At CES 2019, Western Digital demonstrated a number of direct-attached flash solutions. Out of all the showcased items with imminent retail availability, one deserves separate mention. Under the SanDisk brand, Western Digital is introducing an higher-performance follow-up to the the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD (a portable USB DAS that has impressed us with its performance and thermal characteristics). The new product carries the PRO branding and will be available in retail in Spring 2019.

Almost all high-end flash-based bus-powered storage devices now use a Thunderbolt 3 Type-C interface with a PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD behind the Alpine Ridge controller. Some vendors have made an attempt to bring economical alternatives in this market segment by using a PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe SSD (reference design from Phison). However, leading brands such as Western Digital / SanDisk and Seagate have refrained from playing in this market with mainstream offerings. The reason is not hard to see, as these high-performance Thunderbolt 3 SSDs can't be used with regular USB Type-C ports despite being physically compatible. This results in the vendors having to field customer support calls from the average users.

Thanks to the introduction of USB to NVMe bridges such as the JMicron JMS583 and the ASMedia ASM2362, it is now possible to create M.2 NVMe SSD enclosures with a USB interface. Intel's Titan Ridge Thunderbolt 3 controller (the follow-up to Alpine Ridge) also includes a USB fall-back when used in client devices (Alpine Ridge has USB fall-back only when used in a host configuration). We reviewed MyDigitalSSD's M2X Storage Enclosure (using the JMS583 bridge chip), and found that it delivered great performance. Such storage enclosures do come with some caveats - particularly with respect to the firmware / power state configurations of the NVMe SSD being used.

Western Digital is introducing a similar configuration with the SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD. The form factor and industrial design seem to be following the venerable SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD, retaining the IP55 rating. That SSD uses a M.2 SATA SSD in a plastic enclosure with a silicon rubber coating. The Extreme PRO Portable SSD uses a NVMe drive, and the enclosure is made of aluminum (for better thermal performance) with the same silicon rubber coating. This is necessary because the NVMe SSD may likely end up generating more heat because of the increased speeds. Western Digital is claiming reads at up to 1 GBps with the Extreme PRO Portable SSD.

From a market perspective, it is great that WD is making NVMe-USB bridges mainstream. The firmware of the internal SSD is fully under their control, and the company does extensive validation prior to releasing products into the market. Therefore, we have no doubts that the 'ready-to-use out-of-the-box' SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD will have very wide compatibility across a variety of USB ports (ranging from delivering full performance over USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports to operating within the power constraints enforced by USB ports in legacy systems).

The SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD will be available in 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB capacities, starting in Spring 2019. Pricing is yet to be decided, though it will need to be competitive against similar-performing DIY configurations that can be built for around $90 / $135 / $260 at the 250GB / 500GB / 1TB capacity points. [ Update from Western Digital: The SanDisk Extreme PRO Portable SSD will be available worldwide in Q2. The drive will be available in capacities of: 500GB - $199, 1TB - $349, 2TB - $599]. Like the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD, the PRO version comes with a USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C interface, and includes a Type-A adapter. It will have a 3-year warranty.

Source: SanDisk

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  • MrCommunistGen - Tuesday, January 8, 2019 - link

    This is exciting and "about time".

    I've been waiting for NVMe-class external storage without a bunch of technical caveats. I'm sure price will still be a caveat, but with 1 product released, more should follow and eventually drive down the price to a sane level.
  • HStewart - Tuesday, January 8, 2019 - link

    I think the most exiting part of this is that it can use TB 3 and Usb c gen 2 on same device and for it ability - it not too bad of price - this is what the Thunderbolt community has been waiting for. No longer extremely expensive Thunderbolt 3 only storage. It can also be USB C interfaces or older USB A.

    This would be nice device to see benchmarks on.
  • HStewart - Tuesday, January 8, 2019 - link

    Above comment assumes that this device has full Thunderbolt 3 speeds in addition to USB C Gen 2 - that is what I am waiting for.
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, January 8, 2019 - link

    I doubt this has TB3 support. That would require use of the Titan Ridge controller. It is likely using the one from ASMedia (since most SanDisk external SSDs I have seen have an ASMedia bridge), but we will see when the product ships.
  • vailr - Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - link

    Will Samsung be offering a similar device for use with their brand of NVMe SSD's?
    One that also works with an updated version of the "Samsung SSD Magician" software, for firmware updates and other functions.
    Should be able to create a "Windows to Go" bootable external NVMe SSD.
    Note: an .iso of the latest Windows 10 build 1809 has a flaw in the file C:\Windows\System32\Drivers\WppRecorder.sys that prevents proper system boot. An older version from build 1803 can be used to replace the faulty file, but then the Windows "Secure Boot" feature won't allow using the replacement file, unless the "only allow signed drivers during system boot" feature is manually disabled.
  • ravib123 - Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - link

    Sorry but these are useless.

    Sandisk just doesn’t honor their warranties, and 50% failure rate in 3 years from my experience on their “extreme” product line.
  • soulkeeper4 - Tuesday, November 24, 2020 - link

    What about apple's M1 usb 4?are they compatible with these speeds?
  • soulkeeper4 - Tuesday, November 24, 2020 - link

    edit: wrong article

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