Raspberry Pi Cheap SSD Upgrade

I’ve covered the benefits of taking your Raspberry Pi to a solid state drive (SSD) before extensively in this article but in a nutshell you get around a 280% increase in raw throughput and a 1000% increase in 4k random read/writes over a MicroSD card.

That’s fantastic but SSDs have traditionally been very expensive costing you as much as 4+ Raspberry Pis so it seemed silly to use a drive like that as Pi storage. Until now.

That’s right. Thanks to technologies such as 3D NAND flash solid state drives for consumers have now become cheaper than mid-high range MicroSD cards. With 10x the performance of MicroSD cards they are now a no-brainer upgrade for servers or IO intensive Raspberry Pi projects.

Why Choose SSD?

MicroSD cards were not designed to serve as living storage for operating systems. They are designed for devices such as cameras and smart phones that need to write and reliably store data. They’re very good at this and some cards have excellent throughput fast enough to even record 4K video.

But one thing they are not good at is 4k random writes and rewrites. These are small writes throughout a disk and consist of about 25% of all hard drive activity on a computer. Almost every action you take and even routine log file updates trigger these updates so they are very important for performance.

To show you the difference in performance I have developed a benchmark that anyone can run and uploads the results to the site. Click here to learn more about the benchmark and results.

ScoreUserManufacturerModelClassBrandCapacityM. DateDD WriteRandW IOPSRandR IOPSRand WriteRand ReadIO ReadIO WriteIO Rand ReadIO Rand WriteHDParm DiskProductVersionFirmwareVendorDateHost Manuf.Host ModelHost OSArch
3492Sean1JMicronCT240BX500SSD1SSD (2.5" SATA)Crucial BX500223.6G36.35343373321373149321597514237132081606635.18SSD2.10M6CR013Crucial2019-05-04 12:25 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
3262AnonymousJMicronCT500MX500SSD1SSD (2.5" SATA)Crucial MX500465.8G34.74617326918470130761550211665124911543928.82SSD2.10M3CR023Crucial2019-04-16 10:16 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Rev 1.2Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
3226HoffbotKingstonSA400S37120GSSD (2.5" SATA)Kingston A400111.8G34.54488269217952107681541714815117151545528.46SSD2.10S3Z40107Kingston2019-05-05 4:50 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
3121ADataSMIDS picco SSDSSD (2.5" SATA)AData118G35.04037301716151120691505813376113151501631.28SSD2.10N1126KTrekStor2019-05-16 4:41 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Rev 1.2Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
2900jchambersSamsungSSDPM871bSSD (2.5" SATA)Samsung PM871b253G33.54110334716442133901299313264117091281229.47SSD2.10MVT03D0QSamsung2019-03-16 2:40 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
2872AnonymousSanDiskSD7TB3Q-128G-1006SSD (2.5" SATA)SanDisk X300119.2G31.14176286916704114771297112701101001361127.33SSD2.10X2180306SanDisk2019-05-01 12:57 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
2870AnonymousKingstonSA400S37240GSSD (2.5" SATA)Kingston A400223.6G33.14143296316572118551295113440110011295028.47SSD2.10SBFKB1D2Kingston2019-04-30 12:02 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Rev 1.2Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
2864jchambersSamsungMZ-7KE256SSD (2.5" SATA)Samsung 850 Pro253G33.24131310716524124291274913844112181272329.06SSD2.10Samsung2019-03-12 2:38 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
2824dreegJMicronCT120BX500SSD1SSD (2.5" SATA)Crucial BX500111.8G34.22800291711201116701071710483121641379233.74SSD2.10M6CR013Crucial2019-04-24 3:30 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Rev 1.2Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
2789jchambersSK HynixSH920SSD (mSATA)SK Hynix127G33.5423226121693110448129381253797071275628.91SSD2.101010BL00SK Hynix2019-03-15 1:18 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
2743AnonymousSanDiskSC16GA1 Class 10OWC111.8G12/201835.04466286817867114751519612647103261132322.02SD0x80x0SanDisk2019-05-06 7:28 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1965AnonymousSanDiskSL16GA1 Class 10 U1SanDisk Pro119.3G02/201834.026351846105427387968973596870834822.02SD0x80x0SanDisk2019-03-21 4:26 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1333se55ySanDiskSE32GA1 Class 10 V30 U3SanDisk Extreme29.7G08/201721.21220248348829935864930528124453522.10SD0x80x0SanDisk2019-04-07 3:50 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Rev 1.2Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1329AnonymousSanDiskSE64GA1 Class 10 V30 U3SanDisk Ultra59.5G10/201720.511892595475910380886529798317445322.06SD0x80x0SanDisk2019-04-22 10:50 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1245jchambersSamsung00000Class 10 U1Samsung Evo32G11/201515.588230913530.91236610418310010183332035.79SD0x10x0Samsung2019-03-16 12:22 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1240AnonymousPhisonSD32GClass 10 U1Kingston28.9G12/201815.31200228948039156904840657629435522.06SD0x60x0Phison2019-04-12 3:43 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Rev 1.2Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1203StuartIanNaylorSanDiskSP32GA1 Class 10 V30 U3SanDisk Extreme Pro29.7G02/201919.0845245333819813838827318238385522.05SD0x80x0SanDisk2019-05-15 6:45 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Rev 1.2Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1160AnonymousPanasonicSD16GA1 Class 10 V10 U1Panasonic14,5G02/201913.797325343892101371037834438083360135.66SD0x60x0Panasonic2019-03-27 2:28 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1152AnonymousSanDiskSC64GA1 Class 10 U1SanDisk Ultra59.5G09/201818.6860242234409690863035158103333422.08SD0x80x0SanDisk2019-05-07 9:49 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1138kkSamsungEB1QLClass 10 U1Samsung Evo+29.9G01/201913.81033231341349253893735987415379022.05SD0x30x0Samsung2019-04-14 11:54 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1130DannyDSanDiskSC32GA1 Class 10 U1SanDisk Ultra29.7G12/201817.275128113006112471008135278943273335.73SD0x80x0SanDisk2019-04-16 12:30 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1103AnonymousUnknownSD256A1 Class 10 V30 U3TI29.5G10/201813.11029213041198520869936187072375022.00SD0x60x1TI2019-03-19 2:04 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1086AnonymousSamsungGE8QTClass 10 U3Samsung Evo Select238.5G12/201813.2982223539288941810932688028328921.40SD0x30x0Samsung2019-03-24 3:38 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1078AnonymousSamsungEB1QTClass 10 U1Samsung Evo+29.8G10/201818.46022715240810862924629749190231135.44SD0x30x0Samsung2019-05-16 10:05 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1077AnonymousSonyUSD00Class 10 U1Western Digital931.5G07/201814.272526662903106641015430588675273722.55SD0x10x0Sony2019-05-03 6:21 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1065AnonymousSanDiskSC128A1 Class 10 U1SanDisk119.1G04/201819.4816237732659510791431097781268522.15SD0x80x0SanDisk2019-05-03 4:48 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1063willworkforicecreamPhisonSD16GClass 10 U1Patriot14.5G11/201813.1935215537438620884333537087344422.05SD0x60x0Phison2019-04-30 12:16 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1060AnonymousSonyUSD00Class 0GoodRAM7.3G02/201820.4624243124969725977724528155243322.39SD0x10x0Sony2019-04-07 1:11 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1060AnonymousSanDiskSC16GA1 Class 10 U1SanDisk Ultra14.9G01/201916.67152715286310860902733628753236334.27SD0x80x0SanDisk2019-04-27 3:19 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Ubuntu 18.04.2 LTSarmv7l
1053AnonymousPhisonSD64GA1 Class 10 V30 U3SanDisk58.2G07/201818.5897195735887831802631606472325321.79SD0x50x0Phison2019-04-09 6:04 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Rev 1.2Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1052AnonymousSamsungGD4QTClass 10 U3Samsung Evo Select126G01/201913.035730461431.31218810967278410913187642.99SD0x30x0Samsung2019-03-17 2:32 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1048AnonymousSanDiskSL32GA1 Class 10 U1SanDisk29.7G10/201816.8864218734598750788128816905319022.11SD0x80x0SanDisk2019-04-26 1:57 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1044AnonymousSamsung00000Class 6Samsung14.7G04/201312.66462530258710122845829618402299121.89SD0x10x0Samsung2019-04-27 10:00 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Rev 1.2Ubuntu 18.04.2 LTSarmv7l
1043zerxSanDiskSN64GA2 Class 10 V30 U3SanDisk Extreme Pro59.5G10/201820.4806226532249061758620286123322535.11SD0x80x0SanDisk2019-05-18 3:03 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Ubuntu 18.04.2 LTSarmv7l
1039jchambersSanDiskSR64GA2 Class 10 V30 U3SanDisk Extreme Pro63G01/201921.384522403381.58962.9778918766003310534.30SD0x80x0SanDisk2019-03-16 12:37 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
1038AnonymousSamsungFC8HTClass 10 U3Samsung Pro+59.6G01/201821.34532637181410548867121478719212632.90SD0x30x0Samsung2019-04-26 10:25 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Ubuntu 18.04.2 LTSarmv7l
1012JoeLouieNetacSD128A1 Class 10 V30 U1Kingston Canvas Select116.2G12/201811.2944198337777935806333596597346419.41SD0x60x1Maxell2019-04-18 9:15 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
990AnonymousSamsungJB1RTClass 10 U1Samsung Pro29.8G11/201820.8407239016289560817725498089210721.94SD0x30x0Samsung2019-04-20 6:44 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
949jchambersSanDiskACLCEA1 Class 10SanDisk Ultra63G03/20177.059325872374.810352907319928274273035.68SD0x80x0SanDisk2019-03-16 12:48 AMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Plus Rev 1.3Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
938SamsungSamsungEB1QTClass 10 U3Samsung Evo+32G10/201717.955122022206.68810.6747526547415214421.74SD0x30x0Samsung2019-03-16 2:33 PMRaspberry Pi FoundationRaspberry Pi 3 Model B Rev 1.2Raspbian GNU/Linux 9 (stretch)armv7l
Featured results only - to see all results visit the Pi Benchmarks pageView Product

As you can see all of the top spots in the results are held by solid state drives. Further, solid state drives beat the fastest MicroSD cards by about 300%.

MicroSD performance varied wildly based on quality of the card. But even the very best and most expensive MicroSD cards got absolutely destroyed by even the cheapest solid state drives. This is because SSDs are so fast that they are limited by the speed of the Raspberry Pi’s USB 2.0 ports.

Solid state drives also have very large write caches. This lets your Raspberry Pi push data to the drive and start doing other things and let the drive itself figure out how to organize the data. Much of the throughput and other performance differences in the above chart are because of much better and faster read/write caching.

Which SSD to Buy?

Since all models and types of solid state drives hit the Raspberry Pi’s USB 2.0 transfer speed limit you should buy the cheapest one that fits your needs!

If your Raspberry Pi is mostly stationary it’s easiest and cheapest to just use a normal 2.5″ SATA SSD with a USB adapter. Here’s my recommendation:

Kingston A400 SSD 120GB SATA 3 2.5” Solid State Drive

Sabrent USB 3.0 to SSD / 2.5-Inch SATA Adapter

The Kingston A400 drive holds many of the top spots on the benchmark results above. It’s a great drive and is cheaper than many mid-range MicroSD cards.

The USB adapter allows us to do this. You can see my Sabrent USB adapter in the below picture attached to the Crucial SSD. There is no power adapter needed as SSDs are low power and are powered by the Pi through USB.

The contenders for the RPI storage benchmarks
Several contenders for the RPI storage benchmarks

Compact SSD Options

If you move your Pi around a lot or need something more compact there are several options.


Option 1:  SanDisk Extreme Pro 128GB USB Solid State Flash Drive

There are some flash drives (a very small number) that are actually solid states. This one is the best one. I actually have a old discontinued model in my picture above. You have to be extremely careful when looking for these as 99.9% of flash drives are NOT solid states. The SanDisk Extreme Pro is a true solid state. The cheaper SanDisk Extreme and Extreme Gos are not (needs to be the pro). If you are looking at a flash drive and they don’t explicitly state it’s a solid state drive then it surely isn’t!

Option 2: Build from parts

Unless you already have an old solid state you can use the price of the adapter + the drive will likely be more than the SanDisk above. If you can find killer deals on eBay you may be able to save a little bit.

You can build a M.2 USB stick but you need to be careful with which type of M.2 drive you have/buy. They can be B-key, M-key, or M+B keyed. By far the most common and cheap ones are SATA with a B or B+M key. The adapter I have is this one.

In the picture above of different storage types you can see I am using an old mSATA drive as a USB stick. To learn how to build one see my article here. These SSDs can be picked up pretty cheap on eBay but I wouldn’t recommend buying one new as they are now specialty parts since M.2 has replaced mSATA.

Benchmark Your Storage

To get a good idea of what kind of performance improvement you can expect you can run the exact same benchmark featured in the table above.

To run the benchmark type/paste:

curl https://raw.githubusercontent.com/TheRemote/PiBenchmarks/master/Storage.sh | sudo bash

Compare your results to the other benchmarks here. Pay special attention to the 4k random read/write tests such as IOZone and FIO. These best reflect everyday usage on the Pi and determine how fast it will respond and perform.

Create Bootable Drive

Creating your bootable drive is also very easy. You simply image it the same way you would image a blank MicroSD.

I use Win32DiskImager and simply select the USB attached drive just like you would with a MicroSD card.

No other additional preparation is necessary!

SSD With Raspberry Pi 3

Once you have chosen your SSD it is time to configure the Raspberry Pi to boot off USB storage. Fortunately this is extremely simple. To enable booting from USB storage simply boot up your Raspberry Pi and run this command:

echo program_usb_boot_mode=1 | sudo tee -a /boot/config.txt

Alternatively you can put your MicroSD into your computer and open /boot/config.txt and add the line:

program_usb_boot_mode=1

Now reboot your Pi and USB boot support will be permanently enabled. This only needs to be done once per Raspberry Pi as the change is permanent.

You may now remove the Micro SD card altogether and plug in your external storage you prepared in the previous section. Power up the Pi and it will boot directly from the USB storage!

SSD with Raspberry Pi 1 / 2 / Zero W

The older Pi family and the Zero / Zero W also support USB booting with a small catch. You still need to have a Micro SD card inserted in the Pi with only one file on (bootcode.bin). This is because these Pis use the older
BCM2835 which is a Micro SD only bootloader.

The good news is that if we put a otherwise blank Micro SD card in there with this file the Pi can boot from USB storage just fine and take full advantage of the increased speed and storage size. Bootcode.bin basically provides the instructions to the Pi telling it how to boot from USB.

First you will format your Micro SD card as FAT32 . FAT32 is the partition type that the Pi bootloader can read and is the same format as the /boot/ partition on a fully imaged Pi card.

Next grab the latest bootcode.bin from the official Raspberry Pi repository at https://github.com/raspberrypi/firmware/raw/master/boot/bootcode.bin

Copy the bootcode.bin file onto your newly created and otherwise blank FAT32 imaged Micro SD card and then insert the Micro SD card back into the Raspberry Pi.

Now connect your USB storage back to the Pi and power it on. The Pi will boot directly from your USB storage device!

Conclusion

A solid state drive is the biggest upgrade you can give your Pi. When I am configuring my Minecraft Raspberry Pi servers the performance difference is night and day. They boot faster, respond faster and write/read much faster. It’s very difficult to go back to MicroSD after using one of these with your Pi.

This should be a future proof upgrade as well because presumably the Raspberry Pi 4 will have USB 3.0 and support much higher transfer rates. At this point the individual performance of SSD drives might actually matter but for at least the next couple of years until the Pi4 comes out it makes sense to buy the cheapest drive possible.

I highly recommend running the benchmark for yourself to get an idea of how much performance you can gain!

Comments 6

  • man, you are my new hero. Thanks so much for your help and blog!

  • Guide is for raspberry pi3.
    Is there a guide for older ones or raspberry pi zero?

    • Hello Harii4,

      Thanks for the question. I have updated the article with a new section for booting a Pi / Pi 2 / Pi Zero from USB mass storage. Basically the trick is using bootcode.bin on an otherwise blank Micro SD card and the Pi will boot from USB!

  • Followed your advice and now running/booting from an old 64GB SSD with USB adapter. One thing I noticed is that removing the micro SD card results in process KWORKER constantly running around 20% CPU or more. Quick & dirty fix seems to be to insert any old non-bootable memory card – I’m sure there are more elegant ways.

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