Midrange SSD Head-to-Head

Josh Norem

Samsung and Corsair SSDs go at it once again

Several months ago, the supreme high-end SSDs from Corsair and Samsung faced off in the Octagon known as the top of our desk area that holds drives being tested. In that blood-curdling battle (in which neither drive moved nor made a sound), the Samsung 840 Pro was victorious, vanquishing its opponent by a slim margin in a contest where zero trash talk was delivered by either storage device. This month, round two commences as the companies’ value-conscious SSDs clash like cars in a demolition derby by sitting quietly on a test bench while we perform benchmarks upon them. Neither of these drives is as fast as their top-tier brethren, but they are priced accordingly, and both are a damned-good value.

Corsair Neutron Series 240GB

The Corsair Neutron is a slightly detuned version of the company’s Kick Ass award–winning Neutron GTX SSD. It shares the GTX’s all-new Link A Media Device (LAMD) controller, the same slim 7mm form factor, and the same five-year warranty, which is as good as they get these days. The biggest difference between the two drives is the type of NAND flash they use, with the expensive GTX drive boasting the swanky Toshiba 24nm Toggle NAND, and the less expensive Neutron using 25nm ONFI MLC NAND from Micron, which helps keep the drive’s price in check. According to the drive's spec charts, the ONFI NAND is significantly slower than the Toggle NAND from Toshiba for write operations, but the two are evenly matched when it comes to read speeds. The GTX also has a slight edge when it comes to 4K random-write IOPS.

Corsair’s Neutron uses the LAMD controller found in the Neutron GTX, but goes with the less-costly Micron NAND.

We tested the 240GB version of the drive, which is 223GB after being formatted. The extra 16GB of space you can’t see or access is used for over-provisioning. The drive comes with a SATA 6Gb/s connector, it supports the Trim command in Windows 7, and is also available in a 120GB capacity. Its bundle includes a 3.5-inch bay adapter but no software.

To test the drive, we ran it through our gauntlet of benchmarks and compared it with the Samsung 840 as well as other drives at its price point. On the whole, the Neutron performed extremely well for a midrange drive, though it didn’t top every category of testing. In our top-speed test of sequential reads, it delivered impressive 454MB/s and 363MB/s read and write speeds, respectively, placing it just behind the Samsung in read speeds, and making it the second-fastest in write speeds, just behind the OCZ Vertex 4 .

When it comes to incompressible data such as MP3s and video, the Neutron performed respectably in our AS SSD benchmark, again losing slightly to the Vertex 4 but outpacing the Samsung. Corsair claims the drive shines in tests such as this, and though its score isn't top of the charts, it's in line with Corsair's marketing, as its read speeds are stellar, even if its write speeds are a bit slower than the competition.

In our ATTO 64K sequential-read and -write test with a four-command queue, the Neutron was about on par with the Vertex 4 in read speeds but back-of-the-pack in write performance by a small margin. Where the Neutron really shines is in high I/O scenarios such as our Iometer test, which pummels the drive silently via software with a queue of 32 4K random write requests. In this test we saw the Neutron deliver a beatdown on every other drive we tested, and its score of 80,466 IOPS puts it in the same league as its much more expensive top-tier competitors. It also threw down the gauntlet (despite not having arms) in our real-world PCMark Vantage test, racking up a surprising score of 70,030, which is impressive for a drive of this price range. In our final test of Premiere Pro , the Neutron hung with its compatriots, so there's nothing special to report on that front.

All in all, the Neutron impressed us with its speed, warranty, and price point. It's not quite as inexpensive as the Intel 335 or the Samsung 840, but it's faster. When compared to the Vertex 4, though, it loses in most tests by a healthy margin even though the two are priced the same. That makes it a nail-biter since both drives have a five-year warranty and the Vertex 4 is a little long in the tooth. But the numbers don't lie—the OCZ drive is faster.

$225, www.corsair.com

Click the next page for the Samsung 840 Series SSD review.

Samsung 840 Series 250GB

By now, you've probably heard of the Samsung 840 Pro—it's the new fat cat in town in the SSD world, and sits atop our benchmark charts lazily cleaning itself while peering down at all the other SSDs clamoring to take its place. That drive is redonk , but there's only one problem—it’s quite expensive at $250. To satiate those who want a Samsung SSD but don't have two-fiddy lying around, Samsung introduced its midrange drive, the 840 Amateur (that's what we are calling it). The big deal with this drive is that it features an all-new kind of NAND known as TLC instead of using the very common MLC NAND (literally every consumer SSD on the market uses MLC). TLC stands for triple-level cell as opposed to multi-level cell, as it stores three bits per cell instead of two. More bits on the same wafer means higher capacities without increasing cost, but there's a catch—TLC NAND has lower overall endurance than MLC NAND, but don't get too worked up over it. Though the drive only has a three-year warranty, as opposed to the five-year warranty of the Pro version, it's still rated to run for a decade under normal consumer-usage patterns.

Samsung’s vanilla-flavored 840 SSD is the first to use TLC NAND flash, which helps keep the price down.

The drive itself features a slim 7mm form factor in case you want to stuff it inside an Ultrabook , and it rides the SATA 6Gb/s rails. Its bundle includes Samsung's SSD Magician utility, which handles everything from drive diagnostics to data migration and more, but it lacks a 3.5-inch bay adapter. It’s available in 120GB, 250GB (seen here), and 500GB versions; the 250GB version we tested is 232GB after formatting.

During testing, the 840 performed admirably, especially in sequential-read speeds, where it was the fastest drive in both the tests we use to measure this metric. In CrystalDiskMark it saturated the SATA 6Gb/s bus at 523.6MB/s, but its sequential-write speed was its Achilles’ heel at just 260.1MB/s. The OCZ Vertex 4, by comparison, is twice as fast. Its performance was similar in our four-command-queue test with a 64K file size, hitting 530.2MB/s read and 265.9MB/s write speeds in ATTO.

The drive deals pretty well with incompressible data too, taking the top spot in our AS SSD test for 4KB-write IOPS, but placing mid-pack in 4KB reads. When dealing with a heavy queue of 32 4K write commands, it placed third overall; not too shabby considering it's the least-expensive drive here.

In our real-world PCMark Vantage test, its score of 56,482 was again third-best, so it's once again better than average. Its Premiere Pro 20GB write-test time of 241 ties the OCZ Vertex 4, but all the drives are very close in this test, suggesting it's CPU-limited.

In our estimation, there's nothing wrong with the Samsung 840 SSD. It's a low-cost SSD, so you have to consider that factor when examining the benchmark scores. All the Internet rumors about TLC NAND being unreliable are just that—rumors. Nobody has worn out a TLC NAND device yet, and it would take quite a long time to ever do so; the same goes for MLC NAND, so don’t believe the trash talk. Also, we should point out that Samsung is not an SSD manufacturer that has a reputation for being unreliable. That said, aside from its excellent sequential-read speeds, there's not much else to get excited about with this SSD. It's a low-price drive with decent-to-great performance, and that's the bottom line.

$180, www.samsung.com


Corsair Neutron
Samsung 840 Series Intel 335 Series
OCZ Vertex 4 Crucial M4
Controller LAMD LM87800
Samsung MDX SandForce SF-2281 Indilinx Everest 2 Marvell 9174
240GB 256GB 256GB
$180 $185 $200 $200
Avg. Sustained Read (MB/s)
523.6 470 432.9 500
Avg. Sustained Write (MB/s) 363.3 260.1 240.8 500.9 193.2
4KB Read (IOPS) 6,684 5,926 5,849 7,779 6,741
4KB Write (IOPS) 16,963 18,245 17,429 17,752 10,010
64KB File Read (MB/s) 385 530.2 502.3 390 200.4
64KB File Write (MB/s) 379 265.9 430.5 507 449.7
4KB Random Write 32QD (IOPS) 80,466 62,937 48,289 74,143 29,632
PCMark Vantage x64 70,030 56,482 47,751 43,956 66,915
Premiere Pro Write (sec) 243 241 246 241 258

Best scores are bolded. Our current test bed is a 3.2GHz Core i5-3470K processor on a Gigabyte Z77X-UP4TH motherboard running Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. All tests used onboard 6Gb/s SATA ports with latest Intel drivers.

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