The last few years have seen rapid advancements in flash technology including planar 1x nm NAND, TLC, and 3D V-NAND. External high-speed interfaces such as USB 3.x have also become ubiquitous. The advent of Type-C has also enabled device vendors to agree upon a standardized connector for their equipment (be it mobile devices or desktop PCs). These advances have led to the appearance of compact bus-powered direct attached storage units with very high performance for day-to-day data transfer applications. We have already looked at portable external SSDs such as the Samsung T1 and T3, as well as the USB 3.1 Gen 2 SanDisk Extreme 900. Today, we will be looking at Netac's Z5, a portable SSD with a USB 3.1 Gen 2 10 Gbps Type-C interface.

Introduction

Prior to going into the specifics of the Netac Z5, a few words about Netac are in order, as none of their products have been reviewed by us before. Netac, a Shenzhen-based company, has a relatively long history of being a manufacturer of flash-based products (including USB flash drives, SD cards etc.). Their main distribution channel is in China, but, they also act as OEMs for distributors in other markets. The Netac Z5 is currently available for retail purchase in the Chinese market, and distributors / consumers elsewhere interested in placing high-volume orders can contact Netac directly via the Z5's product page.

Product Packaging and Internal Hardware

The Netac Z5 comes in a cardboard box along with a Type-C to Type-A, as well as a Type-C to Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 2 cable. The main unit is sized similar to a standard 2.5" SSD (the exact measurements being 109.2mm x 78.1mm, with a 10mm thickness). The chassis itself is made of aluminum and has a premium look and feel to it. The unit also has a blue LED to indicate power status right next to the Type-C female port. The gallery below shows the packaging and external design.

Getting into the internals of the unit is quite simple, as the four screws to remove are evident on the back side of the unit. The Z5 is made up of two mSATA SSDs organized in RAID-0 behind an ASMedia ASM1352R USB 3.1 Gen 2 to dual SATA bridge. An ASMedia ASM1542 10 Gbps signal switch chip enables the Type-C interface.

The two mSATA SSDs are identical. They use the Silicon Motion SM2246EN controller with Nanya DRAM and Micron NAND flash. Based on the package markings, it appears that the mSATA SSDs are using Micron MLC flash.

CrystalDiskInfo is able to see one of the mSATA SSDs over the ASM1352R bridge chip. S.M.A.R.T info can be viewed, but, the temperature read-out is inconsistent.

TRIM support is shown in the information view, but, it is not possible to activate it behind the bridge chip.

Testbed Setup and Testing Methodology

Evaluation of DAS units on Windows is done with the testbed outlined in the table below. For devices with a USB 3.1 Gen 2 (via a Type-C interface) connections (such as the Netac Z5 512GB that we are considering today), we utilize the USB 3.1 Type-C port enabled by the Intel Alpine Ridge controller. It connects to the Z170 PCH via a PCIe 3.0 x4 link..

AnandTech DAS Testbed Configuration
Motherboard GIGABYTE Z170X-UD5 TH ATX
CPU Intel Core i5-6600K
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws 4 F4-2133C15-8GRR
32 GB ( 4x 8GB)
DDR4-2133 @ 15-15-15-35
OS Drive Samsung SM951 MZVPV256 NVMe 256 GB
SATA Devices Corsair Neutron XT SSD 480 GB
Intel SSD 730 Series 480 GB
Add-on Card None
Chassis Cooler Master HAF XB EVO
PSU Cooler Master V750 750 W
OS Windows 10 Pro x64
Thanks to Cooler Master, GIGABYTE, G.Skill and Intel for the build components

The full details of the reasoning behind choosing the above build components can be found here.

The list of DAS units used for comparison purposes in the rest of the review is provided below.

  • Netac Z5 512GB
  • Corsair Voyager GS 512GB
  • LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt 500GB
  • Samsung Portable SSD T1 1TB
  • Samsung Portable SSD T3 2TB
  • SanDisk Extreme 510 480GB
  • SanDisk Extreme 900 1.92TB
Direct-Attached Storage Benchmarks
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  • BrokenCrayons - Wednesday, August 10, 2016 - link

    The skin temp of the Netac case was 46C. By the time heat reaches the exterior and is measured by an IR camera, it's dispersed from the sources that are creating it. This implies the internal temps experienced by the flash storage inside is higher. The good news is the Netac isn't throttling due to temperature as is made clear by the review. The temps measured were under atypically high demand too so day-to-day file copies wouldn't likely create that situation. However, since Ganesh has pointed out the company is aware of the thermal performance as a shortcoming, I think being dismissive of thermal concerns might be a mistake. Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, August 10, 2016 - link

    It's true using thermal pads to mate the controllers to the chassis will improve thermals, but if the drive isn't throttling, it is within design specifications, which means according to the manufacture reliability wont be sacrificed. So Netac concerning themselves with the thermals is superficial, and anything they do to improve them is a solution looking for a problem.

    I don't like my gadgets hot anymore than the next guy, but sometimes that's just how they are designed.
    Reply
  • LordConrad - Tuesday, August 9, 2016 - link

    "ASMedia's custom drivers for ASM1142 are no longer needed, given that Windows 10 bundles a Microsoft USB 3.1 xHCI driver."

    You should not assume that everyone is using Windows 10.
    Reply
  • Samus - Tuesday, August 9, 2016 - link

    Why aren't you using Windows 10? It was free for a whole year. Free! Reply
  • KingofL337 - Tuesday, August 9, 2016 - link

    Would you really be willing to trust your data to some fly by night company? I can understand it's fast bust still. Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, August 9, 2016 - link

    I would hardly call Netac a 'fly by night' company given their background.

    Btw, if we even have a little bit of inkling / doubt that some vendor is a 'fly by night' operation, we would definitely NOT be reviewing their wares.
    Reply
  • KingofL337 - Wednesday, August 10, 2016 - link

    Maybe, 'fly by night' if the wrong wording how about 'unproven'.

    it looks like they took a reference design for the SM2246EN and slapped or will slap a set of the cheapest mSATA drives to the board. They aren't using their flash or Dram. They aren't available in the US except Amazon and they sell mostly cheap USB drives, uSD cards and a few HDDs with almost no reviews. Googling them basically shows their page, Amazon and this review.

    These comments sure makes me feel warm inside.

    Never been reviewed before or almost anyone else.
    Prior to going into the specifics of the Netac Z5, a few words about Netac are in order, as none of their products have been reviewed by us before.

    Not their own Flash, Dram or Controller
    They use the Silicon Motion SM2246EN controller with Nanya DRAM and Micron NAND flash. Based on the package markings, it appears that the mSATA SSDs are using Micron MLC flash.

    No Trim on a SSD, so this things is going to slow to a crawl.
    TRIM support is shown in the information view, but, it is not possible to activate it behind the bridge chip.

    No attempt at a thermal solution
    In terms of actual thermal design, we were quite surprised to find that neither the SSD controllers nor the flash packages had any sort of thermal pad to aid in transferring the generated heat to the metal body.

    Also these Chinese companies are adding no R&D effort slapping together or borrowing the design of these drives and marking them down a little and selling them. We put our data on them and they fail and so does all our data. We would never by a spinning disc made by a company like this.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, August 10, 2016 - link

    Other than Samsung, SanDisk and Micron / Crucial - who makes their own flash, DRAM or controller?

    So, if a company well-established in the Chinese market wants to get a presence / enter into the US market, does one immediately dismiss them because they haven't been reviewed by anyone in the US / EU press circles?

    Btw, many of the flash devices that people buy in the US / EU are just the OEM designs developed by companies like Netac so that 'well-known' companies can just slap their labels on it and distribute with minimal QA work. That is how OEM designing works in the current day.

    FWIW, the company is targeting distributors in the US market (not end buyers directly) with the Z5. So, someone who wants to distribute / slap their label on the Z5 can make Netac put in an improved thermal solution and/or improve firmware aspects before placing the bulk order.
    Reply
  • name99 - Tuesday, August 9, 2016 - link

    8W draw and no power brick? AND A USB-C to A cable. So they EXPECT you to run this on USB3 where the max guaranteed power supply is 4.5W?
    At the very least AnandTech should have run all tests under that scenario to see what happens. Does the box gratefully degrade, or does it just randomly disconnect when the power draw goes too high?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, August 9, 2016 - link

    We have been through this discussion on the USB 3.1 Gen 2 SanDisk Extreme 900 review also,

    At the outset - the usecase for this device is specifically with USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports.

    Second, with USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 ports - it works without disconnects but performance is very limited, not crossing 400 MBps even in artificial workloads. I don't have a setup to measure power consumption with non-Type-C / USB 3.0 / USB 2.0 ports. So, I can't provide power numbers for those cases.
    Reply

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