective security feature
- Can work as a boot drive
- Only works with Thunderbolt 3
- Only one Thunderbolt 3 port
- The 3-year warranty is a bit short.
Samsung X5: Familiar yet different
At first glance, the X5 is very similar to Samsung’s previous portable drives, such as the Samsung Portable SSD T5. It’s a compact drive — though larger than the T5 — with a single cable that does both data and power. What’s more, the new drive is also rugged and can handle shocks of drops from up to 6.6 feet (2 meters).
On the inside, it’s different, however, being the first portable SSD I’ve reviewed that uses an NVMe SSDs instead of mSATA. It uses the Samsung SSD 970 Evo, which is the reason for its new class of performance.
Dong Ngo | Dong Knows TechThe Samsung X5 has no port for an external power adapter and hence won’t work with USB-C port. As a result, the drive has all the features of the NVMe drive, including Samsung’s Dynamic Thermal Guard technology and AES 256-bit hardware data encryption. The former allows the drive to sustain long operation without overheating, and the latter protects the information it stores against loss or thief.
Out of the box, the X5 is formatted in the exFAT file system, enabling you to use it across platforms (Windows or Mac) without having to reformat it. If you want to use it as a boot or Time Machine backup drive for a Mac, though, you’ll need to reformat it into a Mac-native file system.
Not backward compatible at all
The biggest shortcoming of the X5 is the lack of compatibility. The drive works only with Thunderbolt 3. You will not be able to use it with Thunderbolt 2 or the original Thunderbolt, both of which use a different port type.
And the X5 doesn’t work with USB-C, either, though you can plug it into that port. Even though Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C share the same port type, they are of two different interface standards entirely. Thunderbolt 3 devices need more power than a USB-C port can supply, and the X5 doesn’t have an extra port for an external power adapter.
In short, while all Thunderbolt 3 ports can function as a USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 2) port, all USB-C ports can only host USB devices. And the Samsung X5 is a prime example of this fact. Consequently, end-users can mistake one standard for another.
By the way, I tried the X5 with USB-C anyway. On a Mac, nothing happened. On a Windows computer, interestingly, it was recognized and listed on the device list, but that was it.
Single Thunderbolt 3 port
For a portable drive of its size, it’s reasonable that the Samsung X5 has just one Thunderbolt 3 port. However, this means you won’t be able to plug any other Thunderbolt into it. As a result, if your computer has just one Thunderbolt port and you want to use more than one Thunderbolt 3 device, make sure your other devices have two ports.
Per Thunderbolt 3’s specification, you can daisy-chain up to 7 devices together without losing performance. The X5 can only be at the end of a chain.
Effective security feature vs. bootability
Pre-loaded on the Samsung X5 is the installer of Samsung Portable SSD Software (SPSS) for both Windows and Mac. Once installed, you can use the application to check on the drive’s status and turn on its security feature to password-protect the drive’s content.
In all, this security feature worked well in my testing. Once the security mode is turned on, the X5 has a small separate 40MB partition that holds a copy of SPSS, allowing you to unlock the drive even when you plug it into a different computer for the first time.
Keep in mind that if you choose to use this feature, you must remember the password. Else, you’ll permanently lose access to your data. Also, if you turn on the security feature, you will not be able to use the X5 as a boot drive. Otherwise, the drive worked fine as a boot drive in my testing.
A new class of portable performance
The Samsung X5 Portable SSD is by far the fastest portable drive I’ve used.
I tested it by copying 80GB of data from a computer that runs on the Samsung SSD 970 Pro. The drive had sustained speeds of more than 1600 MB/s for both writing and reading. These were some three times that of even the fastest SATA-based portable SSDs.
At this speed, you can finish copying two CDs worth of data in less than one second. As a result, the new portable drive can efficiently work as the storage device for even the most demanding tasks, such as 4K editing or rendering real-time 3D images.
Thunderbolt 3 is likely the future of peripheral connections. For now, though, it’s only available in the latest Macs and some new Windows machines. That said, the Samsung Portable SSD X5 is a bit ahead of its time. It won’t work with most existing computers. As a result, chances are you can’t use it with yours.
But for those few who can use and afford it, this is the ultimate portable drive with unmatched performance.