VisionTek USB 3.0 120GB Solid State Drive Review: Portable Convenience

My otherwise excellent 500GB MacBook Pro r serves as my desktop computer, but I wish it had a larger SSD. To compensate, I’ve perfected the art of juggling media around via a collection of external SSD devices of various shapes, sizes, and purposes; the VisionTek USB 3.0 120GB solid state drive (SSD) is the latest tool in my arsenal.

VisionTek USB 3.0 120GB Solid State Drive

Measuring approximately 3.5″ long x 1″ wide x 3/8″ thick, the VisionTek looks similarly sized to any other thumb drive, but it has a rugged aircraft-grade aluminum housing which contains a “fully functional Solid State Drive featuring a high-performance LSI SandForce® controller that delivers up to 455MB/s reads and up to 440MB/s writes”.

You can use the VisionTek 120GB Solid State Drive to:

• Create a custom user environment with approved videos, games, etc. for young children

• Perform high-speed backups

• Download and save uncompressed HD content

• As a backup drive for photographers/videographers. (Shoot on SD card, transfer to computer for editing, and then save on the VisionTek USB Pocket SSD for accessibility anywhere)

• As a bootable drive to run the Windows desktop and apps on other PCs and Macs.

It’s small enough to fit in your pocket, and it can be attached to your keychain.

I did notice a striking similarity in design to the Mushkin Enhanced Ventura 120GB USB 3.0 Solid State Drive, which is available on Amazon. I asked my VisionTek contact, Grant Dahlke, about that, and he said, “We are using the same housing from the same supplier as Mushkin…but we did solve the overheat/downspeed issue that affected theirs. That is one reason why we included the note with unit about not opening it up. Our solution to prevent speed loss has a high probability of damaging the drive if you open it.”

The VisionTek ships NTFS formatted, and there are no extra files installed; of the 120.03 GB on the drive, 119.92GB are available.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 10.52.05 AM

Formatted at MS-DOS (FAT32), there are 120GB available.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 12.55.02 PM

And when formatted to Mac OS Extended, there are 119.83GB available.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 10.58.50 AM

The first test I’ll generally do on such a large drive is to move my entire iTunes folder over, seeing how long it takes.

My iTunes files is currently 79.39 GB; transferring it from my Mac to the VisionTek drive it took one hour, 4 minutes and 36 seconds, and the thumb drive became quite warm.

Grant had this to say:

In such a small form factor, you will generate heat…ESP if writing large files. Even that 11GB file you were writing is nearly double the average OS install size of 5-6GB. So that would be an extreme use scenario.

Typical consumer use file size is in the MB size range…3.5MB for MP3’s, and 400-500MB for an average TV show for example.

Sure, a HD movie will go around 4GB …so there will be a delay in writing it to this drive once the drive heats up. BUT, once the movie is on the drive, READS will be as fast as any internal SSD and far faster than a HDD.

I can confirm that playback on Quicktime from the VisionTek is flawless — no sputtering or stalls — and no need to actually move the media to my laptop, which is perfect.

Gwynneth Paltrow in Contagion

The VisionTek ships in either a 120GB ($109.99) or 240GB ($174.99) model. If you are planning to use your drive as a complete computer ecosystem or to hold backups of all of your media, then you should consider springing for the larger model.

I wondered how the VisionTek USB 3.0 120GB Solid State Drive performed when compared to another USB 3.0 thumb drive that I own. I have to admit that some of the transfer speeds I got upon initial testing seemed a little slower than I’d expected, so I wanted to see if they were about the norm.

I have a 64GB Kingston Digital HyperX 3.0 DataTraveler, so that became the VisionTek’s competition. Unlike the VisionTek’s expected 455MB/s reads and up to 440MB/s writes, the Kingston is only rated for up to 225MB/s reads and 135MB/s writes (both using USB 3.0).

According to Grant,

The other aspect to take into consideration is operating environment and when you write to drive. I know you’re using the drive with a MacBook Pro…so the drive is on the side of machine. That’s good…as having it behind a machine (like a PC tower) could create a warmer environment and cause the throttling to kick in prematurely. Also, if one is going to write a large file to the drive, they should do so after a period of inactivity so the drive can cool down. And obviously take some pauses if writing multiple large files.

The small bus-powered form factor does have some conditions…but when you look at cost, capacity size, and “typical” use scenarios, it’s a great alternative to other external drives and especially compared to traditional thumb drives.

Here are the transfer speeds for various files. Because the VisionTek’s speeds suffer when it has been left plugged in for a while and is warm to the touch, I did tests with it freshly plugged in after periods of inactivity, as well as after it had been plugged in for several hours (because yes, it makes a difference).

Gear Diary Reviews the VisionTekHigh-Performance Pocket-Sized USB 3.0 120GB Solid State Drive-005

There’s a handy rubber cap to protect the USB end

11.32GB picture file

Kingston – 9 minutes 20.86 seconds to write to the thumbdrive; 53.27 seconds to download to my laptop

VisionTekFreshly plugged in and cool to the touch: 2 minutes 00.53 seconds to download to my laptop; 48.52 seconds to download to my laptop

After being plugged in for several hours (and quite warm to the touch): 7 minutes 04.31 seconds; 1 minute 22.77 seconds to download to my laptop

1.05GB Movie File

Kingston – 7.21 seconds to write to the thumbdrive; 4.30 seconds to download to my laptop

VisionTekFreshly plugged in and cool to the touch: 9.75 seconds to write to the thumbdrive; 5.01 seconds to download to my laptop

After being plugged in for several hours (and quite warm to the touch): 15.69 seconds; 9.58 seconds to download to my laptop

Gear Diary Reviews the VisionTekHigh-Performance Pocket-Sized USB 3.0 120GB Solid State Drive-004

As far as using the VisionTek USB 3.0 120GB Solid State Drive as a bootable drive for running Windows desktop and apps on other PCs and Macs, this isn’t something I have tried, but it looks like with Windows 10 it should be incredibly easy to set up. I talked to my friend John Obeto, and he said that Windows 10 was the easiest version to make a bootable USB drive from, yay! Rather than following a list of instructions that look like this (for Windows 8):

Thanks John Obeto 3

Yikes — this is what you have to do to make a bootable Windows 8 USB drive!

You in the Windows 10 beta you can simply do this:

1. Select “Windows to Go” under Control Panel/All Control Panel Items

Thanks John Obeto!

And then choose the drive you want to install it to … et voilà! Done.

Thanks John Obeto 2

Hooray for Windows 10! I’m not sure how licensing will work moving the OS from machine to machine, but at least the process of getting the OS on a thumb drive will be MUCH easier.

But I digress.

What else can you do with the VisionTek USB 3.0 120GB Solid State Drive? Well, you could use it as a Time Machine backup for your MacBook Air, assuming you had a 240GB or smaller SSD on your laptop; that would be pretty handy.

I guess the main thing to keep in mind with the VisionTek is that it does slow down a bit when it gets warm. To deal with heat generated during extreme usage conditions, Grant said that they “have throttling enabled in order to protect the drive during extreme use scenarios. One cannot look at this SSD like a 2.5” SSD or even HDD. In such a small form factor, you will generate heat…ESP if writing large files. Even that 11GB file you were writing is nearly double the average OS install size of 5-6GB. So that would be an extreme use scenario.

Gear Diary Reviews the VisionTekHigh-Performance Pocket-Sized USB 3.0 120GB Solid State Drive-006

I have to admit that the drive seems a little more persnickety that what I’m used to for uploading storage, but I’ve had no issues at all with it when running files off of it or using it to run media from. I suppose that it’s the nature of the SSD, but it does take a little bit of an adjustment when you are used to dealing with plain old flash thumb drives.

The 120GB and 240GB VisionTek USB 3.0 120GB Solid State Drives are designed and built in the US, and they are available directly from VisionTek, as well as online from Newegg, Tiger Direct, and Dell.

Source: Manufacturer provided review sample

What I Like: A truly portable SSD thumb drive that can hold large amounts of data; decent read and write speeds; media playing from the stick runs smooth and without sputtering interruptions; fits on a key ring, so you can always have it with you; no extra files installed on SSD, almost all advertised memory is available to you

What Needs Improvement: The VisionTek USB 3.0 120GB Solid State Drive slows down quite a bit when it is in heavy use; more costly than other SSD thumb drives with a similar appearance; it gets quite warm when plugged in, with or without use


About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
I've had a fascination with all types of gadgets and gizmos since I was a child, beginning with the toy robot that my grandmother gave my brother - which I promptly "relieved him of" in 1973. I'm a self-professed gadget magpie. I can't tell you how everything works, but I'm known world-wide for using a product until I have a full understanding of what it does, what its limitations are, and if it excels in any given area — or not.