Are portable solid state drives worth it?

With the proliferation of high-resolution photos, videos, and large multimedia files, many computer users find themselves needing more portable storage than ever before. Portable solid state drives (SSDs) have emerged as an appealing option compared to traditional mechanical hard drives. But are the additional benefits of SSDs worth the higher price tag?

What are the advantages of portable SSDs?

There are several key advantages that portable SSDs have over traditional portable hard disk drives (HDDs):

  • Faster transfer speeds – SSDs have much faster read/write speeds compared to HDDs, allowing for quicker transfer of files. Sequential read/write speeds for SSDs can reach over 500 MB/s, compared to around 100 MB/s for portable HDDs.
  • More durable/reliable – With no moving parts, SSDs are less susceptible to damage or failure from drops, bumps, vibration, etc. This makes them better suited for travel and on-the-go use.
  • Lower power consumption – SSDs consume less power than HDDs, which translates to longer battery life for laptops or other mobile devices.
  • Compact size – SSDs are lighter and have a smaller physical footprint than portable HDDs with the same storage capacity.
  • Noiseless operation – SSDs make no audible noise when accessed, unlike the spinning platters and moving heads of HDDs.

The table below compares the typical features of portable HDDs and SSDs:

Attribute Portable HDD Portable SSD
Interface USB 3.0/3.1, Thunderbolt USB 3.0/3.1, USB-C, Thunderbolt
Sequential Read Speed Up to 130 MB/s Up to 500+ MB/s
Sequential Write Speed Up to 130 MB/s Up to 500+ MB/s
Durability Moderate – susceptible to damage from drops/shocks High – no moving parts, more resistant to drops/shocks
Power Consumption 2.5-3 watts typical 0.5-1 watts typical
Noise Level Audible platter and head movement sounds Silent operation
Size and Weight Larger and heavier Smaller and lighter

What are the downsides of SSDs?

Despite their advantages, SSDs do come with some potential drawbacks:

  • Higher cost per gigabyte – SSDs are more expensive than HDDs in terms of cost per gigabyte. Prices have come down but are still noticeably higher than portable HDDs.
  • Lower capacities – Portable SSD maximum capacities top out at around 2TB currently. Portable HDDs are available in capacities up to 5TB.
  • Lifespan limitations – SSDs can wear out after a certain number of write cycles, although modern SSDs typically last for many years of normal consumer use.

When are portable SSDs worth the higher price?

Here are some common situations where a portable SSD can provide enough additional benefit to justify the higher price tag compared to a standard portable HDD:

  • Need for extra physical durability – The lack of moving parts makes SSDs better suited for users who are on the go or need to transport external storage in bags, cases, etc. where it may be dropped or subjected to vibration.
  • Frequently working with large files – The faster speeds of SSDs can translate to significant time savings when transfering/accessing/editing large photos, videos, multimedia projects, games, etc.
  • Utilizing new high-speed connections – Portable SSDs can take better advantage of the maximum speeds offered by new interfaces like USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20Gbps), USB4 (40Gbps) and Thunderbolt 3/4.
  • Need for silent operation – The noiseless functioning of SSDs makes them preferable over HDDs in quiet work/study environments or for audio/video recording.
  • Concerns over power consumption – For laptop users and mobile device users who need to maximize battery life, an SSD consumes less power.

For typical users who just need a portable hard drive for basic backups or data storage, a portable HDD likely provides enough performance and value. But power users working with large files will appreciate the speed boost of a portable SSD.

Top portable SSD recommendations

Based on their performance, features, value and reputation, we recommend considering the following portable SSD options:

Samsung T7 Touch

  • Available capacities – 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
  • Transfer speeds – Up to 1,050 MB/s read, 1,000 MB/s write
  • Interface – USB 3.2 Gen 2, USB-C
  • Additional feature – Integrated fingerprint sensor for security

Western Digital My Passport SSD

  • Available capacities – 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
  • Transfer speeds – Up to 1,050 MB/s read, 1,000 MB/s write
  • Interface – USB 3.2 Gen 2, USB-C
  • Additional features – Drop resistance up to 6.5 feet, five year warranty

SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD

  • Available capacities – 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
  • Transfer speeds – Up to 1,050 MB/s read, 1,000 MB/s write
  • Interface – USB 3.2 Gen 2, USB-C
  • Additional features – Rugged/water resistant casing, compact size

All three options provide great performance and portability. The Samsung T7 Touch adds fingerprint security while the SanDisk Extreme SSD focuses more on durability. The WD My Passport SSD hits a nice middle ground of speed, design and value.

How much portable SSD capacity do you need?

Determining the ideal SSD capacity involves assessing your storage needs and budget:

  • 500GB SSD – Suitable for basic file transfers and backups. Provides ample capacity for things like documents, spreadsheets, photos and music.
  • 1TB SSD – The sweet spot for most users. Enough room for a sizable photo/video library, game files, multimedia projects, etc. while still being cost-effective.
  • 2TB SSD – Ideal for power users who work with very large files or need maximal portable capacity. Allows huge photo/video archives and extensive game/project libraries.

Also consider workflow – do you need your entire library available on the go, or just selected active projects/files? For some, cloud storage can supplement a smaller portable SSD.

Shopping tips for portable SSDs

Follow these guidelines when selecting a portable SSD:

  • Interface – USB 3.2 Gen 2 or Thunderbolt 3/4 provide maximum performance. Look to use with USB-C ports.
  • Read/write speeds – Aim for at least 500MB/s capable drives for noticeable speed gains over HDDs.
  • Build quality – Metal and rubber casings provide more protection. Check durability claims.
  • Brand reputation – Stick with recognizable brands like Samsung, WD, SanDisk, Crucial, etc. for reliability.
  • Warranty – Look for three years or longer coverage for peace of mind.
  • Security – Models with encryption and/or fingerprint unlock provide an extra layer of data safeguarding.

Also assess whether any bundled software like backup utilities or drive health monitoring add worthwhile value for your individual needs and workflow.


At the end of the day, portable SSDs carry a price premium over traditional HDDs. What you get in return is markedly faster transfer speeds, improved physical resilience, low power consumption and near-silent operation. For many users, these benefits are well worth the extra cost when choosing external storage to take on the go.

Power users working extensively with large files see the greatest gains in productivity and efficiency from portable SSDs. But even typical mainstream consumers can appreciate the ruggedness and versatility of SSDs as external storage for their laptops, phones, gaming consoles and other devices. Thanks to continued advances in flash memory technology, capacities are also getting large enough for most practical portable needs.

While the price gap is still substantial compared to HDDs, portable SSD prices have come down steadily in recent years. And with their fundamental speed and durability edge, SSDs are likely to continue making inroads into the portable storage space moving forward.