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Old 05-03-2021, 12:34 PM   #1
OtinG
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External memory Read/Write speeds with iPad Pros (2020) and iPad Air 4

Last updated at 2pm CST on 7 May 2021.

I'm just curious what others are experiencing for READ/WRITE speeds on external memory devices (SD cards, flash drives, SSDs, etc.) when they are connected to an iPad Pro 2020/2021 model or the iPad Air 2020.

The iPad Air 2020 has an estimated 5Gbps speed limitation which is about 625MB/s maximum transfer rate due to the USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 1) port. iPad Pros use a USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 2) port that has an estimated 10Gbps speed limitation which is about 1250MB/s maximum transfer rate.

However, I think we all realize that manufacturers's statement like "up to 'x' MB/s" typically refer to READ speeds only--the speed an external memory device can show while copying a file residing on itself to the iPad. WRITE speeds tend to be much slower--the speed an external memory device can show while receiving a file from the iPad. We also know their READ/WRITE "up to" speeds are the theoretical higher end limits, and that actual speeds tend to be slower, often much slower, and vary per file type, size, numbers, etc. Bottom line, we shouldn't expect an external USB-C drive rated at 550MB/s by the manufacturer to deliver anything near that when it is connected to an iPad Pro or Air 4.

So anyway, I’m just curious what you folks are experiencing as far as speeds. I’ve tested out three external memory devices with my iPad Air 2020 and with my MacBook Pro 15" Retina 2014. The speeds are not stellar, no where near the "up to" speeds listed by the manufacturers, but they do seem fairly usable as far as a portable iPad is concerned. If I used my iPad as a laptop replacement, then not so much, but to occasionally transfer image and video files, well it works and it isn't as slow as me or grandma!

BTW, I tested my flash drive with ExFAT format and found it was excruciatingly slow. I read that reformatting it to APFS should help, so I did, and that pretty much doubled the READ and WRITE speeds. I'm only using that flash drive to transfer between Apple devices, so APFS is okay, but my SD cards and and SSD drive needed to stay with ExFAT since I occasionally use them with Win 10 too.

Tested Devices:
  • SD Card: SanDisk 64GB Extreme PRO SDXC UHS-I Memory Card (ExFAT format). According to Sandisk, "Read speeds of up to 95MB/s; write speeds of up to 90MB/s. Video Speed : C10, U3, V30."
  • Flash drive: SanDisk 128GB USB-C USB 3.1 Flash Drive (APFS format). According to SanDisk, "Sequential Read: Up to 150MB/s."
  • Flash drive: Samsung 64GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive (APFS format). According to Samsung, "Sequential Read: Up to 150MB/s."
  • SSD drive: Samsung T5 2TB V-NAND USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 External SSD Drive (APFS format). According to Samsung, "Transfer speeds up to 540MB/s."
  • SSD drive: Crucial MX500 2TB 3D NAND SATA Internal SSD Drive (APFS format). It is being used externally. According to Crucial, "Transfer speeds up to 560MB/s."
  • SSD drive: Sandisk 256GB USB 3.0 External SSD Drive (APFS format). According to Sandisk, "Transfer speeds up to 440MB/s."

Note: To test these with my iPad Air 2020 I used a Anker USB-C Hub, PowerExpand+ 7-in-1 USB-C Hub Adapter with an Amazon Basics 65W One-Port GaN USB-C Wall Charger to make sure the SSD drive had plenty of power. (The hub takes 20W leaving 45W for the drives.) Each device was tested separately using this combo, and each was the sole device connected. To test them on my MacBook Pro I plugged them directly into its ports, one at a time.

The test file was a 1.07GB .mov video file created using a command line in the Terminal app on my MacBook Pro.

iPad Air 4 Transfer Speeds (listed best to worst)

IPad Air 4 with Samsung T5 2TB USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 External SSD Drive (APFS format)
  • READ speed = 195 MB/s
  • WRITE speed = 195 MB/s
2020 iPad Pro 12.9 256GB with Crucial MX500 2TB External SSD Drive (APFS format)
  • Submitted by ilovejedd.
  • READ speed = 217 MB/s
  • WRITE speed = 166 MB/s
iPad Air 4 with Sandisk 256GB USB 3.0 External SSD Drive (APFS format)
  • READ speed = 178.3 MB/s
  • WRITE speed = 48.6 MB/s
iPad Air 4 with Samsung 64GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive (APFS format)
  • READ speed = 85.6 MB/s
  • WRITE speed = 28.5 MB/s
iPad Air 4 with SanDisk 64GB Extreme PRO SDXC UHS-I Memory Card (ExFAT format)
  • READ speed = 67.7 MB/s
  • WRITE speed = 9.8 MB/s
iPad Air 4 with SanDisk 128GB USB 3.1 Flash Drive (APFS format)
  • READ speed =89.2 MB/s
  • WRITE speed =2.8 MB/s
iPad Air 4 with PNY 8GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive (APFS format)
  • READ speed = 23.3 MB/s
  • WRITE speed = 2.9 MB/s
Note: iPad Air 2020 test results indicate the Samsung T5 2TB USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 External SSD Drive has the best READ/WRITE speeds of the drives I’ve tested so far, barely beating the Crucial MX500 2TB.

MacBook Pro Transfer Speeds (listed best to worst)

MacBook Pro with Samsung T5 2TB USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 External SSD Drive (APFS format)
  • READ speed = 357 MB/s
  • WRITE speed = 357 MB/s
  • Blackmagicdesign: READ = 426 MB/s
  • Blackmagicdesign: WRITE = 417 MB/s
  • ATTO Disk Benchmark: READ speed = 419 MB/s
  • ATTO Disk Benchmark: WRITE speed = 435 MB/s
2020 M1 MacBook Air 8GB/512GB with Crucial MX500 2TB External SSD Drive (APFS format)
  • Submitted by ilovejedd.
  • READ speed = 303 MB/s
  • WRITE speed = 315 MB/s
MacBook Pro with Sandisk 256GB USB 3.0 External SSD Drive (APFS format)
  • READ speed = 324 MB/s
  • WRITE speed = 86.3 MB/s
  • Blackmagicdesign: READ = 398 MB/s
  • Blackmagicdesign: WRITE = 18.2 MB/s
  • ATTO Disk Benchmark: READ speed = 386 MB/s
  • ATTO Disk Benchmark: WRITE speed = 184 MB/s
MacBook Pro with SanDisk 128GB USB 3.1 Flash Drive (APFS format)
  • READ speed = 110 MB/s
  • WRITE speed = 69 MB/s
MacBook Pro with SanDisk 64GB Extreme PRO SDXC UHS-I Memory Card (ExFAT format)
  • READ speed = 90.7 MB/s
  • WRITE speed = 67.7 MB/s
MacBook Pro with Samsung 64GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive (APFS format)
  • READ speed = 123 MB/s
  • WRITE speed = 30.7 MB/s
MacBook Pro with PNY 8GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive (APFS format)
  • READ speed = 24.6 MB/s
  • WRITE speed = 5.5 MB/s
Note: 2014 MacBook Pro test results indicate the Samsung T5 2TB USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 External SSD Drive has the best READ/WRITE speeds of the drives I’ve tested so far, barely beating the Crucial MX500 2TB.

Last edited by OtinG; 05-07-2021 at 03:16 PM.
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Old 05-03-2021, 12:45 PM   #2
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What happened to the tests with the 2020 iPad Pro? The topic mentions nothing about the MacBook Pro. Personally, I'd rather see te tests for the 2020 iPad Pro as said in the topic.
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Old 05-03-2021, 03:14 PM   #3
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What happened to the tests with the 2020 iPad Pro? The topic mentions nothing about the MacBook Pro. Personally, I'd rather see te tests for the 2020 iPad Pro as said in the topic.
I only have an iPad Air 2020. I don’t have an iPad Pro, so I can’t test them. If you read the topic, I specifically ask for other peoples’ experience with their iPad Air 2020s and iPad Pros. I’m curious about the transfer speeds others are getting with external memory devices. Perhaps someone with an iPad Pro will respond.

BTW, the very first sentence reads, “I'm just curious what others are experiencing for READ/WRITE speeds on external memory devices (SD cards, flash drives, SSDs, etc.) when they are connected to an iPad Pro 2020/2021 model or the iPad Air 2020.” That IS the SUBJECT of this thread. Sometimes you really need to chill out, or at least read more comprehensibly…

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Old 05-03-2021, 04:12 PM   #4
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Can you get a cable to allow an external drive and also be able to charge at the same time?
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Old 05-04-2021, 12:00 PM   #5
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Can you get a cable to allow an external drive and also be able to charge at the same time?
With just a direct cable connection probably not. However you can use a good USB-C hub which has multiple ports and a power port. That is what I used. The hub was powered by a 65W USB-C charger. Since the hub only requires 20W for itself, that leaves 45W for charging the iPad and powering any connected device(s). My iPad Air 2020 came with a 20W charger, so my setup runs the hub plus still has more than double the wattage for charging the iPad, plus another 25W for connected memory devices. I'm not sure what the iPad Pro 2020 and 2021 models will require as far as charging but their specs state they also come with just a 20W charger. Bottom line, you need no more than 20W to charge the iPad, plus you need how ever much wattage the hub needs, plus whatever wattage the connected memory drive requires.

I think most flash/thumb drives don't require much power, nor do SD cards, so they don't typically require a powered hub to connect. External HDDs and SSDs might need to draw more current than the iPad can provide with a direct connection, so a powered hub might be needed for some of them.

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Old 05-04-2021, 02:41 PM   #6
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With just a direct cable connection probably not. However you can use a good USB-C hub which has multiple ports and a power port. That is what I used. The hub was powered by a 65W USB-C charger. Since the hub only requires 20W for itself, that leaves 45W for charging the iPad and powering any connected device(s). My iPad Air 2020 came with a 20W charger, so my setup runs the hub plus still has more than double the wattage for charging the iPad, plus another 25W for connected memory devices. I'm not sure what the iPad Pro 2020 and 2021 models will require as far as charging but their specs state they also come with just a 20W charger. Bottom line, you need no more than 20W to charge the iPad, plus you need how ever much wattage the hub needs, plus whatever wattage the connected memory drive requires.

I think most flash/thumb drives don't require much power, nor do SD cards, so they don't typically require a powered hub to connect. External HDDs and SSDs might need to draw more current than the iPad can provide with a direct connection, so a powered hub might be needed for some of them.
Note, even though Apple only ships the 20W charger, the iPad actually supports fast charging up to 30W. Pretty great when you're out of time and need a quick top-up.

That said, as mentioned, most SSDs and flash drives don't use a lot of power anyway.
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Old 05-04-2021, 03:29 PM   #7
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Note, even though Apple only ships the 20W charger, the iPad actually supports fast charging up to 30W. Pretty great when you're out of time and need a quick top-up.

That said, as mentioned, most SSDs and flash drives don't use a lot of power anyway.
Yes indeed. I definitely noticed faster charging after I started using the 65W single port charger I bought as opposed to the 20W Apple supplied charger that came with my iPad Air 2020.

I think years ago some of the USB external HDDs required a second USB port to provide enough power to run. However, HDD drives have moving parts whereas SSD and flash drives don't, so HDD drives require more power to run.
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Old 05-04-2021, 03:42 PM   #8
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I think years ago some of the USB external HDDs required a second USB port to provide enough power to run. However, HDD drives have moving parts whereas SSD and flash drives don't, so HDD drives require more power to run.
Yeah, I had some of those drives.

Some older USB ports can only deliver 100-500 mA (0.5-2.5W) max while some HDDs require ~1A (5W). This became less of a problem with USB3 which supports up to 900 mA.
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Old 05-05-2021, 09:35 AM   #9
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Years ago, I experimented with reading flash drives on an iPad. I had a special cable. I haven't tried it in a long time, so I can't really talk about speeds. At the time is seemed to be one of those possible but not particularly useful things at least not useful for me.

Is there a particular reason you want to use a USB drive rather than a network drive like iCloud or dropbox?
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Old 05-05-2021, 12:17 PM   #10
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Years ago, I experimented with reading flash drives on an iPad. I had a special cable. I haven't tried it in a long time, so I can't really talk about speeds. At the time is seemed to be one of those possible but not particularly useful things at least not useful for me.

Is there a particular reason you want to use a USB drive rather than a network drive like iCloud or dropbox?
First, pardon the long winded explanation below. Short version, I want to know what can be realistically expected for transfer speeds between external USB memory devices and the iPad Air 2020 and the last two years of iPad pro models. There is a lot of unrealistic hype associated with transfer speeds and I want to cut through a ll of that.

Much longer version...

The reasons are photography and convenience. I'm not going to pay to store my photos, many of which are Photoshop files that exceed 200MB, on iCloud, or any cloud. I don't care for Dropbox either. I do a lot of photography away from the house as a hobby and if I’m out and about it is nice to use a USB memory device. For one thing, I never buy an iPad with cellular capability, which means I would have to be home with WiFi or I would have to use my iPhone XR as a hotspot.

However, one of the BIG selling points of the recent iPad Pro models and iPad Air 2020 is that Apple has finally allowed for faster file transfers to/from them without having to jump through hoops. For videographers and photographers this is a capability they have long requested. So now that the last few model years have allowed this at higher than USB 2.0 speeds, there is a lot of buzz over what works best. There is also a lot of confusion. For example, the iPad might be capable of up to 625MB/s transfer speeds, or even 1250MB/s, but you won't likely ever approach that speed with external USB memory drives. People are paying a king's ransom for the higher end iPads these days in order to use them as a powerful computing tools rather than to just watch Youtube videos, surf the internet, check out social media sites, etc. I bought my iPad Air 2020 to use as a tool for my photography hobby, and therefore I am interested in what its capabilities really are. The iPad Pros are even more powerful and expensive, but knowing their capabilities is certainly important to prospective buyers who are contemplating putting down as much for one as they would have spent on a laptop.

Apple, like all tech companies, likes to paint a powerful image of their iPads as laptop replacements, but it is often difficult to see past the rhetoric and find truly useful data. Manufacturers of SSDs, flash/thumb drives, SD cards, and other memory types are the same. They love to use those "up to" speeds, but they are mostly blowing smoke up our backsides. Yes, a USB 3.1 gen 2 drive theoretically can transfer data "up to" 10,000Gbs (1250MB/s), but what speeds can the user realistically expect to get when it is connected to an iPad? Most of the reviews focus on the theoretical "up to" speeds but never show actual real world speeds.

I want to know the real world speeds. For example, I want to know if a USB 3.1 gen 1 flash drive connected to an iPad Air 2020 which has a USB 3.0 port, both of which can theoretically transfer data at 625MB/s, actually get anywhere close to that speed, or only perform at a small fraction of it.

The problem with internet reviews is that most of the reviewers don’t understand the tech aspect enough to adequately provide a realistic review. For example, buyers of flash drives might give a USB-C USB 3.1 gen 1 flash drive a single star and bitch because it only provides 60MB/s READ and 10MB/s WRITE speeds when connected to their iPad. Their rationale is the drive was rated at "up to" 625MB/s but it only provides about 1/10th of that speed for WRITE and less than that for READ. But what port speed is their iPad capable of? If it is an older USB 2.0 port, then it is limited to only 60MB/s, which explains the slower speeds. If their iPad has a USB 3.0 (or USB 3.1 gen 1) port, then it is capable of 625MB/s, but will it really deliver that speed with a flash drive connected? Probably not. And it isn't just reviews from buyers that tend to be of little value, most of the tech magazine reviewers seem to lack a decent understanding of file transfer tech, and they just harp on the "up to" speeds like they were realistic. I'm trying to cut through all the useless and unrealistic garbage in the reviews and discover what we can realistically expect for transfer speeds.

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Old 05-05-2021, 12:25 PM   #11
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Yes, I thought this should be something someone would have benchmarked but could not find anything searching the web.

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Old 05-05-2021, 02:41 PM   #12
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Yes, I thought this should be something someone would have benchmarked but could not find anything searching the web.
Exactly. I was frustrated trying to find realistic information.

One of the good things about using an external drive with an iPad is that one doesn’t have to pay Apple for a very large built in storage capacity because they can probably make due with a lower built in amount and use an external storage device which is generally a lot less expensive option. For example, with my usage 64GB built in storage is plenty for everything I do. I could even use it to edit a 20GB video file if I was into videography. But I couldn’t store very many files that size. Using an external drive would allow me to store them there and write them to the iPad one at a time for editing, if I wanted to. But if this method takes an excruciatingly long time to transfer these big files back and forth, then it might not be such a good option as I had hoped for.

I too searched the internet for realistic READ/WRITE speeds which various external drives could provide with newer iPads, but found very little. You cannot expect to compare the multitude of available storage devices to one another for use with an iPad, which means purchasing one is pretty much a crap shoot. From my tests of the few USB 3.0 external storage devices I already own, I found that one of my flash drives has a much faster WRITE speed than the more expensive SSD drive when it came to using it with my iPad Air 2020. The READ speed of the flash drive was rated at up to 150MB/s whereas the SSD READ speed was listed as up to 440MB/s. That surprised me. I know WRITE speeds are typically slower than READ speeds, but the manufactures didn’t even list WRITE speeds for any of my devices.

At any rate, if anyone here has a newer iPad and one or more external storage devices that are at least USB 3.0 or later, and you don’t mind testing the READ/WRITE speeds you get when using them with a newer iPad, please post the results. Please include which iPad you used and the external storage device name and port specs (e.g. USB 3.0, USB 3.1 gen 1, USB 3.1 gen 2, USB 3.2). To calculate the speed you can divide the [file size in MB] by [number of sec to READ or WRITE]. Please post both READ and WRITE speeds. I used my iPhone’s stopwatch feature to get the times. This isn’t a scientific paper, so no need for super accurate readings.

Last edited by OtinG; 05-05-2021 at 02:44 PM.
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Old 05-05-2021, 02:56 PM   #13
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BTW, I added a speed test I did using an old USB 2.0 flash drive into the first post of this thread. As I suspected, USB 2.0 devices are just too slowdue to their specs.

Merely as a comparison, I included the speeds I got with the same external storage devices connected to my MacBook Pro 15” Retinal 2014 which has an internal 250GB SSD with USB 3.0 USB ports. I tested the internal SSD on the MacBook Pro and it has READ/WRITE speeds of about 600MB/s for both, which is very close to the USB 3.0 specs. So far all of the READ/WRITE speeds for my external storage devices have been faster when they are used with the MacBook Pro than when used with the iPad Air 2020. Some results are fairly close on both the Mac and the iPad, but some are far apart.
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Old 05-05-2021, 09:43 PM   #14
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BTW, I added a speed test I did using an old USB 2.0 flash drive into the first post of this thread. As I suspected, USB 2.0 devices are just too slowdue to their specs.
Most USB flash drives are just crappy. I don't think I've ever seen a USB2 flash drive get anywhere near close to real-world max of 40 MB/s for USB2.

Note, I've seen reports of file corruption when using exFAT drives with the File apps so be wary of that.

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Old 05-06-2021, 12:12 AM   #15
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Most USB flash drives are just crappy. I don't think I've ever seen a USB2 flash drive get anywhere near close to real-world max of 40 MB/s for USB2.

Note, I've seen reports of file corruption when using exFAT drives with the File apps so be wary of that.
I think they are so small they have heating issues. They have a limited amount of surface area from which to dissipate the heat adequately. The really small ones are even worse. The Samsung 64GB I tested almost completely disappears when plugged into a USB port on my MacBook Pro. Only about 1/4” sticks out and that portion is plastic. (See attached image.) It gets extremely hot. It runs much cooler though when using an adapter cable with my iPad Air 2020. That is probably because the adapter cable port is completely exposed allowing more heat dissipation.

I reformatted the two flash drives I tested to APFS. They both ran about twice as fast with APFS as they did with exFAT. But they both ran way slower on the iPad than on the Mac, and on the ipad they never got near the theoretical top speed for USB 3.0 on a flash drive, which seems to 150MB/s. One got close with 123MB/s on the Mac though.

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