It seems like just yesterday that we said farewell to our June 2010 issue and with it our second-ever solid state drive roundup. But no sooner had we shipped that issue to the printers than a new pile of tasty solid state drives landed on our doorstep. This month, the OCZ Vertex 2 (the sequel to that “limited edition” drive from June) bumps heads with another SandForce drive—Corsair’s Force F100—as well as the Patriot Zephyr, which uses JMicron’s new JMF612 controller. The SandForce SF-1200 controller seems to be replacing Barefoot’s Indilinx as the go-to performance chipset, but what about JMicron? Its JM602 controller was largely responsible for the poor write performance of first-gen SSDs, so can the JMF612 wash that bitter taste out of our mouths? You can bet your second-favorite platypus that we’ll find out. Don’t bet your favorite platypus; that’s just irresponsible.
At the end of our November 2008 solid-state-drive roundup, we concluded that those NAND-flash-based drives just weren’t ready for prime time, thanks to astronomically high prices, small capacities, and flaky first-gen controllers.
Flash forward to mid-2010. Not only have newer drive controllers thoroughly washed the bad taste of the first-gen SSDs out of our mouths, but performance has shot through the roof. And the slowdowns that early SSDs experienced when writing to memory blocks where data had been deleted have been vanquished by the TRIM command. Implemented in modern SSDs as well as in Windows 7 and Linux, TRIM’s garbage-collection functionality has helped SSDs overcome one of their remaining hurdles.
Of course, there’s still the matter of price. While solid state drives have several advantages over their mechanical hard drive brethren—durability, reliability, and speed among them—they still cost a lot more. A one-terabyte mechanical hard drive costs less than $100, but a 256GB SSD can cost close to $800. Nevertheless, today’s SSDs have significantly dropped in price, and combined with the technological advances, are a much improved value. Is that enough to get your purchasing dollars? We were compelled to find out, Maximum PC–style.
Solid State Drives (SSDs) have the potential to break the mold for data storage, but so far their development has been focused on portable computing. If the market’s going to expand, there’s going to have to be a suitable desktop option. One possibility, which takes advantage of a desktop’s better throughput, is a SSD on a PCIe card, such as Fusion-io’s ioDrive. An announced partnership between Seagate and LSI suggests more of the same is on its way.
PCIe has the advantage of being a bit quicker and easier to integrate into the enterprise computing environment. According to the announcement: “LSI is expected to deliver board-level products that integrate LSI™ SAS and PCIe technology with Seagate solid-state drive (SSD) technology.”
Jeff Janukowicz, a research manager for the market research firm IDC, says, “Solid-state drives remain in the spotlight as a technology and an area of growth in the storage market.” According to IDC, SSD revenues in enterprise computing will reach $2 billion by 2013, with PCIe-based solutions responsible for a significant chunk.
Unfortunately, the announcement only revealed the collaboration of LSI and Seagate. There was no mention of any particular products, when them might be available, or what they might cost.
In the past year and a half, solid state drives have come from nowhere to take their place as the Next Big Thing in storage, especially in notebooks. The MacBook Air and the Asus Eee PC and OLPC XO-1 (One Laptop Per Child) netbooks were among the first consumer notebooks to utilize solid state drives. While SSDs are still most popular in netbooks, they have begun appearing in more mainstream notebooks and even high-end desktops.
SSDs have much higher read speeds than traditional drives, and with no moving parts, they’re more durable. They’re not susceptible to magnetic interference or vibration, and they use less power and run much more quietly than standard magnetic hard drives. Best of all, they come in standard 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch formfactors with SATA connectors and emulate traditional drives, so they’re compatible with existing architecture. Unfortunately, they’re also orders of magnitude more expensive per megabyte, thus limiting widespread adoption, at least for now.
Although the fastest solid state drives use DRAM for storage (with a battery backup to preserve data), this White Paper will focus on flash-based SSDs—the variety most commonly found in consumer gear.
How big a deal is Intel’s entry into the solid-state-drive game? The announcement of the company’s new X-25M SSD, and a faster version for enthusiasts, all but overshadowed details of the company’s next-generation CPU at its fall developer conference.
After testing Intel’s entry-level SSD, we can understand why. The X-25M offers the fastest read speeds we’ve ever seen from a single SSD or hard drive.
How fast? The 10,000rpm Western Digital Velociraptor (reviewed September 2008) offered sustained transfer speeds of 98MB/s. The $1,500 MemoRight MR25.2-32/64S GT from our SSD roundup (November 2008) turned in read speeds of 112MB/s. The Intel X-25M hits 206MB/s read speeds.
Samsung’s 2.5-inch SSD packs 64 gigabytes of storage into an above-average package. Granted, the SLC-based drive delivers sustained read transfer rates that are slower than those of nearly all the SSDs reviewed here. But the drive makes up for this inadequacy by posting write speeds that match those of the fastest SLC-based drives in this roundup.
Our real-world experience with the drive followed suit. The Samsung SSD turned in a Premiere time of 8:43, nearly 2 minutes slower than Memoright’s GT-series 64GB SSD, but a mere 10 to 20 seconds behind the rest of the non-MLC drives we tested. The Samsung’s PCMark Vantage scores were within 4 percent of Memoright’s SSD, even though the latter crushes theSamsung by nearly 6 milliseconds in its random access write measurement.
RiData’s 64GB SSD uses an MLC design to pack more data onto its flash memory chips. We like how that makes the drive cheaper than the majority of SSDs on the market. What we don’t like is how the Ultra-S Plus illustrates the performance losses wrought by using this technology instead of a speedier SLC design.
The Ultra-S Plus was able to overtake the fastest hard drive we’ve tested—Western Digital’s Velociraptor—in two of our benchmarks: a random access read measurement and the overall PCMark Vantage score. Neither win came as a surprise. Because hard disk drives suffer lag while the drive arm moves to the proper location on the disk, flash memory consistently outperforms magnetic storage in random access read speeds. This helped in PCMark Vantage because the app’s eight individual benchmark traces favor read performance and random access reads.
OCZ uses rebadged Samsung SSD drives for its SSD storage offerings. While we’re confident that OCZ hasn’t done any internal tweaking to the drives, it’s nevertheless interesting to see that a slight performance difference exists between the twins.
In our tests, the Samsung and OCZ drives ran neck and neck in our sustained transfer read and write benchmarks, but the Samsung edged out the OCZ by 1MB/s to 2MB/s in both scenarios. The two drives posted similar results in random access tests, with the Samsung again taking the upper hand in random access write tests.
Super Talent’s 64GB SSD must be using the exact same hardware as RiData’s Ultra-S Plus 64GB. If not, then the similarities between these drives are an amazing coincidence. We recorded identical random access read times for both, an underwhelming .39 milliseconds. Both drives’ PCMark Vantage scores were within one-third of one percent of each other, and they varied by just two seconds in our uncompressed AVI file-creation test.
If these two MLC-based drives are indeed brothers in arms, then they’re the two drunken soldiers stumbling around at the rear of the SSD brigade. Like the RiData, the Super Talent’s performance is unacceptable, even given its low price. While the Super Talent drive overtakes our Western Digital Velociraptor in the real-world PCMark Vantage test, we’d be terrified to use this drive as the primary storage for our operating system. Its random access read scores are swift, but this drive’s random access write performance is atrocious: It was more than 7,000 percent slower than a Velociraptor in our tests!