Are portable SSD worth it?

With the rise of high-resolution photos, videos, and large files, portable solid-state drives (SSDs) have become a popular way to easily expand storage and transfer files between devices. But are portable SSDs worth the cost compared to traditional external hard disk drives (HDDs)? Here we examine the pros and cons of portable SSDs to help you decide if they are right for your needs.

The Pros of Portable SSDs

There are several key advantages that make portable SSDs an attractive option compared to external HDDs:


The top benefit of portable SSDs is their much faster data transfer speeds compared to HDDs. SSDs have rapid access times and can transfer data up to 5-6x faster than typical HDDs which rely on spinning platters. This makes a huge difference when transferring large files like 4K video footage or creating backups.

Size and Weight

Being based on flash memory chips, portable SSDs are much smaller and lighter than portable HDDs. For example, a 1TB SSD may be smaller than a passport and weigh just a couple of ounces, while a 1TB HDD is likely larger and heavier around 1/2 pound.

Durability and Reliability

With no moving parts, SSDs are less prone to damage or failure when moved around compared to HDDs and their sensitive spinning disks. SSDs can better withstand bumps and drops and extreme temperatures. Portable SSDs typically have superior shock, vibration, and dust resistance.

Performance Consistency

Portable HDD performance can suffer due to fragmentation over time as files are deleted and rewritten across the disk platters. SSDs do not have this issue and deliver consistent speeds even after long term use. HDD transfer speeds may also vary based on where data is located on the disks.

The Cons of Portable SSDs

However, there are some downsides to consider with portable SSDs:

Higher Cost Per Gigabyte

The biggest drawback of portable SSDs is their higher price per gigabyte compared to HDDs. Currently SSDs cost around $0.15-0.20 per GB while HDDs are around $0.03-0.05 per GB depending on storage capacity. The price gap is narrowing but HDDs remain considerably cheaper per GB.

Lower Maximum Capacities

While portable HDDs are now available with capacity up to 5-10TB, most portable SSDs max out at 4TB currently. If you need a higher capacity external drive, an HDD may be better suited and more affordable.

Limited Write/Rewrite Endurance

NAND flash memory cells used in SSDs can only be written and erased a finite number of times before wearing out. However, modern SSDs feature advanced wear-leveling algorithms and over-provisioning to extend endurance. Portable SSDs have typical write endurance ratings of 300-3500 cycles which is suitable for most consumer workloads.

Portable SSD vs HDD Comparison

Here is a helpful comparison table summarizing the key differences between portable solid-state drives (SSDs) and hard disk drives (HDDs):

Attribute Portable SSD Portable HDD
Data transfer speeds Up to 1050MB/s (NVMe) Up to 140MB/s (USB 3.2 Gen 2)
Size and weight Small and lightweight Larger and heavier
Durability Highly durable with no moving parts Less durable with spinning disks
Cost per gigabyte $0.15-$0.20 per GB $0.03-$0.05 per GB
Maximum capacities Typically up to 4TB Up to 10TB
Write endurance 300-3500 write cycles typical Essentially unlimited writes

Ideal Uses for Portable SSDs

Due to their fast transfer speeds, compact size, durability, and silent operation, portable SSDs excel in these types of applications:

  • Transferring and editing high resolution photos and 4K/8K video
  • Field work where small size and durability are needed
  • Frequent travelers who want a fast and compact external drive
  • Gamers for improving game load times
  • Professionals needing quick access to large files

When HDDs are Preferable to SSDs

There are some cases where choosing a portable HDD makes more sense over an SSD:

  • You need very high capacity external storage (8TB+)
  • Don’t need blazing fast speeds or compact size
  • Read files more often than writing
  • On a tight budget (HDDs cheaper per GB)
  • Storing long-term cold storage/archives

Tips for Choosing a Portable SSD

If you’ve decided a portable SSD is right for your needs, here are some tips for selecting one:

Storage Capacity

Consider how much storage you need now and may need in the future. SSD capacities available include: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB. Go larger than your current needs to allow room for growth.


Faster interfaces like USB 3.2 Gen2, Thunderbolt 3/4, and USB4 provide speeds up to 10Gbps. Make sure your computer supports the interface type. NVMe SSDs with USB-C/Thunderbolt enclosures offer max performance.

Read and Write Speeds

A faster SSD will move files quicker. Look for sequential read/write speeds of at least 500MB/s for USB 3.2 Gen2 and 1000MB/s+ for Thunderbolt 3.


If you travel frequently, look for a rugged and slim SSD with small footprint. Also consider security features like password protection and encryption.

Brand and Warranty

Stick with major brands like Samsung, SanDisk, WD who make reliable drives. Longer warranties of 3 to 5 years are preferable for peace of mind.

Price Per GB

Calculate the price per GB to find the best value. Under $0.20/GB is a decent deal for a portable SSD currently.


In summary, portable SSDs provide significantly faster data transfer speeds and more rugged, compact storage compared to HDDs. The downsides are higher cost per gigabyte and lower max capacities. Portable SSDs are ideal for transferring and editing high-res media, frequent travel, and any application where small size, speed and durability are beneficial.

For massive amounts of cold storage and backups, HDDs are likely the better choice currently based on lower price per gigabyte. However, with SSD prices gradually dropping and capacities increasing, portable SSDs are becoming viable for a broader range of users.

When evaluating your specific needs, take into account transfer speed requirements, storage capacity needs, physical size limitations, and your budget. This will help determine if a portable SSD or HDD is the right choice as an external storage solution.