From 2006 onwards Lexar was owned by the giant memory makers Micron until it sold the business to Longsys in 2017. In doing so, the Lexar brand moved from one flash memory company in America to another in China.
Since then Lexar has been creating some products that compete with Micron Technology (Crucial), along with other significant flash memory brands like SanDisk (Western Digital), Samsung and Kioxia (formerly Toshiba).
The pricing of NAND flash has reached a point where external SSDs are popular, as they can operate at near internal drive speeds, have inherent resilience due to no moving parts and they’re highly portable.
The SL200 might sound like a model of Mercedes but it’s also Lexar’s latest portable SSD.
With so many branded and unbranded options available, it begs the question why would you pick this one? It turns out that we have several perfectly good reasons why this is could be the right choice.
Design & Build
Looking at online images, it is easy to assume that the SL200 is the same size as a 2.5in drive, as it has an almost identical ratio to that form factor.
The reality is that the SL200 is smaller, being only 86mm long and 60mm wide, allowing it to fit easily in any pocket, including those on office shirts. The only snag to carrying it around in that fashion is that the cable won’t also fit in the pocket, as the two provided (Type-A and Type-C) are both an ample 50cm long.
While the cable length is a plus, Lexar doesn’t provide any pouch for the drive and cables to live. It’s another logistical issue waiting for third-party vendors to address.
The drive has a Type-C port on it so that you don’t need to correctly orientate the cable before insertion, as per modern smartphones and the like.
Next to that port is a small blue indicator LED. I think is ergonomically on the wrong end, since users don’t plug things into our computers and then face them away.
Styling is a little odd, with two-tone metallic grey making it appear decidedly bland. What made me genuinely scratch my head is that the upper surface with the logo on it is a flat metallic grey, where the tiny curved edge has relief patterning on it. But the best patterning is on the underside, where you will rarely see it.
I’m not sure what went on with the design team working on the SL200, but it appears it some lovely ideas for making this drive look stylish subsequently got hidden for no obvious good reason.
Construction is reinforced plastic from very high-quality mouldings, and because metal wasn’t used for the casing, the unit weighs only 40.6g (not including cable).
Specs & Features
The internals of the SL200 is something of a mystery since Lexar doesn’t even say what flash technology is used here. An educated guess is that it incorporates 64-layer 3D NAND, and that flash storage wasn’t fabricated by any of the other big Asian memory makers, since they’re all competitors.
Beyond that assertion, I’m unaware of what controller or cache architecture has been used. Admittedly, most end-users won’t care what’s inside, as long as it lives up to the performance specifications defined by Lexar and survives at least the 3-year warranty offered.
The one feature that makes the SL200 stand out from the crowd is that this storage supports 256-bit AES hardware encryption, and it even comes with a utility on the drive to encryption the contents and configures access passwords.
The application is called DataSafe for Windows and for Mac, and as that name hints, it covers two of the larger computing platforms, though sadly not Linux.
Beyond that inclusion, there isn’t much here from a feature perspective.
As this drive isn’t built around NVMe technology, I didn’t expect anything spectacular from our performance testing session.
Lexar quotes up to 550MB/s read, 400MB/s write speeds for this unit, numbers that are remarkably similar to what you might expect from a SATA connected SSD.
Based on this information, I first tested it using a USB 3.1 Gen 1 port, or USB 3.0 as it was once called.
Using this interface on CrystalDiskMark 7, a test that can be overly optimistic, I got 455MB/s reads, and 447MB/s writes on the Default profile. Switching to the Realworld profile, these values dropped to 432MB/s and 426MB/s respectively.
Further testing with AS SSD reinforced the idea that read speed is less than quoted but write is generally better than anticipated.
Lexar doesn’t implicitly state that the interface on the SL200 is built for USB 3.1 Gen 1 or 3.2 Gen 2, so I decided to plug it into a 3.2 Gen 2 port and see if these scores improved.
I assumed they wouldn’t, but the difference was marked. Performance on both reading and writing improved by between 9 and 25%, with the CrystalDiskMark performance jumping to 568MB/s reads and 522MB/s reads on the Default profile.
Those speeds easily match the very best internal SATA III SSD scores and are fast enough for a system to be externally booted from this device. Its main competition is the Adata SD600Q and Seagate One Touch.
However, my experience of reviewing SSDs tells me to be cautious about celebrating a drive that outperforms its specification for several good reasons.
Firstly, and most obviously, this drive is a single example, and others might not perform identically. But also, as was revealed by another brand recently, the quoted speeds are the minimum requirement for the product, and it is possible that during production cost-cutting might reduce the performance of the retail product to the quoted level.
If the review drive is representative, then it is much quicker than I’d have expected, and probably the fastest external SSD that I’ve seen built from SATA intended components.
The Lexar SL200 comes in three capacities; 512GB, 1TB and the 2TB and I tested the smallest size.
The MSRP of reviewed 512GB drive is €89,99, the 1TB is €159,99, and the 2TB hasn’t been priced yet. Typical US costs for these items are $89.99 and $159.99 respectively.
Oddly there are no UK prices yet, although you can buy it from Amazon or Onbuy if you can’t wait for a proper release.
Those aren’t the lowest prices for an external SSD with this performance profile, but it’s hardly the most expensive either.
The single device that has the closest specification is the Western Digital My Passport Portable SSD (WDBKVX5120PSL-WESN), as it is based on a SATA SSD and offers hardware encryption. The 512GB version of that drive is £79.99 on Amazon and has a semi-metal construction.
Check our portable hard drive and SSD chart to see what else is available.
As with many things that Lexar make, the SL200 takes its own independent path, and with so many me-too designs in the world of technology, that’s not a bad thing.
An underlying issue is that for the same money, you can get external SSDs built around NVMe technology that can massively outperform this clearly SATA-based design.
But if you don’t have NVMe storage in your system or do, but don’t have a USB 3.2 Gen 2 port, then the SL200 isn’t any slower than any of those drives. And, included in this price you get hardware encryption, missing from most drives less than £200/$200 for 1TB.
And, if you can afford the 2TB SL200 model when it arrives, then you have something with reasonable performance, sizeable capacity, effective security and is highly portable.
There are plenty of unbranded designs that are cheaper per GB, but these options don’t generally offer encryption.
Where it won’t find favour is with those who have a Gen 2 port, or intend to move to a system with one soon, and they want the very highest speeds for rapid file transfers. Therefore, the SL300, or whatever Lexar decides to call it, must address those customers that the SL200 ignores.
With the 2TB model waiting in the wings, the SL200 might still see success from those that need larger capacities, but the pricing of that version is critical.
That said, for those who aren’t heading in that direction, the Lexar SL200 fits a good number of other usage niches very snuggly indeed.
Lexar SL200: Specs
Capacity tested: 512GB
Tested 4KB performance: 186.46/174.75MB/s
Tested sequential performance: 568/522MB/s
Quoted sequential performance:550MB/s read, 400MB/s write
Encryption: 256-bit AES hardware encryption
Connection: USB Type-A or Type-C
Dimensions (L x W x H): 86 x 60 x 9.5mm / 3.39 x 2.36 x 0.37”
Weight: 95g / 3.35oz
Warranty: 3 years