The market for portable SSDs has expanded significantly over the past few years. With USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) becoming the de-facto standard for USB ports even in entry-level systems, external storage devices using the interface have flooded the market.

OWC has established itself as vendor of computing peripherals and upgrade components (primarily for the Apple market) over the last 30 years. Their portable SSDs lineup, under the Envoy brand, includes both Thunderbolt and USB-C offerings. The Envoy Pro EX Thunderbolt 3 and the Envoy Pro EX USB-C coupled leading performance numbers with a sleek and stylish industrial design. Late last year, the company introduced the OWC Envoy Pro Elektron - a portable flash drive similar to the Envoy Pro EX USB-C in performance, albeit in a much smaller form-factor.

This review presents results from processing our updated test suite for direct-attached storage devices on the OWC Envoy Pro Elektron 1TB drive.

Introduction and Product Impressions

External, bus-powered storage devices capable of 1GBps+ performance have become entry-level offerings in the market today. Rapid advancements in flash technology (including the advent fo 3D NAND and NVMe) as well as faster host interfaces (such as Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.2 Gen 2+) have been key enablers. Broadly speaking, there are five distinct performance levels in this market:

  • 2GBps+ drives with Thunderbolt 3, using NVMe SSDs
  • 2GBps drives with USB 3.2 Gen 2x2, using NVMe SSDs or direct USB flash drive (UFD) controllers
  • 1GBps drives with USB 3.2 Gen 2, using NVMe SSDs or direct UFD controllers
  • 500MBps drives with USB 3.2 Gen 1 (or, Gen 2, in some cases), using SATA SSDs
  • Sub-400MBps drives with USB 3.2 Gen 1, using UFD controllers

The OWC Envoy Pro Elektron we are looking at today belongs to the third category in the above list, utilizing a M.2 2242 NVMe SSD behind the ASMedia ASM2362 bridge chip. The compact casing is all-metal, and the drive is IP67 rated for protection against dust ingress and water immersion.

OWC includes a single Type-C to Type-C cable along with a permanently attached Type-C to Type-A adapter in the package. Disassembling the unit is fairly trivial, with four Torx screws under the rubber bumper needing removal.

The internal layout, rubber grommets for ingress protection, and the placement of the thermal pads is very similar to the Sabrent Rocket Nano we reviewed last year, but the main board has a significant difference - an ASMedia ASM2362 bridge chip in place of the JMicron JMS583. In addition, the industrial design of the Envoy Pro Elektron is subjectively more stylish than the regular rectangular block design of the Rocket Nano. Both portable SSDs re-use their branded Phison-based M.2 2242 NVMe SSDs inside the enclosure. In the case of the Elektron, it is the OWC Aura P13 Pro.

The review compares the OWC Envoy Pro Elektron 1TB against the other 1TB drives reviewed earlier using our 2021 direct-attached storage test suite.

  • OWC Envoy Pro Elektron 1TB
  • Akasa AK-ENU3M2-04 (SK hynix Gold P31 1TB behind a Realtek RTL9210G bridge)
  • Akasa AK-ENU3M2-03 (SK hynix Gold P31 1TB behind an ASMedia ASM2362 bridge)
  • Kingston DT Max 1TB

A quick overview of the internal capabilities of the storage devices is given by CrystalDiskInfo. The OWC Envoy Pro Elektron supports full S.M.A.R.T passthrough, along with TRIM to ensure consistent performance for the drive over its lifetime.

S.M.A.R.T Passthrough - CrystalDiskInfo

The table below presents a comparative view of the specifications of the different storage bridges presented in this review.

Comparative Direct-Attached Storage Devices Configuration
Aspect
Downstream Port 1x PCIe 3.0 x4 (M.2 NVMe) 1x PCIe 3.0 x2 (M.2 NVMe)
1x SATA III (M.2)
Upstream Port USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C
USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A
Bridge Chip ASMedia ASM2362 Realtek RTL9210B-CG
Power Bus Powered Bus Powered
     
Use Case 1GBps-class, IP67-rated rugged and compact portable SSD M.2 2242 / 2260 / 2280 SATA / NVMe SSD aluminum enclosure
DIY 1GBps-class portable SSD with a USB flash drive-like form-factor
Type-A and Type-C male ports integrated
     
Physical Dimensions 76 mm x 52 mm x 12 mm 130 mm x 26.5 mm x 12 mm
Weight 85 grams 36 grams (without SSD)
Cable 64.8 cm USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C to Type-C
Attached Type-C female to Type-A male adapter (resultant Type-C to Type-A cable length : 67.8 cm)
N/A
     
S.M.A.R.T Passthrough Yes Yes
UASP Support Yes Yes
TRIM Passthrough Yes Yes
Hardware Encryption N/A SSD-dependent
     
Evaluated Storage Kioxia (Toshiba) BiCS 4 96L 3D TLC SK hynix P31 PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD
SK hynix 128L 3D TLC
     
Price USD 229 GBP 40
Review Link OWC Envoy Pro Elektron 1TB Review Akasa AK-ENU3M2-04 Review

 

Testbed Setup and Evaluation Methodology

Direct-attached storage devices (including portable SSDs like the OWC Envoy Pro Elektron) are evaluated using the Quartz Canyon NUC (essentially, the Xeon / ECC version of the Ghost Canyon NUC) configured with 2x 16GB DDR4-2667 ECC SODIMMs and a PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD - the IM2P33E8 1TB from ADATA.

The most attractive aspect of the Quartz Canyon NUC is the presence of two PCIe slots (electrically, x16 and x4) for add-in cards. In the absence of a discrete GPU - for which there is no need in a DAS testbed - both slots are available. In fact, we also added a spare SanDisk Extreme PRO M.2 NVMe SSD to the CPU direct-attached M.2 22110 slot in the baseboard in order to avoid DMI bottlenecks when evaluating Thunderbolt 3 devices. This still allows for two add-in cards operating at x8 (x16 electrical) and x4 (x4 electrical). Since the Quartz Canyon NUC doesn't have a native USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 port, Silverstone's SST-ECU06 add-in card was installed in the x4 slot. All non-Thunderbolt devices are tested using the Type-C port enabled by the SST-ECU06.

The specifications of the testbed are summarized in the table below:

The 2021 AnandTech DAS Testbed Configuration
System Intel Quartz Canyon NUC9vXQNX
CPU Intel Xeon E-2286M
Memory ADATA Industrial AD4B3200716G22
32 GB (2x 16GB)
DDR4-3200 ECC @ 22-22-22-52
OS Drive ADATA Industrial IM2P33E8 NVMe 1TB
Secondary Drive SanDisk Extreme PRO M.2 NVMe 3D SSD 1TB
Add-on Card SilverStone Tek SST-ECU06 USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 Type-C Host
OS Windows 10 Enterprise x64 (21H1)
Thanks to ADATA, Intel, and SilverStone Tek for the build components

The testbed hardware is only one segment of the evaluation. Over the last few years, the typical direct-attached storage workloads for memory cards have also evolved. High bit-rate 4K videos at 60fps have become quite common, and 8K videos are starting to make an appearance. Game install sizes have also grown steadily even in portable game consoles, thanks to high resolution textures and artwork. Keeping these in mind, our evaluation scheme for portable SSDs and UFDs involves multiple workloads which are described in detail in the corresponding sections.

  • Synthetic workloads using CrystalDiskMark and ATTO
  • Real-world access traces using PCMark 10's storage benchmark
  • Custom robocopy workloads reflective of typical DAS usage
  • Sequential write stress test

In the next section, we have an overview of the performance of the OWC Envoy Pro Elektron in these benchmarks. Prior to providing concluding remarks, we have some observations on the drive's power consumption numbers and thermal solution also.

 
Performance Benchmarks
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  • watersb - Saturday, October 30, 2021 - link

    I have the Thunderbolt/USB4 version, the Envoy Pro FX, it feels like a solid block of metal.

    Really fast. Warms up a bit if you push it.

    Super expensive, compared to USB drives, but its rugged and works great.

    My only complaint is that the solid metal case is relatively heavy, such that the USB-C cable has popped out of its socket if the cable is jerked suddenly.

    They sell an accessory item for their Thunderbolt docks that secures the cable to the dock via a threaded screw. https://eshop.macsales.com/item/OWC/CLINGON1PK/ If you feel like taking a drill to the case/heat sink of your $500 external SSD, knock yourself out...
    Reply
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    I have their BYOD Envoy Express TB3 drive, actually three of them. Just add a NVMe M.2 drive, so in theory you could go up to 8TB. Reply
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