Following its external T1 SSD drive last year, Samsung is back with a T3 SSD USB 3.1 drive that targets the same market, with some improvements. This new drive can put up to 2TB of storage in about 2.75 cubic inches. I’ll go over the design, some performance numbers, use cases and a comparison with its predecessor.
The general form factor of the Samsung SSD T3 is comparable to the SSD T1. As you hold it, it is evident that this new design is a little bit bigger. From the specs, I can say that this T3 2TB unit is 2.75 cubic inches in volume, versus 2.1 CI (Cubic inch) for the 1TB T1 SSD.
It’s not a small increase (+31% in volume), but the overall positioning and usage model for the T3 SSD remain similar to the T1: it is small and offers a much greater storage density:
Samsung SSD T3 2TB storage density: 744.7 GB/Cubic-Inch
Samsung SSD T3 1TB storage density: 448.4 GB/Cubic-Inch
This is the highest storage density for a consumer-level product, and the 2TB version of the SSD T3 is particularly impressive on that level.
When you carry up to 2TB of data, you don’t want to see it destroyed, or have it fall in the wrong hands. If destroyed, you may have a backup somewhere, but the chances are that you’re not at your office location, and it may or may not be easy to download that kind of data quickly.
That’s why Samsung has made the outer shell much tougher than it did for the first iteration. The SSD feels much tougher, and I guess that the slightly more rectangular design has something to do with how it can withstand shocks. It feels many times more solid than its predecessor.
"THE T3 CAN SURVIVE NASTY DROPS AND SHOCKS" With a rating of 1500G (1500 times its weight), the device should support pressures of ~168lbs, which is probably sufficient to survive most falls. If we take the quick approximation that the 51g of mass have a surface area of 4292 square mm (58x74mm) with a drag coefficient of 2.1 (brick-sized object) falling in the air (medium density=1.5 kg/cube meter), the terminal velocity (maximum falling speed) is ~9 Meters/sec.
This speed is reached if the object falls from a height of around ~5m (~5 yards), which is more or less a two-story building. At that speed, the impact force for a 51g object is around 24 Newtons, which can be roughly converted to ~107 lbs. of force. Long story short: the T3 can survive nasty drops and shocks.
Moving to USB-C
For this iteration, Samsung has decided to switch to USB-C and it’s a good decision. First of all, the connector is much smaller (and reversible) on the drive. Secondly, this will make it compatible with cables commonly used for USB phones and more. Most of the industry will fully jump on the USB-C wagon next year, but Samsung has decided to do it early with this product.
Disk performance: leading-edge
A lot of people are still using mechanical drives for their affordable price per GB. However, the invisible price to pay for these is of course, a huge performance gap. Secondly, all Flash memory storage is not equal. Let’s take a look at a spectrum of performance (T1: green, T3: orange):
Interestingly, the Samsung SSD T-series can do better than this. We ran the same file copy on a new HP X360 15” laptop, and the copy speed was nearly 2X faster, which is pretty great. This is to say that plugging a drive and copy some file on your computer doesn’t reveal the whole performance picture, but it can give you a good (relative) starting point.
"THE SSD T3 HAS NO CLEAR CHALLENGER" And I don’t even have a USB 3.1+ UASP mode which supposedly has 2X the performance of USB 3.0 to reach 10Gbps (although the Samsung SSD T3 specs give it a 5Gbps speed even with USB 3.1 UASP). In reality, in no case can the SSD T3(or T1) go beyond 450 MB/s.
UASP means USB Attached SCSI Protocol. SCSI has been around for a very long time and was used for high-performance servers I/O. UASP requires support from your motherboard manufacturer.
As far as performance is concerned, the Samsung SSD T3 is extremely fast, and offers leading-edge speed. In its category, the SSD T3 has no clear challenger.
The software has remained very similar to the previous version. It is very simple to get up and running a couple of minutes after following the step by step setup which consists of setting up your password. After that, you need to log in every time you reconnect the drive.
You don’t “have to” use the security feature. If you don’t want to activate the encryption, you can use the drive right away, no extra step required.
To make the drive compatible with both Windows and Mac OS, the Samsung SSD T3 comes preformatted with exFAT (Extended File Allocation Table), a file system that Microsoft created for Flash drives.
If you do opt to use encryption, you simply run the little setup app which is on the drive, and it will ask to create a password. I’ve written a guide for creating strong passwords that are EASY to remember if you want some quick advice. There’s a 16-characters limit on the length of the password.
In practice, 16 characters can lead to a password entropy that makes it hard enough to crack (100s of years). However, having a longer limit could let users use passphrases that are extremely hard to guess, but very easy to remember such as “this is my 16 TH USB drive this year!” which yields a rather high entropy and is super-easy for the user to remember.
Strong AES encryption technology
The Samsung T3 SSD uses AES-256 encryption (Advanced Encryption Standard), which is a secure enough to be used by governments worldwide (including the U.S) to secure “Top Secret” classified documents. “256” refers to the key size (in bits) if the cryptographic key. The longer is it, and the longer it takes to break. A long password with AES-256 could take “centuries” to crack using current computer technology.
“256” refers to the key size/length (in bits) of the cryptographic key. The longer is it, and the longer it takes to break. A long password with AES-256 could take “centuries” to crack using current computer technology.
If you have sensitive data that you wouldn’t want a competitor or the general public to see, using the encryption is the best way to achieve that goal. Losing 2TB worth of professional or personal data could be a treasure trove for competitors, ID thieves, and hackers.
Android mobile access (new)
The Samsung SSD T1 can be connected to Android mobile devices via the USB port. There’s an app that you can download that which will use the password to decrypt the content. If encryption is disabled, the app is not required/needed.
Many flash drive in this segment (size/performance) aren’t compatible with Android devices.
Competitive landscape: limited
As a potential user, there is more than one way to look at drives such as the Samsung T3 SSD. Because of the product design, I’ll assume that you are not simply looking for the cheapest Flash option, but that you are in search of a secure, very fast or very small or very sturdy external drive – possibly a combination of all.
T3 SSD 256GB ~$129
in this segment the competition is interesting. You have mostly unencrypted products such as
- MyDigitalSSD 256GB which gets lower performance (428/ 315 MBs) but costs ~$99.
- Shadow Mini 256GB which also gets lower performance (266/398 MBs) and costs ~$129
- The Sandisk Ultra SDZ43-128G is tiny, but the performance is many times lower (130/150 MBs), but it’s cheap at ~$32
T3 SSD 500GB ~$216
- The MiniPro 500GB is much bigger, and its performance is unknown at this point. It’s also more expensive at around ~220
- U32 Shadow 512GB is said to 420/420 MBs (can’t confirm) and sells for a similar price at ~$200
- Shadow mini 500GB is a little cheaper at ~$190, and I suspect it has the same performance as the 256Gb version at 266/398 MBs
- Samsung’s own SSD T1 (~199) has almost the same feature set and performance, minus the sturdier design.
T3 SSD 1TB ~$425
- U32 Shadow 1TB (~360) starts to have a price difference that could be interesting IF performance holds true, and if durability isn’t as important to you.
- Shadow mini 1TB (~379) isn’t such a good deal since performance is noticeably lesser and has no particular advantage
T3 SSD 2TB ~$849
- U32 Shadow 2TB is one of the rare competitors in that size and capacity. At $740, the price difference is not insignificant if you’re willing to forgo the extra durability. The shadow mini is the only competitor with a 1500G shock rating.
Extra data points
To illustrate some of the differences in size (volume), storage density and storage relative to the weight, I made a few charts. First, let’s look at how big the drives are, in cubic inches:
Right there, you can see that although the U32 Shadow 2TB seems interesting when browsing products, this shows that it is much bigger than the Samsung SSD T-Series. To be able to see more nuance, I’ll remove this model from the next chart.
Despite being “mini”, the Shadow mini is still larger than both T-series drives. That said, it remains one of the closest competitors.
Looking at the number of Gigabytes per cubic inch will give us a further peek into how much data can be crammed into these drives. Again, both T-Series devices take the lead, with the 2TB capacity giving the T3 an advantage over its T1 cousin. The only 2TB competitor, the U32 Shadow, simply cannot compete by this metric.
Finally, looking at the amount of storage in relation to the drive’s weight, the Samsung drives take the lead once more, and compete and we end up with a Samsung vs. Samsung contest.
Conclusion: the SSD T-Series remains undefeated
The Samsung SSD T3 is a superb product, and its full feature set is not often matched, if ever. Even if you restrict the comparison to performance and size (and forget about durability, design, and security), it is well positioned to compete aggressively in this market.
If you take all features into account (including real-time encryption and decryption), the Samsung SSD T3 Series rules in the ultra-compact high-performance market. In that context, Samsung’s SSD T1 is the closest T3 competitor. As data shows, non-Samsung popular competitors lose on all objective metrics – except price.
With the SSD T1, you would get a comparable compact size, security and performance as the T3, but you’re giving up only on potential speed with USB 3.1 UASP and on the sturdier design. Since the 256GB and 500GB T1s models are priced similarly (that’s true for non-Samsung SSDs too), the T3 is the obvious choice.
In the 1TB and 2TB segments, the price difference with non-Samsung products starts to be felt, so it’s up to you to decide if the T3 SSD unique features are worth the price difference. In many cases, they are.