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Gear & Apps

Samsung T1 External SSD – Tiny & Blazing Fast| Review

By Kishore Sawh on June 10th 2015

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A Precursor To The Review

When we hear the term ‘rabbit hole’ in reference to anything photography related, it’s typically post processing, but I can assure you that should you want to find a solution to your data storage woes, it is a similar hole you may find yourself in.

Cloud storage has its place of importance, but isn’t always the most convenient/ideal method for photographers. Those who value security typically still prefer to store things locally and for those of us who are often on the move, having to depend on a strong internet connection can be a pain. Suffice to say that portable external drives still have their place.

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Buying a high capacity external storage solution these days is relatively an inexpensive ordeal, where you can get terabytes upon terabytes for little over $100. While the price is good, the typical drives do have their downfalls in the areas of size, and speed. A standard HDD is going to give you data read/write speeds around 100MB/s (I’m aware this can vary) – regardless if it’s USB 3 or Thunderbolt. These drives, due to their moving parts are also more susceptible to damage if moved around a lot.

The answer to the problem was solid state drive (SSD) storage, which often solved the issue of size, and is tremendously faster. How much faster? Well, as an example, my 2014 iMac with a typical HDD has read/write speeds of around 130MB/s, and my 2015 MacBook Pro with a solid state typically gets 1250MB/s. That’s not a typo.

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Granted, these drives when inside the computer and closer to the processor and all that are a lot faster than externals, but that’s another story. It just illustrates how much quicker SSDs can be, and if you’re a wedding shooter or any prolific shooter with large image libraries or you use Lightroom with massive catalogues, this can literally save you days over a year. But there’s often a roadblock, and that’s price for performance. If you want a fast external SSD, it can get expensive, as fast as the drive. Samsung, however, with its T1 has created an external SSD that’s small, chic and blazing fast.

Samsung T1 (250 GB)

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Over the past few years, Samsung has become a true player in the SSD world, and in many ways, its MVP. Drives like the SSD 850 pro, I believe, are still the world’s fastest 2.5” SATA SSD and the EVO variant of it is almost as good at less cost, making it a tremendous value. How have they done it? It’s partially due to their proprietary 3D Vertical NAND (V-NAND) system that stacks cells in 3D-like layers.

Typically, SSD drives lay cells in a 2D-Planar style flat on the silicon wafer, but the T1 stacks cells up to 32 layers, allowing for more cells on the same number of wafers. This = higher density and greater storage for less cost and less space. This was proven a success with the 850 range and now shrunk into the mSATA form factor.

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The T1 also utilizes Samsung’s ‘Turbowrite’ tech which allows the drive to operate some of the memory in a higher performance mode of single cell memory. It does this as a buffer really when the drive is in use, and at more idle times, the data is then moved to the other storage regions.

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Those concerned about security will also like that it utilizes the AES 256-bit encryption (as common as it is) and has the option to require a password to access the drive’s contents. If you forget your password though, you’ll have to fully reformat. There is a basic set-up involved the first time around where you can set the password and all that, and it’s simple to go through. You just plug in the drive and follow the prompts. The software set-up is also attractive looking and makes it simple to do, so you’ll be up and running in about two minutes.

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So what kind of speeds can you expect? Well, the drive uses an inbuilt USB 3.0 adapter, so throughput is a little limited compared to the internal versions, but limited to 450MB/s. That’s fast. In real world testing, I get around 405MB/s write and 435MB/s read. There’s always going to be a disparity between what’s advertised and real world performance, but this much is more than livable with.

And those of either MAC or Windows persuasions can rest happy knowing it uses the exFAT file system which means no reformatting needed for each type of computer since it works seamlessly between them.

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[REWIND: Western Digital My Passport Wireless 1TB – Full Review]

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It’s all the more amazing when you consider the size. It is tiny, disarmingly so. It’s smaller than a credit card at 2.8 inches long, .36 inches thick, and 2.1 inches wide – and it weighs an ounce. That’s right, a single ounce. Due to this weight and that there are no moving parts in it I’m quite sure you can drop it and be comfortable in knowing it will still work fine, though how much pressure it can withstand is another issue.

The design of the drive is attractive, as it comes in all black, with a textured exterior that makes it a solid grip in the hand, and gives a metal look though it’s all plastic. The packaging is quite nice too, reminiscent of Apple’s iPhone boxes even if it only comes with the drive, an info packet, and a cable.

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The cable is a nice one for mobile use because it’s about the same length as the drive, but it is sturdy and not at all flimsy. This, however, is the one drawback to the system I can see because as it is so short, attaching it to a desktop is annoying, as the drive kind of hangs there, though it can hang there because it’s so light, and the cable is such a good fit. If you would like another cable, feel safe knowing that in my test, another, if not any other, USB 3.0 cable will work just fine.

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There’s a little LED light near the female side of the USB that lights blue or red to denote what the drive is doing. It doesn’t draw much attention, and, in fact, the drive itself is so small it won’t draw attention other than people wanting to know what it is.

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The build quality as I’ve eluded to is fine. It’s plastic despite the looks, but that’s ok with me, and it was machineD and polished nicely, and the cable is a good one. There’s no doubt that this was meant to be a product for the discerning, and it’s just that the price puts it in the reach of most anyone.

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So what’s the cost of all this? Depends on how much space you want of course. I like smaller drives typically for the same reason I like smaller memory cards, so I don’t have all my eggs in one basket in case it falters. I have the 250GB version which will run you about $147, but there is a 500GB for $247, and a flagship 1TB for $497.

Only you can decide if this is good value to you or worth the cost. At $147, it wasn’t hard for me to decide on it and the manner in which it works, the time it saves me, along with the space, makes this what I think is a great value.

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If you’re looking for a portable drive and you’re a photographer, I highly recommend SSD drives, and, in particular, this one. Sure, you can go and build one of your own using an internal drive with an enclosure but it won’t save you much. I’m highly impressed with the T1, and I think with it, Samsung has the best offering on the market. I’ll probably be purchasing more.

It comes with a three-year warranty, which could be longer, but three years is a long time, and SSDs tend to be more stable anyway. I highly recommend this as a portable storage solution. Even if you have an aging laptop, throw your Current Lightroom catalogue and original files on it and run Lightroom and you’ll see an improvement.

It’s a brilliant product. If interested, get yours here.

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Cary McCaughey

    This piece looks AMAZING for on location shooters. Albeit theres no redundancy but having 2 of these would be 1/3 the weight of those G-Tech drives or anything else.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Precisely. ANd wonderful for using Lightroom catalogues between computers. On a side note, I’ve sat on mine in a plane, and they’ve been beaten around a bit and not so much as a hiccup.

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  2. Austin Trenholm

    $397 on Amazon right now for the 1TB.

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    • Timothy Linn

      Yep. Dell too. And if you have a Discover card you can use Discover Deals to get another 10% off bringing your total to an amazingly low $360 shipped.

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  3. Michael Lykke

    You forget to mention or elaborate on one very important thing in your review. The Samsung T1 drive requires you to install some software/driver on each computer you connect it to. That is a major deal breaker for me and is usually not something external drives require.
    That single requirement is a big flaw in the product and that is enough not to buy it. It’s a very sexy and fast drive and it would be awesome for for “digital life” to store all the really important stuff I never wanna loose. But having to install software each time i want to hook it up to another computer is not good enough. Not to mention that if i use it in a work environment, I would come across too many companies with internal IT departments that doesn’t make it possible for me to install the software.
    This is actually such a major design flaw that I can’t really begin to understand why Samsung would make such a decision. But I’m really really hoping that they make a T2 version without this requirement and I will be first in line to purchase it. An external USB/Thunderbolt drive should always work without installing a driver.

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    • Jesper Ek

      Even on a Mac? Sounds very odd…

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    • Michael Lykke

      @Jesper – Yes, even on Mac. It requires some software and driver to be installed.

      You can read a bit more info about it in this article: http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/mac-owners-should-hold-off-on-new-samsung-t1-flash-ssd

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Michael, hi. I am not sure of your experience or where you’ve got that information from but I have used this drive without issue on 4 separate computers, 3 MACS (one running and older version of OSX) and 1 PC, and have not had to set up or install anything on any of them but the first computer the first time I plugged in the drive. I would surely have mentioned, but it wasn’t the case.

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    • Michael Lykke

      @Kishore – Thats interesting because i had to return my drive when i bought it earlier before i experienced the driver/software requirement. Afterwards i found multiple reviews that mention exactly the same requirement as i mentioned including the one i linked to. But if you haven’t had a need to install any software on the computers you use it on something indicates that Samsung might have done some firmware changes after they released the first version.
      Just wondering if there is any way to verify this, because if they have removed the need to install kernel modules and software then I would love to buy a new one.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I’m wondering if it’s a matter if the software that sets up the password and such. I’m going to email Samsung and ask for you. God knows how quickly they’ll respond but I’ll give it a shot. Once I hear back I’ll let you know. Wouldn’t want you going out to buy it only to have the same problem. Cheers.

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    • Michael Lykke

      @Kishore – Can you repartition the drive with a regular tool such as “Disk Utility” on the Mac? I never got to try it but have read multiple reviews that specify that it requires the use of the included Samsung software.
      So when Samsung stops updating the software for future versions of OS X, then you loose the ability to repartition/format it. Reviews also claim that it’s not possible to use as a boot drive like you can normally do for any external drive – Can you verify if this is the case?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I’m fighting Miami Beach traffic to go watch Chris Pratt become a Raptor wrangler, so I’ll have to check on this later and will pose all these questions to Samsung

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    • Michael Lykke

      @Kishore – Enjoy :) It would be really awesome if you could get some of these points clarified. :)

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    • Michael Lykke

      @Kishore – Did you get a chance to get some points clarified as per our previous discussion? :)

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Michael, I have contacted Samsung and have yet to receive a response….. If emailing doesn’t work, I’ll be calling them.

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  4. Brian McCue

    If you’re looking for a SSD, the reviews for the Samsung are all very high. Great info!

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  5. Jeff Morrison

    this is the next thing on my wish list…

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  6. Aidan Morgan

    I’d be afraid of losing a drive that tiny.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      it’s a little bit of a concern as well for me, but I’ll get over it. It’s really nice to be able to access all your files at a meeting or in an airport lounge or something and not have anything large with a long cable though. A godsend really. cheers Adan

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  7. Stephen Jennings

    $500 for a 1tb drive? Hahaha

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  8. Dave Haynie

    It’s good to know how SSD has been evolving. The reason the author’s MacBook does 1.25GB/s (same as my ASUS laptop) is that it’s using a PCI Express SSD… it’s a tiny internal card that has a 4x PCI Express link group. That’s a 20Gb/s (2.0GB/s for PCIe 2.0) to 32Gb/s (3.2GB/s for PCIe 3.0) practical link. PCI Express is, of course, the same link (not really a bus) that most PC I/O uses these days, for GPU connections (in a 16-lane configuration) and other I/O. I’m using PCIe in the systems I design for my day-job :-)

    Most HDDs and SSDs use the SATA bus, which in its current Rev 3.0 format, supports 6Gb/s transfers, which means about 600MB/s in practical terms. SATA is very similar to a single lane PCIe connection — not identical, but very similar. And there’s only one pair of links (read and write, just like PCIe and USB 3.0), which is why you never see anything like those PCIe speed numbers on a SATA drive.

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  9. Jesper Ek

    Not much bigger than a pen drive. A really nice way to do back ups on the go. I like!!

    I thing that kind of disturbs me though, is that there still aren’t any affordable, safe, and quick storage options for large amount of data (storage back up). Where are the cheap 10-15TB drives? Back in the day the hard drives more or less doubled in capacity every 18 months, and now nothing happens anymore… :(

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    • Kishore Sawh

      hi Jesper, I think it’s a matter of being in a transition mode, from typical drives to solid state. I do, however, agree that the prices are still a bit high in general, but I would say in a year, things will have changed quite a bit – at least offering enough at a low enough price for most of us. I use this drive to travel, and move LR catalogues (either with preview files or full image files of current work) between desktop and laptop and keeping it all in sync. This size is just fine for that sort of thing. CHeers

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    • Dave Haynie

      I just saw a web ad for 8TB drives at $250 or so… that IS progress.

      Over a long period of time, you might see capacity double every 18 months. But realistically, magnetic storage hasn’t had the same dynamic that drove Gordon Moore to suggest the number of transistors on a chip would double every 18 months — the dynamic that might, maybe, affect SSD. But never HDD, that’s a different line of research.

      And as I said, over a long period of time. Improvements in CPUs, GPUs, memory, and a few other things can be pretty linear over the course of a few years. But flash memory and some other tech tends to advance a little “jumpy”, because it usually hits some kind of physical limit in the current generation, and so the next one isn’t just shrinking the transistor and then using that shrink in the new thing. No, it’s a fine line between venerating the guy and blowing him off. And some of that, particularly in the context of something like the RRHF event, where so many there are definitely not into the things the other guys are doing.

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    • Jesper Ek

      As of now my stacks of 4 TB discs feels just awkward and unstable. I used to rely on magnetic tape backup but that just would work smoothly.

      What would be the most private and secure online service for backup?

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    • Jesper Ek

      wouldn’t work.. :)

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