The market for portable, external solid-state drives (SSDs) became a lot more crowded after the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. There, we got our hands on no fewer than five new portable drives, one of which was the Samsung Portable SSD T3, the first external SSD to reach 2TB. That drive is the successor to the excellent Samsung Portable SSD T1, which we tested in 2015 and deemed the first mainstream external SSD worth buying.
But Samsung has some competition in the field now, including a new ruggedized drive from SanDisk, the Extreme 510 Portable SSD. Another challenger in the external-SSD arena is the Lexar Portable SSD. This drive excites us for a few reasons, despite its plain name.
First, even though we’ve seen multiple Lexar products throughout the years—including the venerable Lexar JumpDrive, which was (and continues to be) a mainstay of the USB flash-drive market—it’s been a long time since we’ve tested a device from the brand. We have benchmarked plenty of internal SSDs from Lexar’s parent company, Micron Technology, which sells drives under the Crucial brand name. So testing this diminutive plastic box, which comes in 256GB and 512GB versions and sells for between $130 and $180, we wondered how well the portable drive would compare to its Crucial-branded internal SSD counterparts.
Even with the new CES models, there are still relatively few portable SSDs out there compared to internal ones. So if Lexar’s offering excels in terms of performance or affordability (or offers a good balance between the two), the drive should stand out for those looking for reliable and speedy storage on the go. These are not impulse buys, though. An external SSD choice requires some consideration, seeing as internal SSDs of the same capacity can cost as little as half the price.
Taking your time to choose is especially important if you’re a media professional who has invested in (or is considering investing in) Lexar’s Professional Workflow line of products. These include integrated media hubs, card readers, and the like. For those familiar with the line, Lexar’s Portable SSD bears serious consideration for that reason alone, since it is compatible with these devices. If you’re not familiar with Lexar’s Professional Workflow line, though, don’t fret. We’ll explain how the integration works later on in this review.
The first thing that struck us about the Lexar Portable SSD is its boxy, black-plastic design. Compared to the curved lines and slim profile of the Samsung Portable SSD T1, Lexar’s drive looks bland and unimaginative.
The only exterior design feature likely to raise a would-be buyer’s eyebrow is the row of six LEDs along the front edge of the enclosure…
The right-most blue light is a power indicator, which activates whenever the drive is connected to a computer. The other five white lights progressively illuminate depending on how much of the storage space is consumed. For example, if the drive is filled to about 40 percent of its capacity, two of the lights will illuminate. When the drive is close to full, all five shine. This isn’t a feature we’ve seen on other external SSDs. It’s handy mostly if you own several of these drives; we don’t see it being all that useful if you have only a single drive. (After all, your operating system will tell you exactly how much space is remaining.)
But let’s say you have multiple drives that are all plugged into a single Lexar media hub, like so:
If you’re a videographer rushing out to an all-day photo shoot, the lights would make it easy to select the empty (or emptiest) drive to take with you.
At the back of the drive is the USB port…
No, your eyes do not deceive you. It resembles the kind of USB Type-B port used most often these days to connect a PC to a printer or flatbed scanner. (Remember those?) At first, such a large connector seems like an odd choice for a new portable SSD. After all, most of the other new external SSDs use micro-USB, which is comparatively tiny, and thus better suited to travel and to the slimmer designs of most other new drives.
This is actually a USB 3.0 version of the connector, and Lexar has a reason for its idiosyncrasy. Its media hubs (one is pictured previously, and we will delve into them more on the next page) use this type of connector. So the bulky connector (and the boxy design) is for physical-compatibility reasons with the hubs. That said, like the capacity-indicator lights, you’ll probably appreciate this only if you own other Lexar products. We’re starting to sense a pattern.
If this is your only Lexar product, rest assured that it ships with an appropriate USB cable in the box, and we appreciate the fact that at over three feet long, it’s much longer than the tiny pigtail of a cable that Samsung included with the Portable SSD T1. Portable SSDs are small, but the data-hungry speed demons who are the primary buyers at this stage (video editors, graphics designers, and the like) are likely often connecting to desktop editing workstations. So it’s impractical to have a cord that requires you to dangle the drive from a desktop USB port like a Christmas ornament