Upgrade Your Portable Storage, Free Up Your Life

Every computer user should be using portable or external storage. It may be for your local backup, moving files from one device to another, or for the truly savvy, as a bootable tails drive to ensure cybersecurity and privacy.

But few ever give thought to the performance of that portable storage device, and how it could suck your valuable time into a black hole.

In the most extreme example, let's look at using a portable storage for backup. Properly configured, your computer will backup to the device every hour. However, during the backup process, your productivity on the computer degrades, as much of the computer resources are being dedicated to the backup process, instead of to you.

If it takes your computer 10 minutes every hour to perform backups, in an 8-hour day your computer is slowed down for 80 minutes. Even if your computer is only 20% slower, that comes to 16 minutes of lost time every single day. That's 4,000 lost minutes - 67 hours - of lost time every year.

All because of slow backup drive.

Are you starting to think your portable storage device performance is important?

To put hard numbers to this idea, I've measured the performance of a variety of storage devices. My test device is a current generation (2018) MacBook Pro, 32GB RAM, 1TB Apple SSD, 2.9GHz 6-core Intel i9 CPU.

Internal Drive

The MacBook Pro internal drive is a rocket ship. Read speed of 2,430MB/s, write speed of 2,396MB/s:

Now, let's compare this with a typical portable storage device – a Seagate 3.5", 4TB USB hard disk drive. This is similar to the type of drive 90% of all computer users use. Read speed of 38MB/s, write speed of 30MB/s. Your eyes aren't fooling you. This drive is around 1/80th the speed of the internal drive:

Moving up a step is a high-quality thumb drive. This is a SanDisk 128GB unit. 167MB/s read and 77MB/s write. From 3-5x faster than a hard drive:

Taking a step up to a Samsung 850 EVO (the current version is the 860). This is an enterprise-grade SSD that many power users install as a replacement for their factory internal drives. In this test, it is mounted in an external enclosure. 327MB/s read, 306MB/s write. But even at these speeds, the drive is less than 20% the speed of the internal drive, and is still dragging performance. NOTE: The enclosure used is a USB 3.1 Gen 1, connected through a USB C to USB A adapter. When using a USB 3.1 Gen 2 adapter going straight to USB C, speeds were around 500/500:

At the high end we have the NVMe M.2 Solid State Drive. This is in the same family as used in my MacBook Pro. When enclosed in a USB 3.1 Gen 2 enclosure, the drive is three times faster than the SSD, almost half as fast as the internal unit, and 1/4 the size of an SSD. 945MB/s read, 903MB/s write:

The purchase price of these units:

Hard Disk Drive4TB$1301x
Thumb Drive128GB $255x
Solid State Drive1TB$14815x
NMVe M.2 SSD & Enclosure 1TB$105 & $50 30x

If a hard disk drive is wasting 67 hours per year of your productivity while performing a backup, using an NMVe M.2 SSD will free up at least 60 hours.

Now, what can you do with an additional 60 hours every year?

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