OWC Envoy Express review: Roll-your-own external Thunderbolt 3 storage

This rugged Thunderbolt 3 enclosure allows you to leverage budget M.2 NVMe SSDs for affordable external storage. A clever caddy that adheres to your Mac ices the deal.

Credit: OWC

You may have noticed that external SSDs from top-tier vendors are pricey—especially when they’re Thunderbolt. If you’re looking to lessen your financial pain a little, then OWC’s $79 Envoy Express T3 (Thunderbolt 3) enclosure might be just what the doctor ordered. Populate it with a budget M.2 NVMe SSD, and you’re on your way to external storage nirvana for a very reasonable price. 

The kicker? A clever caddy that adheres (semi-permanently) to your computer, laptop, or display and allows you to keep the drive handy, but securely in place and out of harm’s way. See below.

envoy with mount OWC

OWC provides a transparent caddy that you can stick to any flat surface to keep the Envoy Express nicely out of the way. The drive slides in and out so you can remove it for safe keeping.

Design and specs

The Envoy Express measures approximately 4.1 x 1.6 x 0.5 inches, and weighs around 3.3 ounces—including SSD. The metal case is all black with a brushed-metal stripe down the middle bearing the name and OWC logo. 

Though shown in the image below, no SSD is included with the Envoy Express. This is simply an an exploded view to show you where and how the drive mounts. The only thing not displayed is the included screwdriver.

envoy breakdown OWC

OWC’s Envoy Express with the cover off to show how the drive installs. 

The enclosure ships with a short Thunderbolt cable which is captive when the cover is screwed to the drive, but may be removed when the cover is off (as shown above). This makes the cable super easy (if not cheap) to replace should it wear out, or you need a longer one.

Beyond that, there’s not a lot to say about the Envoy Express. As menitoned previously, OWC includes a sturdy, clear plastic caddy that the enclosure itself slides in and out of. The caddy has semi-permanent adhesive on the back so you may mount it on the back of your laptop or iMac, or any other computing device, display, etc. This keeps it out of the way yet still handy. Nice touch.

Performance

I largely tested the Envoy Express using a 1TB Aura P12 M.2 NVMe SSD provided by the company and while it didn’t quite reach the 1533MBps OWC states is possible, it was still very fast.

screen shot 2020 10 23 at 10.54.24 am IDG

This is the Envoy Express’s performance on Blackmagicdesign’s Disk Speed test running on a 2019 MacBook Pro.

Of course, I was curious to see how it performed with a top-of-the-line drive, so I threw a Samsung 980 Pro inside. That got me the performance that OWC claimed with the Aura P12 Pro, but no more. A top of the line 980 Pro is very much a waste of money in this circumstance.

owc envoy 980 pro IDG

The Envoy Express turned in better numbers with a Samsung 980 Pro inside, but hardly what that very expensive drive is capable of. Stick with budget SSDs for this enclosure.

As you can see below, the Samsung X5 pulled much better numbers under Disk Speed, but these don’t really bear out on the real world as you’ll see in the next image.

disk speed samsung x5 2 IDG

Samsung’s X5 is much faster than the Envoy Express under Disk Speed, but the margin wasn’t nearly as impressive in our real world 48Gb transfers.

While the Envoy Express’s performance in our real world 48GB transfer tests couldn’t match the Samsung X5, keep in mind it’s a lot cheaper. It still matched up nicely to the more expensive Fledging Shell Thunderbolt with a Samsung 970 EVO inside, and the Sabrent XTRM-Q (Thunderbolt 3/USB) with its Sabrent Rocket X 8TB SSD. 

48gb envoy express IDG

While it didn’t match the Samsung X5 in real world performance, the Envoy Express came darn close.

To reiterate, as the Envoy Express seems limited to just over 1500MBps, populating it with a top-tier SSD is largely a waste of money.

Bottom line

The Envoy Express isn’t the fastest Thunderbolt 3 storage solution available, but it’s still darn fast, and you can leverage budget NVMe SSDs for the most affordable solution I’m aware of—around $200 for 1TB compared to the Samsung X5 at $400. The caddy is also a very nice touch.

Thunderbolt 3 without breaking the bank. Who would’ve thunk it?

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Jon L. Jacobi

Macworld.com
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