Testing the SanDisk Professional G-DRIVE SSD and ArmorLock SSD

Western Digital introduced the SanDisk Professional brand in May 2021 for its products targeting the content capture market. Originally sold under the G-Technology label, these portable Direct Attached Storage (DAS) products and multi-HDD RAID enclosures had a strong presence in media production circles. The SanDisk Professional brand was introduced with the goal of expanding their popularity while adding new products targeting prosumers and production houses.

The G-DRIVE family represents G-Technology / SanDisk Professional’s line of single-disk direct-attach storage units. Today’s review looks at the G-DRIVE SSD and the ArmorLock G-DRIVE SSD – two bus-powered portable SSDs with a USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface that target very different use cases. In the process of transitioning from G-Technology to SanDisk Professional, the G-DRIVE SSD received an updated new thermal design with an aluminum core, slightly increased speeds, and password encryption. The G-DRIVE ArmorLock SSD is the same as the G-Technology model introduced last year, except for a significant price reduction and additional capacity points.

Product introduction and impressions

Portable flash storage devices have grown in popularity, thanks to advancements in NAND technology as well as the rapid adoption of high speed interfaces over the past decade. While Thunderbolt continues to perch at the high end, USB 3.2 Gen 2 (with its 10 Gbps data rate) has become the de facto standard for most USB ports in modern systems.

SanDisk Professional’s G-DRIVE line of drives includes both hard drives (for capacity-conscious consumers) and flash SSDs (for applications where performance is more important). Within the G-DRIVE family based on SSD, the company offers three products:

  • G-DRIVE PRO SSD (Thunderbolt 3)
  • G-DRIVE SSD (USB 3.2 Gen 2)
  • ArmorLock G-DRIVE SSD (USB 3.2 Gen 2)

Today’s review looks at the G-DRIVE SSD and the G-DRIVE ArmorLock SSD. While they have the same USB 3.2 Gen 2 (10 Gbps) upstream Type-C interface, they are intended for completely different use cases. The ArmorLock SSD is supposed to be an always-encrypted SSD with transparent unlocking via Bluetooth (using an iOS or Android app, or a Mac OS app). It is targeted to use cases where data protection and security is important enough without the need for a FIPS certified reader. On the other hand, the G-DRIVE SSD avoids the Bluetooth function while maintaining hardware encryption using the SanDisk Secure app. The unit is significantly lighter and the form factor is much more compact than the ArmorLock SSD.

The table below provides a comparative view of the specifications of the two portable SSDs featured in this review.

Comparative configuration of direct-attached storage devices
Downstream port 1x PCIe 3.0 x4 (M.2 NVMe) 1x PCIe 3.0 x4 (M.2 NVMe)
Upstream port USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C
Bridge chip ASMedia ASM2362? ASMedia ASM2362?
Power Bus powered Bus powered
Use case Rugged class 1 Gb / s portable SSD, rated IP67, always encrypted with Bluetooth enabled key management Rugged 1Gb / s class portable SSD, rated IP67 for on-the-go content capture workflows
physical dimensions 134 mm x 82 mm x 19 mm 95 mm x 50 mm x 15 mm
Weight 200 grams 91 grams
Cable 12 ” USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C to Type-C
32cm USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C to Type-A
49cm USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C to Type-C
48cm USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C to Type-A
SMART pass No Yes
UASP support Yes Yes
TRIM Passthrough No Yes
Hardware encryption 256-bit AES-XTS (always on) Yes (256-bit AES, only via SanDisk Secure App)
Rated storage SanDisk BiCS 4 96L 3D TLC SanDisk BiCS 4 96L 3D TLC
Price 400 USD 297 USD
Review link SanDisk Professional G-DRIVE ArmorLock 2TB SSD Review SanDisk Professional G-DRIVE 2TB SSD Review

Both units are designed to protect against dust and water ingress and are rated IP67. They are also rugged in nature, with a 3m drop resistance. Crush resistance ratings reach 1,000 lbs for the ArmorLock SSD and 2,000 lbs for the regular variant.

The G-DRIVE SSD is a plug-and-play drive, while the ArmorLock SSD must be paired with an app instance (on a mobile device or on a Mac), key configuration, and a formatted drive before the volume is visible to the OS. A step-by-step illustration of this process from an application perspective is shown in the gallery below.

The Android app is intuitive to use and fulfills Western Digital’s promise of one-touch unlocking for the product. The minor downside is the delay associated with the app creating a bluetooth link with the SSD, but once done, the experience with the portable SSD is no different than with any other external drive for the average consumer. For advanced users, however, the ArmorLock does not support SMART or TRIM passthrough (perhaps for security reasons, from firmware version 1.6 build 122P). The G-DRIVE SSD has no problem with these features, as shown in the CrystalDiskInfo screenshot below.

SMART Passthrough – CrystalDiskInfo

The G-DRIVE SSD uses an SN550E DRAM-free SSD internally. Western Digital reported last year that the ArmorLock used an SN700 class SSD for higher sustained performance.

Before looking at the benchmarks, power consumption, and thermal solution efficiency, a description of the test bench setup and evaluation methodology is provided.

Test bench configuration and evaluation methodology

Direct-attached storage devices (including portable SSDs like the G-DRIVE SSD and ArmorLock SSD) are rated using the Quartz Canyon NUC (essentially, the Xeon / ECC version of the Ghost Canyon NUC) configured with 2x 16 GB DDR4-2667 ECC SODIMM and a PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD – the IM2P33E8 1 TB by ADATA.

The most attractive aspect of the Quartz Canyon NUC is the presence of two PCIe slots (electrically, x16 and x4) for expansion cards. In the absence of a discrete GPU – for which there is no need for a DAS test bench – both slots are available. In fact, we have also added a spare SanDisk Extreme PRO M.2 NVMe SSD to the direct processor M.2 22110 slot in the base board to avoid DMI bottlenecks when upgrading. evaluation of Thunderbolt 3 peripherals. This still allows to have two expansion cards operating in x8 (x16 electric) and x4 (x4 electric). Since the Quartz Canyon NUC does not have a native USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 port, Silverstone SST-ECU06 the expansion card has been installed in slot x4. All non-Thunderbolt devices are tested using the Type C port enabled by the SST-ECU06.

The specifications of the test bench are summarized in the table below:

The configuration of the AnandTech DAS 2021 test bench
System Intel Quartz Canyon NUC9vXQNX
CPU Intel Xeon E-2286M
Memory ADATA Industrial AD4B3200716G22
32 GB (2x 16 GB)
DDR4-3200 ECC @ 22-22-22-52
Operating system drive ADATA Industrial IM2P33E8 NVMe 1TB
Secondary disk SanDisk Extreme PRO M.2 NVMe 3D 1TB SSD
Complementary card SilverStone Tek SST-ECU06 Host USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C
Operating system Windows 10 Enterprise x64 (21H1)
Thanks to ADATA, Intel and SilverStone Tek for the build components

The test bench hardware is only one segment of the assessment. In recent years, typical direct-attached storage workloads for memory cards have also evolved. High bit rate 4K videos at 60 fps have become quite common, and 8K videos are starting to appear. Game installation sizes have also grown steadily, even in handheld game consoles, thanks to high-resolution textures and artwork. With this in mind, our evaluation scheme for portable SSDs and UFDs involves several workloads which are described in detail in the corresponding sections.

  • Synthetic workloads using CrystalDiskMark and ATTO
  • Real-world access traces using the PCMark 10 storage benchmark
  • Custom robocopy workloads reflecting typical DAS usage
  • Stress test in sequential writing

In the next section, we have an overview of the performance of G-DRIVE SSD and ArmorLock SSD in these benchmarks. Before providing any concluding remarks, we have some observations on the energy consumption figures and the thermal solution as well.

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Steven L. Nielsen

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