Performance Testing & Conclusion
The portable SSD market took off in 2010 when several companies introduced custom form factors that moved away from a simple desktop SSD crammed into an off-the-shelf enclosure. Thankfully, we aren't still paying $800 for a 256GB drive, and the modern components are actually reliable.
We've tested a number of good portable storage products over the last few years. We've selected a handful to compare to the Team Group PD500. The Adata SD700 and SE730 are both small models but serve different purposes. The SD700 is a rugged product with an extra layer of protection for tough environments, much like the SanDisk Extreme 510. The SE730 and Samsung Portable SSD T5 are both smaller drives. Sometimes these are referred to as "front pocket" portable drives.
The LaCie Rugged RAID is the only HDD-based system in the comparison group. This drive uses two Seagate hard drives in RAID 0 to deliver similar sequential performance to the flash-based drives, but its real advantage is the beefy 4TB of capacity.
Block Size Testing
The team Group PD500 480GB suffers from inconsistent performance that we can visibly see in our sequential test results. Team Group doesn't list the controller or NAND type, but we're confident enough to say the drive employs TLC flash.
We also observed low write performance with the SanDisk Extreme 510 480GB. One thing we've learned from testing flash-based devices for over a decade now is that all flash, and especially TLC, does not provide the same performance. Portable SSDs rarely get premium flash. The best flash goes to the high-margin enterprise and automotive products. Consumer SSDs are the next tier down, and then we get to the flash used in the secondary consumer markets, like thumb drives and portable SSDs.
The planar TLC flash used in the PD500 relies on buffers to increase the initial burst of write performance. The more data you have on the flash, the slower the drive gets. This test takes several minutes and starts with very small blocks. That makes it a difficult test for devices using low-quality flash. The more a product relies on the cache, the worse it performs in this test.
Full LBA Span Performance
Our full LBA test is a carryover from our hard disk drive testing. The LaCie Rugged RAID shows the downward slope of HDD performance as we move from the fast to slow areas of the platters. We see three important aspects of sequential performance with SSDs. The first is consistency. You will see the reads of all the products are more consistent than the writes. We can also see the impact of the cache system on the data writes. The Adata SE730 is a good example with a very high burst write speed that transitions into a steady write after 25% of the user-addressable space is filled. Performance rapidly declines after that.
This test also reveals power management characteristics. These products can drop down to a lower power state. The lower the state, the longer it takes the drive to resume activity. The Team Group PD500 seems to take more time than the other drives to jump back into action. The drive responds after we wroite around 10% of the capacity. We almost reached 300 MB/s with a 128KB workload at QD1 when the drive resumed normal operation.
We don't run many application tests on external or portable storage products because the typical workload is sequential in nature. Even though it is possible, you shouldn't run an operating system on these drives. The typical use case is very basic. 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 an Avatar (2D + 3D Edition) Blu-ray ISO. For the Game test, we used rFactor to transfer data from the post-installation directory (C:/Program Files) to the portable drives. The Directory Test is a 15.2GB block of data I modeled for another project several years ago. It comes from a daily-use notebook and contains a mix of images, software installations, ISO files, and multimedia that yields a nice real-world workload.
The synthetic performance tests answers many of the questions we have about the Team Group PD500. The company gives us some specifications but doesn't go into the full details. Now we know why. The real-world performance tests show how the inconsistent performance we found during the synthetic tests carries over to your daily life with the PD500 480GB.
We can interpret the real-world tests several ways, but there is one central issue. The low performance at the start of every transfer creates performance issues that manifest as slow write speeds.
Team Group released a portable SSD that lacks many modern-day features. The PD500 is closer to the OCZ Enyo and Kingston HyperX Max 3.0, two of the first products available in this category, than a modern rendition of a portable SSD. The PD500 is kind of like a mSATA SSD on a stick. You can put a hot dog on a stick, but without the breading, it's not a corn dog. Without encryption and some backup scheduling software, the PD500 is still usable but lacks some of the extras we get with other products.
This is a good product if you have simple needs. The 480GB retails for $169.99 at Newegg, but we're not sure who would choose this product over other products at the same price point. That's the same price as the Samsung Portable SSD T5 with 500GB of 64-layer V-NAND (at the time of writing). Samsung's T5 gives you more available capacity, some software functions, encryption, and higher performance. Pricing is the one aspect Team Group can still change now that the PD500 is at retail. The company needs to reduce the PD500's price to make it more attractive.
Overall, we like the Team Group PD500 design, how light it is, and the idea behind the product. Team Group just stumbled a bit on the execution.
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