You don’t really expect external storage to be fast. Portable storage is there for its convenience, but often they have such slow transfer speeds that using them for anything beyond the transfer of a few smaller files is a bit of a drag. Largely because of their very nature, they have to use an interface that’s not especially fast. The X8 from Crucial fixes that dilemma, provided you have the right hardware.
It’s a tiny device of anodised aluminium and rubber that’s sleek, light and portable – but rugged enough to take a few knocks, making it the perfect companion for portable data storage. The Crucial X8 is smooth, like a flat black lozenge or a travel mouse. It’s classy, and probably one of the most aesthetically-pleasing devices in Crucial’s arsenal. I wish there was some activity light to show that it was plugged in and doing its job of reading and writing, but that would probably clash with the monolithic appearance. It’s also just nice to have because once it’s plugged in you can easily tell if it’s working or not. There’s not very much else to its appearance that warrants a mention. Crucial ships it with a short USB C-type cable, with a USB A-type connector, if necessary.
What makes the X8 special is that it’s really really fast, outpacing many internal SSD drives. That’s because Crucial’s put an NVMe drive inside of it. That means it’s not subject to the same limitations of both the SATA bus and the USB port, which would see transfer speeds cap out at around 480MB/s. Crucial promises speeds of up to 1050MB/s – and I’m happy to report I got quite close to that. Those aren’t remarkable speeds for an NVMe drive, but they’re blisteringly quick for an external. To make the best of that, you will need USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports, as they’re the only USB standard for now that has the necessary bandwidth to nix the bottleneck – and you’ll only get those on newer hardware. I don’t have newer hardware, so at first, I was forced to use the drive plugged into my regular old USB 3 ports, where the speeds just barely exceeded 450MB/s.
Unremarkable, right? I wondered if I’d be able to even test this thing properly without the requisite hardware – and then I remembered that I had a USB C port on the back of my GPU. With that interfacing directly with the PCI bus, I should be able to access the necessary bandwidth to reach the drives potential. I plugged it into my GPU with a nice long cable that I had, ran CrystalDiskMark and promptly got…read speeds of 40MB/s. I was dumbfounded, thinking that Nvidia was somehow capping the speed of the GPU’s USB port. I troubleshot, reinstalled drivers and I did a deep dive into settings and nothing. Then I used the shorter cable that shipped with the drive instead of the one I already had – and that was just the ticket. Doing that saw me reach sequential read speeds of 1038.646 MB/s, and sequential write speeds of 1001.656 MB/s; not far off from Crucial’s claims. That would effectively allow you to transfer 1GB of data to or from the drive in a single second. Once again, not mind-blowing for an NVMe drive, but exceptionally quick for an external.
It’s effectively the same hardware you’d get in their M2 P1 drives, just stuffed in a gorgeous diminutive case, with its software and logic tweaked to run as portable storage. You could, of course, use this on a PC without USB 3.2 Gen 1 – or even consoles like the PS4 or Xbox One, or phones that will work with USB C in that way – but you’ll be getting half the performance. If you don’t have the requisite hardware, I’d recommend getting a cheaper drive. If you do though, you’ll be getting a super-fast 500GB external for a recommended local retail price of R2,979, or a 1TB version for R4,159.
It’s not the fastest external drive in the world; you’ll have to use a much more expensive Thunderbolt drive to get speeds of up to 2.8GB/s, but it’s an exceptionally fast consumer-level drive that’s easy to recommend if you have the requisite hardware. It’s also worth noting that there are no additional features, tools or utilities on this drive. It doesn’t come with any partitioning tools, or even encryption. I’m okay with that, because it makes setup simple; plug it in, and it works. It does however get a bit warm during use. It’s nothing I’d be concerned about because you can still pick the thing up without burning yourself, and more of an observation.
Sure, R4,159 is a lot of money for a drive, so how does free sound? Thanks to the lovely people at Crucial, we have one of these beauties to give away. That’s right! Fill in the form on this page (you’ll need to be located within South Africa to be eligible) and this drive could be yours. If you want a bonus entry, just comment on this review, telling us why you want one. Easy peasy. The competition runs until 16 February, with the winner announced on 17 February.
Last Updated: February 6, 2020