Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch review: Faster, and now with fingerprint security

This successor to the T5 is thinner and faster and adds a fingerprint scanner, but without adding much to the price.

Credit: Samsung

Samsung’s Portable SSD T7 Touch is a very nice upgrade to the older T5 (which will still be available). It’s thinner, a significantly faster reader, and it also sports a fingerprint scanner that you can employ, or not—your choice. Sure, you could get an official FIPS-certified secure drive, but those cost far more than the T7, which gives you this extra bit of security while remaining within the price range (currently $130 on Amazon) of a normal USB SSD. That makes it a sweet deal for the average user who still wants effective data protection. (Corporations generally require FIPS, and secure government use always does.)

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best SSDs. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them. 

Design and specs

The T7 is a USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) SSD that’s roughly the shape of the older T5, but at 3.3 x 2.2 x 0.3 inches, it’s thinner and weighs a mere 2 ounces. It’s light. Very light. I'd actually prefer if it were a bit more substantial in the palm of my hand. The improved performance is largely because the unit is NVMe on the inside, but Samsung was mum as of the time of this writing as to which type of NAND is employed, whether TLC or QLC.

t7 silver front 2 Samsung

The Samsung T7 has a fingerprint scanner, but its use is strictly optional. 

The T7 ships in three capacities: Our 500GB test unit ($130 on Amazon), plus 1TB ($230 on Amazon), and 2TB ($400 on B&H Photo). That’s about what you’d pay for similar non-secure drives, and far less than FIPs-certified units or Thunderbolt SSDs. The drive is available in basic, businesslike charcoal and silver hues. Samsung's three-year warranty is a bit skimpy, and the company also declined to provide a TBW (Terabytes written) reliability rating, but it’s unlikely you’ll come close to maxing out whatever is inside in even 10 years.

By far the most salient new feature on the T7 is the square fingerprint scanner on top of the unit. It’s inactive by default, but you can enable it using the Windows/macOS app that ships with the drive.

So what’s it like using the T7 in 256-bit AES hardware encryption mode? Actually, kind of fun with the fingerprint recognition. The scanner responds quickly, and the simple swipe required is a pretty painless routine. You don't need the software to use the scanner other than for initial configuration. A password mode that’s less fun and efficient does require the software, but I’m guessing it's there largely in case something goes awry with the scanner.

You can turn off secure mode at any time, but you’ll need to go through the entire password selection and fingerprint acquisition routine again to turn it back on. As I said, it's kind of fun. Give it a whirl if you buy a T7.

Performance

If you saw nothing but the CrystalDiskMark 6 and AS SSD 2 synthetic benchmark results, you’d think the T7 outperformed the T5 by a mile. While it’s reading or writing to cache, it does. Off-cache it’s a bit slower. The SSD creates cache by treating some of the NAND as SLC (generally) by writing only 1 bit—a much quicker operation than writing the 3 bits TLC is capable of storing, and especially the 4 bits QLC can store.

Our test 500GB model had around 20GB of cache, so we expect that the 1TB will have 40GB of cache, and the 2TB, 80GB. Samsung and most vendors have historically assigned cache by percentage, but we didn’t have the larger-capacity drives to check that theory on the T7. There are smart cache allotment controllers out there that will increase cache according to need, but from the behavior, it doesn’t seem as if the T7 is one of them.

cdm samsung t7 Jon L. Jacobi/IDG

According to CrystalDiskMark 6, the T7 is mega-fast. With very small amounts of data it is, but in real-world copies, it's not nearly this fast. 

According to CrystalDiskMark 6, the T7 is megafast. With very small amounts of data that's true, but in real-world copies, its reading and writing is about half what CDM 6 (and AS SSD--not shown) show. What can we say? 

Once the T7 dropped out of cache, it wrote about 50MBps slower than the older T5, which maintains long writes at 350MBps to 375MBps. That deficit slowly catches up with the drive as the amount of data being written increases, so it actually turned in slower 48GB and 450GB write results than the T5. If you write only to the cache, the T7 tops 500MBps and is much faster. That’s likely 99 percent of the time for most users.

48gb samsung t7 Jon L. Jacobi/IDG

The older Samsung T5 is a bit faster writer than the T7, once the latter runs out of cache. On our 500GB T7, that was at roughly the halfway mark in this test, allowing the T5 to catch up. 

The T5 (350MBps) is actually a bit faster writing once the T7 runs out of cache (300MBps). With our 500GB T7, that was at roughly the halfway mark in the 48GB write test, allowing the T5 to catch up. The 1GB T7 would likely have posted better numbers in this test.

The 450GB copy shown below is a test we use to reveal cache dropouts with larger-capacity drives, which may allot more cache than the 48GB we're limited to writing from our 50GB RAM disk. It can also illustrates Tortoise-vs.-Hare behavior, as it did with the T7 and T5.

450gb samsung t7 Jon L. Jacobi/IDG

In our 450GB write test, which we use largely to spot any dips in performance due to running out of cache, the T5 eventually caught the T7. FIX It was near run thing as the T7's cache gave it a hefty head start writing at well over 500MBps.

The T7 was eventually caught by the T5 and posted a longer time, as you can see above.The T7's 500MBps write speed while its cache lasted gave it a hefty head start; however, the T5's steady 50MBps advantage off cache allowed it to catch up at the very end. Again, with the 1TB or 2TB T7 with their larger amounts of cache, this likely would not have happened.

The screen capture below more vividly illustrates the drop in speed when theT7 runs out of cache. Note that 300MBps writing is still fast compared to most external 2.5-inch hard drives, though the best modern 3.5-inch hard drives write at 250MBps.

t7 slowdown Jon L. Jacobi/IDG

In our 48GB write test, our Samsung T7 drive slowed from over 500MBps to around 325MBps at around the 20GB mark.

The T7 ran only slightly warm during long transfers. That’s nice when you need to grab it and skedaddle as soon as an operation is over. Samsung talks about using encapsulated phase change materials (ePCM), which is a fancy way of describing stuff that radiates heat in a controlled, gradual fashion. Whatever the company is doing, it works.

For everyday use, the T7 is clearly superior to the T5. The deficit in speed on long writes is a minor factor for most users and shouldn't be an issue at all with the larger-capacity drives. 

Testing is performed on Windows 10 64-bit running on a Core i7-5820K/Asus X99 Deluxe system with four 16GB Kingston 2666MHz DDR4 modules, a Zotac (NVidia) GT 710 1GB x2 PCIe graphics card, and an Asmedia ASM2142 USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbs) card. Also on board are a Gigabyte GC-Alpine Thunderbolt 3 card and Softperfect’s Ramdisk 3.4.6, which is used for the 48GB read and write tests.

Should you buy the Samsung T7 Touch?

There’s a whole lot to like about the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch. It’s the fastest portable USB SSD we’ve tested, and incredibly affordable for a secure drive, albeit one that’s not FIPs-certfied for government or enterprise use. That fingerprint scanner is there if you need it, and not in the way if you don’t. I like it. 

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Jon L. Jacobi

PC World (US online)
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