Benchmarks & Conclusion
We've tested a number of very fast external storage drives over the last year. The MyDigitalSSD BOOST and SanDisk Extreme 900 battled it out for the fastest USB 3.1 Gen 2 storage, but they can't compete with the Netstor NA611TB3 loaded with a Samsung 960 Pro 1TB NVMe SSD, much less two in RAID 0.
We brought along some other high-speed flash drives for this review. The 2TB Samsung Portable SSD T5 is the successor to the 2TB T3, but we included both in this review. The 512GB Adata SD700 is a previous award winner thanks to its excellent price and solid features.
The only hard disk drive in the review comes from LaCie. The Rugged RAID is the only portable disk-based solution we've tested that can compete with these flash drives. Its performance comes from a pair or HDDs running in RAID 0 that provide enough grunt to run sequential workloads faster than you might think possible.
Block Size Testing
If you like a close fight, this review will get very boring, very quickly. The Netstor NA611TB3 is exceedingly quick. The drive outperforms every other external drive at every single block size, and it doesn't matter if we are reading or writing data. The NVMe protocol was developed to make this an unfair fight, and it works as advertised.
With smaller blocks, the Windows 10 RAID 0 array is a little slower than a single drive. The array picks up speed with larger blocks. The big numbers come with 64KB and 128KB blocks. Those just happen to be the block sizes that make up large audio and video files.
Full LBA Span Performance
The software we use can't address a Windows 10 RAID array, but we can still test the single-drive QD1 sequential read and write performance. This is the performance you can expect by simply reading or write a single video file to the drives. The LaCie hard disk drive is the only product that suffers performance degradation, but that's due to its patter-based design.
The flash drives are all very consistent, but only one rides so high in the charts that the other lines look like its shadow.
We don't run many application tests on external or portable storage products because the typical workload is sequential in nature. Most of us simply read and write large pieces of data for archiving or transferring data from one location to another.
We often see performance measured in throughput, but time-based results are easier to interpret because the sense of time is universal. We tested transfer performance with a Blu-ray ISO. For the Game test, we used rFactor to transfer data from the post-installation directory to the portable drives. The Directory Test is a 15.2GB block of data that contains a mix of images, software installations, ISO files, and multimedia.
All of that NVMe performance carries over to our real-world transfer tests. The NVMe interface is designed to streamline commands and reduce latency compared to the legacy SATA technology that the other products use. This is what innovation in storage is all about. There is a significant time difference between the Netstor single drive and the MyDigitalSSD BOOST, which is pretty speedy in its own right.
The cost may be significant, but the two-drive array with a pair of 1TB Samsung 960 Pro SSDs boosts the results even more. The array is like having a crystal ball that shows what's possible in the next generation, but there are no witches here. The Netstor can give you that performance today, but there is a high cost to pay for ultimate performance.
The Netstor NA611TB3 has a forgettable name, but its performance is legendary. This is the first product we've tested that takes advantage of NVMe over a high-speed Thunderbolt 3 connection, but we hope to see more of these devices in the future. The NA611TB3 is fun, and the performance is exciting, but the form factor isn't for everyone.
Technically, it's portable. We've seen bulkier products fall into this mobile class, even if we count the additional power brick. That still doesn't make it practical with the extra box that you have to drag around. The power box also requires another cord, and that adds to the overall bulk. This enclosure is better suited for home or office use than it is for traveling between the two.
Professional photographers and videographers will not give the size a second thought considering all the other gear they take into the field. You'll know if the size and additional parts are acceptable for you–we can't make that decision. At least the NA611TB3 doesn't require a Pelican case like the LaCie 12big.
The Netstor's performance is in a class of its own. The NA611TB3 stands alone with a crowd of pretenders that are far behind, similar to what we've seen with NVMe SSDs in desktops and notebooks. The difference is this system was designed for workloads that benefit more from NVMe.
The RAID features are controlled entirely by the operating system. Hardware RAID has all but disappeared. The enterprise market moved to "software-defined" everything, and that hurt performance. Enthusiasts still like hardware acceleration because good enough is for bean counters, not the pedal-to-the-metal crazies that spend obscene amounts of money to push the limits.
This product uses a unique electrical configuration that works well. On paper, and even during our preparation, we were worried about the PCI Express 3.0 x2 configuration. We came away pleasantly surprised with the final results.
You will pay more for this level of performance. The Netstor NA611TB3 will set you back $339.99, and you still have to buy two NVMe SSDs. NVMe SSDs start out slightly below $100, but you want MLC NAND for 4K video production, and lots of it. The 1TB Samsung 960 Pro drives we used cost more than $600 each. If you want maximum capacity, the 2TB models cost more than $1,300 apiece.
The 480GB MyDigtialSSD BPX is a good low-cost alternative at $219.99. MLC flash is on the endangered species list, so we expect its price to rise as TLC drives the market.
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