ProsOffers performance unmatched by thumb drives when paired with a good SATA M.2 drive; high-quality materials
ConsSomewhat large; requires USB 3.1 for max speed; not cost-effective when used with SSDs- below 500GB
This review has been a long time in the making - over a year in fact! That's because when SilverStone sent us its MS09 M.2 SATA to USB 3.1 External Enclosure in late 2017, we thought it was just slightly ahead of its time. Solid-state drives in the M.2 format were just becoming popular at the time, and truthfully, most M.2 drives at that time used the faster, more expensive PCIe interface, not the more common SATA interface. So the potential for consumer confusion was significant.
Well, it's early 2019 now, and the SSD market has definitely changed. The vast majority of SSDs sold today are in the M.2 format, and this includes a wide variety of SATA drives, as manufacturers of 2.5" SATA drives are aggressively moving their models over to the M.2 format, which is clearly superior from a form factor and ease-of-use standpoint. SSDs have also plummeted in price over the past year, making their use in external enclosures a bit more palatable from a cost standpoint. Furthermore, many PC enthusiasts are probably now moving their PCs over to the PCIe standard, meaning once cutting-edge SATA M.2 drives may be "decommissioned" and end up needing a new home. Remember, most motherboards have just two M.2 slots, and many have just one, so loading up on M.2 drives just isn't an option like it was with 2.5" and 3.5" drives, which is probably a good thing, as there are way to many people still using obsolete 3.5" hard drives!
And this all leads us to today's review, where we'll be testing the MS09 using one of the fastest SATA drives ever released, the Samsung 850 Evo 500GB, to see exactly how fast a thumb drive can get!
Special thanks to SilverStone for providing a review sample of its MS09C M.2 to USB 3.1 Enclosure.
Description & Features
SilverStone has a long history working with high-grade aluminum, and its experience shows in the MS09 - this is one great looking device! Crafted of two solid pieces of aluminum and secured by four screws, it goes way beyond your typical thumb drive in terms of aethetics. We measured it at 110mm long, 27mm wide, and 10mm thick. Of note, it's designed to fit M.2 SSDs up to 80mm long (the popular 2280 standard), but due to its retractable USB interface, it's clearly quite a bit longer than that. Below you can see what comes in the package:
Of note, the screws shown above are spares - the four screws you need to secure the device are already affixed in the drive (as can be seen in the photo), and the first thing you'll be doing is removing those screws to install your SSD in the enclosure. The included screwdriver is a great perk for regular users of M.2 drives - it's the perfect size for M.2 screws, and it's also magnetic, making installation of tiny screws a whole lot easier. We'd place the retail value of that screwdriver alone at close to $5, so kudos to SilverStone for including it!
One important fact about the MS09 is that it's designed to work only with SATA drives. This likely caused a great deal of confusion when the MS09 launched, because at that time, most people associated the M.2 format with high-priced PCIe drives, where the format actually debuted. SATA drives are more often associated with the traditional 2.5" format. The MS09 will not work with PCIe drives, but unfortunately the M.2 interface that SilverStone is using is not keyed to prevent the insertion of such drives. This seems like an oversight, especially given that PCIe's wider interface could easily be blocked while still allowing the SATA interface to be used. The entire device can be seen in disassembled "exploded" view here, prior to insertion of a drive. Oddly, the screw that holds the M.2 drive in affixes through the back of the PCB, unlike any other M.2 slot we've encountered, and this proved more difficult to use than a standard motherboard M.2 slot. The issue here is that SilverStone doesn't have a motherboard behind it to anchor a screw hole, so it had to get inventive and use the collar that holds the drive in place to anchor the screw. It's a reasonable solution, and since you only have to do this one, it's not an undue hardship.
We also had one minor concern about the build quality, which stems from the fact that the internal drive mount just floats inside the enclosure (due to the use of a retractable USB port design), and this has two drawbacks. When you open up the case to install the drive, all the internal components, including the small switch parts, simply fall out. That's an inconvenience, but it's easy enough to figure out how it all goes back together. Second, and perhaps more disconcertingly, the drive rattles slightly once it's put back together, as the tolerances for the sliding mechanism are tight, but not so tight as to cause a potential jam, meaning there's enough slop to hear metal-on-metal "jiggling." It more gives the impression of something being loose than actually being a cause for concern, but it may bother some users, especially given how solid the device appears. It practically looks like it's carved from a solid piece of aluminum!
For purposes of testing, we used the Samsung 850 Evo 500GB M.2 drive, one of the fastest SATA drives ever released. It is topped only by several other SSDs in the Samsung lineup, specifically its replacement, the 860 Evo, along with the 850 Pro and 860 Pro. Of note, we've actually spoken to Samsung about its SSD lineup on numerous occasions, and they've confirmed to us that Samsung has terminated further development of SATA drives, at least for high-performance devices. The company will never release a SATA-based replacement for the 860 Pro, which means it will likely go down in history as the fastest SATA drive ever released. With that said, it's only nominally faster than the 850 Evo, which is due to the bottleneck that the SATA interface imposes on modern NAND flash product.
For our performance tests, we benchmarked the MS09/850 Evo combo against two rivals: first, the 850 Evo installed in a motherboard (which should in theory perform the same, but as you'll soon see doesn't), as well as the excellent Crucial MX500 500GB 2.5" SATA drive for another point of comparison. And to test SilverStone's claim that the MS09 is a USB 3.1 Gen 2 device, we benched the drive combo in a very modern system, with the following key components:
- CPU: Intel Core i9-9900K
- Motherboard: Asus Z390 Maximus XI Hero motherboard (with USB 3.1 Gen 1 and USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports)
- Case: Thermaltake A500 Case (with USB 3.0 ports)
- Solid-State Drive: Samsung 970 Pro 1TB PCIe
With this system, we had three different types of USB ports we could test on: the USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 ports on the motherboard's back panel, as well as the USB 3.0 ports on the front of the case. As you'll see, they all perform differently. And our use of the 970 Pro 1TB PCIe drive as the "source" drive ensured that nothing would bottleneck our tests other than the ports and the MS09/850 Evo combo itself.
All right, let's move on to the results!