Recently a new style of solid-state drive has been used in computers and laptops called NVMe PCIe SSD. They differ in several ways from SSDs you possibly have in your computer or laptop. Instead of being similar in shape and size to a small cell phone (standard SATA SSD), the NVMe M.2 looks more like a memory stick.
They are designed to be significantly faster than regular SATA hard drives as well as faster than SSDs. To fully realize their speed, however, your motherboard needs to be a newer model that has native M.2 module slots built in. These M.2 modules have direct lanes to the CPU, unlike going through typical expansion slots first. It is possible to use the NVMe M.2 in either internal adaptor cards, or externally through a USB 3.1 C or Thunderbolt™ connection, but again, the resulting speeds will be less than you can achieve with a native M.2 module slot on your motherboard.
This review is of the new Fledging Shell Slim, supplied with a 1TB NVMe 2280 SSD, by Fledging’s Brand Manager.
What’s In The Box
Along with the Fledging Shell Slim is a small screwdriver, package with two brass case replacement screws, a small soft carrying case for the Shell Slim, and one fun Fledging icon sticker.
My unit had a 1TB NVMe PCIe SSD pre-installed, so it was ready to go. The Shell Slim can be ordered as just a case, or with 256GB to 2 TB SSDs.
The unit weighs 1.2 oz (34 gm) with the SSD installed. It is 3.79 long (9.63 cm) by 1.24 in. (3.15 cm) by 0.35 in thick (0.89 cm). The USB C connector on the case adds 0.25 in (0.64 cm).
The Shell Slim case by itself lists for US$45.99 and with the 1TB SSD as tested, US$179.99.
Inserting your own NVMe PCIe SSD in the Shell Slim is easy. You unscrew the two brass screws, one on either end of the case, open the case and pull out the board by using the attached USB C connector. You then insert your SSD into the board and screw in the retainer screw per the following diagram (Courtesy of Fledging):
The only slightly challenging part is reinserting the two case screws once you have inserted the board back into the case. They are very tiny (and that is why Fledging probably provided the extras 😊).
Initial Field Test
I used a LG Gram laptop Z990 with an 8th Gen Intel® Core™ i7 processor, DDR4 dual-channel memory, 256GB M.2 2280 SSD, 16GB DDR4, Windows 10 with a native Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface port to run the performance analyses.
Two different types of ‘real data’ tests were conducted. The first was designed to replicate the post-shoot file transfers I do as a professional photographer.
For this test, 2 sets of files were loaded directly from an XQD card, one 6.14 GB (311 items) and one 47 GB (842 items), each containing a mix of images, videos, pdfs and text. For performance comparison four different drives were used:
- Shell Slim
- Thunder-Thunderbolt 3
- The LG Gram motherboard mounted M.2 SSD
- Micro SD SDXC card (in the SD port of the laptop)
Test 1 results:
|LG Gram motherboard M.2 SSD||00:24.3||05:37.34|
|Micro SD SDXC card||01:36.6||11:36.03|
The second test was based on directly writing from the LG Gram laptop 256GB M.2 2280 SSD to the two faster drives from Test 1, the Shell Slim and the Thunder-Thunderbolt 3. Both external drives were connected to the LG Gram Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface port. One 47 GB (842 items) and one 72.8 GB (8996 items) data set mix of images, videos, music, pdfs and text were used. The tests were run twice, reformatting the drives in between and letting their temperatures return to ambient before the second write. The table shows the average times from the two runs.
|47.0 GB||72.8 GB*|
*Temperature rise on writing to the respective drives: Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 15.5⁰F increase; Shell Slim 22.5⁰F increase.
As a photographer, anything that can speed up backup transfer while ensuring the integrity of the images, is always welcome. As can be seen in Test 1, replicating the options available to me when I normally transfer directly from my camera XQD card, the Shell Slim was the fastest for both the smaller 6.14GB and larger 47GB data write operations. In fact, it would have saved me nearly 9 minutes in the transfer of the large data set as compared to the SD SDXC card!
In Test 2, again the Shell Slim was considerably faster than the Thunder-Thunderbolt 3, when both were connected to the LG Gram Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface port. Note, the Shell Slim doesn’t have to be connected to a Thunderbolt 3 port but can work with any USB C port.
I think is worth reemphasizing the high functionality combination of the extreme speed of the Shell Slim packaged in such a small unit that directly connects to your Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface or USB C port. No cables to carry, no power supply needed.
In summary, this Fledging Shell Slim External NVMe PCIe SSD earns a solid 5 out of 5.
 See Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 review https://insight.daumphotography.com/2020/10/31/kingston-kc-2500-nvme-m-2-2280-2tb-ssd-fast-and-small/
 Fledging webpage https://fledging.net/collections/shell-enclosures/products/shell-slim