Best External Hard Drive for Today’s Virtual Machines

Best External Hard Drive for Today’s Virtual Machines

Forty years ago technology looked quite different; big machines weighing 500 pounds stored about 5Mb of data. An entire warehouse of these is equivalent to what we can get on an average USB flash drive today—fast forward, and our virtual machines (or virtual hard drives if you will) continue to expand and evolve. Running your virtual machines on an external hard drive is an option to assist with the demands and not lose performance, which could also help to avoid costly overhauls of your hardware every couple of years.

Most of us don’t want our digital footprint reverting us to the Stone Age of technology where massive clutter takes over the optimal workspace in our home or office but what’s the best external hard drive on the market to meet our growing needs? An external solid-state drive (SSD) would improve your hard drive space and optimize your transfer rate on a virtual machine much better than an external HDD would. A key feature with any SSD is that it has no moving parts, which helps with faster transfer speeds, the longer service life of the device compared to HDDs, and better shock resistance.

Factors to consider when selecting an SSD are capacity, transfer speeds, and reliability. While there are many to choose from we will take a look at a few and explain some features they have that will keep your virtual machines humming and hopefully not dip too far into your wallet to force you to eat Ramen noodles for the next few months.

This works for VMs and is blazing fast.

Not to mention, has amazing Amazon reviews.

Is speed all you need for the right SSD?

Speed often translates to compatibility and while many external SSDs use USB 3.1 standards (at about 10GB/s transfer rates versus USB 3.0, which has only 5GB/s) they also support USB 3.1 Gen 1 and Gen 2, which is what you are looking for in terms of speed for maintaining functionality of virtual machines. Speed and performance go hand in hand where any loss of speed will make things more difficult to manage.

I’ve been around a lot of servers that have drives that look like what you see on the left.

But what if you could lab what’s on those drives at a smaller scale?

One of the leaders in electronics today is Samsung and I would arguably say they have a few of the best SSDs on the market. The Samsung Portable SSD T5 will most likely tick a lot of boxes for you when it comes to speed, reliability, and capacity. With several options to choose from you shouldn’t have any issues finding one that fits your budget.

Here’s some ideas of retail values:

  • A 250GB runs about $130.
  • A 500GB is $190.
  • A 1TB is $380.
  • A 2TB for $750.

If you do a little research online you are bound to find a deal! Here’s a 1TB on Amazon for $170.

When manufacturer tested, using a USB Type-C Gen 1 (USB 3.0) connector (therefore limited to 5GB/s), the T5 drive achieved respectable read/write speeds of 433MB/s and 323MB/s respectively. It also managed to transfer a 10GB file using Teracopy in 47 seconds, giving it a real-life transfer rate of just over 212MB/s. You will achieve much higher numbers if you use a compatible USB Type-C Gen 2 (USB 3.1) connector, up to 540MB/s and 515MB/s respectively in read/write speeds according to Samsung.

Overall I would say the Samsung Portable SSD T5 could meet your needs for any VM but let’s take a look at a few more options.

Can capacity unclutter this VM/external conundrum?

It’s not uncommon to find external SSDs ranging from 256GB to 2TB, some of the biggest (and more expensive) being 10TB. If that’s not enough space, check out the Samsung 16TB SSD (it has a hefty price tag, at $5,000 to $7,000) it could be the last external drive you would ever need!

OK, back to reality; to avoid any issues down the road with your lab scalability you will want to make sure you pick a drive that will meet your needs so that you don’t turn around and purchase another one a few months but what’s the right capacity for your needs?

The Seagate Fast SSD is similar to the T5 mentioned above and has some pretty solid online reviews. Offering up to a 2TB for about $280 (you can’t beat that price point—check it out here) it would be a suitable external drive to meet your capacity demands and provide a sleek option to keep the clutter to a minimum.

It has a lightweight, shock-resistant design, USB-C compatibility and transfer speeds of up to 540MB/s. It also offers folder syncing capabilities to help keep files organized across multiple devices.

Again, there are a lot of options in the market and looking at your needs will help figure out how you can best utilize the capacity but is an SSD worth the money? Can it outlive other devices and still perform?

Reliability—Is it worth the money?

If you want something that is going to outlast the 350,000-mile clunker that you drove until the wheels fell off then the WD My Passport SSD (512GB) may be the external drive you’re looking for. Western Digital is known for the quality of their products and this one is no exception. It is backed by a 3-year manufacturer’s limited warranty and has password protection with AES 256-bit hardware encryption to reliably protect your sensitive information. It matches the others with fast transfer rates and only falls a hair shy of the T5. Price for the WD My Passport SSD (512GB) isn’t too bad either coming in at about $85, better hurry though these probably won’t be on the shelves forever.

Finding the right external SSD maybe that missing piece of hardware for your virtual machine lab and we all know price tends to be the ultimate deciding factor. Older external drives or refurbished hardware will always be an easy option thanks to convenience and bargain shopping, but make sure you’re not missing out on new tech that’s available. A few bucks now could save a lot of headache and hassle tomorrow.

Related Questions

Will there be something that comes out that is better than an external SSD? Changes in technology are inevitable and from what we’ve seen over the last few years is leaps and bounds above what we saw 10 years ago. SSDs are the leaders now but who’s to say what the future may hold. All we can do is buy what is best in the market right now and hope that it stays relevant for a few years.

Is it possible to run a virtual machine from an external HDD or is an SSD the best way to go? The easy answer here is, yes. An HDD could do the job but there is quite a bit of discussion out there if any of the current external HDDs can hold a candle to external SSDs. No matter how you stack it the data always points more toward the SSD. Maybe a few years down the road the tides will turn, but in my opinion, the SSD is the better choice.

How is the performance of a virtual machine on an external hard drive? As I mentioned in the article “Virtual Machines Eating Local Drive Space,” performance depends on read and write speeds, traffic throughput, and size. The size is a simple explanation, this amount correlates to the storage your VMs require. The read and write speed will be the leading noticeable difference in performance. A close second for performance noticeability will be traffic throughput to the motherboard. The solution to do this is to get at least 7,200 to 10,000 RPM or higher for external hard drives with USB 3.0 traffic speeds.

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