Question Flash drives versus m.2 for portable storage

PingSpike

Lifer
Feb 25, 2004
21,706
532
126
So flash drives are kind of a mess. Their actual read write performance is all over the place, the rumor is they use the worst available memory they can get away with, amazon is overrun by counterfeits.

I recently bought this guy: https://www.amazon.com/RIITOP-Docking-Station-External-Adapter/dp/B089JXSMB8 and it worked pretty well, at least with the low end drive I installed in it. It uses some jmicron controller, should work with nvme or SATA based m.2 drives, it looks kind of bare bones and I wish it had a power switch but nbd. There are of course a lot of different m.2 USB adapters of varying quality. It performed a lot better than my crappy USB flash drives though.

Then I looked at prices and saw that there really isn't much difference between a 256GB flash drive and a bottom tier m.2 drive in price. But even a bottom tier m.2 seems like it will have far fewer fake problems and far better performance than your average flash drive. And decent OEM drives like sk hynix don't go for more than a few bucks extra. They are about the same size, larger but not much different. So I was thinking maybe I'm going about it all wrong...why don't I just buy m.2 drives instead of flash drives.

Obviously the main problem is the extra cost of the adapter and that m.2 is only rated for 250 insertion cycles (it is an internal interface after all). Am I missing something else though? Because flash drives can be brutal on writes.
 
  • Like
Reactions: VirtualLarry

igor_kavinski

Diamond Member
Jul 27, 2020
7,586
4,387
106
Yeah. After my Lexar 256GB drive went into read-only mode, I've given up on flash drives. Small portable SSD or a cheap M.2 drive is what I will be using from here on out.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Shmee

Tech Junky

Platinum Member
Jan 27, 2022
2,150
741
96
I'm a fan of enclosures as you dictate the performance level you want from portable drives.

I have a Pluggable for 10gbps performance and an Acasis for 40gbps over TB4.

Prepackaged drives bug me in that you're stuck with whatever the OEM chooses to use and they're usually more expensive than a DIY option. The reason for not having a power button is because it's bus powered.

There are normal USB options though that get SSD speeds and show up as an internal drive when plugged in like the SanDisk Extreme Pro's as I picked on up for ~$60 / 256GB and it hits close to 400MB/s.

It depends on how much portability / speed you want though. 400MB/s might be fine for some things but for others you might want something faster / more capacity. You won't find many or any 4TB+ USB drives if you're wanting to do a system backup or something along those lines. Maybe you want to carry around a media collection for traveling. Games? Bootable system from TB?
 
  • Like
Reactions: Shmee

PingSpike

Lifer
Feb 25, 2004
21,706
532
126
I realize it is bus powered, but yanking a m.2 out of a slot with power to it just feels wrong to me. I've just been unplugging it.

That samsung is fine for what it is, but it isn't really cheap (since it a larger capacity) and it looks to be about the size of a 2.5" drive...which is actually seems kind of unnecessarily big for a purpose built SSD.

Certainly carrying a bare m.2 increase great...maybe there are some carrying cases.
 

In2Photos

Senior member
Mar 21, 2007
874
792
136
I realize it is bus powered, but yanking a m.2 out of a slot with power to it just feels wrong to me. I've just been unplugging it.

That samsung is fine for what it is, but it isn't really cheap (since it a larger capacity) and it looks to be about the size of a 2.5" drive...which is actually seems kind of unnecessarily big for a purpose built SSD.

Certainly carrying a bare m.2 increase great...maybe there are some carrying cases.
The Samsung drive is about the size of a credit card. Still smaller than an m.2 drive, carrying case and a plug in adapter.
 

Tech Junky

Platinum Member
Jan 27, 2022
2,150
741
96
yanking a m.2 out of a slot
Well, if you're doing that without unplugging the USB cable you're in for trouble either way.

There are carrying cases for 4 x M@ drives for $10 on Amazon.

The Pluggable offers protection while remaining small and handy. The Acasis is about the size of a deck of cards though but provides 4X the speed of USB but has a fallback to 10gbps on normal USB ports as well.
 

Shmee

Memory and Storage, Graphics Cards
Super Moderator
Sep 13, 2008
6,446
1,701
136
Personally, I would use a decent 2.5 in SATA SSD, in a 10 gb/s external enclosure, with a decent USB C cable. You can fairly cheaply get 2TB+ SSDs for this, you don't need a power adapter, and though you will be limited to a bit less than 600MB/s for transfers, or under 500MB/s on USB 3 ports, I feel this is good enough for externals, and to my knowledge the m.2 NVMe adapters can be a lot more finicky or wonky. This is likely due to more power/heat, as well as some USB C cables not being reliable or able to keep up at high speeds with the NVMe drive.
 

Tech Junky

Platinum Member
Jan 27, 2022
2,150
741
96
2.5" drives are fine and comparable in size to my TB4 enclosure but, the SATA limitation isn't the best. However pricing is better than NVME drives.

Another option is a SATA M2 which is smaller and provides the same performance.

This is the enclosure I went with based on testing a handful of them for speeds and consistency.

These cables are quite durable and consistently max out the speeds up to 20gbps even though I bought them when they were listed as 10gbps cables.

I picked up one of these when I was testing TB4 speeds at 50% off ~$13

TB4 enclosure

Cables don't have to be expensive as a $10 version works better than the $50-$100 version where you're just paying for the name and marketing.

Drives on the other hand do matter a bit more when paired with the right controller in the enclosure. Some of the JMB/S controllers for USB perform better than RTL option but, in some cases RTL performs better when paired with TB. When testing drives in the TB4 enclosure it surprised me the dram-less SN770 outperformed several different drives that were higher end in some cases by 50% more throughput.

There's no one solution to recommend though as everyone's system is different. If you have older HW it might not hit top speeds. If you have a gen3 socket it won't hit gen4 speeds. Even though some enclosures use the same controllers doesn't mean they perform the same either.

For SATA you're looking for a JMS580 / NVME JMS583 or RTL9210

For drives if you want performance just avoid Phison controllers though internally they're fine they just don't perform well in enclosures.

On the high end for USB enclosures I got a couple of them to hit 800MB/s but, the average sat around 500MB/s

On TB4 I can hit 3.1x2.8GB/s using an SN770 drive with the enclosure above.

I tested these cables:
Acasis (TB3)
$33.99Anker (TB3)
$28.99Cable Matters (TB4)
$24OWC (TB4)
$15.83Sniokco (USB4)
$13.99Monoprice (USB40)
$13.93Accell (USB40)
$11.99 w/ 50% CouponIbvanky (USB40)
Prices were for the lowest open box option in most cases. They all pretty much did the same but at regular price some of them hit $50/cable or more. The Monoprice / Accell / Sniokco had the lowest real world copy Write speeds from 2.1-2.5GB/s. This sort of thing didn't show up in CDM benchmarks but only when moving real files.

If you're going high end for speeds and performance you'll likely stumble through some of the items comparing them on your system. Be prepared to be disappointed with some options and happy with others. Amazon is great for figuring out which suites you and your system best when it comes to swapping out HW w/ a painless return process.

If you want capacity at a lower price point than NVME then go SATA. If you go with a 2.5 then instead of an enclosure I use a startech USB / SATA cable that can be used on either 2.5/3.5 with a power adapter for the 3.5 drives.
 
  • Like
Reactions: igor_kavinski

ASK THE COMMUNITY