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Which External SSD Is Right for You?

As the ports on computers continue to improve, so does the performance of external SSD drives. So which external SSD drive is right for you? Read on to find out more about the fastest and most convenient portable drive options. 

As you may know, solid-state drives, or SSDs for short, boast much faster read and write speeds than the traditional mechanical hard drives they replaced. What you may not know is that the potential speeds of SSDs were sometimes limited by the interfaces they connected to. That is, until recently. If you haven’t checked out external SSD storage in a while, you may be pleasantly surprised to learn that many are as fast or faster than the drives found in laptops and desktops.


Best Performance, Most Convenient: OWC Envoy Pro FX

OWC Envoy Pro FX external SSD on a desktop by a Mac mini

Starting our list off with a bang is the OWC Envoy Pro FX. What makes the Envoy Pro FX a strong contender for the title of best external SSD is that its single interface is Thunderbolt and USB-C compatible. It will adapt to the best available interface whenever it’s connected.

OWC Envoy Pro FX real-world performance benchmark graphic

To clarify what makes this unique: many USB-C drives will work in a Thunderbolt port. However, the USB-C device operates at USB speeds, even when plugged into the higher bandwidth Thunderbolt port. In the past, unlocking the full transfer speeds offered by Thunderbolt ports required purchasing a Thunderbolt drive. And that would only be compatible with Thunderbolt interfaces, not USB-C ports. It was an either/or situation with USB-C being more compatible and Thunderbolt being faster overall in performance.

Universal Connection

Now, with the OWC Envoy Pro FX, a single connection provides both Thunderbolt and USB-C connections, offering a universal approach to drive design and making the dual-format system much easier to navigate.

AMD Gaming computer showing USB-C port - no Thunderbolt

While nearly every modern Mac features a Thunderbolt port, Thunderbolt adoption has been less consistent on the PC side. Popular devices like the Microsoft Surface and many Chromebooks feature USB-C ports and not Thunderbolt connectivity. The same can be said for many gaming PCs – nearly all AMD Ryzen socket motherboards do not feature Thunderbolt ports. For users and families that use all kinds of devices, the OWC Envoy Pro FX offers up the highest level of compatibility and performance.

As a content creator, I use both macOS devices and an AMD Ryzen desktop – striking a balance of price and performance. This makes the Envoy Pro FX a great solution for a professional like myself that regularly switches between different devices. Whichever device I am using, I know that performance will be best for that device.

Included in the box are an OWC Thunderbolt 4 / USB-C cable (the most universal and compatible cable available) and a USB-C to USB-A adapter, ensuring connectivity with even more Macs and PCs.

The colorful 2021 iMac features both Thunderbolt and USB-C ports, be sure to interface with the Thunderbolt ports for maximum bandwidth on a system that features both port types.
The colorful 2021 iMac features both Thunderbolt and USB-C ports, be sure to interface with the Thunderbolt ports for maximum bandwidth on a system that features both port types.

The DIY Solution: OWC Envoy Express

While the Envoy Pro FX is already an exceptionally compact drive, the OWC Envoy Express features an even smaller footprint. Measuring at just 4.2″ x 1.7″ x 0.5″ (10.6cm by 4.4cm by 1.2cm if you speak metric), it is barely larger than an NVMe blade. The Envoy Express is an enclosure – add any 2280 M.2 NVMe SSD to the Envoy Express, and you are good to go! Choose from either an OWC Aura SSD offering or select a drive from any manufacturer. In the box, you’ll find the drive enclosure, a PH1 screwdriver, and the enclosure slide mount. It has a removable adhesive making installation and mounting convenient. 

OWC Envoy Express ssd enclosure mounted to the back of a MacBook Pro

The enclosure format is excellent for users who like to upgrade their desktop or laptop drives regularly and still use their existing hardware. IT professionals will enjoy the read and write speeds north of 1500 MB/s. With this kind of throughput, never suffer drive I/O bottlenecks again! 


Dependable and Compatible: OWC Envoy Pro Elektron

OWC Envoy Pro Elektron external SSD - front with reflection

The OWC Envoy Pro Elektron is portable, pretty, and rugged. The little guy can be submerged underwater for 30 minutes and then get run over by a car and will still turn on! The Elektron’s footprint is just a bit larger than a set of Airpods and, like the other drives mentioned above, is completely bus-powered. This means that there is no power brick to lug around. Its USB-C-only interface is compatible with both Macs and PCs over either a USB-C or Thunderbolt port.

And with read and write speeds hitting 1000MB/s, the OWC Envoy Pro Elektron is fast enough to run an entire Pro Tools studio single-handedly. The Elektron is so tiny, spotting it in the picture below is like a game of Where’s Waldo (hint, it’s next to the phone).

OWC Envoy Pro Elektron External SSD on a Mixing Board in a Recording Studio

External SSDs: Conclusion

Whether you need extra space to install games, render a video export, or backup photos, having a safe and reliable hard drive is crucial. External SSDs continue to improve, offering smaller form factors, attractive design, and faster speeds. And, no more power bricks to carry around.

Have I missed a detail? Is there a different model you have questions about listed on our site? Let me know in the comments section!



Arthur Ditner
the authorArthur Ditner
Over the past fifteen years, Arthur Ditner has worked in post-production in a variety of roles including colorist, editor, and dailies producer. He has had the pleasure of working with some of the top directorial talent in Canada, and has traveled the United States building remote dailies labs supporting network television series. He plays bass guitar on occasion and resides near Toronto.
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5 Comments

  • I just need an old and slow ssd for “timeMachine” backups. What would I best use. iMac.2017. ?

  • Very helpful.

    But: Meanwhile which external AND especially replacement upgrade internal SSD for a late 2015 5K iMac 17,1? I can’t figure it out and can’t seem to get the question answered. Either 1TB or 2TB; wish I could afford more.

    I don’t need to overbuy if my intel based 3.3ghz fusion drive to be replaced by new SSD can’t handle it. How to determine?

    THANKS FOR ANY HELP.

    • I would start by looking at your model’s My Upgrades page. If you still have questions, give customer support a call at 800-275-4576 and they’ll help you out!