The increasing popularity of Thunderbolt 3, coupled with the advent of NVMe's SSD in the compact M.2 form factor, has enabled a new class of high performance portable flash storage devices. External SSDs with Thunderbolt interfaces have been around for several years now, however, the price-to-performance ratio has prevented them from gaining wide acceptance. Everything changed with the Thunderbolt 3 SSD portable, and the wallet-friendly option appeared, thanks to Phison's reference design published in 2018 CES. We recently reviewed TEKQ's Rapide, a portable Thunderbolt 3 SSD using a Phison controller (but not a cheap, cost-based reference design based on TLC 3D). Patriot Memory is likely to be the first vendor to bring a reference design version to the retail market in Patriot Evlvr. Patriot is still working on final product packaging for retail availability at the end of Q3 2018, but they sent us one of their 1TB pre-production units for evaluation.
The Patriot Evlvr is a 90mm x 45mm x 12mm silver external SSD with an aluminum chassis. It sports a single Thunderbolt 3 interface for power and data. Port is powered by Intel JHL6340 Thunderbolt 3 Controller - note that it belongs to the Alpine Ridge family, and therefore, only works with Thunderbolt 3 Type-C port. On the other hand JHL6340 is a PCIe 3.0 x4 connection that leads to M.2 slot capable of accommodating SSD PCIe M.2 2260 or 2280. There is no plastic component in the chassis. The chassis also incorporates thermal pads for Thunderbolt controllers as well as SSD M.2.
Although the main board supports PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD, Patriot Evlvr uses PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe SSD. As the photos in the gallery above show, SSD uses Phison PS5008-E8 controller. This sticks include four flash packages (Toshiba BiCS 2 3D TLC flash), along with 512MB DDR3L DRAM.
The set of Thunderbolt 3 SSDs that we have evaluated are quite small - the only other unit in its capacity class is our DIY configuration with SanDisk Extreme Pro M.2 NVMe 3D Rapex TEKQ and SSD enclosures.
A Synthetic Benchmark
A variety of synthetic benchmarks are available to quickly evaluate the performance of storage devices that connect instantly. Real-world performance testing often has to be a customized test. We present both varieties in this review, starting with the synthetic benchmarks in this section. Before discussing it, we've looked at our test setup and test methodology quickly.
Testbed Setup and Testing Methodology
Evaluation of watershed units in Windows is done with the testbed described in the table below. For devices with a Thunderbolt 3 connection (Type-C interface) (like the Patriot Evlvr TB3 1TB SSD that we are considering today), we use a USB 3.1 Type-C port that is activated by an Intel Alpine Ridge controller. Connected to PCH Z170 via PCIe 3.0 x4 connection ..
Testbed Configuration :
- Motherboard : GIGABYTE Z170X-UD5 TH ATX
- CPU : Intel Core i5-6600K
- Memory : G.Skill Ripjaws 4 F4-2133C15-8GRR
- 32 GB : ( 4x 8GB)
- DDR4-2133 @ 15-15-15-35
- OS Drive Samsung SM951 MZVPV256 NVMe 256 GB
- SATA Devices : Corsair Neutron XT SSD 480 GB
- Intel SSD 730 Series 480 GB
- Add-on Card : None
- Chassis : Cooler Master HAF XB EVO
- PSU Cooler Master V750 750 W
- OS Windows 10 Pro x64
The full details of the reasoning behind choosing the above build components can be found here. The list of DAS units used for comparison purposes is provided below.
- Patriot Evlvr TB3 SSD 1TB (formatted in NTFS)
- DIY TEKQ Rapide - SanDisk Extreme Pro TB3 SSD 1TB
- LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt 500GB
- TEKQ Rapide TB3 SSD 240GB (NTFS)
- TEKQ Rapide TB3 SSD 240GB (exFAT)
- d2 TB2 - SSD
Synthetic Benchmarks - ATTO and Crystal DiskMark
Patriots claim read and write speeds of 1.5 GBps and 1 GBps each, and this is supported by the ATTO benchmarks given below. Unfortunately, this access trace is not too common in real-life scenarios.
CrystalDiskMark, although it is a written benchmark, provides a better estimate of the performance range with a number of selected numbers. Proven from the screenshot below, performance can drop to 38 MBps for random readings at low queue depths. However, peak performance is as good as what we see in the ATTO benchmark.
Benchmarks - robocopy and PCMark 8 Storage Bench
Our testing methodology for DAS units also considers ordinary use cases for these devices. The most common usage scenario is the transfer of large numbers of photos and videos to and from the unit. A small usage scenario is importing files directly from the watershed to multimedia editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop.
To handle the first use case, we created three test folders with the following characteristics:
- Photo: 15.6 GB collection of 4320 photos (RAW and JPEG) in 61 sub-folders
- Video: 16.1 GB collection of 244 videos (MP4 as well as MOVs) in 6 sub-folders
- BR: 10.7 GB Blu-ray folder structure from Benchmark Blu-ray IDT
Miscellaneous aspects and closing notes
The Thunderbolt 3 specification indicates that the host port must be able to supply up to 15W for the bus-powered device connected to it. Because the Patriot Evlvr is a bus-powered device, it is given that power consumption cannot exceed 15W to become a certified Thunderbolt 3 device. It is still relevant to see thoroughly the power consumption profile. Using Plugable USBC-TKEY, the bus power consumption for both SSDs is tracked when the CrystalDiskMark workload is processed. Workload is determined by 30-hour intervals.
Peak power consumption remains below 6W, however, the average bus strength pulls all workloads consistently higher than the other units compared.
Support for TRIM is important to ensure that performance consistency is maintained even after the SSD has been subject to long-term use. Because the Thunderbolt interface is transparent for all practical purposes, and the OS host sees the NVIe PCIe SSD, it comes to an internal SSD that supports TRIM. We successfully enabled TRIM in Patriot Evlvr.
The last aspect to note is price fixing - Patriot announces that the 1TB variant of Evlvr will sell for $ 490. On a per-GB basis, this translates to Evlvr being the most affordable Thunderbolt 3 SSD we have tested. We believe that the target market for Thunderbolt 3 SSDs can be split into two - one belonging to the professional content-making market where time is money, and the other is the average consumer who just wants a portable hard drive fast and just read to pay the small premium over USB based flash drive such as Samsung Portable SSD T5 or SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD. The first requires extreme performance, and is willing to pay a premium price for it - Devices like Sonnet Fusion, LaCie Bolt3, TEKQ Rapide, and our DIY configuration with PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD (SanDisk Extreme Pro M.2 NVMe 3D SSD with TEKQ Rapide enclosure) the target market. The Patriot Evlvr is one of the first portable Thunderbolt 3 SSDs to target the last segment. That said, one aspect that makes devices like Patriot Evlvr (and other low-cost Thunderbolt 3 SSSs that will use Alpine Ridge controllers) that are hard to sell is incompatibility with the generic Type-C USB ports. This SSD only works with Thunderbolt 3 ports, and while the previous market segment can easily understand that, the second segment can increase the customer support workload.
Flash prices are on a downward trend, and it is possible that 1TB Evlvr can be launched at a price lower than the $ 490 planned. Even at that price, devices like Patriot Evlvr are sure to delight cost-conscious consumers, and that's definitely benefiting the Thunderbolt 3 ecosystem.