Transcend JetDrive Lite 130

Update 2014-07-10: After using this drive for nearly a month, I have some updates which were not apparent when I first reviewed the product.  The JetDrive still performs admirably and provides that much needed boost to my MacBook Air.  However I did notice a strange behavior that I need to let everyone know about: If you let your MacBook go to sleep rather than turning it off or you often use external USB card readers/devices, you may get a message saying that your JetDrive was not properly ejected.  My main concern here would be data loss, especially if you have a file on the JetDrive opened in an application when you put your MacBook to sleep.  I have not had this experience and have shifted to shut down my MacBook when I’m done with it (side benefit: saves quite a bit of juice).  However, this is enough of a concern for me to withdraw my recommendation of the JetDrive as I believe it to be a serious issue.  I’ll be reaching out to Transcend for their response on this and will update the post as I get more information.

Original review:
If you have an older MacBook Air that’s spatially challenged, then I have the solution for you!  Some older MacBook Air only came with 64 GB in their internal SSD.  That was upgraded to 128 GB (up to 256 GB in higher end configurations) in later models, upgradable to 512 GB.  While an SSD dramatically increases the performance of these computers on a usability basis, there are challenges.  Those with 128 GB or less (and perhaps even for those with even larger SSD capacity) will quickly find out that they have to do a lot of hard drive space management after loading their MacBooks with a reasonable amount of apps.  With apps, photos, music and videos, I’m often working with less than 10 GB of space free!  That causes a lot issues as well as system inefficiencies.

How can you add capacity to your computer?  I have a small, external portable USB hard drive that’s 2 TB in size.  Even though it’s one of those that’s exclusively powered through the USB port without an AC adapter brick, it’s still cumbersome to carry around and use.  You have to remember to plug it in all the time. I’m sure that most MacBook Air users have some type of external storage that they’re lugging around.  SD cards can work but they’re not designed for use as a drive and they stick out of the MacBook in an inelegant way that gets in the way of storing the computer.  Along comes Transcend and its solution:

JetDrive Packaging
The packaging for the Transcend JetDrive Lite 130.

This is essentially an SD card designed to function as a drive and is called the JetDrive Lite.  When I first read about it, I figure it’s the perfect solution and I had to get it for my MacBook Air (late 2012 model with a 128 GB SSD).  It was such a new product that it took a little bit to arrive.  When it arrived earlier than expected, I was super excited!  Looking at the packaging, it’s an MLC drive and that’s why it’s pretty affordable (around $90 for the 128 GB JetDrive Lite).  The difference between an MLC and SLC drive is important but these days they are minimized due to the controller and implementation more than the underlying technology.  There’s no detail on the controller of the JetDrive that I could easily find (read: 5 minutes of Googling).  However, the drive does come with a limited lifetime warranty and is rated for 10,000 insertion/removal cycles in terms of durability.  That’s pretty good to me and will outlast the useful life of my MacBook.

So how does it work and more importantly, how does it look?  Well, it looks GREAT!  Check out this photo I snapped of my MacBook 13″ Air equipped with it:

JetDrive Lite 130
JetDrive Lite 130 inserted in a MacBook.

It just disappears and it looks really good.  There’s no problem to putting my MacBook into it’s neoprene case and stuffing it into my bag.  It looks like it’s made for the computer.  The insertion was way easy but removal is a bit more difficult.  No tools are required but you do need a little bit of your fingernail to help so for those with freshly trimmed fingernails, good luck!  Based on the design, I would say that it’s not designed for people who frequently use the SD card slot of their MacBook.  If I had to swap the drives in and out several times a day I wouldn’t be happy.  But if it’s just a swap of once or twice a week, I think it’s fine.  The JetDrive is clearly designed to be left in your MacBook most of the time and that’s how I intend to use mine  It’s almost easier to carry a tiny SD card reader that connects to your USB port instead.  So now you’re essentially using an external card reader vs external hard drive if you’re a heavy SD card user.  But I think that’s a worthy trade off.

So how does it perform?  Quite well actually but I did run into one problem that’s worth mentioning.  The drive does work out of the box.  Plug it in and just go.  Performance is pretty good.  I’m not a technical, stopwatch measuring kind of guy but I would say it feels faster than a USB attached physical drive.  Long term reliability is a question I can’t answer yet but I expect it to perform well there as well.  The main issue I had is that the drive is formatted to exFAT by default.  While that worked fine on my system, I ran into a problem when I tried to load an Aperture library.  I received a message that the file system was unsupported.  After some quick investigation, I found that it was exFAT formatted.  This is nothing a quick trip to the Disk Utility couldn’t fix.  I re-formatted using the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) partition and then everything works great.  This does mean I can’t stick it into my Windows computer but I’m not sure it would be a good idea to do that anyways.

So would I recommend the Transcend JetDrive Lite 130?  Yes, I wholeheartedly would!  My only recommendation is to format it to the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file system before you put it to use.  It’ll take you just a second to do so.  Good luck!