Although I appreciate Apple’s decision to go all-SSD on the MacBook line, it does cause some problems capacity-wise. Even 256 GB is an expensive proposition from Apple, and it’s not easy or cheap to expand storage on these laptops. One option is a fast USB 3 drive like the SanDisk Extreme, and there’s also some external Thunderbolt storage. But what about the SD card slot? That’s where the PNY StorEDGE goes, and I’m loving it!
SD Storage Expansion
All MacBooks above the 11″ MacBook Air have an SDXC card slot along with their compliment of USB 3 and Thunderbolt ports. This slot is intended for temporary use importing photos and video off of SD cards, but it’s also a reasonably-capable location for some expansion storage.
Last year, I received a Nifty MiniDrive, the result of a Kickstarter project. This tiny drive houses an even-tinier microSD card and is intended to live semi-permanently in the SD slot of a MacBook. Although there were some mechanical issues with the MiniDrive, it worked well enough for me for the last year.
Although the Nifty MiniDrive (and similar knock-offs) are really quite nifty indeed, two things work against it: microSD cards are pathetic (tiny and slow), and it’s fairly hard to physically eject the drive when you need to use the slot for something else. The first is the most serious issue, of course.
My MiniDrive was equipped with the microSD card recommended by Nifty, a SanDisk Ultra 64 GB model, but I was extremely disappointed by the performance. It occasionally reached 40 MB/s while streaming reads, but everyday I/O was painfully slow. I tried it with Apple FileVault 2 encryption and watched it creak along under 10 MB/s! Clearly microSD was never intended for this use case.
As shown above, the Nifty MiniDrive plus SanDisk Ultra 64 GB microSD card really isn’t usable for much. I used it to hold large video files from Tech Field Day while I was uploading them, but that’s about all it was good for.
While browsing online for storage, I happened across another device designed for the MacBook’s SD card slot: The PNY StorEDGE.
Unlike the Nifty and similar drives, this is not a microSD adapter. Rather, it’s a special storage device designed to fit in the MacBook SD card slot. And it addresses my two concerns about the Nifty MiniDrive/microSD card combination:
- It’s reasonably fast and offers a 128 GB option
- It’s easy to remove, though it doesn’t fit flush in the slot
PNY sells the StorEDGE in both 64 GB and 128 GB capacities. Since the price for the 128 GB device was reduced to about $80, I went for the big one. Plus, larger flash devices typically perform better than smaller ones since they often have two or more flash chips instead of one.
My biggest concern about the StorEDGE was performance, and I’m pleased to report that it works much better than the microSD card option. In fact, it’s quite a bit faster than any SD card I’ve tried!
Although it’s not fast by any means, the PNY StorEDGE is fast enough to stay out of the way. As seen above, the StorEDGE delivered up to 80 MB/s reads and 40 MB/s writes. This isn’t fantastic on the face of it, but it’s much better than the microSD card. On the other hand, small random writes are still slow, though not as painful as the SD card solutions.
Unlike the Nifty, which requires a special tool to remove, the PNY StorEDGE has a lip outside the card slot. There is an indentation in this for your thumbnail, making it easy to remove when you need to import photos from a real SD card.
I wonder about the construction of the drive. Is it simply a short SD card? Or is there more to it inside? I half want to rip it open and look, but I think I’ll use it instead!
The StorEDGE came ready-to-use in Mac OS X: It’s formatted with exFAT so it can be used with Windows PC’s too!
I’m very pleased with the PNY StorEDGE. It offers usable performance and good capacity at a reasonable price point. It’s not the perfect solution, but it definitely beats spending $500 or more on a MacBook SSD upgrade!