In June, we tested OCZ’s Vertex Limited Edition, one of two drives we had that used the SandForce SF-1200 controller. At the time, we wondered why OCZ would artificially limit supplies of an SSD with such great performance. And now we know: It was a trial run to help SandForce, a recent startup, gain capital to scale up production. It’s since done that, and in gratitude to OCZ has granted the company exclusive random-write-IOPS-boosting firmware for its Vertex 2 drives. The new firmware will be available to other SF-1200 drives (probably by the time this issue hits stands)—but as of press time, it’s an OCZ Vertex 2 exclusive deal. Ethics of “exclusive firmware” aside, is the Vertex 2 any better than its Limited Edition stable mate?
For years, if you wanted the speediest consumer hard drive you could get your hands on, you went with a 10,000rpm Western Digital Raptor. Its first incarnation, released in 2003, was a 37GB single-platter drive using a PATA-to-SATA bridge. The next year brought a 74GB SATA 150 drive, and thereafter the drives roughly doubled in size (and went up a SATA spec) every couple of years. Last time WD refreshed the line, it bumped the capacity to 300GB, named the resulting 100MB/s-plus drive the VelociRaptor, and promptly won our Kick Ass award. But that was 2008—several hard drive generations ago. And though Western Digital’s latest VelociRaptor ups the ante with 600GB of space and a 6Gb/s SATA controller, the drive now has to compete with solid state drives and high-capacity, high-performance drives like WD’s own Caviar Black series.
Make no mistake: The new VelociRaptor, with its 32MB of cache and 6Gb/s transfer rates, is the fastest mechanical SATA drive we’ve ever tested. With average sustained read and write speeds greater than 130MB/s, it’s fully a third faster than the last-gen VelociRaptor, which averaged around 100MB/s for both. Random-access times hit around 7.1ms—about the same as the last-gen VelociRaptor, and about twice the speed of a fast 7,200rpm drive.
It seemed like déjà vu to us, too—didn’t we review a Kingston SSDNow V+ as recently as December? Turns out we’re not crazy (at least in this respect); that was the first-generation SSDNow V+, built on the same Samsung controller as the Corsair P256. The second-gen SSDNow V+, by contrast, uses Toshiba’s T6UG1XBG SSD controller, which features TRIM support (for clearing deleted blocks) and has theoretical maximum reads and writes of 230MB/s and 180MB/s, respectively.
On the outside, the SSDNow V+ looks, well, like every other SSD out there. Unlike most of them, however, the second-gen SSDNow V+ comes as a Performance Upgrade Kit, which includes Acronis-based drive-cloning software, a USB external enclosure, a SATA cable, and adapter rails for 3.5-inch hard drive bays. Sure, you can get all of those things elsewhere, but it’s a thoughtful kit for the upgrader.
External hard drive enclosures are great if you have to move large amounts of data around frequently or easily add storage to a packed desktop system.
With USB 2.0, though, transfers have always been capped at 33MB/s at best, making huge data backups a real snooze-fest. On the plus side, this meant your primary disk’s transfer speed didn’t matter at all—any reads and writes were limited by USB 2.0’s bandwidth limit. Those days will be drawing to a close as USB 3.0 takes hold. We’ve already tested one USB 3.0 external hard drive: the WD My Book 3.0 (reviewed April 2009). That was a fine product, but what if you already have a high-capacity backup drive and you just want to speed up your transfer times?
In that case, you may want to peep Vantec’s NexStar 3 SuperSpeed hard drive enclosure.
It’s been a long time since we reviewed a USB external drive—not since November 2008, to be exact—mostly because they’re essentially commodities now. With transfers capped at USB 2.0 speeds and drive sizes mostly standardized, portable hard drives have had few features by which to distinguish themselves from their peers—the usefulness of included software, eSATA support, and full-disk encryption among them. On the eve of USB 3.0 drives, the Western Digital My Book Elite 2TB seems to be the state of the USB 2.0 drive art, with a custom e-ink display. But is it more than a gimmick?
The My Book Elite shares the vaguely book-like formfactor of the My Book World and Essential lineups, but along its “spine” is the e-ink display, which shows a custom 12-character drive label, a capacity meter, and a little lock icon if you’ve enabled disk encryption. Despite its limited usefulness, we dig it—mostly because we geek out over any applications with e-ink.
At what capacity point are enthusiasts ready to make the crossover from magnetic storage to solid state? For some, that mark is a quarter-terabyte. If that sounds like you, Patriot’s new 256GB Torqx, featuring the hot Indilinx controller, could be the SSD you’re after. We pitted the 256GB Torqx against the 128GB Torqx and Intel’s second-gen 160GB X25-M SSD to find out which would be the new SSD king.
On our new Core i5 test bed, the 256GB Patriot Torqx significantly outperformed both its smaller sibling and Intel’s X25-M—at least in sustained reads and writes. (To restore performance on the latter two drives to like-new levels, we used Patriot’s and Intel’s SSD-optimizing utilities on their respective drives before testing.) For the first time, we found a drive with average sustained reads and writes above 200MB/s—on the same platform, the 128GB Torqx averaged 178MB/s reads and 168MB/s writes, while the X25-M achieved 185MB/s and 94MB/s, respectively. These aren’t quite the numbers we saw when we originally tested the 128GB Torqx or the X25-M, a difference we chalked up to the new test bed. Regardless, the 256GB Torqx surpassed both other drives in average sustained reads and writes, though Intel’s drive is still the champion in random-write access times, as well as in our Premiere Pro and PCMark Vantage tests, where the 256GB Torqx lagged far behind. Strangely, the smaller-capacity Torqx also outperformed the 256GB in the latter two tests.
We wouldn’t normally test two products from the same lineup in two consecutive issues of the magazine. But when Western Digital’s My Book 3.0 showed up just days after the March issue went to print (it's on newsstands now!), we knew we had to review it. It doesn’t have an e-label or capacity meter, like the My Book Elite. Nor does it include WD’s SmartWare backup software or hardware encryption. But the My Book 3.0 has one feature that makes it awesome: USB 3.0.
When Seagate told us it would be shipping the first 6Gb/s SATA hard drive, we were a little surprised. And when we found out it wasn’t going to be a solid state drive, but a 7,200rpm Barracuda drive, our skepticism increased. Sure, we’d been waiting a long time for Seagate’s 2TB 7,200rpm drive, and it’s nice to see the SATA 6Gb/s spec ship on a real-world product, but putting a 6Gb/s controller on a mechanical hard drive is like putting a Formula 1 airfoil on a golf cart. The vehicle just ain’t ever going to go fast enough to warrant the accessory.
In order to test the Barracuda XT on a level playing field, we built a new rig: a 2.66GHz Core i5-750 and 4GB of DDR3 RAM on an Asus P7P55D-Premium motherboard, which has an onboard Marvell SATA 6Gb/s controller as well as an Intel 3Gb/s SATA controller. The rig runs Windows XP SP3 and 64-bit Vista Home Premium from a 300GB WD Raptor. We tested both the Barracuda and its closest competitor, the 2TB WD Caviar Black, on both the Marvell and Intel controllers.
It’s been a long time since we tested a single-level cell (SLC) SSD, as the market has moved almost entirely over to multi-level cell (MLC) designs. MLC is favored because it’s cheaper to produce and each cell can store two bits of data, rather than one, so you can cram more storage into each flash unit. On the other hand, SLC is faster and is rated for 100,000 read/write cycles, as opposed to 10,000 for MLC. Naturally, SLC is preferred for enterprise solutions, while MLC has captured the consumer market. But with the introduction of the (relatively) affordable Agility EX series, OCZ is hoping to win back some of the consumer market for SLC.
The 60GB Agility EX pairs the popular Indilinx Barefoot controller—responsible for this generation’s blazing-fast, stutter-free SSDs—with 64GB of onboard SLC NAND. It’s worth noting that this is the same capacity as a standard 64GB SSD; OCZ just uses a binary naming convention. In our tests, the Agility EX’s sustained read speeds topped off at around 197MB/s, or approximately six percent slower than the second-gen Intel X-25M. Sustained write speeds, at 175MB/s, were the same as with the Patriot Torqx, an MLC drive using the same Indilinx controller. But the Agility really shone in application tests, with a five percent faster Premiere Pro encoding time and a 13 percent higher PCMark Vantage HDD score than the Torqx.
You might think GPU and CPU upgrades happen quickly, but they’re practically glacial compared to the SSD market, where a platform can go from Kick Ass Award–winning performance to merely good in a few months.
Witness Kingston’s SSDNow V+ 256GB, essentially a rebadge of Samsung’s 256GB drive, to which we gave a Kick Ass Award back in July. The Samsung and Kingston drives, as well as Corsair’s P256 rebadge, all use 256GB of Samsung NAND chips, with the Samsung S3C29RBB01 controller and 128MB of onboard DDR cache to prevent random-write stuttering.
The SSDNow’s sustained average read speeds clocked in at 193.8MB/s, slightly higher than the OEM Samsung version but not quite up to the 209MB/s established by the 160GB Intel X-25M we reviewed in November. Its average sustained writes of 153MB/s trailed behind Indilinx-controlled devices like the Patriot Torqx, with its 175MB/s sustained writes, while the X-25M’s mere 79MB/s seem positively prehistoric by comparison.