Corsair and Samsung debut new SSDs and controllers in a battle for SSD-ominance
The pace of development in the SSD world is staggeringly awesome, as each generation of SSD controllers has delivered substantial increases in performance and reliability, while at the same time we’ve seen flash prices drop like a stone. It’s a great time to be storing and accessing data, for sure, but we’ve also seen the market dominated by a trio of SSD controllers from SandForce, Marvell, and Indilinx, with different vendors applying their own tweaks to the drives’ firmware to differentiate them. Though these controllers are all pretty sweet, we were beyond stoked to see two brand-new drives from Samsung and Corsair arrive this month, both with all-new SSD controllers. Will either of them put a dent in the SandForce/Marvell juggernaut? Read on to find out!
We’ve seen a few USB 3.0 external drives here at Maximum PC, and we do appreciate the long-overdue speed boost. It’s nice to have file transfers limited by drive speed again, rather than the interface—the 33MB/s maximum was killing us. And while we appreciated the boost we got from USB 3.0 in WD’s My Book 3.0 and the Vantec NexStar 3 SuperSpeed enclosure, the former was only as fast as the mechanical drive within it and the latter couldn’t even match the speeds of the drives it enclosed.
It’s great to have a USB 3.0 interface on a mechanical drive, but wouldn’t it be nice to combine USB 3.0 with SSD? With a theoretical bandwidth limit exceeding 5Gb/s, why wouldn’t you? Thankfully, OCZ did. The Enyo is a compact anodized aluminum brick stuffed with MLC NAND and a USB 3.0 SuperSpeed port.
It’s about damn time. 6Gb/s SATA is old news now. It’s been half a year since we saw the first 6Gb/s SATA–enabled hard drive, and it was a frickin’ mechanical drive. Talk about unnecessary. Solid state drives, on the other hand, have been bumping at the ceiling of 3Gb/s SATA’s available bandwidth for a while now. So why not slap a 6Gb/s SATA controller on a solid state drive? Duh. Crucial, apparently alone among flash memory vendors, heard the call. Thus, the Crucial C300, a 6Gb/s SATA–enabled SSD that comes in 128GB and 256GB flavors.
But does the C300 actually benefit from a 6Gb/s SATA connection? Yes and no. In sequential read tests, it blows every other drive out of the water, with a maximum sequential read speed of 317MB/s and an average read of over 300MB/s! That’s more than 50 percent faster than the SandForce-based drives, like OCZ’s Vertex 2, that comprise our favorite SSDs and typically top out at around 200MB/s read speeds. On a standard 3Gb/s connection, the C300’s read speeds were a still-impressive 222MB/s—about the same as a Barefoot Indilinx-based drive, like the Patriot Torqx or Corsair Nova.
Man, we are all about SandForce these days. The controller company burst out of stealth mode early this year, and proceeded to rock our socks with every drive that uses its SF-1200 firmware. The Corsair Force F100, like all drives of its ilk, relies on commodity NAND and the rock-solid SandForce SF-1200 controller, which eschews DRAM cache entirely in favor of not sucking. And though it doesn’t reach the unprecedented reads and writes offered by the OCZ Vertex 2 and its custom firmware, the Force F100 performs on par with the next best drives out there, which all happen to be SandForce-powered.
The JMicron JM602 controller, paired with insufficient cache, hobbled the first generation of consumer SSDs—once the cache filled, write speeds slowed to a crawl. Random-write latencies could get as bad as a fifth of a second (compared to .1ms for most modern SSDs), pulling average sustained writes down as low as 20MB/s in some cases. Manufacturers responded by adding more cache or by building future generations of drives on different controllers, such as the Barefoot Indilinx part. Since then, JMicron has been pretty quiet, but now Patriot’s Zephyr line has arrived, powered by JMicron’s new JMF612 SATA controller. Is this new effort enough to the put JMicron into our good graces?
With all the fancy new controllers out there—the SandForces, Toshibas, Da Vincis, and what have you—we were a little concerned that vendors would forget the little controller that made it all possible: the Indilinx Barefoot controller. Yep, the one that powers our current Best of the Best Patriot Torqx, as well as every other top-performing SSD of the past year. In this land of the new, can Corsair’s Nova V128, which sports the classic Barefoot controller, still push bits with the best of ‘em?
Yep. Though the SandForce-based drives in the roundup push the best sustained write speeds yet, the Nova V128’s Indilinx controller with 64MB of cache still sustains the fastest reads of the drives in this roundup, averaging 210MB/s on our test bed (the Torqx’ read speeds are slightly higher). And the V128’s average writes of 163MB/s are right up there with the 128GB Torqx.
OCZ clearly hopes the perceived rarity of its Limited Edition Vertex drive will increase desire for the product. A limited run of 5,000 is one way to do that. But if you’ve got a drive with performance this good, wouldn’t you want everyone to buy one?
Like the OWC Mercury Extreme Enterprise, the OCZ Vertex Limited Edition is a 100GB drive built on the SandForce SF-1500 controller. It’s the same architecture as OCZ’s cancelled Vertex 2 Pro, and when the 5,000 Limited Edition drives run out, there will doubtless be a successor waiting.
The SSD market is a meritocracy. Controller companies live and die on the strength of their products. Who had heard of Barefoot before its Indilinx controller pushed SSD speeds to new heights? SandForce is another promising young company whose controllers have started appearing in drives, including this month’s OCZ Vertex LE and the OWC Mercury Extreme Enterprise.
OWC markets mainly to Mac users, but don’t hold that against its SSD. It’s a modern, SandForce SF-1500-powered drive that supports TRIM. And given that OS X doesn’t support TRIM, well, we don’t even think that platform deserves performance this good.
We’re not mad. We’re just disappointed. When Plextor announced in February that it, too, was entering the SSD market, we were cautiously optimistic. After all, more competition is always a good thing, and Plextor wouldn’t put out a subpar product just to try to capitalize on a trend—would it?
The Plextor PX-128M1S is the first drive we’ve tested that is built on the Marvell 88SS8014-BHP2 “Da Vinci” controller—and if its performance is indicative of the platform as a whole, we hope it’s the last.
Western Digital has finally dipped its toe into the SSD pond, a move we’ve been expecting since last year’s acquisition of SiliconSystems. The first consumer SSD to be born of this acquisition is the SiliconEdge Blue. Can one of the biggest names in mechanical hard drives compete in the solid state world?
Western Digital seems to be banking on two things with the SiliconEdge Blue: first, that seeing Western Digital’s name on an SSD will draw consumers, and second, that the strength of its custom firmware and rigorous performance testing will enable it to compete with drives running the high-performing SandForce and Barefoot Indilinx controllers. WD won’t say whose controller the SiliconEdge Blue uses, but it’s not developed in-house and it isn’t SandForce or Barefoot.