SandForce-based OCZ solid-state drive previewed

In November, OCZ announced a line of solid-state drives based on storage controllers from SandForce, a little-known startup. OCZ vowed to reveal more in the weeks leading up to CES. While we haven't heard much from the company directly, Anand Lal Shimpi of AnandTech has gotten hold of a prototype SSD and tested it.

Good news: this thing looks fast. The SandForce-powered OCZ Vertex 2 Pro outpaced Intel's server-bound, single-level-cell X25-E in many of AnandTech's benchmarks, including synthetic sequential read, sequential write, and random read tests. Anand calls the Vertex 2 Pro "the fastest single-controller [multi-level-cell] SSD I've ever tested"—and as he points out, the test sample wasn't even running production firmware.

The Vertex 2 Pro performs interesting tricks to achieve that level of performance. SandForce has implemented compression algorithms "chosen on the fly depending on the workload" that serve to sidestep some of the performance shortcomings of flash memory. This compression scheme (which SandForce tells AnandTech is "not strictly compression") also saves some storage space—a 25GB Windows 7 and Office 2007 installation reportedly occupies only 11GB on the SSD. You won't see quite the same results with already-compressed data like movies and music, though.

The SandForce controller implements some data redundancy mechanisms, too, in part so drive makers can use cheaper, less reliable flash memory. On the flip side, that design has the side-effect of eating up a decent amount of flash capacity—roughly 28% in the current iteration. So, a 128GB SandForce-based SSD should only have 100GB of usable capacity.

AnandTech warns that the Vertex 2 Pro will also be more expensive than "any other consumer-level SSD" at launch, and it won't actually become available until March. That said, word is that we'll eventually see more consumer-friendly SandForce drives with more usable flash capacity (120GB for a 128GB drive) and lower price tags. Additionally, other SSD makers like A-Data and Unigen have jumped on the SandForce bandwagon. Anand even suspects Seagate's upcoming Pulsar SSDs may be SandForce-powered.

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