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The Transcend JetDrive Lite is as close to upgrading the internal storage on your modern MacBook Pro as it gets, but HDD-like speeds limit its uses.
Designed for the 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro and 14-inch MacBook Pro, the Transcend JetDrive Lite 330 is a small solid-state storage chip that slides into the SD card slot to expand capacity. You’ll barely notice it’s there when you can add up to 1TB of extra storage.
Design and use
When Apple first added an SD card reader to the Mac, a slew of paltry third-party adapters flooded the market. We vividly remember when an early company launched called Nifty MiniDrive which had an anodized aluminum edge to blend seamlessly into your Mac.
There was enough space in these Macs at the time for the Nifty MiniDrive to act as an adapter for microSD cards. They even came in multiple colors.
It was the Nifty MiniDrive and other early entrants that set the stage for the Transcend JetDrive Lite 330. It’s not Transcend’s first drive and they have some that fit MacBooks as early as 2010.
All of these drives slip into your Mac’s SD card slots, but are sized to stick out just a hair’s breadth. For this reason, there is very little overlap in the patterns. Every MacBook with an SD slot has its own corresponding JetDrive.
The JetDrive Lite is all plastic with a little lip that sticks out from the edge of your Mac. It’s small enough not to get in the way and just big enough to grab if you need to pull it out.
We were able to remove the JetDrive with just our fingers, but if you don’t have fingernails, you might have a little trouble. Some others we saw sat flush but required a tool to remove them. This way you can take it out anytime, anywhere – no tools required.
Transcend has made the JetDrive Lite available in four capacities for the 2021 MacBook Pros. We checked out the 1TB version, but 512GB, 256GB, and 128GB capacities are also available.
Speed and performance
Transcend promises speeds of 95 MB/s and 75 MB/s respectively in reading and writing. In our extensive testing, the JetDrive Lite lives up to those numbers.
The Blackmagic Disk Speed Test returned 90.2MB/s and 75.2MB/s, as expected. This puts the JetDrive Lite on par with UHS-I SD cards
As recent MacBook Pros are capable of UHS-II speeds – up to 312MB/s – we wanted to know why the company went with slower speeds.
They said AppleInsider that the biggest advantage of the JetDrive Lite is its compact size and its ability to be perpetually in your machine and ready to go, not for high speed transfers.
While this is undoubtedly true, upgrading to UHS-II speeds seems not only possible – given the size of UHS-II MicroSD cards – but significantly beneficial to the end user. Despite the convenience, this was our biggest issue when using the JetDrive Lite.
Switching to UHS-II speeds would surely increase the cost of the reader. Maybe it was a compromise that Transcend was unwilling to make.
Uses and applications
Apple’s current line of portable Macs do not support user-upgradable storage. That means the storage you choose when buying is the one you’ll be working with years later.
The JetDrive isn’t a replacement for the super-fast internal SSD, but it’s by far the easiest way to add up to 1TB of extra storage to your Mac. With its speed limitations, there are practical and impractical uses for such storage.
By far one of the most common ways to use the JetDrive is to use it as a Time Machine backup. This works if you have less data on your internal than the JetDrive. If you have the 256GB or 512GB SSD and aren’t using it all, the 1TB JetDrive will be enough for that.
We only had about 300 GB of data on our internal drive, so we wanted to test using the JetDrive as a backup solution. We turned it on and allowed Time Machine to go away overnight for the initial backup. When we woke up our machine the next morning, it was done.
Each subsequent backup only took a few moments, depending on the amount of changed data on our Mac. Remember though that if something happens to your Mac, your backup may also be lost. Offsite backup or cloud backup is always ideal.
We preferred to use our JetDrive just for extra storage. We started saving images and documents not stored in iCloud. Access to files is relatively fast depending on their size.
It has also proven useful for storing movies. When we go on a trip, we download movies and TV shows to our Mac to access them on the go. They are not crucial files, which means that if we have to remove the card, we are not missing much.
It took us about 45 seconds to transfer a 3.75GB movie to the JetDrive, which isn’t instantaneous, but fast enough to be useful.
While it works well enough for everyday files, we wouldn’t rely on it for video editing. The speed required to edit 4K video and the large library size make the JetDrive unusable for this application.
Should you buy the Transcend JetDrive Lite?
In terms of cost, the JetDrive Lite 330 is neither good nor bad. Apple is charging $200 to upgrade from 512GB to 1TB of storage. You can spend less than that on the 1TB JetDrive Lite, although it’s certainly slower.
If you opt for the 2TB MacBook Pro, Apple charges $600 over the base configuration and $400 over the 1TB option. Some may opt for slower speeds to save hundreds of dollars.
At the same time, off-brand MicroSD cards are as cheap as $50 for 1TB. Branded microSD cards are priced more competitively than the JetDrive Lite.
Overall, this makes JetDrive a solid choice for expanding your storage without breaking the bank. It might even save you money depending on your needs. Either way, it’s absolutely the most seamless alternative out there.
Transcend JetDrive Lite
- Designed exclusively for 2021 MacBook Pros
- Doesn’t stick out the side of your Mac
- Closest to upgrading your internal storage
- Good option for Time Machine backups or additional file storage
- 64GB to 1TB options available
Cons of Transcend JetDrive Lite
- All-plastic construction
- Hard drives can be faster
Rating: 3.5 out of 5