ADATA is no stranger to the world of ruggedized, portable drives. Over the past year or so, the company has released a number of interesting drive designs meant for being mashed and bashed, ranging from bite-size units with SSDs inside such as the ADATA SE730 External SSDADATA SD710A. With our review unit today, the ADATA SD700, the company is going for a rugged design, but with a twist: An SSD, this drive uses 3D NAND flash, which is starting to become the standard memory type in internal drives and was pioneered by Samsung.
The big deal with 3D NAND is that it has generally better endurance than its predecessor, planar NAND. That earlier form of memory had chips laid down side-by-side, whereas with 3D NAND, layers of memory are stacked on top of one another in a three-dimensional array, with vertical interconnects through the silicon. It’s an exciting development in the world of both internal and external storage, in that it has implications for both pricing and portability.
Not only is the enclosure on this drive rugged, but on paper the memory inside has higher endurance, too. On the flip side, the SD700 sports a USB 3.1 Gen 1 interface, which is in all but name the same as ordinary USB 3.0. A few newer external SSDs out now flaunt USB 3.1 Gen 2, which doubles the theoretical bandwidth offered by Gen 1. That said, we haven’t seen a major uptick in speed to date with the newer USB variant.
The SD700 comes in two color options. Both versions have a black center, but you can choose either plain black or a nifty fluorescent yellow for the rubber O-ring around the edge.
ADATA claims that the ring provides protection against drops up to four feet. That’s not just an idle claim, either; it’s backed by the drive’s certification for MIL-STD-810G 516.6 military drop testing. From a data-safety perspective, an SSD is always going to be a safer bet to drop than a hard drive from any height. But the rubber edging here ought to keep the case from cracking, as well.
The drive is also waterproof, able to endure immersion for up to 30 minutes at depths up to 1.5 meters, via a rubber stopper that prevents ingress of elements. It’s also fully protected from dust or sand. The only catch: To make the drive block this stuff effectively, you have to remove the USB cable and make sure the stopper, shown below, is in place. Again, there is a standard to back up these claims here, IEC’s IP68: The one that indicates the waterproofing is the “8” in the IEC IP68 nomenclature that this drive has (the “IP” is for “ingress protection”). The “6” indicates the level of dustproofing.
Another nice touch is the lip around the USB port you can see above. It keeps the cable from flexing at the point where it joins the drive, a common point of failure on external drives. That is especially appreciated, given how thin and brittle the combined USB 3.0 data/power connector on drives like these tends to be.That said, many newer external SSDs have moved to USB Type-C connectors here on the drive end, and we think ADATA should, too.
The drive comes in three capacities: 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB. ADATA sent us the 512GB model for evaluation. It comes in the trim packaging you see above, not much larger than the drive itself, with the removable cable, a warranty leaflet, and not much else.
The drive is very small, at only 3.3 inches square and a half-inch thick. It’s basically a plastic square with that rubber ring around it, and if you discount the cable, it’s quite pocket-friendly. Here’s what it looks like next to a recent Apple iPhone, for a size comparison…
Under the edge flap is the USB Type-A connector we mentioned, which works with a cable that allows it to be connected to any Type-A USB port (i.e., the ordinary rectangular kind). ADATA notes its compatibility with PCs, Macs, and Android devices (the last, presumably, tablets with the requisite port, or an Android phone connected via an OTG adapter). It’s a little awkward that there’s no mechanism to store or restrain the cable, especially since the stopper over the USB port has to be in place for the drive to offer full protection, and to do that, you need to detach the cable.
When you’re traveling, you’ll want that little door to be shut, but where do you put the cable? Cable storage has always been an issue with this kind of very small drive. We’ve seen a few ruggedized models over the years (usually, hard-drive-based ones) that have stored the cable in a groove around the edge, but the SSD-at-the-core SD700 is too small for that to work.
No software comes in the box with the SD700, though you can download ADATA’s simple SSD Toolbox software for monitoring cell wear, wiping the drive, and seeing drive stats. ADATA also offers downloadable utilities for installing an OS from the SSD (OStoGo) and another, HDDtoGo, for backing up, encrypting the drive, and performing several other security functions. (You can find the software on this support page.) As it comes, it’s simply a drive in a box, and it offered 476GB of storage once formatted in Windows 10. The drive is rated by ADATA to deliver up to 440MB per second in read operations, and up to 430MB per second in writes, though there is some slight variation in these ADATA-claimed speeds depending on the specific SD700 drive capacity in question.
As far as pricing goes, the ADATA SD700 is aggressively priced on a cost-per-gigabyte basis. The 256GB version was just $99 on Amazon at this writing, while the 512GB version was $189 and the 1TB a healthy $339. Compared to the recently launched WD My Passport SSD, the ADATA is not only more rugged but more affordable, as that drive was going for about $200 for the 512GB version and around $400 for the 1TB version.
Versus its clearest semi-rugged competitor, the SanDisk Extreme 510, the pricing was close, with the 480GB SanDisk (versus the 512GB ADATA) at $178. That said, the ADATA SD700 offers a higher level of protection than the SanDisk; for example, you can splash water on the SanDisk, but the SD700 can be fully submerged without fear of data loss (for a brief time). The SD700 is also priced similarly to the Samsung Portable SSD T3, but it is, again, smaller and tougher. (We just got in hand the newer version, the T5; expect a review of that Samsung drive in the coming days.)
ADATA includes a three-year warranty on the SD700. As we noted earlier, the box contains only the drive, the USB cable, and a quick-start leaflet. Let’s get that cable hooked up and get cracking on testing.
Before we jump into the numbers, it’s important to point out that we tested the ADATA SD700 on our desktop storage testbed using the machine’s designated USB 3.1 Gen 2 port. (The motherboard is an Asus X99 Strix Gaming paired with a Broadwell Extreme Edition CPU.)
As we mentioned, this drive specifically supports USB 3.1 Gen 1, which was an in-name-only update to the USB spec that is, in practical terms, just USB 3.0. (For more on USB 3.1, brush up at our explainer feature The Basics: USB 3.1 and USB Type-C.) We also reran some of the tests on one of the board’s USB 3.0 ports to see what difference that made, considering that most users will have access to only that kind of USB port, not USB 3.1. In short: We saw no differences that were worth noting. Below, we are comparing the SD700 to a host of external SSDs we’ve tested over the last couple of years.
We started out with AS-SSD, a synthetic test that’s geared toward testing SSDs. We also use this utility to test internal SSDs. First, a sequential read/write test…
As you can see from this chart, external storage speed has come a long way, given that hard-drive-based portable drives tend to top out at a little more than 100MB per second. As far as the SD700 goes, it came surprisingly close to ADATA’s claims in this worst-case-scenario benchmark. Versus the recent competitive set you see above, it was actually the slowest of the drives we’ve tested, but by margins small enough that you’d likely never notice without benchmarking software or a stopwatch. It’s roughly capable of moving data at 400MB per second in either direction. Interestingly, the drive that beat the SD700 by the largest margin in this group was its overachieving sibling, the SE730, running on a USB 3.1 Gen 2 interface.
In our AS-SSD 4K Read/Write test, which is a measure of handling small files, most of the drives were clustered close enough to be unremarkable in their differences…
PCMark 7 (Secondary Storage Test)
Next is the PCMark 7 Secondary Storage Test, part of Futuremark’s PCMark 7 testing suite. This benchmark gives a proprietary score for each drive based on a series of scripted tasks typical of everyday PC operation and disk accesses. It measures app launches, video-conversion tasks, image import, media-file operations, and more.
The SD700 performed quite well in this test, racking up the second-fastest score we’ve seen in this bunch of recent external SSDs. Perhaps the most notable victory here was over the recently launched WD My Passport SSD, as both of these drives are 2017-new, and the ADATA is less expensive and more rugged. In fairness to the WD drive, the ADATA drive’s software doesn’t quite match up to WD’s. Also, PCMark tends to test real-world app performance, but most users won’t be running programs off this drive, just using it for supplemental storage.
10GB Folder Tests
We then moved on to a real-world test of shoving bits around. Here, we task a drive to write and read a standard mix of file types large and small. The source and destination drive was a U.2-interface NVMe internal SSD, the Intel 750 Series SSD, to ensure that the source/destination was not a bottleneck.
In this test, the ADATA drive flip-flopped scores with the SanDisk Extreme 510 and was a smidge faster than the WD My Passport SSD, but slower than a few of the previous drives we tested, namely the Transcend ESD400, Samsung Portable SSD T3, and earlier ADATA SE730. It lost to the other drives by only a few seconds, so it wasn’t a drubbing. This makes the drive very good for copying large files to a host PC, but when copying files to the drive, you’ll have to wait a blip or three longer than you might with certain other drives. Again: You’ll see the difference only in benchamrk tests.
This next test uses the same 10GB file set as the previous test, but zipped to a single large 7.67GB file. In short, it involves copying one very large file to the drive, then reading it back as it writes to the host…
The SD700 performed adequately here, and its results were in line with what we saw from the other drives.
2GB Folder Test
Our 2GB Folder Test comprises a bunch of MP3 files (in other words, a big bunch of relatively small, consistently sized files) transferred from host to drive and back again…
The SD700’s read scores were in line with the best of the pack, while writes were a step behind. But again, we’re talking here about a handful of seconds.
Finally, our Crystal DiskMark sequential read/write test is run as a reality check against AS-SSD. (For this kind of secondary-storage drive, sequential operations are the most relevant.) And indeed, we didn’t see much relative difference here, apart from a strong showing by the WD…
We found a lot to like about the ADATA SD700. Its design is slick and rugged-looking, and the latter isn’t just window-dressing. The drive itself can withstand drops, water, and sand, and it’s pretty darn fast, too. On top of that, it’s aggressively priced, and though it doesn’t include any backup or other advanced software (just access to ADATA’s same basic SSD utility it uses for its internal SSDs), most users don’t need much for an external drive with modest capacity. It would be handy if ADATA included an encryption tool of some sorts, like Samsung offers with its external drives, but it’s not a deal breaker.
As it stands, the SD700 isn’t the fastest external SSD on the market, but it’s fast enough, in most situations not distinguishable from competing drives and a huge improvement over using a spinning hard drive. The fact that it uses 3D NAND is a bonus, though end users won’t notice any significant performance boost from it. It theoretically should have better endurance, but that won’t save your data if the controller or some other internal component dies.
Overall, the SD700 has a lot going for it, but it falls just shy of an Editors’ Choice pick due to the fact that it’s a rather bare-bones offering that didn’t outperform other portable, external SSDs we’ve tested previously. It’s still quite snappy, though, by its SSD nature, and we love the rugged look and protection against the elements. We’d choose it over the SanDisk Extreme 510 on two grounds: We like the form factor better, and the protection aspects are sterner stuff. If you’re an outdoorsy type or, say, a camera person often computing out in the weather, and need a drive that can brave the elements, the SD700 is a fine choice indeed. It’ll also wear well in your day bag or purse.
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