Solid state drives (SSDs) have become a popular storage option in recent years due to their fast speeds and reliability compared to traditional hard disk drives (HDDs). With the continuing drop in SSD prices, many people are considering using spare SSDs they have as external storage devices like USB flash drives.
But can you actually use a SSD as a USB flash drive? Let’s take a look at what’s involved and the pros and cons of using an SSD in this way.
Can You Physically Connect a SSD as a USB Drive?
Physically connecting a SSD to be used as external storage via USB is absolutely possible. You can purchase a USB 3.0 enclosure or adapter dock that allows you to plug in a SATA-based SSD in order to connect it to your computer via USB.
These enclosures and docks have a SATA interface to connect to the SSD internally, and a USB port to connect to your PC. Popular options include:
- USB 3.0 to SATA enclosure – A simple plastic enclosure that houses the SSD and connects it via USB. Often used for 2.5″ SSDs.
- USB 3.0 to SATA adapter dock – A docking station that you can insert bare SATA drives into to connect via USB. Useful for accessing data on bare drives.
- M.2 USB enclosure – For M.2 NVMe SSDs, you would need an M.2 USB enclosure to physically connect them via USB.
As long as you have the appropriate interface for the SSD type, it’s straightforward to connect them via USB. The enclosure or dock handles converting between SATA/NVMe and USB so the SSD can interface as external storage.
Will a SSD Work as a USB Flash Drive?
Once physically connected via USB, a SSD will be detected just like any other external USB storage device. So in general yes, you can use a SSD as if it were a USB flash drive.
There are some caveats though:
- The SSD may need to be formatted before use as external storage. Usually formatting to exFAT or FAT32 is recommended for external drives.
- SSDs require drivers to function correctly in some scenarios. For general use as storage this usually isn’t an issue.
- There may be reduced performance compared to using the SSD internally SATA/NVMe. The USB interface has much lower bandwidth.
- You’ll want to safely eject/disconnect the SSD before unplugging it to avoid data loss or corruption.
As long as you keep those considerations in mind, you can essentially use a SSD connected via USB just like you would use a flash drive for external storage purposes.
Benefits of Using a SSD as a USB Drive
There are some advantages to using a spare SSD as external storage instead of a traditional USB flash drive:
- Much higher capacities – SSDs are available at much higher capacities compared to flash drives. 1TB+ SSDs are common, larger than most flash drives.
- Faster transfer speeds – SSDs have much faster read/write speeds compared to flash drives, even if reduced performance over USB.
- More durable – With no moving parts, SSDs are less prone to physical damage if disconnected suddenly.
- Reuse old SSDs – It gives reused life to old SSDs no longer used internally in a PC.
For large external storage needs, a SSD may be a better performing and more durable solution than standard flash drive options currently available.
Disadvantages of Using a SSD as a USB Drive
There are also some downsides to keep in mind when using a SSD externally:
- More expensive – SSDs have a higher upfront cost for larger capacities compared to most basic flash drives.
- Overkill for light use – Standard flash drives are sufficient for light usage like transferring documents.
- USB interface bottlenecks performance – The SATA or NVMe interfaces allow SSDs to reach their maximum speeds. USB has much lower bandwidth ceilings.
- Requires an enclosure – You need to purchase a USB enclosure or adapter to use a bare SATA/NVMe drive.
For light external storage usage, a SSD may be overkill compared to an inexpensive flash drive. The enclosure requirement also adds to the cost if you don’t already have spare parts on hand.
Due to the interface differences, you can expect reduced performance when using a SSD via a USB connection vs. its native SATA or NVMe bus interfaces. However, it will still outperform a comparable USB flash drive.
For example, a SATA SSD may be capable of 500MB/s sequential read speeds internally. But externally over USB 3.0, speeds would be limited to around 400MB/s maximum. Despite this interface bottleneck, it still handily outperforms a 100MB/s flash drive.
Here is an example performance comparison of different drive types and interfaces:
|Drive Type||Interface||Max Sequential Reads|
|SATA SSD||Internal SATA||500 MB/s|
|SATA SSD||External USB 3.0||400 MB/s|
|NVMe SSD||Internal NVMe||3,000 MB/s|
|NVMe SSD||External USB 3.0||400 MB/s|
|USB Flash Drive||USB 2.0||60 MB/s|
|USB Flash Drive||USB 3.0||100 MB/s|
Even with the USB performance hit, SSDs provide significantly faster transfer rates than basic flash drives. So while not reaching the rated speeds of the SSD itself, you can still benefit from improved performance externally.
Ideal Usage Scenarios
Here are some of the best uses cases and scenarios for using an SSD as external storage:
- External drive for video editing – The fast speeds help large video files transfer quicker compared to flash drives.
- Gaming library storage – Store your Steam or other gaming libraries on the SSD for improved loading times compared to mechanical external hard drives.
- OS installation media – Install Windows or other operating systems easily by using the SSD as bootable installation media.
- Scratch disk for content creation – Use as a working scratch disk for temporarily storage and editing files in Photoshop, Premiere, etc.
- Backup drive – Utilize the high capacities of SSDs to back up your PC’s internal drive or other devices.
For any uses that require moving around large files or benefiting from improved speeds over mechanical drives, a USB SSD comes in handy. The high durability and capacities make SSD great portable storage.
Using a solid state drive as external storage via USB is absolutely possible. With the right enclosure, you can connect both SATA and M.2 NVMe SSDs via USB on virtually any computer.
While SSDs are more expensive than basic flash drives, they offer much greater performance, durability, and maximum capacities. This makes them ideal for external storage uses that go beyond light document transfers.
Reduced performance due to the USB bottleneck vs. internal SATA or NVMe connections is the tradeoff. But SSDs still substantially outperform mechanical hard drives and flash drives externally.
For large external storage needs where transfer speed, durability, and capacity are priorities, a USB SSD is a great option over standard flash drives.
So if you have spare SSDs available, using them for external storage is a great way to reuse old drives and gain excellent portable performance.
Just keep in mind the interface differences, driver requirements for certain uses, and proper ejection/disconnecting procedures to avoid any issues using SSDs externally as makeshift high speed “flash drives”.
With the right enclosure and understanding of the advantages and limitations, an SSD can absolutely serve as a superb external storage drive for both data transfer and storage capacity needs.
Some example uses that play well to SSD strengths are video editing scratch disks, gaming libraries, OS installation, and working backups. Their high-end performance and durability is overkill for light usage like documents.
In summary, while not a direct replacement for cheap flash drives, external SSD storage provides an excellent option for those needing speed, capacity, and durability in a portable form factor. Reusing old SSDs this way gives them new life as high-performance external drives.