Editor's Choice 2018, Reviews

OWC’s blazingly fast portable drive for pros, the Envoy Pro EX VE

owc envoy pro ex thunderbolt 3

OWC’s portable drive, the Envoy Pro, originally came in a USB 3 version, but with the push for ever higher throughput speeds required for 4K, HDR and 8K video shooting and streaming, the company has introduced another, new 300g lightweight Envoy Pro EX that’s been equipped with a captive Thunderbolt 3 cable. The Thunderbolt 3 Envoy Pro EX actually is a series of devices, all equipped with Thunderbolt 3, but split up in the Envoy Pro EX series and the Envoy Pro EX (VE) series, which is even faster and has bigger capacities.

Whereas the “ordinary” Envoy Pro EX Thunderbolt 3 stops at a max throughput of 1800MB/sec read performance and a 1GB/sec write speed, the VE series is exceptionally fast, with sustained data rates of up to 2600MB/s. These high speeds are made possible by combining the 40Gb/sec bandwidth offered by the Thunderbolt 3 interface and an M.2 (NVMe) PCI-Express SSD – all wrapped in a rugged, stunningly beautiful black aluminium Envoy Pro EX enclosure with – cool looking – cooling ribs on the side.

Upon partitioning the drive with OWC’s own Drive Guide formatting utility, you’ll get a glimpse of what’s inside the Envoy Pro EX, and that is a Samsung SSD 960 Pro. On Tom’s Hardware, we read that: “Samsung has delivered a product with so much advanced technology and performance over competing products that it has become a professional series (…). If you get paid for running professional applications with Adobe, Sony Vegas, or other heavy workloads, then the 960 Pro’s price becomes much less of an issue.”

That’s exactly where the Envoy Pro EX (VE) fits in and with performance to spare, I might add. Its specified data rates enable real-time processing of I/O heavy transfer tasks such as multi-stream video editing. In addition, and due to being a portable device, it’s fully bus-powered, has no moving parts and complies with the MIL-STD810G drop test. The latter must be taken for what it’s worth as no commercial organisation or agency certifies compliance, but OWC has a good reputation and the drive really is rugged, so I’m not worried. The one part that could perhaps suffer from being tossed around and rough handling would be the 15cm captive cable. Although the thick but flexible cable has been attached to the drive with a rubberised connector housing, it could be a weak point in the design.

On a Mac with macOS 10.13, the Envoy Pro EX can be used as a boot volume, which is not the case on a Windows machine. Capacities range from 250GB, 500GB and 1TB to 2TB.

Now for the juicy part: the performance on my loan MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3 and my olde iMac mid-2011 with an Apple TB1-TB3 converter. I can start with the latter: the Envoy Pro EX (VE) saturated that Thunderbolt version entirely, meaning I got a maximum throughput speed of 800MB/sec on that machine using Blackmagic’s Disk Speed Test.

The MacBook Pro I was allowed to use for the duration of the test gave a whole different picture. I managed to squeeze out consistent read speeds of 2066MB/sec and write speeds of between 1000 and 1200MB/sec. As I only had the MacBook for literally a few minutes – just enough to run the speed test – I couldn’t optimise that machine for I/O speed. If I could have, the Envoy might possibly have achieved even higher numbers.

Regardless, these speeds make the Envoy Pro EX (VE) a dream solution for After Effects and Photoshop compositing and filter processing, and certainly also for 4K, 4K/HDR and even 8K editing with Apple’s Final Cut Pro X, Da Vinci Resolve or Adobe Premiere.

The Envoy Pro EX (VE) 1TB version costs $979.99.