I’ve reviewed several Thunderbolt 3 SSDs over the last year or so, and the Akitio Node Lite with Intel Optane SSD is the best performer of them all. Advertising speeds up to 2600 MB/s read, it’s the only external SSD that I’ve tried thus far that skirts close to such a speed rating without being affected by noticeable thermal throttling.

Granted, the combo package of Akitio Node Lite + Intel Optane SSD should be a great performer, after all its price is $1500 for a 960GB SSD. That’s a lot of money to pay for storage when you can buy a 1TB version of Samsung’s bus-powered Thunderbolt 3 SSD for less than half the cost.

But if you’re in the market for an SSD that delivers workstation-class performance and endurance, then the Akitio Node Lite with Intel Optane SSD is worthy of consideration. Not only does it have a high performance ceiling, but it can sustain that performance while under load. Watch our hands-on video for more details.

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Specifications

  • 1 x Intel Optane 905P 960GB SSD
  • Gen 3 x4 PCIe NVMe SSD
  • Up to 2600 MB/s
  • Aluminum with metal chassis
  • Transparent acrylic panel
  • Dimensions: 9.17 x 5.87 x 2.99 inches
  • 2 x 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • DisplayPort 1.2 (4K at 60 Hz)
  • Fan noise: 23 dB(A)
  • Requires macOS 10.13.4 and later
  • 2-year limited warranty

Video review

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Unboxing and details

Inside the box you’ll find the Akitio Node Lite, a power brick and power cable, Thunderbolt 3 cable, cable ties, documentation and a few Akitio-branded stickers. If you’ve ever unboxed an Akitio product, or have watched me do so the numerous times that I have, then you’ll know exactly what to expect as far as product packaging is concerned.

This special edition Akitio Node Lite is just like the standard version outside of the red paint job and clear acrylic window. As such, it includes dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, DisplayPort, power connection, and easy-to-use thumb screws that allow you to remove the cover from the inner portion of the enclosure.

Unfortunately, Akitio still uses fans that are way louder than I can personally tolerate, so I recommend replacing the Node Lite’s fan with a quieter Noctua fan. In the case of the Intel Optane SSD 905P, which features a fair amount of passive cooling in the form of thermal material and a large heatsink, I even think that disconnecting the fan should work. I did so, and noticed no effect on the SSD from a performance perspective.

If these units get too hot, they will begin to thermal throttle, and I noticed no such throttling, even when performing some intensive back-to-back testing with QuickBench. Obviously I can’t officially recommend disconnecting the fan, but the Optane held up well without the help of active cooling.

Installing the Intel Optane SSD, which arrived in a separate package for my review unit, was easy. Simply remove the thumb screw on the PCIe slot cover, insert the SSD into the PCIe slot, and fasten down with the thumb screw.

The Optane SSD 905P includes bright LED lighting that really pops behind the Node Lite’s acrylic window. The bad news is that, for Mac users, there doesn’t appear to be a way to disable the LEDs. Windows users have the Intel SSD Toolbox utility for managing drive settings, including LED color and status, but there appears to be no Mac equivalent at the moment.

Speed Tests

On the surface it may seem that drives like the Samsung X5 (review) compare favorably with the Intel Optane SSD, or even best it in some respects, but don’t be fooled by a static picture. The thing that really separates a drive like this, outside of its sheer speed, is its endurance for consistently delivering those speeds.

With drives like the aforementioned Samsung, you quickly run up against thermal limits when performing sustained transfers over longer periods of time. With the Intel Optane inside of the Akitio Node Lite, you’re not subjected to such aggressive throttling. Depending on how you use your external drive, this could be a make or break difference when deciding on which to purchase.

Write bandwidth with the Intel Optane SSD inside the Akitio Node Lite

You can really see the difference between lesser specced drives and the Intel Optane SSD when running iostat at the command line. As I noted in our previous OWC 4M2 review, iostat lets you monitor TPS and MB/s for a specific drive. This measures how often a selected drive can perform I/O operations, and the speed at which operations are performed. This provides a deeper look at the drive, something that not all commercial benchmark tools are capable of doing.

Write bandwidth with the Samsung X5

This isn’t meant as a dig to the Samsung X5, which is still an extremely impressive drive with read performance given its form factor. It simply illustrates how the Optane was built for both speed and endurance, given its workstation class designation.

Conclusion

My only complaint with the Akitio Node Lite has to do with the low-quality fan, which to be honest, can probably be disconnected when using the Optane thanks to its sufficient passive cooling. But instead of doing that, you should probably just swap out the fan with a much quieter Noctua fan.

My only other complaint for Intel is the lack of LED control for Mac users. Those LED lights on the Optane 905P are way too bright to not have any sort of end-user control.

But those two issues aside, the Akitio Node Lite with Intel Optane SSD 905P (Amazon) is the fastest external SSD that I’ve ever tested that’s able to provide consistent read/write results over an extended period without thermal throttling. You pay for the privilege, but if you need sustained, high-bandwidth performance, then this is a drive capable of living up to its lofty promises.

The Akitio Node enclosure itself, with its red colorway, extra Thunderbolt 3 port for daisy chaining, and DisplayPort connection, is a solid enclosure that allows the Optane SSD to go to work without taking up too much desk space. It can also work with other PCIe cards as long as they don’t require more than 75-watts of PCIe power.

What are your thoughts on the Akitio Node Lite with Intel Optane SSD? Sound off in the comments with your opinions.

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