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Can anyone point me in the direction of a real-world performance comparison between a iMac 5k's internal SSD and an external one (ideally one on thunderbolt and one on usb)? Basically, I want to know how much performance I'd give up by buying a smaller built in SSD and putting most data on an external.

Update

I guess ideally what I want is something like http://www.macworld.com/article/2039427/how-fast-is-usb-3-0-really-.html but for the iMac 5k (so including Thunderbolt 2) and with the internal drive included for comparison.

A comment asked what specific SSD models:

But if the answer is literally 'there's no performance benefit to the disk being internal; that answers the real question (but I'd still love to see numbers).

Update 2

http://www.newegg.com/global/au/Product/SingleProductReview.aspx?ReviewID=4066303 suggests that reviewer found a big gap between an SSD in that specific thunderbolt enclosure and the MacPro's internal PCIe SSD - Is that more likely a limitation of the case or disk inside it (in which case how can I base avoid that?), or would that be likely to apply in my case as well?

  • What are you going to use the SSD for? If for a boot drive, go internal. If for storage, go thunderbolt – At0mic Jun 10 '16 at 5:48
  • This massively depends on the SSD you're using–both internal and external. Neither the internal connection nor Thunderbolt will bottleneck the SSD. You'll need to edit your question with more info regarding which specific SSD[s] you're considering. – JMY1000 Jun 10 '16 at 6:45
  • Internal - Whatever Apple ships I guess - External, let's say a Samsung 850 EVO (thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-ssds). But if the answer is literally 'there's no performance benefit to the disk being internal; that answers the real question(but I'd still love to see numbers – Matt Sheppard Jun 10 '16 at 18:41
  • As for the question of what I'd be using the external for - probably not for the OS, but likely for everything else - The question boils down to 'can I save myself some money by buying a smaller internal SSD from Apple, and then storing most of my stuff on an external one without losing too much performance?' – Matt Sheppard Jun 10 '16 at 18:47
  • Any drive will run at the slowest speed in the chain. Thunderbolt 2 has a 10Gbps speed so you'll never have a bottleneck there. SSDs have 6G sata connectors, so the fastest speed you'll get out of those connectors is ~750MBps. However, he 850 EVO has read/write speeds of ~600MBps so this is the fastest speed you'll get from an external drive. Note: this is plenty fast for almost anything and will be just as fast as your internal drive. Thunderbolt will also be significantly faster than USB 3.0. – NoahL Jun 12 '16 at 4:17
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Because the maximum throughput of any port on the iMac 5k Late 2015 is only 10Gbps (Thunderbolt 2), no external storage solution can match the internal SSD's speeds.

The short answer is that you would give up a lot of performance.
The internal SSD can transfer data at about a couple GB/s.
An external Samsung 850 Pro 512GB via a self-powered USB 3.0 docking station runs at about 400MB/s during CrystalDiskMark sequential transfer benchmark on an exFAT partition.

That said, for running macOS and applications, the difference between the internal SSD and an external SSD is much less noticeable than that between an SSD and a traditional HDD. Unless you are constantly moving large files on and off your drive, an external SSD won't feel much slower subjectively than the internal SSD.

You did not specify how much data you have or your budget, so I cannot give specific recommendations. But in general, I put macOS and applications on an internal SSD. I would figure out how many GBs macOS and all my applications would consume, and choose an SSD of appropriate size.

If you really value the drive being internal and need large capacity on a budget, consider the 2TB or 3TB Fusion Drive. They have a 128GB SSD built in and intelligently find and put the data you access the most frequently on the SSD portion. The 1TB Fusion Drive only has a 24GB SSD so is less attractive

Thunderbolt 2 enclosures doesn't make much sense

True, an SATA SSD could be bottlenecked by USB 3.0. But not significantly so. That is because SATA itself tops out at 6 Gbps (SATA3), not much more than USB 3.0's 5 Gbps.

For the same reason, even though Thunderbolt 2 eliminates the link bottleneck, the benefit would be small because now the bottleneck is on the SSD side, which is 6 Gbps.

There are PCIe NVMe SSDs (the internal SSD falls into this category), which are faster than SATA SSDs. But to use those externally you still have two problems:

  1. Thunderbolt 2 tops out at 10Gbps, slower than what the internal SSD and other PCIe NVMe SSDs are capable of.
  2. There are few (none?) Thunderbolt 2 to PCIe NVMe SSD enclosures. The StarTech product you linked to takes SATA drives.

All Thunderbolt 2 enclosures I have come across are ridiculously expensive, including the one you linked to, especially considering the limited performance gains. You would be much better off spending the money on upgrading the internal SSD.

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Speed of running an OS from external ssd is about IOPS. Sadly, after extensive googling, I couldn't find any comparisons on IOPS between sata/usb3/tb.

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