The construction of the EX100U isn’t as robust as we’ve seen from other brands, but the functionality inside is excellent. For the best performance, you need a USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 port, but even with a standard Gen 2 USB port it’s reasonably quick.
Best Prices Today: Corsair EX100U
Corsair has created some exciting SSD technology in the past few years, especially regarding NVMe drives. But until recently, its external storage options mostly pivoted around its Flash Voyager range, a successful design that dates back some considerable time.
With Crucial, SanDisk, Seagate and others selling plenty of external SSDs, it was about time that Corsair entered this 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 has it come too late for the external SSD party?
Design & Build
The EX100U is a distinctive design that might confuse some purchasers initially.
It’s a silvery grey plastic lozenge measuring 79.37 x 36.65 x 11mm, with a lanyard slot at one end and a rubberised cap at the other. I estimate that’s big enough to have a 2240 M.2 NVMe inside, but that scale might be a coincidence.
What isn’t apparent when you first remove it from the packaging is that the rubber cap is removable, though there are no other places for an external connection, so eventually, I concluded it must be under there.
As the USB-C port behind the plug is recessed, and Corsair doesn’t claim the EX100U is waterproof, other than stopping the ingress of dust to the port, why it’s included the plug is unclear beyond neatness.
What is claimed by Corsair for the EX100U is that it can withstand up to 500Gs of acceleration, even if the person holding that drive wouldn’t, and it is also vibration resistant.
In the box are two cables, one each for USB-C and USB-A ports, but no carry pouch to hold them when not connected to the drive or a lanyard. The cables are a decent 30cm long, and due to the drive only weighing 22g, having the drive dangle on the cable while attached to a desktop system probably isn’t an issue.
One mild annoyance is that I didn’t notice any activity LED on the drive, something we’d typically expect.
Specs & Features
I’m so glad that Corsair doesn’t offer silly 250- or 500GB models and instead opted for three capacities that people will more likely want and use, specifically 1-, 2- and 4TB.
Internally these are 3D NAND wafers wired to a Phison PS2251-18 controller and other electronics to facilitate a connection to the USB interface. Corsair quotes the same performance for all the capacities, and it also states that it doesn’t use a DRAM cache, but instead has allocated some of the NAND as a static pSLC cache.
It’s terrific to see a drive maker being so open about the internals of its drives rather than hiding the controller or cache mechanism like it’s a trade secret. And I commend Corsair for its candid approach.
The maker 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 1000TB for the 4TB. These would be acceptable TBW values for M.2 NVMe internal drives with much higher speeds, so the likelihood of these limits being experienced by owners of the EX100U is on the low side.
While the controller on these drives operates garbage collection and SMART support, these units don’t support the TRIM function or have hardware encryption.
Probably the biggest selling point of the EX100U is the USB interface supports older USB standards but also embraces the often-ignored Gen 2×2 standard. While the number of machines with Gen 2×2 ports is relatively small, those who have it can experience a doubling of the potential bandwidth available over USB 3.2 Gen 2 brings the throughput in line with that of Thunderbolt 3.
For most users with only Gen 2, the speeds on offer here are roughly 1,000MB/s, both read and write, with a Gen 2×2 port allowing up to 1,600MB/s reads and 1,500MB/s writes, irrespective of capacity size.
The 2TB review model came pre-formatted in exFAT, making it directly useable on any modern PC running Windows. And it can easily be reformatted to use with macOS or Linux for those operating systems.
Overall, the EX100U has the critical features to give Crucial, SanDisk and Kingston some competition in this slice of the SSD market. But does it have the performance?
While my test equipment has a USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 port, it should be realised that most systems don’t have this version of USB, and it’s an essential requirement to get the most out of the 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 1,000MB/s for both reading and writing.
Using CrystalDiskMark 8.0.4 in default mode, the EX100U managed 1,701MB/s reads and 1,564MB/s writes, better than the quoted performance. These results were supported by ATTO, achieving a peak of 1.69GB/s reads and 1.61GB/s writes.
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 shy of the quoted speeds.
In this same benchmark, the Kingston XS2000 managed 1881MB/s reads and 1720MB/s writes, close to the maximum that Gen 2X2 bandwidth can achieve.
Therefore, this isn’t the fastest Gen 2×2 drive available, but it’s at least 50% better than drives that only support Gen 2 mode.
As we’ve come to expect from Corsair, the EX100U isn’t the cheapest external SSD around, but it’s reasonably priced for its capacity and performance.
In the USA, the MSRPs for the 1-, 2- and 4TB are $90.99, $184.99 and $464.99, respectively. Those costs translate into £99.99, £199.99 and £489.99 in the UK and €109.99, €219.99 and €549.99 in Europe.
As a rule, irrespective of region or currency, the 2TB model offers the best cost-per-GB deal, and the 4TB is the most expensive option per GB. You can buy it from Corsair and retailers including Scan in the UK and Amazon almost everywhere.
The competitor product that the EX100U competes with most closely is the Kingston XS2000, offering a very similar size and enhanced 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 three same capacities as Corsair offers on the EX100U. That makes it a little more expensive than the EX100U, but it is marginally faster.
Overall, the current pricing of the EX100U is undoubtedly higher than where it is likely to rest once initial demands are met, and the channel restocks. 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 available, these drives can perform at much the same speed as the EX100U, representing better value.
We find ourselves in a strange technology doldrum, to use a sailing 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 technology pundits had passed over as niche and a stop-gap measure, appears to be getting unexpected support from the Corsair EX100U and the Kingston XS2000, among others.
To be clear, this may be a false dawn for Gen 2×2 technology in the medium term.
Once USB 4.0 appears in force with its superior bandwidth and potential Thunderbolt compatibility, the resurgence of this USB flavour is likely to sink without a trace. USB 4.0 doesn’t include support for 2×2 mode, replacing it with an equivalent bandwidth protocol that’s not backwards compatible.
Meanwhile, the Corsair EX100U is a good option for those lucky enough to have Gen 2×2 ports on their systems, even if it isn’t the fastest drive of this flavour we’ve tested.
Interface: USB 3.2 Gen 2×2
Speed: 1600MB/s read and 1500MB/s write
Capacities: 1TB, 2TB and 4TB
Dimensions: 79.37 x 36.65 x 11 mm
Weight: 22 g
Casing material: plastic
Operating temperature: 0° C~70° C
Warranty: Limited 3-year warranty
Compatible with: macOS 10.13+ (Time Machine compatible), Windows 10+