The 10 Best Portable SSDs
Over 70 Years Of Storage Innovation
There's so much data involved in every process that, naturally, some data is best saved for later.
Pick your number one favorite song to archive, though, because it offered a whopping 3.75 megabytes of storage space — considerably less than a modern Blu-ray release.
Every time a computer boots up, it processes countless ones and zeros. Every character typed, sound produced, and video played is the result of a combination of binary data. There's so much data involved in every process that, naturally, some data is best saved for later. But when your computer isn't actively processing that information, where is it stored? Long ago, the answer was made clear: on a hard drive.
In 1956, if you had the space equivalent to two refrigerators, as well as access to cutting-edge research labs, you could have used the IBM 305 RAMAC to store your data. Pick your number one favorite song to archive, though, because it offered a whopping 3.75 megabytes of storage space — considerably less than a modern Blu-ray release. Multiple companies continued to further the realm of long-term storage, but it would be over three decades before these drives would become more than a high-end novelty and see widespread use.
As technology marched forward, the modern hard drive form factors were solidified. For a few decades now, 3.5" and 2.5" units have been standard in desktops and portable computers, respectively. What has really changed is the way some of those drives store and read memory. Recent advances have made solid state drives, or SSDs, available for use by many consumers. This evolution has provided us with great opportunities for speed and reliability of storage in the modern computing era.
What Makes Solid State Drives So Solid?
Let's start off with the concept of volatile vs. non-volatile memory. Volatile memory requires a constant power source in order to retain what's stored on its circuits. Your PC's RAM (Random Access Memory) is a perfect example of this. This is, of course, incompatible with long-term storage, which has to remain digitally recorded even when the computer is turned off. Non-volatile memory, on the other hand, can store information until the cell is rewritten or until the drive itself wears out. For this reason, engineers have been developing larger, faster, and more reliable non-volatile options for decades.
Because of that, it can eschew the mechanical parts of the process while retaining its stored memory — even when the power is cut.
Traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) utilize multiple magnetically sensitive disks whose charges are altered on a microscopic level by a laser at the end of a mechanical arm. The disks spin, the arm reads and writes data, and the drive communicates with the system's chipset. Solid state drives, however, have zero moving parts. Their memory is comprised of many cells of NAND flash memory strung together. This type of memory has the advantage of being completely electronic. Because of that, it can eschew the mechanical parts of the process while retaining its stored memory — even when the power is cut.
This fundamental difference in construction makes a number of improvements over the traditional HDD design. One huge advantage of SSDs is their durability. With no motor, no bearings, and no mechanical arm to worry about, these units can take significantly more physical use without showing signs of wear or tear. This has obvious benefits to people whose usage demands more durable tools that can take some abuse. Even this author has felt the sting of personal documents being lost at the drop of a laptop — it's not a good feeling. Solid-state technology can help prevent such heartbreak, especially in portable devices.
Why Should I Buy In?
While the durability of flash-based, long-term data storage is a great boon to many, one of the most important things SSDs offer is pure speed. Electrons travel faster through superconductors than mechanical parts do across surfaces, so it's no surprise that a lack of moving parts leads to higher read and write times. In fact, the entire contents of a modern Blu-ray release, roughly 50 gigabytes, can be transferred by one of these beasts in under a minute.
These use a large flash-memory cache to coordinate the data drawn from multiple, smaller, traditional HDD faces.
The problem is that high-capacity NAND-based drives can, sometimes, be awfully pricey. They're fast and reliable, sure, but they cost a pretty penny. Not everyone with a highly portable computing setup can afford a four-terabyte internal drive to share their massive video-editing archives with their ultrabook. But video editors, engineers, and media executives always need portable access to high-resolution video and audio files and massive data caches at extreme speed. Also, you can purge flash-oriented storage much more easily, streamlining confidential use for security firms or government arms. For those reasons, portable SSDs are flourishing now more than ever.
There's one note that we should make at this point: don't be confused by hybrid solid state drives. These use a large flash-memory cache to coordinate the data drawn from multiple, smaller, traditional HDD faces. These lose most of the advantages of portable, fully solid-state models, although they do offer a speed increase over traditional, less expensive technology. Because they're more expensive than the traditional HDD but lower-performing than actual SSDs, they haven't become very popular.
Completely solid-state units, however, are so capable that they can support entire operating systems (even dual-booting via separate partitions) and serve as alternate boot drives for any system, starting up in the blink of an eye. Using the newest, fastest protocols in connectivity helps, too. Remember that sub-one-minute Blu-ray transfer time? USB 3.1 support from the top models available lets you do exactly that with the most popular plug-and-play connection standard in the world.
With all of today's advancements in engineering and consumer awareness, many companies have provided models that are perfect for the constantly commuting executive or the rock-climbing videographer. With terabytes of resilient, high-speed storage options available, you're sure to find one that suits your specific needs.