If you’ve looked at one of the great high-performance portable SSDs but don’t want to pay the high prices, just build your own SSD. Yes, you can skip those big brand-name prices by building your own portable SSD with off-the-shelf parts, getting the same performance and generally a lower price too.
Which type of SSD should you choose?
First, choose a USB SSD enclosure, which can be found at sites like Newegg or Amazon, and at other electronics stores, from about $ 10 to $ 50. Before shopping, you’ll want to find out what kind of enclosure to buy. Much of that depends on what kind of SSD you want to put in it.
There are 2.5 inch SATA SSDs like this SK Hynix Gold S31 that we have tested. These offer very good speeds, reaching up to about 560MBps for reading, but they lag behind the even faster M.2 PCIe or NVMe SSDs.
If you want to build your own portable USB drive that rivals the high-end portable SSDs from major brands, you’ll want to buy a PCIe or NVMe SSD enclosure. While both types are equally easy to make, and the 2.5-inch SATA SSD is usually more than adequate, I’m going to focus on an NVMe drive in this video.
To learn more about SSDs you can buy for this project, check out our round-up of the best SSDs.
For my example, I’ll be building a drive using an Asus ROG Strix Arion case (currently $ 54 on Amazon) – mostly because it has RGB for maximum flair! With a SK Hynix Gold P31 NVMe SSD in it, it can reach the maximum bandwidth through the USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface. That’s actually about 1 GBps. Like all USB drives, it is backward compatible with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0. This enclosure comes with both USB-C and USB-A cables.
How to Build a Portable SSD
Now that we’ve picked the parts, let’s install it.
- Before building, reduce any static electricity by touching a metal object, such as a furniture leg.
- To open the case, use the included pick tool and insert it into the small hole near the USB port to flip the cover open. Set the cover aside, trying not to touch the sticky thermal pads on the lid. The thermal pads dissipate heat from the high-quality SSD to the aluminum case to maintain performance.
- Loosen the silver fixing screw in the housing. If it is too tight, use the handle of the unzipping tool to loosen it.
- Now take the M.2 SSD and insert it at an angle of 15 degrees into the slot in the housing. The side with the stickers is usually the top of the disc and the side that is inserted is the one with the exposed contacts with the notch in it. The semicircular notch is the side that will hold the retention screw.
- Insert the drive gently but firmly until the gold contacts are no longer visible. Now take the locking screw and insert it into the notch of the semicircle of the M.2 disc. Tilt the drive down and screw the retaining screw firmly into place.
- Take the case cover and align it along the edge away from the USB port and tilt it into place. If the lid won’t open, you may want to make sure that the disc is in the notch of the retaining screw and not just under it.
- With the lid on, slide the rubber bumper on and grab the cable you want to use. The cable with two USB-C connectors ensures the best performance. This Gold P31 can hit faster speeds than what USB offers, so we’re limited here by the case, not the drive.
Keep in mind that the drive and case aren’t the only things that determine how fast you can move files. The port you connect also matters. In general, most laptops or desktop computers that accept USB-C usually offer the most speed. The older but much more commonly used USB-A can range from very slow to very fast.
How to format a portable SSD
One final step that the drive may need before it is recognized by Windows is to provide it with the operating system.
- Press Windows + X and select Disk management. Disk Management should show you the disks attached to your computer, one of which will say “Unallocated” for your new disk. Make sure not to select the primary drive of the PC you are using or any other drive you do not want to format.
- Right click on the drive that says Unallocated and select New simple volume.
- Select The next and then choose the desired volume size. Windows should use the full disk capacity by default. Click The next twice to assign the disk path.
- The last window should be Format partition. Click The next and then Finish, and Windows will partition and format your new drive for you.
Boom, your portable SSD is now ready to go – and this one has RGB for even more geek cred! But if you’d rather skip all this and buy one that’s ready to roll, read our round-up on the best external hard drives.