Let’s face it, games aren’t getting any smaller. At the same time, movies and music files are also increasing in size. If you have a laptop, chances are good that you’ve been forced to delete games and files to make room for new ones. Alongside our series on the Falcon Northwest TLX, we’re taking a look at an interesting external NVMe SSD from the fine folks at Oyen Digital. The Helix packs a meaty heatsink, small form factor, and fast speeds but is it enough to meet the daily demands of gamers and creators?
- Current Pricing: (Oyen Digital Store, Amazon)
- 512GB: $119
- 1TB: $169
- 2TB: $309
- Helix Dura:
- 256GB: $109
- 512GB: $149
- 1TB: $209
- 2TB: $379
- Read Speed: Up to 950 MB/s over USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt
- Ports:USB-C: (USB 3.1 Gen 2)
- Internal Interface:NVMe PCIe 3.0 x4
- Helix: 3D QLC
- Helix Dura: TLC
- Speed Tests: USB-C (tested with MacBook Pro 2017)
- Format: exFAT (can be reformatted if desired)
- Dimensions: 4.1 x 1.43 x 0.57 inches
- Chipset: ASMedia ASM2362
- Weight: 5 oz.
- Requirements: Compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux (Universally compatible with all USB & Thunderbolt 3 ports (not compatible with Thunderbolt 2)
- Helix: 3 Year Warranty
- Helix Dura: 4 Year Warranty
A New Kind of External SSD: The Helix and Helix Dura
As a new owner of a gaming laptop, one of the realities I had to come to was that I just wasn’t going to find the kind of mass storage I was used to with my desktop. Finding those drives built in to a gaming laptop not only adds a lot of extra cost but they also reduce battery life even when not in use. Instead, I knew that I had to find an external drive that I could plug in whenever I needed it, whether that was for gaming, storing footage for videos, or anything in between. I also wanted something I could easily move between devices, transferring files from my camera at one time, videos from my PS4 Pro another, and housing must-have games when moving to different PCs.
There’s no shortage of external hard drives these days (or even hybrid SSHDs), but with SSDs finally becoming affordable, I knew that I wanted to leave the platter in the past. With SATA SSDs offering such improved transfer speeds and NVMe drives achieving multiple times more than that, there’s little reason to go with an external hard drive if you can afford to pay even a little more. Since my laptop is already running on an internal NVMe, I decided that an external NVMe was the right choice for me. That’s when I discovered the Helix from Oyen Digital.
The first thing that caught my eye was the sizeable heatsink. We’ve reviewed other external NVMes and enclosures here and I’ve come to find that size isn’t everything. The Orico NVMe enclosure Robert reviewed would become hot quickly which spells premature death for PC components. The Helix and Helix Dura, on the other hand, still maintained a small size but had a substantially larger and better-designed enclosure to dissipate heat.
Oyen’s design is honestly the best I’ve seen and speaks volumes to the overall consideration that went into this drive. Inside, there is a substantial thermal pad to draw the heat into the enclosure. While others may look sleeker, my testing showed excellent transfer speeds because the Helix didn’t thermal throttle and was able to maintain higher transfer speeds.
Since this an external drive, it’s rated for a maximum speed of 950 MB/s over USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt. These connections allow for greater bandwidth than prior generations of USB, leading to a bit under double the speed of an external SATA SSD like the Samsung T5. Even on USB 3.0, the Helix will still outperform the average SATA SSD, though will fall short of its potential due to the reduced bandwidth of 5 Gb/s versus 10 Gb/s on 3.1.
Operating at potential, the Helix is a great fit for gamers, content creators, and even hobbyist videographers. As you’ll see in my test results, it offers impressively fast transfer speed for the money while also being more rugged and portable due to its decreased size. And it really is tiny. The Helix measures a hair over four inches long and just under and inch and a half wide. It’s substantially smaller than any of the external SATA SSDs I’ve reviewed and could easily slip in a pocket or bag.
As you can see in our spec rundown, there are actually two versions of this drive available, the Helix and the Helix Dura. The Dura version is a step up in price and specs and is targeted toward more professional workloads. The Dura features 3D TLC flash as opposed to the QLC found on normal Helix and also receives a slight bump to transfer speeds topping out at 965 MB/s. The Dura also comes with an extended warranty of four years instead of three. If you’re planning to use the drive for professional work, that alone may be worth the upgrade.
To test the drive, I used our standard tools, ATTO and CrystalDiskMark, as well as complete a file transfer of a Skyrim directory to assess real world, large scale copy/paste application. I also completed two rounds of load time assessments, one on PC using USB 3.1 and another when used with a PlayStation 4 Pro to test load time improvements. This last test isn’t how I would actually use a drive of this caliber but with NVMe storage coming standard on the next-generation PlayStation, it may be something you’re looking into now to see what kind of improvements it can offer. If you’re curious about getting a peek into next-gen, be aware that the PlayStation is limited by its USB 3.0 interface, so the results will not be to the level that we expect with future consoles but should still offer a substantial improvement over the stock HDD.
Beginning with ATTO, this synthetic benchmark is used to cross-check manufacturer’s claims about speed. It’s a synthetic test that provides a “best-case scenario” for possible transfer speeds using sequential data that the drive is able to anticipate. The Helix did very good here coming in almost exactly at Oyen Digital’s rated speeds over USB 3.1.
Next, we move on to CrystalDiskMark. This is still a synthetic assessment but comes closer to real world speeds thanks to its barrages of random data. It is very common to see speeds drop off some here though the Helix still does quite well. Note that the drives which outperform it are all internal and not limited by the 10 Gb/s bandwidth limitation of USB 3.1. As an NVMe, it sits comfortably atop our comparative external SSDs and internal drives.
It’s worth noting that the drive falls slightly short of the Crucial X8 that Damien reviewed, which is also an external NVMe. At the same time, that drive is also rated for an additional ~100 MB/s which is almost exactly what we see. Given that the two drives are virtually identical in price, that would seem to make the X8 the more compelling option, but things may not be as simple as that…
When it comes to real-world transfer rates, the Helix does remarkably well and it’s here where we see the impact of that nice, heat-dissipating chassis. When conducting a large 20 GB transfer, the drive was able to maintain a respectably high average 849 MB/s transfer speed with a low that didn’t dip below 410 MB/s. This allowed the transfer to complete quickly without thermal throttling at a rate in excess of what we observed with the X8. I only regret I didn’t have it on hand to test directly for this review, but the benefits of the Helix’s design are clear. Likewise, the drive didn’t become a burn hazard during the transfer which is another important consideration.
Turning out attention to game load times, we can see that the Helix offers performance that’s competitive with even internal NVMe drives. That said, it’s also only seconds off from SATA-based drives too. The biggest takeaway here is clearly this: get an SSD. If you’re looking to improve your load times, any quality SSD is going to get you in the same ballpark. If you’re looking for performance, internal NVMe drives are clearly the best, but an external option like the Helix delivers excellent results with the added benefit of portability.
Finally, we come to our final test: PS4 Pro load times. I used four games which I keep installed for these tests. As you can see, moving to an NVMe drive offers noticeable improvements across the board and leaves me quite excited to see what PS5 will bring.
Thus far, the majority of my own testing history has been with internal drives. Now that I take my gaming and work life on the go with the Falcon Northwest TLX, I needed a drive that would offer performance on par with the rest of that machine without also being exorbitantly expensive. Oyen Digital was kind enough to let me try the 2TB version, so that turned out not to be a factor for me, but even if that wasn’t the case, I would still recommend this drive over others I’ve found due to the excellent heatsink. Performance here is on point and the pricing puts it in line with its competitors, but sheer heat dissipation and its more rugged design leave me much more confident in its long-term durability than those other drives. For that reason, the Helix earns our Golden Hardware Award.
If you're interested in picking a Helix up for yourself, Oyen was kind enough to provide our readers with a 10% discount with use of the code HELIX10 at the Oyen Digital web store. This is not an affiliate link and use of this code only benefits you, the reader.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for review purposes.