NVMe over USB, but at what cost?
Lexar, which was bought by Chinese SSD maker Longsys back in 2017 after previous owner Micron announced it was getting out of the retail removable storage business, is offering up a new SL100 Pro portable SSD and with impressive performance ratings. With speeds of up to 950/900 MBps read/write, this USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 device is speedier than the typical run-of-the mill SATA based external SSD. Its small size and shape make it very pocketable for those who are constantly on the go, and it features beautiful aesthetics. But pricing needs to be brought back down to earthly levels before it gets our recommendation.
Lexar has been in the flash memory business for over 20 years, though recent times have been rocky, the brand seems to be back on track.Two years later its acquisition, the company has launched the world’s first 1TB SD card and a new series of NVMe and SATA based SSDs. Alongside these launches also comes an external drive aimed at the creative professional, the SL100 Pro, which we are taking a close look at today in the 1TB capacity.
The SL100 Pro is the faster variant of their SL100 external SSD. It uses the latest USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 interface to deliver high-performance for the working professional, double what the SL100 or any SATA SSD can do. It features a darker look than the SL100’s grey finish and features a higher capacity option than the non-pro model, which tops out at 500GB.
|Product||SL100 Pro 250GB||SL100 Pro 500GB||SL100 Pro 1TB|
|Capacity (User / Raw)||250GB / 256GB||500GB / 512GB||1000GB /1024GB|
|Interface / Protocol||USB-C / USB 3.1 Gen 2||USB-C / USB 3.1 Gen 3||USB-C / USB 3.1 Gen 4|
|Included Cable (s)||USB Type-C to Type-C & USB Type-C to USB Type-A||USB Type-C to Type-C & USB Type-C to USB Type-A||USB Type-C to Type-C & USB Type-C to USB Type-A|
|Sequential Read||950 MB/s||950 MB/s||950 MB/s|
|Sequential Write||900 MB/s||900 MB/s||900 MB/s|
|Interface Controller||JMicron JMS583||JMicron JMS584||JMicron JMS585|
|NAND Controller||Marvell 88NV1160||Marvell 88NV1161||Marvell 88NV1162|
|Storage Media||64L Micron TLC NAND Flash||64L Micron TLC NAND Flash||64L Micron TLC NAND Flash|
|Default File System||exFAT||exFAT||exFAT|
|Security||256-bit AES encryption||256-bit AES encryption||256-bit AES encryption|
|Dimensions (L x W x H)||55 x 73.4 x 10.8 mm / 2.165” x 2.89” x 0.425”||56 x 73.4 x 10.8 mm / 2.165” x 2.89” x 0.425”||57 x 73.4 x 10.8 mm / 2.165” x 2.89” x 0.425”|
|Weight||0.155lbs. / 70.5g (Without Cable)||0.155lbs. / 70.5g (Without Cable)||0.155lbs. / 70.5g (Without Cable)|
Lexar originally launched the SL100 Pro in three capacities: 250GB, 500GB, and 1TB. But, since have dropped the 250GB model, although some can still be found from some online retailers. Th drive features a three-year warranty and is compatible with both Mac and PC. Out of the box, it comes pre-formatted as exFAT, although our testing was completed while formatted as NTFS.
With current prices being about double what most other external SSDs go for, pricing is a big issue for the SL100 Pro product line. Speeds of up to 950/900 MB/s read and write are faster than SATA based competitors, but not fast enough to warrant double the cost. A simple USB 3.1 Gen 2 NVMe enclosure like a the Pluggable USBC-NVMe or MyDigitalSSD M2X plus a standard NVMe SSD would come in cheaper and offer just about the same level of performance, as we noted in our recent feature: How to Build Your Own External SSD.
Software and Accessories
Included in the package are the portable SSD itself and two short USB cables. One is USB-C to USB-C while the other is USB-C to USB-A cable. The latter is much appreciated for broad compatibility, since many PCs don't yet have USB-C ports, or might just have one, while USB-A is much more common.
Lexar’s SL100 Pro SSD also works with ENC’s DataVault Lite software for added security. When enabled, it utilizes 256-bit AES encryption to encrypt data on the device to keep it safe from prying eyes. As another bonus, this helps to ensure your deleted data stays deleted as well. Files that are deleted from the vault are also securely erased and can’t be recovered. There is just one issue here, however. At the time of writing, due to US government requirements, the download for the software was temporarily unavailable until further notice, and it doesn’t come pre-loaded on the device. So if security and encryption are high on your priorities list, you should probably look elsewhere--at least until the software becomes available again.
The drive measures 55 x 73.4 x 10.8 mm and weighs in at just over 69 grams. Lexar’s SL100 Pro features a blacked-out brushed aluminum exterior that is as stylish as it is durable. It feels solid in the hand and has a bit of heft to it. As an SSD, it should be able to withstand significant drops and shock and still keep going, unlike the spinning platters and delicate read/write heads of hard drives.
As we said before, this isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill SATA-based external SSD. It’s not quite as fast as some of the Thunderbolt 3 devices available, but with a custom-designed PCB and the fastest USB interface currently available, it's quite fast. And powering it is an interesting combination of components.
Inside of this classy exterior is a JMicron JMS583 USB to NVMe bridge chip that connects to a Marvell 88NV1160 NVMe SSD controller that is, in turn, managing a bunch of 64L Micron TLC NAND flash. This controller is a lower-end model but obviously has enough grunt to saturate the interface, even without DRAM.
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