Buying tips and brand options for solid state storage drives with weights up to 100 grams and capacities up to 4TB.

If you’re looking for a storage drive to secure photo backups, it’s difficult to ignore the latest crop of ultra-compact solid state drives (SSDs). Offering a genuine alternative to traditional magnetic disk drives, these SSDs are a lot smaller and offer faster transfer speeds with better longevity and stability.

A compact, high-capacity SSD lets you back-up files wherever you are, providing peace-of-mind for even the most intrepid travellers. (Source: SanDisk.)

They’re also generally more robust since they have no internal moving parts that could become dislodged when the drive is dropped, or which are at risk of wearing out with long-term use. SSDs can generally survive drops, bumps and other potential impacts without risk of damage or losing your files. And they’re great when you need a quick way to share files between computers.

While they’re not as cheap as magnetic drives, they’ve become much more affordable in recent years. This has made them a better investment for both short-term and long-term file storage.

In this round-up, we’ll look at the range of compact SSDs weighing 100 grams or less that are available on the local market (AUD).

What to look for

We’ve listed the main features to look for when choosing an ultra-compact SSD. Priorities differ for different people but the following are the more important factors to consider.

1. Speed
Data transfer speeds are one of the main marketing tools used to promote storage drives and, while they can be relevant to some potential buyers, there are a few provisos to be aware of. Transfer speeds are always limited by the slowest link in the data chain. So if you’re using a slower interface (see point 2), that will restrict the speed at which your data can travel from one device to the next.

2. Interface
All the SSDs in this round-up use USB connections – mostly with USB-C plugs. Unless you’ve updated your hardware recently, it’s likely the USB Type-C ports on your laptop and desktop computers use the USB 3.2 Gen 1 or Gen 2 interfaces, which have maximum read/write speeds of 1,250MBps (10Gbps) or 625MBps (5Gbps), respectively. Only the latest USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 interface can use NVMe SSD performance to approach its maximum rated read and write speeds of 2500MBps (20Gbps).

3. File types and sizes
You’ll pay premium prices for high capacities and fast data transfer speeds – but do you really need them? This decision comes down to looking at the sizes of the data loads you want to transfer at any one time, along with the length of time you’re prepared to wait while the transfer takes place. Check out the table below for rough estimates of how many image and video files you can expect to store in drives with capacities up to 1TB.

If you only shoot stills with a 20-30 megapixel camera, a week’s shooting should accumulate between roughly 10 and 12 gigabytes (GB) of JPEG and raw files. Even with a relatively slow USB-C to USB-A connection, this should take around five-and-a-half minutes. That’s roughly the time you need to make a cup of tea or coffee.

Data loads will generally be much larger for those who record 4K (or higher) video at 50 fps and with high bit rates. Under those conditions, you can easily accumulate 200 GB or more in a week’s shooting. Using the same connection speeds as outlined above, transferring that amount of data would take about 22 minutes.

This would be unacceptable in a professional environment, although at a consumer level you could simply set the process up and leave it while you do other things. This is where the faster interface could justify its substantially higher costs.

4. Formatting
Some drives are pre-configured for either Mac or Windows. While this may influence your initial choice, it’s largely irrelevant since the configuration can almost always be changed with the right software.

5. Security
Many manufacturers include data encryption, either integrated into the drive or applicable through software. The best built-in security system uses AES 256-bit encryption and gives you the option to use fingerprint sign-in, which you can set up through the device’s own management software. Some manufacturers also offer complimentary cloud storage.

6. Capacity
If you’re only using the drive for temporary storage (such as while you’re on a trip), you’ll probably manage with 1TB – or 2TB if you shoot a fair bit of video for trips up to a month long. For more permanent storage you should probably look for larger drives, which won’t be as easy to misplace accidentally and may give you better ‘bang for the buck’, cost-wise. But they’re in a different category and outside of the scope of this round-up.

Typical storage capacities

This chart has been produced to give potential buyers a rough idea of how many files you can expect to be able to store on SSDs with varying capacities. Note that some of the listed capacity for SSDs will be used for formatting and other functions, so it won’t be available for data storage.

SSD capacity Approx. number of 12MP JPEG images Approx. number of 24MP uncompressed raw files Approx. minutes of

FHD (1080p) video

Approx. minutes of 4K video at 30Mbps Approx. minutes of 8K video at 60bps
1TB 857,143 12,800 5,376 2,083 1,042
512GB 428,571 6,400 2,688 1,042 521
256GB 214,286 3,200 1,344 521 260
128GB 107,143 1,600 672 260 130
64GB 53,571 800 336 130 65
32GB 26,786 400 168 65 32
16GB 13,393 200 84 32 16
8GB 6,696 100 42 16 8

Note that the actual recording time for video clips vary based upon camera model, selected resolution, compression settings and the content being recorded. Some host devices may not support all of the Flash storage capacities listed. (Source: Kingston.)

AtomX SSDmini
Dimensions: 80.0 x 75.5 x 9.3 mm
Weight: 90 grams
Speeds: Read/write 560 MB/s read, 540MB/s write
Interface:  SATA 3.1, 6 Gb/s interface, compatible with a range of Atomos products using both the Master Caddy and Master Caddy II guide rail system
Warranty: 3-Year limited
Capacities & prices: 500GB = $359, 1TB = $719, 2TB = $1055 

X6 1TB Portable SSD
Dimensions: 64W x 69 D x 11 mm
Weight: 40 grams
Speeds: up to 800 MB/s
Interface:  USB-C
Warranty: 3-year limited
Capacities & prices: 500GB = $65, 1TB = $119, 2TB = $209, 4TB = $399

Dynabook (was Toshiba)
X30 Pro Portable SSD
Dimensions: 64.6 x 43.9 x 9.8 mm
Weight: 70 grams
Speeds: Read/write 1600 MB/s read, 1500MB/s write
Interface: SuperSpeed USB 3.2 Gen2 interface, Windows compatible (requires re-formatting for Mac OS), supplied with USB Type C to Type C and USB Type C to Type A cables
Warranty: 3 year
Capacities & prices: 1TB = $139, 2TB = $249

Kanguru UltraLock USB-C M.2 NVMe External Solid State Drive
Dimensions: 105 x 40 x 15 mm
Weight:  85 grams
Speeds: Read/write up to 675 MB/s read, 575 MB/s write
Interface: USB3.1 Gen 2, shock & vibration resistant, physical write protect switch, secure firmware
Warranty: 3-year limited
Capacities & prices: 250GB = $229, 1TB = $496, 2TB = $955, 4TB = $1910

Dimensions: 69.54 x 32.58 x 13.5 mm
Weight: 28.7 grams
Speeds: Read/write 1050 MB/s read, 1000MB/s write
Interface: USB 3.2 Gen 2
Warranty: 5-year
Capacities & prices: 1TB = $109; 2TB = $188

Dimensions: 69.54 x 32.58 x 13.5 mm
Weight: 28.9 grams
Speeds: Read/write 2000 MB/s read, 2000MB/s write
Interface:  USB 3.2 Gen 2×2
Warranty: 5-year
Capacities & prices: 1TB = $139; 2TB = $243

Rugged USB-C Portable SSD
Dimensions: 97.9 x 64.9 x 17 mm
Weight: 100 grams
Speeds: up to 950 MB/s
Interfaces: USB-C, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connections
Warranty: 5-year
Capacities & prices: 1TB = $479 / 2TB = $949

SL200 Portable SSD
Dimensions: 86 x 60 x 9.5 mm
Weight: 40.6 grams
Speeds: 500MB/s read, 400MB/s write
Interfaces: USB-C 3.0 / 3.1/3.2 Gen 1 interface, comes with USB Type-C to USB Type-C and a USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable, 256-bit AES encryption
Warranty: 3-year
Capacities & prices: 1TB = $160

SL660 BLAZE Gaming Portable SSD
Dimensions: 57.4 x 112.6 x 10.6 mm
Weight: 80 grams
Speed: Up to 2000MB/s read, up to 1900MB/s write
Interfaces: USB 3.2 Gen2x2 interface, comes with USB Type-C to USB Type-C and a USB Type-A to USB Type-C cable
Warranty: 5-year limited
Capacities & prices: 512GB = $249, 1TB = $399

SL600 Portable SSD
Note: Lexar has just released the new SL600 drive, which lacks the RGB ring light around the chassis and is lower-priced, making it ideal for photographers.

T7 Portable SSD
Dimensions: 57W x 85 x 58H mm
Weight: 58 grams
Speeds: Up to 1050 MB/s
Interface: USB 3.2 interface, built-in USB cable, AES 256-bit hardware encryption, Samsung Portable SSD Software 1.0 (*Optional Password Protection)
Warranty: 3-year
Capacities & prices: 500GB = $79, 1TB = $159, 2TB = $259

E30 Gen 2 Portable SSD
Dimensions: 46.9W x 9.91D x 96.9H mm
Weight: 40 grams
Speed: Up to 800MB/s read speeds
Interface: USB-C interface
Warranty: 3-year
Capacities & prices: 1TB + $139, 2TB = $299

SSD V2 Extreme Portable SSD
Dimensions: 52.55W x 9.6D x 100.8H mm
Weight: 52 grams
Speeds: 1050 Mbps read and 1000 Mbps write
Interface: USB-C interface (v. 3.2)
Capacities & prices: 500GB = $129, 1TB = $159, 2TB = $259, 4TB = $499

FireCuda Gaming SSD
Dimensions: 104.4 x 52.5 x 10 mm
Weight: 100 grams
Interface: USB-C interface
Speeds: Up to 2,000 MB/s (but must be connected to a USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 port)
Capacities & prices: 500GB, 1TB and 2TB capacities available but maybe not in Australia

BeeDrive BDS70-1T
Dimensions: 65 x 65 x 15 mm
Weight: 43 grams
Speeds: Up to 1050 MB/s
Interface: USB 3.2 interface, supplied with USB Type C to Type C cable and USB Type C to Type A adapter and downloadable utility software
Warranty: 3-year
Capacities & prices: 1TB = $299, 2TB = $428

ESD310 portable SSD
Dimensions: 71.3W x 7.6D x 208H mm
Weight: 11 grams
Speeds: Read/write speeds 1050 MB/s read, 950 MB/s write
Interface: USB-C interface
Warranty: 5-year
Capacities & prices: 256GB = $60, 500GB = $80, 1TB = $130, 2TB = $259

Dimensions: L 92mm x W 29mm x H 9mm
Weight: 26 grams
Speeds: 500MB/sec read and 290MB/sec write speeds
Interface: Type-C USB 3.1 interface
Capacities & prices: 120GB = $69, 480GB = $179

My Passport Portable SSD
Dimensions: 55 x 100 x 9 mm
Weight: 45 grams
Speeds: Read up to 1050 Mbps, write up to 1000 Mbps with NVMe technology
Interface:  USB-C interface
Warranty: 5-year
Capacities & prices: 500GB = $119, 1TB = $149, 2TB = $249, 4TB = $499

Article by Margaret Brown (see Margaret’s photography pocket guides)

Excerpt from Photo Review Issue 98

Subscribe to Photo Review magazine