Corsair EX100U review: Small but mighty external SSD
- Small and easily transportable
- Support for USB-A and USB-C ports
- Up to 4 TB capacity
- Clumsy port cover
- Faster Gen 2×2 drives
The build of the EX100U isn’t as sturdy as other brands, but the functionality inside is excellent. For best performance, you need a USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 port, but even with a standard USB Gen 2 port, it’s reasonably fast.
Price when reviewing
From $90.99 | Revised model $184.99
Best Prices Today: Corsair EX100U
Corsair has created some exciting SSD technology over the past few years, especially when it comes to NVMe drives. But until recently, its external storage options mainly revolved around its Flash Voyager range, a successful design that dates back a considerable time.
With Crucial, SanDisk, Seagate, and others selling plenty of external SSDs, it was about time Corsair entered that slice of the market with one of its uniquely styled offerings, and the EX100U is that product.
Is this the right drive to compete with the Crucial X8 and SanDisk Extreme, or is it too late for the external SSD part?
Design and construction
The EX100U is a distinctive design that might confuse some buyers initially.
It is a silver gray plastic diamond measuring 79.37 x 36.65 x 11mm, with a lanyard slot at one end and a rubberized cap at the other. I estimate it’s big enough to have a 2240 M.2 NVMe inside, but that scale might be a coincidence.
What’s not obvious when you first take it out of the box is that the rubber cap is removable, although there are no other places for an external connection, so finally, I concluded that it must be under there.
As the USB-C port behind the socket is recessed and Corsair does not claim that the EX100U is waterproof other than to stop dust from entering the port why it is included the socket is unclear beyond cleanliness.
What Corsair claims for the EX100U is that it can sustain up to 500G of acceleration, even if the person holding this drive wouldn’t, and it’s also vibration resistant.
In the box are two cables, one for the USB-C and USB-A ports, but no carrying pouch to hold them when not connected to the drive or a cord. The cables are 30cm long and, as the drive weighs only 22g, the drive hanging down on the cable when connected to a desktop system is probably not an issue.
A slight annoyance is that I didn’t notice any activity LEDs on the drive, which is what we would generally expect.
Specifications and features
I’m so glad Corsair isn’t offering stupid 250 or 500 GB models and has instead opted for three capacities that people are more likely to want and use, specifically 1, 2, and 4TB.
Internally, these are 3D NAND wafers wired to a Phison PS2251-18 controller and other electronics for easy connection to the USB interface. Corsair quotes the same performance for all capacities and also states that it does not use DRAM cache, but instead has allocated some of the NAND as static pSLC cache.
It’s great to see a drive manufacturer being so open about the internals of their drives rather than hiding the controller or caching mechanism like it’s a trade secret. And I commend Corsair for its straightforward approach.
The manufacturer also quotes a TBW (total bytes written) value for each drive size, which is unusual, and these start at 250TB for the 1TB model and then increase to 500TB for the 2TB and 1000 TB for the 4TB. These would be acceptable TBW values for internal M.2 NVMe drives with much higher speeds, so the likelihood of these limits being encountered by EX100U owners is rather low.
Although the controller of these drives supports garbage collection and SMART support, these drives do not support TRIM or have hardware encryption.
Probably the main selling point of the EX100U is that the USB interface supports older USB standards, but also adopts the oft-ignored Gen 2×2 standard. While the number of machines with Gen 2×2 ports is relatively small, those that do can benefit from doubling the potential bandwidth available over USB 3.2 Gen 2, bringing the throughput in line with that of Thunderbolt 3.
For most users with only Gen 2, the speeds offered here are around 1000MB/s, both read and write, with a Gen 2×2 port allowing up to 1600MB/s read and 1,500 MB/s write, regardless of capacity. Cut.
The 2TB review model was pre-formatted in exFAT, making it directly usable on any modern PC running Windows. And it can easily be reformatted for use with macOS or Linux for those operating systems.
Overall, the EX100U has the essential features to give Crucial, SanDisk and Kingston some competition in this slice of the SSD market. But does it have the performance?
Although my test rig has a USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 port, you should know that most systems don’t have this version of USB, and it’s a key requirement to get the most out of it. ‘EX100U.
Therefore, the speeds quoted here are significantly better than users would experience on USB 3.2 Gen 2, which would hit a limit of around 1000MB/s for reading and writing.
Using CrystalDiskMark 8.0.4 in default mode, the EX100U managed 1701MB/s read and 1564MB/s write, better than quoted performance. These results were supported by ATTO, peaking at 1.69 GB/s read and 1.61 GB/s write.
But probably the most realistic test was AS SSD, which rated this drive at 1,476MB/s and 1,413MB/s for reading and writing, slightly below the quoted speeds.
In that same benchmark, the Kingston XS2000 managed 1881MB/s read and 1720MB/s write, which is close to the maximum that Gen 2X2 bandwidth can achieve.
Therefore, it’s not the fastest Gen 2×2 drive available, but it’s at least 50% better than drives that only support Gen 2 mode.
As we’d expect from Corsair, the EX100U isn’t the cheapest external SSD on the market, but it’s reasonably priced for its capacity and performance.
In the US, the MSRPs for the 1TB, 2TB, and 4TB are $90.99, $184.99, and $464.99, respectively. These costs translate to £99.99, £199.99 and £489.99 in the UK and €109.99, €219.99 and €549.99 in Europe.
Generally, regardless of region or currency, the 2TB model offers the best cost per GB, and the 4TB model is the most expensive option per GB. You can buy it from Corsair and from retailers including Scan in the UK and Amazon almost everywhere.
The competitor product that the EX100U competes the most against is the Kingston XS2000, offering a very similar size and improved performance over USB 3.2 Gen 2×2.
On Amazon.com, the Kingston XS2000 sells for $109.99, $199.99, and $555.06 for the same three capacities that Corsair offers on the EX100U. That makes it a bit more expensive than the EX100U, but it’s slightly faster.
Overall, the current price of the EX100U is undoubtedly higher than where it is likely to rest once initial demands are met and the channel restocked. For those only interested in Gen 2 compatible drives with larger capacities, the Crucial X6 is only $329.99 for the 4TB model. If you don’t have Gen 2×2 ports, these drives can run at about the same speed as the EX100U, which is better value.
Check out our table of the best portable hard drives and SSDs for more options.
We find ourselves in a strange technological slump, to use a nautical reference, a dead space where the prevailing winds of change refuse to blow.
As a result, USB 3.2 Gen 2×2, a technology that most tech pundits had overlooked as a niche and stop-gap measure, seems to be getting unexpected support from the Corsair EX100U and Kingston XS2000, between others.
To be clear, this may be a false dawn for Gen 2×2 technology in the medium term.
Once USB 4.0 emerges in full force with its higher bandwidth and potential Thunderbolt compatibility, the resurgence of this USB flavor is likely to sink without a trace. USB 4.0 does not include support for 2×2 mode, replacing it with an equivalent bandwidth protocol that is not backward compatible.
Meanwhile, the Corsair EX100U is a good option for those lucky enough to have Gen 2×2 ports on their systems, even though it’s not the fastest drive of this flavor we have. tested.
- Interface: USB 3.2 Gen 2×2
- Speed: 1600 MB/s read and 1500 MB/s write
- Capacities: 1 TB, 2 TB and 4 TB
- Dimensions: 79.37 x 36.65 x 11mm
- Weight: 22 grams
- Housing material: plastic
- Working temperature: 0°C~70°C
- Warranty: 3 year limited warranty
- Compatible with: macOS 10.13+ (Time Machine compatible), Windows 10+
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