review ssds in the sweet spot modern contenders at 120 128gb

SSDs in the sweet spot: Modern contenders at 120-128GB

The latest generation of SSDs is out in full force. Drives are widely available from a multitude of vendors, firmware issues have for the most part been resolved, and competition has driven prices dangerously close to dollar-per-gigabyte territory. If you haven’t already added a solid-state drive to your system, you should probably be thinking about it—if not salivating at the prospect.

There is certainly no shortage of lust-worthy SSDs among this crop of fresh contenders. The sheer volume of different options can be a little daunting, though. As the number of SSD vendors has grown, so has the size and complexity of their solid-state lineups. Most SSD makers have their fingers in different controller technologies and memory configurations, and don’t forget the optimization-filled custom firmware that’s layered on top. The end result is a landscape dotted with drives drawn from relatively shallow pools of common ingredients put together in slightly different ways.

We tried to make sense of this new wave of SSD releases as it washed up on shore earlier this year. The thing is, our initial testing was done with firmware that’s now out of date and with 240-256GB drives that live outside of the average enthusiast’s budget. The characteristics of those capacious drives don’t always reflect the performance of the lower-capacity variants that have become affordable indulgences for enthusiasts.

Today, 120-128GB SSDs can be had for around $200, putting them right in the sweet spot typically occupied by our favorite CPUs and graphics cards. Since we don’t yet have a real favorite among the current class of solid-state drives, we’ve spent weeks running nine SSDs through an expanded storage test suite on new Sandy Bridge hardware. Over the following pages, we’ll take a closer look at Corsair’s Performance 3, Force 3, and Force GT; Crucial’s m4; Intel’s 320 and 510 Series; Kingston’s HyperX; and OCZ’s Agility 3 and Vertex 3 SSDs to see which ones deserve a spot in your notebook or desktop PC.

Step up to the SSD silicon buffet
The collection of drives we’ve assembled for testing all hit the market this year, but the underlying controllers that act as middlemen between the NAND flash chips and Serial ATA interfaces actually span multiple years and generations. These controllers play perhaps the biggest role in dictating drive performance, so they’re a good starting point.

In fact, we might as well start at the beginning, which for desktop SSDs is really Intel’s original X25-M. The chip giant’s first stab at a consumer-grade SSD was a remarkably consistent performer at a time when solid-state drives slowed substantially over time and were still prone to crippling bouts of stuttering. Intel designed its own 10-channel controller, and the chip remains remarkably relevant to this discussion because a very similar version of it underpins the 320 Series SSD. Yep, a controller architecture more than three years old still lives on inside Intel’s newest mainstream solid-state drive.

The most obvious hint at the vintage of the 320 Series’ controller silicon is its 3Gbps Serial ATA interface. That tells you a little something about this drive’s chances versus competition equipped exclusively with 6Gbps SATA pipes. The 320 Series is further limited by the controller’s old-school NAND interface, which tops out at 50MB/s per memory chip, and by its overly complicated name, the PC29AS21BA0.

Unfortunately, the controller’s code-name, Postville Refresh, is equally uninspired. Despite retaining the original’s 10 memory channels, this X25-M refresh does add a few new perks, including 128-bit AES encryption and XOR, a NAND-level redundancy scheme that works a little like a RAID 4 array. XOR guards against data loss due to irrecoverable flash failures, and it’s capable of withstanding the death of an entire NAND die while keeping your Windows 7 install and carefully managed Steam folder intact.

Of the nine drives we’ll be looking at today, only the 320 Series uses Intel’s SSD controller. Three of the others, including Intel’s own 510 Series, make use of a Marvell 88SS9174 controller whose roots can be traced back to last year’s Crucial RealSSD C300. This second-generation Marvell design was the first controller to support the 6Gbps Serial ATA standard.

To keep its faster SATA interface well supplied, the 9174 supports the second-gen Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFI) specification. ONFI 2.0 allows flash chips to pass data at speeds in excess of 133MB/s, which is quite an upgrade over the gen-one spec’s 50MB/s ceiling. The 9174 interfaces with those faster flash chips over eight memory channels, providing plenty of performance potential. You’ll have to look elsewhere for extra features like full-disk encryption and RAID-like redundancy schemes, though.

SandForce remains the freshest face in the world of SSD controllers, and it just so happens to have the newest silicon. After storming onto the market last year with the SF-1000 series, SandForce is back with the SF-2000 family, which adds 6Gbps Serial ATA connectivity to an intriguing mix of other features. Chief among those is DuraClass, a black box of technologies that mixes compression and encryption to reduce the NAND footprint of incoming writes. Doing so not only accelerates performance, but also improves endurance by consuming fewer NAND write/erase cycles.

Although SandForce remains cagey about exactly how DuraClass’ DuraWrite compression component works, we do know that it’s tied to the controller’s 256-bit AES encryption engine. RAISE, a NAND-level redundancy scheme similar to Intel’s XOR, is also a part of the DuraClass puzzle. SandForce says RAISE functions much like a RAID 5 array, dedicating the capacity of one flash die to storing pseudo-parity data. Like XOR, RAISE is capable of surviving the failure of an entire flash die without data loss.

The SF-2281’s eight memory channels are compatible with a range of flash configurations. Thus far, SandForce-based drives are largely divided into two categories: those equipped with asynchronous NAND, and those with the synchronous stuff. Synchronous NAND is the DDR of the flash world, capable of transferring data on both the rising and falling edges of a shared clock cycle. Asynchronous chips keep time with an external signal, and they’re slower as a result.

Synchronous NAND can also be found in Crucial’s m4. Intel declined to reveal the NAND interface for its SSDs, but I suspect the 510 Series uses synchronous chips. The Intel 510 drive is faster than the RealSSD C300, which pairs synchronous NAND with an identical Marvell controller. The Intel 320 Series is likely saddled with asynchronous flash, a side effect of its older controller tech.

Although most of the SSDs on the market draw their flash memory from asynchronous and synchronous chips based on the ONFI specification backed by Intel and Micron, a competing synchronous technology known as Toggle DDR NAND is endorsed by Toshiba and Samsung. Toggle DDR is supported by both the Marvell and SandForce controllers, but only one drive in our stack takes advantage. Corsair’s Performance Series 3 has Toshiba NAND chips based on the first-generation Toggle standard, which enables per-chip transfer rates of 133MB/s, a speed that conveniently matches the starting point for the second-gen ONFI spec.

Those Toggle DDR chips are fabbed on a 34-nm process, as is the ONFI NAND lurking inside Intel’s 510 Series. Otherwise, drive makers have largely made the transition to 25-nm NAND. The finer fabrication process packs more gigabytes into each silicon wafer, which is one reason why members of the latest generation of SSDs are cheaper than their forebears.

Nine recipes for solid-state bliss
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of drives we’ve assembled for testing today—there are nine of ’em, after all. To help you get a sense of the pack, here’s a handy chart that lines up the key characteristics of each drive for easy comparison.

  Size Controller NAND Cache Warranty Price
Corsair Force Series 3 120GB SandForce SF-2281 25-nm Micron async
NA 3 years $166
Corsair Force Series GT 120GB SandForce SF-2281 25-nm Intel sync
NA 3 years $210
Corsair Performance 3 Series 128GB Marvell 88SS9174 34-nm Toshiba
128MB 3 years $205
Crucial m4 128GB Marvell 88SS9174 25-nm Micron sync
128MB 3 years $197
Intel 320 Series 120GB Intel PC29AS21BA0 25-nm Intel
64MB 5 years $215
Intel 510 Series 120GB Marvell 88SS9174 34-nm Intel
128MB 3 years $279
Kingston HyperX 120GB SandForce SF-2281 25-nm Intel sync
NA 3 years $245
OCZ Agility 3 120GB SandForce SF-2281 25-nm Micron async
NA 3 years $179
OCZ Vertex 3 120GB SandForce SF-2281 25-nm Intel sync
NA 3 years $210

The first thing you might notice is the fact that we have SSDs at two capacity points: 120 and 128GB. The 120GB drives offer 112GB of formatted capacity in Windows, while the 128GB models report 119GB.

Most SSDs reserve a percentage of their total flash capacity as overprovisioned “spare area” dedicated to the controller. This segment of flash isn’t accessible to the operating system, leading to a lower usable capacity than the sum of the NAND chips on a given drive. Overprovisioning isn’t the only element that demands a slice of SSD capacity, either. The hardware-level XOR and RAISE redundancy schemes built into 320 Series and SandForce-powered SSDs require additional flash capacity to store parity data, which is why those drives have slightly lower capacities.

We’ll get into cost-per-gigabyte calculations a little later, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the m4 and Performance 3 offer 7GB more than their counterparts. That’s a substantial chunk of storage when you’re trying to squeeze as many games as possible onto an OS and applications drive.

Take note of the price column over on the right, too. The cost of each drive has been factored into our value graphs, and there’s quite a spread between the $166 Force 3, and the $279 510 Series. The Intel drive is by far the most expensive of the bunch, and the 320 Series is surprisingly pricey given its sluggish 3Gbps interface.

With two more years of warranty coverage than the competition, the 320 Series has at least one unique attribute to help justify its price tag. There’s also an array of capacitors on the circuit board that should keep the drive alive long enough to complete outstanding write operations if the power cuts out. The 510 Series doesn’t enjoy either of those perks, but it does have the unique distinction of being Intel’s first shot at building an SSD with someone else’s controller technology. Intel cooked up its own firmware optimizations for the 510 Series, and they’ll have to be quite effective to account the premium the drive commands over Crucial and Corsair SSDs based on the same Marvell controller.

Corsair’s Performance 3 Series is the elder of the other two Marvell models. Despite being introduced at CES earlier this year, we heard only last week that the drive may not be long for this world. The SSD market moves quickly, and as we move through our performance results, it will become clear why we’re not sad to see the Performance 3 go.

If you’re interested in the Marvell controller, Crucial’s newer m4 SSD is definitely more appealing. The m4 is cheaper, for one, and it’s decked out with double the number of NAND chips (16 in total), all of which are fabbed on a 25-nm process. As the consumer brand of parent company Micron, you can probably guess who supplies the flash and DRAM cache chips for the m4. Crucial is one of only a handful of SSD makers with NAND production capacity of its very own.

Over half of our group of nine SSDs is based on one controller: SandForce’s SF-2281. Corsair and OCZ offer Force 3 and Agility 3 drives that match the controller with asynchronous memory, and both implementations use 16 of the same Micron NAND chips. None of the SandForce-based drives features DRAM cache memory, which isn’t required by the controller.

The Force Series GT, HyperX, and Vertex 3 all use the same combination of the SandForce controller and 16 synchronous NAND chips, making them brothers from different mothers. The synchronous NAND comes from Intel rather than Micron. (Incidentially, the two companies do have a joint flash venture dubbed IM Flash Technologies. It doesn’t supply flash memory for any of the SSDs in this round-up, though.)

While the Vertex 3 wraps everything up in a nondescipt black case, the GT is decked out in an ultra-bright shade of red that wouldn’t look out of place on a Ferrari. The paint job won’t make the drive any faster, but it’s nice to see a little bit of effort being put into making SSDs look and feel as expensive as they are.

If you think the GT looks good, then get a load of Kingston’s HyperX. The drive looks nothing like the firm’s previous SSD efforts, which were comparatively sedate. This is Kingston’s first foray into SandForce territory, and at least as far as aesthetics are concerned, it’s the most attractive SSD on the market. Unfortunately, the case is secured with a set of trick Allen bolts, preventing us from popping it open to peek at the circuit board. Kingston assures me that it hasn’t hidden a JMicron controller under the hood.

If that’s not enough SandForce variety for you, we should note that OCZ has two more SSD models based on the SF-2281. A cheaper Solid 3 drive is positioned below the Agility 3, while a pricier Max IOps variant of the Vertex 3 fills out the other end of the spectrum. OCZ’s middle children seem to be the most popular members of the family, which is why they’re the focus for today.

The inconvenient truth
As attractive as solid-state drives have become in recent years, there remains a rather inconvenient truth: SSDs still suffer from serious issues. Either due to their own actions or by virtue of being associated with another company’s hardware, each and every one of the SSD makers represented in this round-up is dirty. Most of the problems have been firmware-related, and not even Intel, widely viewed as a bastion of reliability, is immune.

Indeed, Intel has been party to two rather embarrassing firmware episodes in recent years. A firmware update intended to enable TRIM on second-generation X25-M drives ended up bricking some of them. More recently, a nasty firmware bug was discovered in the 320 Series that reduced the total capacity to just 8MB, taking all of the drive’s data with it. Those issues were both resolved, but they hardly inspire confidence.

The fact that other SSD makers have had similar issues doesn’t help. Crucial’s RealSSD C300 was prone to slipping into a particularly low-performance state, and the initial firmware update to address the problem ended up killing a number of drives. An updated fix followed, of course, but that didn’t stop me from holding my breath when I applied the latest 0009 firmware update to the Crucial m4.

There’s trouble in SandForce territory, too. Although I haven’t experienced it myself, the widely reported “BSOD bug” is very real—if rare and difficult to reproduce. SandForce’s official statement on the subject shifts a lot of the blame to host drivers and “isolated” hardware configurations, so the root cause is unclear. However, the company has confirmed that it has been testing new firmware that tweaks how drives handle different power states, background operations, and errors. That firmware “appears to be yielding positive results,” so it may not be a silver bullet. We’ll have to revisit the SandForce drives when this new firmware trickles down to end users, which should be in a matter of weeks.

An occasional BSOD seems less severe than losing data during a firmware update or due to spontaneous solid-state suicide, but it’s still unsettling. Drives from all of SandForce’s partners appear to be affected, which casts a cloud over Corsair, Kingston, and OCZ. In fact, Corsair went so far as to recall an early batch of Force 3 SSDs due to not only firmware issues, but also problems with the SSD hardware.

With the exception of Intel, drive makers have been largely loathe to publish reliability statistics about their drives. The stack of SSDs I have sitting in the Benchmarking Sweatshop isn’t nearly tall enough to make up a reasonable sample size, leaving us to seek out other sources for anecdotal reliability data. Newegg’s user reviews may be helpful in this context, although they certainly should be taken with a grain of salt. In the chart below, I’ve compiled a collection of Newegg user scores for each SSD, including the total number of reviews, the average score, and the percentage of one-star reviews.

  Reviews Average 1-star
Corsair Force Series 3 9 4 22%
Corsair Force Series GT 47 4 9%
Corsair Performance 3 Series 39 4 15%
Crucial m4 98 4 11%
Intel 320 Series 75 5 3%
Intel 510 Series 134 4 7%
Kingston HyperX 12 4 0%
OCZ Agility 3 93 3 28%
OCZ Vertex 3 244 4 26%
WD Caviar Black 1TB 1371 4 14%

The Agility 3 and Vertex 3 have among the highest percentages of one-star reviews, with the Agility 3 averaging only three stars. That makes OCZ look particularly questionable, but keep in mind that it had exclusive early access to SandForce’s new controller. The Agility 3 and Vertex 3 were out long before other SandForce partners got in on the action—with newer firmware revisions. SSDs haven’t been particularly kind to early adopters.

The SandForce-based drives from Corsair and Kingston have much fewer reviews, which seem to be more favorable overall. Kingston’s HyperX is the most recent addition to the SandForce fold, and with only a dozen user reviews, I wouldn’t assume that its lack of one-star ratings makes the drive any less prone to being hit by the BSOD bug.

The 320 Series nicely illustrates why these user reviews aren’t necessarily a good indicator of reliability. Despite a firmware bug capable of compromising user data, the 320 Series has amassed the highest average score and the lowest percentage of one-star ratings from a drive with a decent number of total reviews. With that in mind, it’s hard to know what to make of the largely positive responses to some of the other drives.

To put things into perspective, I’ve also included user review scores for Western Digital’s Caviar Black hard drive. Think mechanical hard drives are free of user complaints? Think again.

I don’t want to draw any conclusions based bugs that have been fixed, issues I haven’t experienced, and user reviews that are too easily tainted by self-selection, corporate astroturfing, and vocal early adopters. Still, it’s clear to me that, although solid-state drives are undoubtedly on the cutting edge of storage technology, they’re definitely still capable of drawing blood. Anyone considering an SSD upgrade should have a solid backup solution in mind, and I’d recommend frequently imaging your OS and applications drive, just in case.

The twins: Reloaded
We’ve concocted an expanded test suite for this mid-range SSD round-up, and The Twins, our matched pair of test systems, have been upgraded to celebrate the occasion. For our purposes, the most important ingredient in this new configuration is Asus’ P8P67 Deluxe motherboard, whose P67 Express chipset ripples built-in 6Gbps Serial ATA connectivity. The P67 may only have two 6Gbps SATA ports, but they’re faster than any other implementation we’ve tested.

The P8P67 Deluxe also has a UEFI firmware interface—by far the best one around—endowing The Twins with native support for hard drives larger than 2.19TB. SSDs may be our focus today, but these systems will spin their share of mechanical platters. In fact, a Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB serves as the system drive for most of our tests, since most tests can only probe drives connected as secondary storage. We’ve also thrown a Caviar Black into our performance testing to provide some context for how the SSDs compare to a 7,200-RPM desktop drive.

A Core i5-2500K sits inside each of our two Deluxe motherboards, and we had intended for the upgrades to end there. However, we encountered some stability issues when burning in the new config, so we set about replacing our older components with fresh hardware.

On the memory front, we’re using Corsair Vengeance kits made up of two 4GB DIMMs. The modules are rated to handle speeds up to 1600MHz, but we’ll only be running them at 1333MHz. All of the test systems in the Benchmarking Sweatshop have used the same Vengeance modules since January, and we haven’t had any problems with them.

The Twins originally used passively cooled graphics cards to keep noise levels to a minimum, but we worried that might not be the most stable long-term config on an open test bench with little ambient airflow. These systems don’t need much in the way of graphics horsepower, so we’ve opted for a pair of Asus EAH6670/DIS/1GD5 graphics cards based on AMD’s Radeon HD 6670 GPU. The cards come with 1GB of RAM and a trio of digital outputs that includes DisplayPort. Their coolers are pretty quiet, too, although the plastic shroud on one of ’em has a tendency to vibrate a little, emitting a low hum that’s audible over the fan noise.

Speaking of noise, I should address CPU cooling, which is currently being handled by a pair of Thermaltake SpinQs from our original storage test rigs. A couple of new coolers are on their way to replace the SpinQs, but they haven’t arrived yet.

A bad PSU was responsible for at least some of the problems we had with our original configuration, so we went all out with an upgrade. Corsair’s new Professional Series PSUs boast 80 Plus Gold certification and modular cables, making them perfect companions our new test systems. The 650W units we’re using have more than enough output capacity and have thus far been very quiet.

Our testing methods
I’m just going to come right out and say it: SSD testing is hard. In the mechanical era, storage was nice and predictable. Today’s solid-state drives are rather more complex, especially since their performance depends not just on the test you’re running, but also on the test you ran before that. And don’t forget about the performance implications of the block-rewrite penalty inherent to flash memory—or the TRIM and garbage-collection routines designed to combat it.

To ensure consistent and repeatable results, the SSDs were secure-erased between almost every component of our test suite. This returns the drives to their factory fresh state, erasing any remnants of previous workloads.

For some benchmarks, we’ve deliberately tested drives in a used state to illustrate their long-term performance potential. Other tests create their own used states, usually by writing across the full extent of the drive before launching into a workload. In all cases, the SSDs were tested in the same states as their peers, ensuring an even playing field for all. I’ve even gone so far as to avoid running certain benchmarks overnight to ensure that some SSDs don’t spend more time than others idling between tests.

All of the SSDs are equipped with their latest firmware, and we’re using fresh Rapid Storage Technology drivers from Intel. We’ve also taken steps to ensure that Sandy Bridge’s power-saving features don’t taint any of our results. All of the CPU’s low-power states have been disabled, effectively pegging the 2500K at 3.3GHz. Transitioning in and out of different power states can affect the performance of storage benchmarks, especially when dealing with short burst transfers.

We run all our tests at least three times and report the median of the results. We’ve found IOMeter performance can fall off after the first couple of runs, so we use five runs in total and throw out the first two. We used the following system configuration for testing:

Processor Intel Core i7-2500K 3.3GHz
Motherboard Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Bios revision 1850
Platform hub Intel P67 Express
Platform drivers INF update
Memory size 8GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz
Memory timings 9-9-9-24-1T
Audio Realtek ALC892 with 2.62 drivers
Graphics Asus EAH6670/DIS/1GD5 1GB with Catalyst 11.7 drivers
Hard drives Corsair Force Series 3 120GB with 1.3 firmware
Corsair Force Series GT 120GB with 1.3 firmware
Corsair Performance 3 Series 128GB with 1.1 firmware
Crucial m4 128GB with 0009 firmware
Intel 320 Series 120GB with 4PC10362 firmware
Intel 510 Series 120GB with PPG4 firmware
Kingston HyperX 120GB with 320ABBF0 firmware
OCZ Agility 3 120GB with 2.11 firmware
OCZ Vertex 3 120GB with 2.11 firmware
WD Caviar Black 1TB with 05.01D05 firmware
Power supply Corsair Professional Series Gold AX650W
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64

Thanks to Asus for providing the systems’ motherboards and graphics cards, Intel for the CPUs, Corsair for the memory and PSUs, Thermaltake for the CPU coolers, and Western Digital for the Caviar Black 1TB system drives.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

Most of the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

HD Tune — Transfer rates
HD Tune lets us look at transfer rates in a couple of different ways. We use the benchmark’s “full test” setting, which tracks performance across the entire drive and lets us create the fancy line graphs you see below. This test was run with its default 64KB block size.

As the rainbow above clearly illustrates, we’ve done some color coding to make the graphs a little easier to read. In the bar graphs, the SSDs are colored by drive maker. We’ve expanded that selection of colors to cover individual models in the line graphs. Our lone mechanical drive, the Caviar Black, is set apart in grey throughout.

HD Tune’s read speed test splits the contenders into multiple tiers. It’s crowded at the top, where the Crucial m4 offers a slightly higher average speed than the Kingston HyperX and all the other SandForce drives. The Intel 510 Series’ average read rate is more than 45MB/s off the pace, and Corsair’s spin on the same Marvell controller is another 5MB/s behind.

Of course, those 6Gbps drives are still much faster than the 320 Series, which plods along without threatening to saturate its 3Gbps interface. Even though it more than doubles the Caviar’s average write speed, the 320 Series is still left in the dust by its 6Gbps competition.

Although the SSDs exhibit largely consistent read speeds across the extent of their capacity, the same can’t be said for writes on the SandForce drives. As the graph clearly shows, the SandForce controller bounces between high and low extremes more than 200MB/s apart. The 510 Series and Performance 3 also exhibit dips in performance, but they’re not nearly as severe or as frequent.

Despite their seemingly erratic behavior, the SandForce drives do offer higher average read speeds than the rest of the field. The fastest among them, the Vertex 3 and HyperX, have higher minimum speeds than the 510 Series’ average. And the 510 Series has a higher average write rate than everything else outside the SandForce camp.

The 320 Series might look a little more competitive versus the Performance 3, but don’t be fooled. The Intel drive writes only 30MB/s faster than the Caviar Black, which is hardly quick.

HD Tune’s burst speed tests are meant to isolate a drive’s cache memory.

The SandForce drives don’t have any external cache chips, but that doesn’t hold back the synchronous configs, which sit comfortably at the front of the pack with both reads and writes. Interestingly, the asynchronous Agility 3 and Force 3 configs keep pace with reads but are slower with writes.

Most of the SSDs are quicker with burst reads than they are with writes, but none quite so dramatically as the Crucial m4 and Intel 320 Series. Both SSDs have slower burst write speeds than our mechanical hard drive. Interestingly, only the 510 Series and Performance 3 have the same burst speed for both reads and writes.

HD Tune — Random access times
In addition to letting us test transfer rates, HD Tune can measure random access times. We’ve tested with four transfer sizes and presented all the results in a couple of line graphs. We’ve also busted out the 4KB and 1MB transfers sizes into bar graphs that should be easier to read.

The line graph nicely explains why solid-state drives are so attractive versus their mechanical counterparts: comparatively instantaneous access times. The Caviar Black’s access times are measured in two-digit milliseconds, but at least through 64KB transfers, SSD access times are measured in fractions of a millisecond—tiny fractions, in fact.

Including the Caviar Black in the bar charts muddies the waters a little, but look at the access times for the 4KB transfer size. Seven of the nine SSDs are within 0.02 milliseconds of each other. The Performance 3 and 510 Series lag behind a little, but the Crucial m4, which uses the same controller chip, does not.

Random reads slow down quite a bit with the larger 1MB transfer size, but there’s little change in the standings. The Performance 3 and 510 Series still trail the leaders, this time joined by the 320 Series.

Switching to random writes changes the picture a little—well, except for the mechanical drive, which remains entirely uncompetitive. At the 4KB transfer size, all of the SSDs are on pretty even footing. Only 0.03 milliseconds separate the pack, with the SandForce drives out in the lead.

The Agility, Vertex, Force, and HyperX drives maintain that lead at the 1MB transfer size, where the rest of the pack starts to drop off. The Intel 510 Series and Crucial m4 are evenly matched with 1MB writes, and they’re both quicker than the Performance 3 and 320 Series.

TR FileBench — Real-world copy speeds
Our resident developer, Bruno “morphine” Ferreira, has been hard at work on a new file copy benchmark for our storage reviews. FileBench is the result of his efforts. This shining example of scripting awesomeness runs through a series of file copy operations using Windows 7’s xcopy command. Using xcopy produces nearly identical copy speeds to dragging and dropping files using the Windows GUI, so our results should be representative of typical real-world performance.

To reduce the number of external variables, FileBench runs entirely on the drive that’s being tested. Files are copied from source folders to temporary targets that aren’t deleted until all testing is complete. Copy speeds were tested first with the SSDs fresh from a secure erase and a second time in a “tortured” used state after 30 minutes of IOMeter thrashing through a workstation access pattern loaded with 32 concurrent I/O requests.

To gauge performance with different kinds of files, we tested with five sets. The movie set includes six video files of the sort one might download off BitTorrent. Total payload: 4.1GB. 101 uncompressed images from my Canon Rebel T2i make up the RAW file set, totaling 2.32GB. Our MP3 file set uses a chunk of my music archive, which is made up of high-bitrate MP3s and associated album art. This one has 549 files that add up to 3.47GB. The Mozilla file set includes the huge selection of files necessary to compile Firefox. All told, there are 22,696 files spread across only 923MB. Finally, we have the TR file set, which contains several years worth of the images, HTML files, and spreadsheets behind my reviews. This set has the largest number of files at 26,767, but it’s heftier than the Mozilla set with 1.7GB worth of data.

Oh, what a difference file size makes. The Crucial m4 has the highest copy speeds with the movie, MP3, and RAW file sets, but it stumbles way down in the standings with the remaining two, which are made up of much higher numbers of substantially smaller files. Corsair’s Performance 3 and Intel’s 510 Series aren’t far off the pace with the first three file sets, and they don’t suffer as much with the TR and Mozilla files.

All of the SandForce drives clump together at the head of the class with the Mozilla file set, and the asynchronous configs lag behind the synchronous ones by just a few MB/s. That gap grows as file sizes increase, though. The asynchronous Agility 3 and Force 3 are relegated to 320 Series territory with the MP3, RAW, and movie sets.

The SandForce drives exhibit slower copy speeds in our used state than they do when fresh from a secure erase, likely due to a less aggressive approach to reclaiming used flash pages marked as available by TRIM. Surprisingly, the Marvell-based drives are faster in a used state than after having all their flash pages cleared. This is true, to varying degrees, for the m4, Performance 3, and 510 Series with virtually every file set.

TR DriveBench 1.0 — Disk-intensive multitasking
TR DriveBench allows us to record the individual IO requests associated with a Windows session and then play those results back on different drives. We’ve used this app to create a set of multitasking workloads that combine common desktop tasks with disk-intensive background operations like compiling code, copying files, downloading via BitTorrent, transcoding video, and scanning for viruses. You can read more about these workloads and desktop tasks on this page of our SSD value round-up.

The traces that make up this first batch of DriveBench workloads are an imperfect measure of real-world performance because they only account for small snippets of disk activity. A much larger trace on the following page addresses that deficiency, but we’re going to keep around the old ones to give you a comparative point of reference to our reviews of older drives.

Below, you’ll find an overall average followed by scores for each of our individual workloads. The overall score is an average of the mean performance score with each multitasking workload.

DriveBench 1.0 is run right after five rounds of our usual IOMeter access patterns, so all the drives start in a thoroughly used state. This test will only run on an unpartitioned drive, so we delete the IOMeter test file (which spans the entire capacity of each drive) and the accompanying partition before launching DriveBench.

The Crucial m4 upsets an all-SandForce podium by sneaking between the Force GT and Vertex 3. The HyperX isn’t far behind, while the asynchronous Agility 3 and Force 3 are notably slower than their synchronous kin. Surprisingly, the 320 Series outpoints the 510 Series, at least overall.

The two Intel drives trade blows back and forth through our five access patterns, but the 320 Series takes three out of the five. We saw a 250GB version of the 510 Series easily outpace a 320 Series with 300GB under its belt, suggesting Intel’s Marvell-based solution doesn’t translate as gracefully to lower capacity points. That said, the 320 Series has benefited from a post-launch firmware update, while the 510 Series has not.

Crucial’s latest firmware has definitely helped the m4’s performance, allowing the drive to top its SandForce competition in three of five workloads. The split between the synchronous and asynchronous SandForce configs remains, but we don’t see much of a gap between products using the same memory chips.

TR DriveBench 2.0 — More disk-intensive multitasking
As much as we like DriveBench 1.0’s individual workloads, the traces cover only slices of disk activity. Because we fire the recorded I/Os at the disks as fast as possible, the drives also have no downtime during which to engage background garbage collection or other optimization algorithms. DriveBench 2.0 addresses both of those issues with a much larger trace and a slightly different testing methodology.

For our new trace, I recorded about two weeks of disk activity on a test system pressed into service as my primary desktop. The system was left on at all times, and it was used mostly for web surfing, email, photo editing, gaming, and working with the HTML, Excel, and image files that become TR content. To make things more interesting, I fired up disk-intensive multitasking workloads alongside those more mundane desktop tasks. The multitasking workloads were similar to what’s included in DriveBench 1.0: compiling code, copying files, downloading torrents, transcoding video, and scanning for viruses.

Although my bursts of disk-intensive multitasking were contrived in nature, the goal was to come up with a demanding test that would probe drives for weakness in a sea of everyday I/O. The system was limited to a single partition, which housed not only the OS and applications but also all of the associated data and downloaded, ahem, Linux ISOs. We plan to add at least one more DriveBench workload that more strictly models the life of an OS and applications drive, but that’ll have to wait for a future article.

As it stands, our multitasking-infused trace is loaded with more than 25 million read operations totaling over 1.1TB of data. The workload has plenty of writes, too: 14 million that add up to nearly 525GB. That’s a busy couple of weeks.

DriveBench 1.0 all but eliminates disk idling, but this second revision gives the SSDs plenty of idle time for background processing. The test begins with drives fresh from a secure erase, but it writes across their full capacity to ensure that all flash pages are filled before performance is measured. Things are a little different on that front, too. Instead of looking at a raw IOps rate, we’re going to explore service times—the amount of time that it takes drives to complete an I/O request. We’ll start with an overall mean service time before slicing and dicing the results.

The SandForce drives reign supreme, with the synchronous Force GT, Vertex 3, and HyperX configs topping their asynchronous counterparts. Intel lurks just shy of that second pack of SandForce offerings, while the Crucial m4 trails even the 320 Series. Behind it, the Performance 3 shows serious weakness and is nearly as slow as our mechanical hard drive.

Let’s try to make some sense of these numbers with a breakdown of reads and writes.

The standings shift slightly from the overall results when we only consider reads. While the synchronous SandForce drives remain in the lead, they’re now followed by the 510 Series and the m4. Corsair’s Performance 3 Series fares much better here, trailing the 320 Series by a relatively small margin.

Switch to writes, however, and the middle of the pack shuffles completely. The asynchronous SandForce configs tuck in behind their synchronous relatives, while the 510 Series slips behind not only the 320, but also the Caviar Black. Write service times are even slower on the Crucial m4, and the Performance 3 is a complete disaster.

There are millions of I/O requests in this trace, so we can’t easily graph service times to look at the variance. However, our analysis tools do report the standard deviation, which can give us a sense of how much service times vary from the mean.

With reads, the standard deviation results stack up much like the mean service times. One notable exception is the Crucial m4, which falls three places.

The SandForce configs have a low standard deviation with both reads and writes, indicating more consistent performance than the competition. Coupled with lower mean service times, that’s a pretty appealing combo. Once again, the Marvell-based SSDs falter with writes and fall behind our lone mechanical hard drive.

If I haven’t already scared you off with too many graphs and statistics, this next pair will do it. We’re going to close out our DriveBench analysis with a look at the distribution of service times. I’ve split the tally between I/O requests that complete in 0-1 milliseconds, 1-100 ms, and those that take longer than 100 ms to complete.

The top contenders are pretty closely matched with reads. Only the Agility 3, Force 3, and 320 Series drop off the lead group. Our write results are more interesting, and they hint at why the Performance 3 fares so poorly overall: 3.6% of all write request take over 100 milliseconds to complete. That’s a long time within the context of a modern PC. We’re currently looking at other ways to crunch these data to determine whether those slower service times occur in bunches that might cause perceptible stuttering or lag.

Even if they don’t, the percentage of 100+ ms service times on the Performance 3 is several orders of magnitude higher than on most of the other drives—including the Caviar Black. The m4 and 510 Series also have a higher number of 100+ ms requests than the mechanical drive, highlighting a potential weakness of the Marvell controller.

Our IOMeter workloads are made up of randomized access patterns, making them perfect candidates to exploit the wicked-fast access times of solid-state storage. This app bombards drives with an escalating number of concurrent IO requests and should do a good job of simulating the demanding environments common in enterprise applications. We’ve previously tested with the “pseudo random” access pattern, but that re-uses a buffer that is only filled with random data once, which doesn’t strike us as very random at all. For this round of testing, we’ve cut out the recycling with IOMeter’s fully random setting.

This decision mostly impacts the write-compression technology inside SandForce controllers, which will struggle to work its magic on truly random sequences of 1s and 0s. While we’ve observed little drop in performance moving from pseudo to fully random workloads on SandForce drives with server-style overprovisioning percentages, the same can’t be said for current consumer-grade drives that set aside much less of their flash capacity as “spare area” for the controller.

Over the last few years, we’ve watched new storage controller drivers effectively cap IOMeter performance scaling beyond 32 outstanding I/O requests. The Serial ATA spec’s Native Command Queue is 32 slots deep, and more than one drive maker has told us that this queue is rarely full. As a result, we’re only testing up to 32 concurrent I/O requests.

The m4 and 510 Series come out ahead across all four IOMeter access patterns, with the Crucial drive taking the read-dominated web-server test, and the Intel SSD posting higher transaction rates in the others.

Somewhat surprisingly, the 320 Series does pretty well here. It’s right in the thick of things with the second wave of drives, which includes the synchronous SandForce pack. Further adrift lie the asynchronous drives, the Performance 3 and Agility 3. The Agility 3 is definitely the slower of the two with the file server, database, and workstation access patterns, which are the only ones to mix reads and writes.

Injecting writes into the access pattern can have a huge impact on relative performance. Just look at the Performance 3 Series, which manages third place with the read-exclusive web-server access pattern but falls to the back of the SSD field with the other three, all of which include meaty write components.

Boot duration
We’re limited in how we can measure storage performance with actual applications, but we have come up with a handful of load-time tests that do just that. This is the only batch of performance tests that presses the competitors into service as system drives housing the operating system. It’s only fitting, then, that we start by timing how long it takes to load the OS. Here, we’re relying on Windows 7’s own performance-monitoring capabilities to clock the boot duration, which is the time between BIOS initialization and when the system has loaded all processes and idled for 10 seconds. We’re reporting the boot duration minus those superfluous seconds.

Ah yes, another example where the difference between SSDs is much smaller than the gap between the solid-state crowd and a very fast mechanical hard drive. The top five SSDs all load Windows within half a second of each other. Only one of the SandForce drives can be found in that lead group, while the rest stumble in 1-2 seconds off the mark set by the Crucial m4.

Level load times
Upgrading to a fancy solid-state drive will likely have little impact on in-game frame rates. But will you be able to load levels any faster?

Yes, at least when compared to a mechanical hard drive. The SSDs are much quicker than the Caviar Black in both Portal 2 and Duke Nukem Forever. Although you might only boot a system once a day, the average gaming session will consist of numerous level loads.

You’re going to have to make the performance gaps between the SSDs cumulative to notice a difference between the drives. Only about a second separates the slowest examples from the fastest.

We’ve long thought that code compiling might be able to tease out meaningful performance differences between different storage solutions, so we’ve taken one more shot at the problem with a little help from FileBench creator Bruno “morphine” Ferreira. This test starts with version 2010.05 of the Qt application framework source, which is compiled with multiple threads using the MinGW port of GCC 4.4.0. Mad props to morphine for packaging this test so nicely.

I’d also blame him for the fact that this test doesn’t show any real advantage for solid-state drives, but that’s a notable result in itself. After two failed attempts, I think we’re going to have to take a break from developing compiling benchmarks for SSD testing. This test does have potential uses in other reviews, however.

Power consumption
We tested power consumption under load with IOMeter’s workstation access pattern chewing through 32 concurrent I/O requests. Idle power consumption was probed one minute after processing Windows 7’s idle tasks on an empty desktop.

Notebook users beware: don’t assume that 2.5″ mobile drives have anywhere close to the power consumption of the Caviar Black. In reality, you’re looking at power consumption in the 1-3W range, making it difficult to argue that adding an SSD to your notebook will dramatically improve battery life. It will, however, allow you to toss that system around with no fear of a head crash tearing through your hard drive’s mechanical platters in a grinding crescendo of catastrophic data loss.

Among our collection of solid-state drives, the Intel 320 Series consumes the least amount of power overall. All of the drives are pretty power-efficient, although the ones based on SandForce silicon do tend to draw more wattage both at idle and under load.

The value perspective
Still with me? Congratulations, you’ve reached our famous value analysis, which adds capacity and pricing to the performance data we’ve explored over the preceding pages. We used Newegg prices to even the playing field for all the drives, and we didn’t take mail-in rebates into account when performing our calculations.

First, we’ll look at the all-important cost per gigabyte, which we’ve obtained using amount of storage capacity accessible to users in Windows.

Obviously, the mechanical drive is in another class here. But ignore that for a moment and count just how many of the SSDs have reached the dollar-per-gigabyte mark… plus some change. On capacity alone, the Force 3 looks like the best deal of the lot, followed closely by the Agility 3, m4, and Performance 3 series.

Our remaining value calculations require a single performance score, which makes things a little complicated. We’ve come up with an overall index that normalizes SSD performance against a common baseline provided by the Caviar Black. This index uses a subset of our performance data, including HD Tune’s random 4K response times and average transfer rates, our used-state FileBench results, scores from all five DriveBench 1.0 workloads, mean DriveBench 2.0 service times plus the percentage above 100 ms, IOMeter transfer rates for each access pattern with eight outstanding I/O requests, the Windows 7 boot duration, and our load times in Portal 2 and Duke Nukem Forever.

Time constraints prevented us from using a slower baseline drive than our Caviar Black, which actually scored better than a few of the SSDs in a couple of DriveBench metrics. To prevent those scores from jacking with the overall results, we’ve fudged the numbers slightly to match our mechanical baseline. Calculating overall performance scores is an imperfect science, and I may have to dust off our old 4,200-RPM notebook drive to set a new baseline for future reviews.

We’ve been using a harmonic mean to generate our overall score for storage performance because it does a good job of handling normalized results that can vary by several orders of magnitude from one test to the next. After much reading on the subject and calculating numerous performance scores in previous storage reviews, we’re convinced this is the best approach for our particular mix of tests.

We have a healthy habit of zeroing our graphs here at TR, but I guess this one could start at 100%, which represents the overall performance of our Caviar Black hard drive. Everything above that mark is gravy, and the synchronous SandForce drives are comfortably in the lead. The Vertex 3, Force GT, and HyperX are clearly superior to their asynchronous counterparts overall.

Although slower than the leaders, the Agility 3 and Force 3 manage to stay ahead of the rest of the field. The Crucial m4 isn’t far behind, relegating the Intel drives and the Performance 3 to the back of the pack.

So, what happens if we mash this overall performance score with cost and capacity? Magic! Or, rather, performance per dollar per gigabyte, which is divides each SSD’s overall score by its cost per gigabyte. We’ll express this value metric as a single score in a line graph before exploring the relationship between performance and cost-per-gigabyte in a scatter plot.

Our three synchronous SandForce configs occupy the upper tier on the performance axis, but the lower price tags attached to the Force GT and Vertex 3 make those drives more attractive than their HyperX counterpart. The Force 3 is considerably cheaper than all of the synchronous SandForce SSDs—and its asynchronous Agility 3 twin. However, it’s also quite a bit slower than the synchronous stuff.

Although this analysis is helpful when evaluating SSDs on their own, what happens when we consider the cost of drives in the context of a complete system? To find out, we’ve divided our overall performance score by the sum of our test system’s components (which total around $800 at Newegg before adding the SSDs).

As usual, the scatter plot gives us more useful information than the bar graph. Here, we see just how small the price differences are between some of the drives. The synchronous SandForce SSDs don’t cost that much more than cheaper alternatives when one takes into account the cost of a complete system.

After looking at the performance of nine SSDs across nine pages of benchmarks, a few favorites have definitely emerged. If you’ve been following along, you’ll know the Corsair Performance 3 Series isn’t one of them. Corsair’s take on the Marvell 9174 controller stumbled badly in a few of our tests, and it probably won’t be on the market for long.

Intel’s 510 Series may also be on the way out, if only so Intel can complete its transition to 25-nm NAND. The drive’s older flash chips may be responsible for its relatively high $279 asking price, and it’s hard to make a case for spending so much on a drive that’s no longer a performance leader. At least overall, the 510 Series has been supplanted by Crucial’s m4 as the fastest SSD based on the Marvell controller.

The m4’s read performance is much improved by its latest firmware. However, that speed boost seems to come at the expense of writes, which are notably slower. The m4’s poor write performance in our mammoth DriveBench 2.0 test has me wary about using the drive in write-intensive environments. At the same time, its higher capacity versus the SandForce SSDs has definite appeal for an OS and applications drive—especially considering the fact that the m4 seems to be free of the flakiness that has plagued some members of this year’s SSD class. The m4 is pretty affordable, too, at $197 online.

Pricing weighs heavily on our overall recommendations, which is why the Intel 320 Series is difficult to endorse. At $215 online, the drive costs quite a bit more than faster SSDs. The five-year warranty might be worth the extra scratch for some, but keep in mind that the 320 Series really does live in a lower performance bracket than the 6Gbps competition.

Only the SandForce drives are left, and they’re split between asynchronous and synchronous camps. The former are cheaper, led by the incredibly affordable Force 3, which can be had for only $166. The Agility 3, which is essentially equivalent on the performance front, costs $13 more . Both drives offer solid all-around performance, and the Force 3’s budget price is mighty tempting. However, as we saw in numerous tests, the asynchronous drives can be quite a bit slower than their synchronous counterparts.

Cash-strapped enthusiasts looking for an inexpensive ticket solid-state bliss would do well to consider the Force 3; it’s cheaper than the otherwise identical Agility 3 and therefore is TR Recommended. If it were my money, though, I’d probably splurge on one of the faster synchronous drives.

Among those, the Force GT and Vertex 3 share the same $210 street price. While the HyperX has a much nicer case, it’s not enough to justify spending $35 more. Whether the synchronous configs from Corsair and OCZ offer better value than the asynchronous Force 3 is debatable, but the fact that they’re at times substantially faster is enough to elevate the Force GT and Vertex 3 into Editor’s Choice territory.

Corsair Force GT 120GB
OCZ Vertex 3 120GB
September 2011

The otherwise gleaming value propositions offered by our SandForce-based favorites must, of course, contend with the fact that something inside the drives makes them more prone to BSOD errors. That said, solid-state drives in general have been tainted by a rash of firmware issues that have caused data loss, premature bricking, and other problems. I’m not sure any of them can be fully trusted. The potential performance benefits are too tantalizing to pass up now that exceptionally fast drives have hit affordable price points. Consider our recommendations clear—but also cautious.

0 responses to “SSDs in the sweet spot: Modern contenders at 120-128GB

  1. The beauty of this is either way I win. Either your drives do continue to have issue and you have to go through the hassle of RMA and trying to get a refund after having wasted months on it, or the drives continue to work when you actually don’t want them. muahaha

  2. I liked the review, and it was a great source of info. But, I have to agree. In fact, I read the entire review from “cover to cover” and then immediately….

    Bought a Crucial M4. I read all the charts carefully, and considered what Geoff had to say, and I just came to a completely different conclusion.

    I’m loving it.

  3. Yes, you are. I see, twice now, that you didn’t actually attempt to refute any of the points I’ve made so I can only assume that your opinion of me ‘being wrong’ is just an emotional response not supported by any solid counterpoint.

    To indulge your weak troll I will elaborate: I posted, added a sentence, modified it, then removed it, making the post you see pretty much what I originally posted. The best writing is often heavily edited 😉

  4. It took you 10 minutes and three edits to perfect that small little post, but I’m the one who lacks reading comprehension?

  5. No, I’m not 🙂

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there are lots of people who lack reading comprehension *shrug* But hey, it takes all types to make the world go ’round!

  6. Seriously man, stop it. You were wrong. Get over it. Admit it, move on.

    It’s okay to be wrong sometimes.

  7. No, try this: e.g. there’s nothing wrong with [u<]my[/u<] SSD, and people who have problems [u<]may[/u<] have set it up wrong (ex: transferring from a HDD to an SSD without configuring Windows) or not followed recommendations etc. I never said it's perfect for all people in all cases all the time and that there are never any problems. S**t, I even began the post with 'Warning, anecdotal evidence...' to be clear it was IME only because I knew they don't work fine for everyone, what more did I need to do to make it clear I was only talking about my setup?

  8. [quote<]Great review, though, I love that you recognize not all of us go out and buy the 256mb version of the drives that get reviewed and a lot of times there is a real performance difference at the 128GB level.[/quote<] Yeah this is the kind of article/roundup I like to see. Products that are actually relevant to a decent number of people. 256GB SSDs are nice, but very few consumers are willing to drop $400-500 on a drive. 256GB is probably overkill for a lot of people's OS/app partition anyway. My Win7 partition is only 107GB, and I'm on a regular mechanical HDD

  9. Wow, here’s somebody who can’t even read or understand HIS OWN COMMENT. That’s stupid to the nth degree.

    You said ( and I quote) “I was smart enough to follow OCZ recommendations by not sleeping, and setting up Windows properly for an SSD (fresh installs will disable defrag, but I imagine people move their install from a HDD to an SSD and don’t do this, or don’t run Windows Experience Index.)”
    e.g. there’s nothing wrong with the SSD, people don’t know how to use it.

    Again, you’re dead wrong.

  10. I have no need to further defend my posts because I don’t need a defense against an idiot who can’t grasp the basics of written language. I already carefully laid out a solid defense in post # 137 and you made no reply to any of the points in that post so I assume you have no good counterpoints. Understandable, because it’s pretty airtight logic, but that was the end of any ‘defense’ I made.

  11. I’m not dead wrong because I said, in summary, ‘my experience has been fine.’ Please don’t be as stupid as Mr Random-caps-are-cool Abrasion by not understanding that’s all I was saying.

  12. Well, you’re dead wrong. I’ve followed OCZ’s recommendations to the letter and my Sandforce drive continues to blue screen.

    (FYI to non-OCZ users), this is what they recommend doing every time you re-install windows thinking that you did something wrong instead of it being a defective product:
    1.Clear CMOS by removing all SATA devices from mobo and remove power from outlet.
    Remove CMOS battery and invert it to short the terminals.
    Let the capacitors drain/discharge fully. (Press and hold the Power button).
    2. Prior to OS installation, disable CMOS settings not required for your SSD. Do not enable any devices on mobo that aren’t absolutely necessary for installing Windows. No other drives connected to Mobo.
    3.Burn bootable Linux CD and boot from it to perform a Secure Erase, Update firmware to latest rev.
    4.install Windows
    5.Install INF driver, VGA driver, and Intel RST driver only.
    6.reboot 3 times WEI
    8.Wait one week
    9. Check that HKLM/System/CurrentControlset/Control/Session Manager/Memory Management/Prefetch Parameters
    Key values of EnableBootTrace returns “0”
    EnablePrefetcher, EnableSuperfetch return “3”
    10. Check that HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Contro l\WMI\Autologger\ReadyBoot
    key Start value for ReadyBoot returns “0”

  13. My OCZ Vertex 2 drive has been a BSOD nightmare. This is a very real problem that people need to be aware of, because it can eat up your valuable time. I have been hassling with it for 10 months now, and am about to give up.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve pulled my ASRock HTPC out of my entertainment center and opened up the case. I’ve reinstalled Windows 7 about a dozen times. Windows kept reporting memory errors and I ended up RMAing to ASRock, who tested and found no problems.

    I was finally able to definitely trace the problem to my Vertex 2 by installing Windows on a conventional HDD, which works perfectly.

    It absolutely has not been worth the time and hassle I’ve put into it. I regret every minute I’ve spent screwing with it.

  14. Probably because up until March there wasn’t a stable 6 Gbps chipset out to take advantage of drives with those features.

  15. If you don’t like something, why wouldn’t you say so? Especially when there are better methods that could be utilized. Ignoring a problem is not a solution… I didn’t think I’d be saying that again so soon.

    I said it seemed forceful because it didn’t really match the tone that he was using in the article at all. Go put it into context yourself. He seems to be talking in a rather neutral and almost nice then it jumps to that. Not just that, but I don’t think there really is anyone who believes mechanical hard drives aren’t prone to having their own faults. It seemed completely out of place.

    The english language is always changing. If it remained the same we would be speaking the UK version of english, which I’m sure wouldn’t exist and we’d be speaking latin instead. I’m sure it goes back further, you get the idea. Datum is completely out dated, as I said when was the last time you heard someone use it? Data plans… it just sounds completely out of place. There is no reason to use it just because it is listed as such in a dictionary somewhere. Just the same as you aren’t supposed to use apostrophes in professional writing because it sounds unprofessional. You even said it sounds off.

    I should add that I pointed out the thumbs because I found it kinda funny. If someone actually takes the time to putter around to different threads and mark one specific person down. If they actually took the time to read the thread as of commenting the thumbs up and down would be relatively the same, but they weren’t even close.

  16. The system works – you just have calibrate out the errors: use differentials (difference of thumb scores between two opposing views) and remove the reference offset (e.g., my neutral posts get downvoted to -2 or -3).

  17. Umm…yeah – 256GB. Good catch… Although, in a few years, 256GB will probably seem like 256mb. The first computer I bought with my own money came with 128mb of ram and a 20gb hdd and my current one has 16gb mem and 2tb of storage for about half the cost 🙂

    I was trying to decide between the intel 510 and the m4 and I just couldn’t justify the price premium on the intel drive for the incremental performance gain.

    I find it’s also kinda interesting that the Intel drives and the C300 and M4 have been perennial favorites in the last 3 or so system guides but don’t even make a podium finish here.

  18. It’s the internet, there is no such thing as embarassment.

    So did your drives break yet? I can’t wait to hear that they did, it will TOTALLY make my weekend.

  19. This was basically my take away from the review… The m4 seems like the real winner to people who value reliability.

    Also, I hope you meant 256 GB versions, a 256 MB drive would be quite small! 😛

  20. I’m a little disappointed the Crucial M4 didn’t get some kind of recommended or editor choice lovin’. I had the RealSSD C300 which did have some firmware issues as I recall at the beginning of its life but I just swapped that with a friend (who has a C300) so he could RAID them and I got the M4. In my mind, the Intel 510 and M4 are really the two drives that I think are near the top in performance without the risk that _I feel_ you get with a Sandforce/OCZ drive. Is a Vertex 3 faster? Yes. Does the M4 have great performance (even more with the 009 firmware), a proven controller/reliability from a great company, and outstanding value? Absolutely. Which do I value more? The latter.

    Great review, though, I love that you recognize not all of us go out and buy the 256mb version of the drives that get reviewed and a lot of times there is a real performance difference at the 128GB level.

  21. Nah, they’re fine. They’re just older, slower drives. 2 of them in RAID0 used to give me 26MB/s read and 24MB/s 4KQD1 writes.

    I’m running original OCZ Agility drives, which use slower, cheaper NAND and a downclocked controller.

  22. You might want to check your RAID setup – I get 30 read and 40 write with random 4K (queue depth 1) with only 2 drives.

    The newest firmware increases performance quite a bit – it may be worth updating your drives if you haven’t already. 🙂

  23. Well, trying to be fair and unobjective, your first post of this thread is the incorrect or confusing use of the word “forceful”, followed by your attempt to correct grammar that is already correct. So that down-rating seems justified.

    Your second post in this thread is more of the same – “these data” is correct. I’ll admit that english is a language full of irregularities. A herd of cattle is singular, yet the cattle in the herd are plural. “Data” is both the collective noun and the group name, so both instances are correct, depending on context. Either way, your post is you wrongly criticising Geoff’s correct use of english, so you were down-rated again.

    Here are your logical reasons to you being down-rated.

    I’m just trying to stop people from getting so worked up about the system!
    Do what I do, and ignore it.
    If you can’t ignore it for whatever reason, post stuff that merits positive ratings instead.

  24. Analogy fail.

    If 1) I read about a Lamborghini and there are posts saying ‘Lamborghinis (meaning all of them) are the sux!’ and I say ‘Well, my Lamborghini is fine’ then that’s all there is to it – with no particulars there is nothing more to glean from the words as written. If 2) someone says ‘My Lamborghini (whatever model – different from mine) sucks’ I would not have anything to say much like I wouldn’t in your Dell monitor example, or would not relate my model-specific experience to their model-specific experience. The key point which you’re failing to grasp is that what happened in this topic discussion was the first example, not the second, and in addition Audi is a different brand than Lamborghini altogether – that makes your analogy a double fail. Furthermore I started my own top-level thread with a post, not a reply, so I wasn’t ‘going in to a discussion’ I was starting one.

    And what if I had been talking about a Vertex 3? Isn’t it possible that mine is in fact working fine? It is certainly not the case that literally every single owner of that drive is having problems, so until I posted that I have a Vertex 2 you didn’t even know which model I was talking about, and yet you still went psycho because it didn’t match your experience, as did the other more passive downraters. So why the hate, and why the downrating when you and they didn’t even know?

    At this point I have gone from feeling a tiny bit bad for your troubles, to being neutral, to actually deriving pleasure from them. I hope your drives not only turn into unusable bricks while losing all your data, but also that you rage-quit them out of your computer and damage other components along the way, and finally that you do not get a refund whatsoever. I laugh at your failure to research your purchase, your impatience to wait before real user experience is out there, and your apoplectic posting about it all. Thanks for the good times!

  25. A rare +1 for indeego (from me anyway) – the difference between Intel and OCZ is like night and day. Neither is immune, but Intel has done a pretty reasonable job.

  26. Wowza, didn’t realize how “slow” (relatively speaking) the Intel 320 drive I went with was. The SSD landscape is a minefield, and Intel is certainly not immune, but they don’t deserve to be lumped in with OCZ in terms of reliability.

  27. Not to mention, not sleeping is kind of the antithesis of how you should be using a notebook, which is where alot of these drives go.

  28. That’s why I pointed it out. If there was a logical point to me being rated down, the comment opposing mine would’ve been rated up…

    It adds to the website and how the thumbs up/down system is abused, which is being discussed in the forums.

  29. No, the question was rhetorical. You’re only waiting for a answer now to act smart, when really you were trying to be a dick.

  30. What the benchmarks don’t show you but what you notice immediately with a SSD are multiple I/O operations performed [i<]without degradation of the system.[/i<] You know how with an antivirus scan, or backup operation will bring most PCs to a crawl in terms of responsiveness? With a SSD you won't even notice a scan impacting the performance of the machine. It doesn't really impact the loading of applications or paging. I regularly 7-zip very large 10+ G databases in the background and it doesn't impact my system performance or responsiveness at all. So when you go back to a mechanical drive and you do experience these operations, you will wonder how/why you ever put up with it. My i7-980X at home (yeah I splurged when they came out) feels SLOWER with a 1 TB Samsung mechanical than core2duos at work with Intel SSD. The difference is like night and day, and I can't wait until I get a better SSD in there (It will have to be ~400G or larger, my system partition is that large at a minimum.

  31. Why are you so obsessed about the comment rating system?

    If you don’t like your comments being downranked, ask yourself why they’re being thumbed-down.
    [quote=”Bensam123″<]-6, +1, -4... hmmm...[/quote<] For example, what does that add to this discussion on the SSD roundup?

  32. I have migrated to SSD’s in both my laptop and my desktop. In my experience, the migration from HDD>>>SSD as the system drive is the single fastest upgrade that you can do to a computer. Certainly from an interface and usability standpoint. A system with an SSD, even a comparatively slow one, will feel MUCH more responsive. Boot time and loading game levels don’t tell the story at all. Trust me, it’s the best $200 you’ll spend on your computer. Personally, now I find it hard using computers that have HDD’s as the system drive.

  33. You’re right I haven’t read the Vertex 3 forums. Do you read support forums for products you don’t own or intend to own? Shockingly I have better things to do with my time than that, even if that ‘better thing’ is merely having a go with someone on TR article comments. I did name it a game that makes me RAGE after all…but a game nonetheless 😉 [url<][/url<]

  34. No one specified 3 series OCZ drives in any of the replies until you did, jackass. It was all broad, sweeping generalizations about ‘bad OCZ drives’ and ‘bad OCZ support’…therefore, until the drive was specified I wasn’t ‘talking about the wrong drive’ at all because I was talking about ‘an OCZ drive.’

    And if people know the previoous generation OCZ/Sandforce drives are good, and they are happy to accept slower performance for drives with the kinks worked out, then why does everyone group all OCZ drives together?

    I am sorry you didn’t have some patience before buying the Vertex 3 (I waited until a good two generations before getting my first SSD) and that you didn’t do any research before buying it, but that’s your own fault quite frankly and you ought to know that it’s called ‘bleeding edge’ for a reason….that edge will sometimes cut you.

  35. [quote<]Not sure what loop I'm out of[/quote<] This article is about the SF-2281 drives, ie Vertex 3. Your Vertex 2 may well work, but that's not what this article or most of the comments are about. Even in the case of the Vertex 2 it seems you have been very lucky though. Looking at the 120GB version [b<]40%[/b<] gave it 1-2 egg ratings, almost all of them for dead drives. Even those crappy Foxconn/Asrock/Biostar mobos don't get near that many bad ratings. It's kind of hard to shrug off 40% bad reviews as a "fluke" when there are hundreds of reviews, even in the face of some random dude on a tech forum saying his drives work. 😉

  36. Ah thanks for the link, I forgot about this review.

    Well this illustrates what I’ve always seen in reviews: SATA II SSDs are slower in tests, but the real-world difference is practically negligible. I’ve looked at this because I’m stuck on with the lower speed and I can’t imagine I’d gain much with the overhead of an SATA III card.

    On an off topic I agree with the other posters here and you say: I’d rather buy a SSD, albeit slower, from Intel than other manufacturers who are having repeated, long-term problems. I think I remember Geoff as saying in that old 320 article, that while the slower SSDs aren’t exciting compared to their faster brethren, compare them to 7200RPM drives and they’re wicked fast.

  37. [url=<]This review[/url<] has a mix of 3/6 Gbps. The short answer is you are unlikely to notice much difference as an end-user for any modern SSD drive made in the past year. The real difference comes in multiple I/O and professional/heavy data areas. In particular pay attention to TR's drivebench and Anand's equivalent. Those are aggregated numbers that show many different benches bunched into one benchmark, probably the best "overall rating" you can get at this time.

  38. You know what is great about Intel? Their discussion about the 320 firmware error is their [b<]featured discussion[/b<]! They have open communication between Intel and their users, and everyone is working to come to a fix. Intel isn't attacking anyone, they immediately asked to see a sample drive and they worked on the fix, tested it inside and outside of their labs, and they still have all this public, and as a sticky on their forums. THAT TAKES BALLS. I respect that, and I will reward them with more business because of it. As for your updating of firmware, I am all for updating to latest and greatest firmware, even if an issue doesn't bite you. Back it up, update it, you should be fine. I have a 320 here at work (I actually mistakenly bought it, considered returning it, but it's worked great so why bother?) and it took 5 minutes of downtime to install.

  39. It would have been a lot of testing but I would have liked to see or at least had some numbers thrown out at what sort of performance hit/gain there is from moving from a SATA 2 to a SATA 3 connection. We speculate that of course the 6GBPS is going to be faster but right now is it? And if so, how much?

  40. It was a funny reply, I’m sorry you have no sense of humor about yourself. Not much in your post was worth replying to because you already knew yourself that sleep works with more recent firmware, I never had to disable TRIM nor cache (what cache do you mean? Windows write-cache buffer? It’s enabled on my Vertex 2) and I didn’t know those were recommended to anyone – I’m not in the habit of reading support forums when I don’t need support. Maybe they were taking shots in the dark to analyze a tough to solve problem, that’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t change my personal experience.

    And yes, I may be discounting your personal experience because you’re being kind of a poopyhead to me 😀

  41. Yes, contacting support and dismissing their advice as ‘complete voodoo’ really makes sense. I’m not saying the OCZ support people are great for everyone, but to ask for then derisively dismiss support advice is pretty silly too.

  42. So your Vertex 2 sleeps fine, you knew that, and yet you went out of your way to tell me I was ‘wrong’ that I was ok with not using sleep? And you wonder why I went the fanboi route…

    Not sure what loop I’m out of, for the umpteenth time I was relaying my personal experience. Yes, I did read over the OCZ forums before and after purchasing the drive, I read about people having problems on a support forum *gasp* (not sure what other kind of posts to expect on a support forum…der.) I did my research unlike others it seems, so I knew what I was getting in to, and as I said *for me* things have been fine.

    Maybe you should have been more specific that your problem is not with a Vertex 2, rather than implying that every single OCZ SSD model is problematic by talking in generalizations.

  43. It’s immature because people got emotional and attacked when I was very specific that I was relaying my own experience.

  44. The drive I have now with 1.29 firmware sleeps fine as a matter of fact…it was an older Vertex 2 with earlier firmware that didn’t always resume (not BSOD though) and it was recommended to not use sleep. Probably a bunch of noobs were using hybrid sleep or something. So not only am I not ignoring it because it’s not an issue to me anyway, I’m not ignoring it because ‘the problem’ doesn’t exist for me at all.


    The OCZ Vertex 2 I have now with 1.29 firmware sleeps perfectly fine, I’d just gotten used to shutting down. It was an older firmware and drive that had issues sleeping so I followed the manufacturers recommendations and took the increased speed over not sleeping without throwing a temper tantrum…if it had been a deal breaker I would have returned it, again without throwing a fit.

  46. Doesn’t mean the bug wasn’t there or didn’t exist, this is the double standard I mentioned which set off this whole silly thread. Not even sure why I’m continuing to reply, I just didn’t expect the emotional vitriol that’s been spewed when I was clearly conveying my own, personal experience…hmm, then again this is a tech site, a haven of the immature fanboi.

    Actually, if you go back and read Intel didn’t ‘admit’ problems with the 320 at first, it took them a bit…kind of like the problems with the X-25M too. Oops.

    As for OCZ customer service, it’s always been fine for me. Ex: I got an Agility 2 120GB (and it was a smoking deal, with a Newegg Coupon and MIR my net cost was $1.125/GB…how much do other drives cost?) and this was after they’d switched to 25nm flash. Because of that, there was some additional overprovisioning so the drives formatted to a lower capacity than they did with 34nm flash. After a ‘short time’ (like Intel – but there’s that double standard thingie so OCZ doing this must be bad) they decided to replace drives with ones that used 34nm to format to the same capacity. They paid for shipping both ways [i<]and[/i<] I got a free upgrade to a Vertex 2. Just horrible, horrible customer service :rolleyes:

  47. Sucks you’re having problems. Maybe you’re new to IT technology and didn’t have to deal with it much at the Department of Redundancy Department? (The T in IT stands for technology, fyi.)

  48. Actually, no, I said multiple of their drives I’ve had have worked fine. Not sleeping was not a problem for me because the boot is not much different than resuming from sleep with even a good 7200 RPM HDD – no kidding, the HDD spinning up to the time I could actually use the PC took enough time that booting from the SSD isn’t much different.

  49. Good thing you didn’t get the Intel right away, you might have lost all your data to the 8MB bug!!!111 eleventy zomggggggggggggggggg

  50. But it’s not a problem for me 🙂 And that was only with one of the earlier firmwares on a Vertex 2.

  51. So 1 of their drives sort of works (but you still can’t sleep? lol). What a great engineering achievement!

  52. People love this logical fallacy because it allows them to make a response (and therefore allows them to classify themselves as having added to the discussion) without having to do any actual work (such as fixing the problem). It’s all the content of a “Me, too!” with the added arrogance of someone who frequently doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

    I’ve never had a problem with any of my OCZ drives, but after having read some of their forum responses, official and unofficial alike, it was clear they had no strategy whatsoever for dealing with those who did have problems other than blindly making stuff up. Crucial forums were hardly a paragon of internet communities but at least the official responses made sense and didn’t amount to “don’t use it or it’ll break”.

  53. Yep, a lot of those 1-egg ratings are because OCZ has terrible support and won’t admit it’s a major problem. I think everyone can understand some hardware failures, but if you don’t support your users when it happens expect them to be pissed off.

  54. Agreed, UberG. I, too, look for roundups…particularly those which feature the hardware I’m considering buying.

    I guess I got lucky here in that the SSD i just DID buy is a Corsair GT 120….

    This is the first SSD I’ve ever owned or used, and I certainly CAN say it’s fast…so I’m happy for all that.

    As has been said elsewhere, re: gaming SSD’s are great where “level loading*” is concerned.

    [* level loading is simply track loading in my case–I’m a sim-racer, so almost everything I demand from the SSD is loading tracks]

    I certainly agree,from what I’ve seen.


  55. I replaced my Vertex 2 with an Intel 320, and haven’t looked back. I’ll get around to RMA’ing the Vertex 2 eventually, but I’m not sure what I’ll do with it given their complete lack of reliability.

  56. Great article, as always. I know you make funny jabs about it here and there, but I actually do read the graphs 😀

  57. I’ve been using a Vertex 2 in my utility rig for the past 9 months. I’ve not had a problem although I don’t sleep the machine.

    Having looked at the OCZ support forums I’ll be holding off on my Vertex 3 plans for the time being:


  58. What problem am I ignoring? I have had 0 problems with [i<]my[/i<] OCZ drives, there is nothing for [i<]me[/i<] to ignore. I never said I discounted nor ignored problems others are having, they just have zero relevance to me.

  59. Great review.

    SSDs are getting better, and I think they’re great for laptops, or as a boot drive in the right situations.

    Still, I’m glad to have my Velociraptor 600 in my desktop. Not as fast, but with no controller firmware issues, and more capacity for the price. It boots more than fast enough for me, and for what I paid for it, I’d get a 160GB SSD.

    Give it another 1-2 years and the long way we’ve already come will be even better. Heck, anyone remember the Quantum Rushmore? 1.6 gigs of solid state Ultra-Wide SCSI for a bargain price of $1,500.00.

  60. Given the dumb stuff OCZ was pulling in their early days, I have a hard time trusting (my data) to those guys. I’d honestly be thinking pretty hard about buying a SSD from most of these Fata1tee p1mping memory jokers. Building a good SSD is turning out to be a fair bit harder than just sourcing some chips and slapping them on a PCB, giving it some stupid looking heatsinks and a ridiculous name.

  61. Great Review.

    What would make it an awesome review would be the addition of benchmarks on an 850/950 southbridge.

    Alas I have to take all these benchmarks with a grain of salt.

  62. I totally see what you and flip mode are saying and to some degree I agree. However, my argument its that as your box starts to get up and up in price, not having at least a small SSD is pretty hard to justify.

    I put that magic number at $800, any rig at the cost of $800 could probably benefit from shaving off a few bucks from some other parts and incorporating a small SSD. Maybe I’m wrong with the number, but the principle is what I’m arguing.

  63. I said dati because ‘these data’ sounded off, as in I was making a joke at how far off it sounded by adding something that seemed just as far off.

    “We’re currently looking at other ways to crunch these data to determine whether those slower service times occur in bunches that might cause perceptible stuttering or lag.”

    It should’ve read “crunch this data to”. Even if you look up the word and data is supposed to be plural, it’s outdated and sounds as such. When was the last time you ever heard someone use datum?

  64. Ignoring a problem is not a solution. Why have so many people online bought into this logical fallacy?

  65. I think you pretty much described a early adopter problem. If you’re extremely worried about such things, you should stick to older hardware that is reliable. You’re asking for two diametrically opposed positions, you’re aware of the issues concerning new hardware, yet you’ll still be angry if it has issues that you know it already has.

    Simply stating that something shouldn’t have the problems it has (and you even know it does) wont make them go away.

  66. Yeah… I’m actually rocking 3xCheetah 15k6s and I have been for awhile. I don’t think I’ll be replacing them till sequential read/writes get around 1GB/S. SAS drives are like dump trucks and I’ve had no problems with them, cost/GB when buying them off eBay is really good as well comparing them to SSDs or even raptors.

    Speaking of which, I wonder why a Raptor wasn’t included in this review (it does represent another price point and product).

  67. Yeah, I agree. The latest and greatest is awesome and all, but a lot of people are running 2+ year old pieces of hardware. It’s nice to add perspective to things.

  68. thumbs down me all you want, my financial realities are a fact…IF I downgraded to a 100 dollar GPU and a 70 dollar CPU and a crappy mobo I could fit one in my builds. But I don’t think those tradeoffs are worth it.

  69. Aye, for various reasons I now have 4x 120GB Indilinx in a RAID0 and it absolutely flies along in sequential stuff:
    900MB/s seq. read
    650MB/s seq. write

    Random 4K performance is not so great:
    30MB/s 4K read
    40MB/s 4K write

    Since a single Indilinx can manage something like 30MB/s reading and 15MB/s writing, you have to wonder how much real world gain there would be switching to a newer controller with double the 4K read performance and as much as 10x the 4K read performance…..

  70. I’ve never been one of those. I need a minimum of 500GB. Anything less than that is a waste of time.

  71. Not really an issue. I have speedy drives, all of which are indexed. Speedy CPU and plenty of RAM make up for swapfile issues (for the most part).

    I don’t want to minimize the speed increases, I am just saying that at 20 times the cost per GB, I am willing to wait a half second to get the properties sheet to complete. If you have money to burn, knock yourself out. The rest of us will load our games 30 second longer and wait a tic or two for a drive to load out and pocket the savings.

  72. People need to get over the fact that they can’t just put their entire C:/ drive filled with garbage onto an SSD.

    There are very specific things SSDs are needed for – manipulation of a large number of small-medium sized files, server I/O times and maybe video muxing, but that’s debatable.

    The rest can easily be put onto 2-3TB HDs, which won’t be beaten in cost/capacity by flash in the next few years.

  73. SSDs are awesome but enthusiasts often over-hype their importance. Depending on storage needs and configuration, HDDs may still make more sense at times. These situations are often denied or dismissed, which should not happen.

    Furthermore, some people can’t reconcile spending $1.60 / GB when they can spend 0.08 / GB and get 10 times the capacity or more. These people are often ridiculed, which really should not happen. It’s a matter of preference and there’s no absolute wrong or right to it, so ridicule is inappropriate.


    I fit both of the above scenarios, so I won’t have SSD in my home computer for a long while yet, I reckon.

  74. Thanks for the review Geoff. One SSD I would like to see covered is the new Sandisk Ultra SSD which uses Sandisk’s own controller. Haven’t yet seen a review of it on any reputable site.

  75. Oh yeah, there’s also the Highpoint RocketHybrid PCIE controller which will hook up to a SSD drive and use it as a cache (just like SRT). You have to provide your own SSD (and you’d probably want something with SLC NAND so it doesn’t die early from massive write loads), but you can choose which files and folders to cache (so you could, for instance, limit it to your games folders), so it’s more tweakable than SRT.

    Here’s a review of it: [u<][/u<]

  76. This. I’m not recommending any Sandforce SSDs to anyone, lest I be the one whose recommendation cost them many days of aggravation. A few megabytes per second here or there are peanuts compared to the enormous difference between having an SSD and not having one.

  77. I LOL’d so hard when I read this “OCZ recommendations by not sleeping”

    When I buy a product I expect it to work as advertised and I shouldn’t have to disable features in my OS for the drive to function.

    Normally I enjoy reading your post but dude come on you expect anyone with half a brain to accept this?

    You may be happy to beta test their hardware in your rig but I won’t.

    For the record I own a Intel G2 160GB drive.

  78. Not sure why you got thumbed down, but I evened it out. Clearly for gaming the GPU and CPU are far more important than an SSD.

    SSDs certainly offer great benefits in many areas, but gaming is really the least affected area. You’ll be lucky to gain a couple FPS from a SSD, whereas a GPU driver update could give you more than that (let alone a whole new GPU).

    I agree with Sunburn that if you are spending a lot of money on a PC you should get an SSD, but I’m not at all convinced they make sense for a gamer on a tight budget (as many are these days). If you do a lot of other things with your PC sure, but if you primarily use it for gaming it’s going to be a lot less beneficial.

  79. The benefit of your SSD extends beyond just loading things. Do you use your hard drive just to load things? No, you use your harddrive for everything.

    The most practical aspect is never being tied down by hard drive activity. Things you previously had to manage such as when you can run your virus scan, how many programs you can have in your startup list, how many processes you can keep active during daily PC use, how long it takes to install/uninstall things, even simply right clicking to bring up file properties are no longer things you manage your workflow around.

    I personally state the thing I notice most with my SSD setup is when I right click on a random file by accident instead of the file I wanted. WIith the SSD, windows doesn’t freeze as the drive is performing the random read on the file especially since I will be immediately leaving because it was an accident, a right click I didn’t mean to make anyway. Is that worth 150-200 dollars to avoid that annoyance? Heck yeah.

  80. Funny, I remember, not that long ago (in the 30-60 GB SSD “era”), most people describing 128-256 GB as the usable space threshold. Which is not to imply that you were one of those people, or that your usable limit is unreasonable or anything else of the sort. It just seems to me that SSDs are, finally, entering the point where most enthusiasts can reasonably consider them.

    I think for me, my ideal SSD boot drive would be a 512 GB one, but until that is in my affordable range, I would gladly use a 128 GB one for any new computer I was to build. I wonder how long until most OEM computers use SSDs; still a long way away, for certain.

  81. Great article and benchmarks, but I’m not so sure about the Force 3 recommendation with so few newegg reviews. There is also a CSSD-F120GB3 (as opposed to the CSSD-F120GB3A you tested) which appears to be identical and has a 2-egg rating with 100+ reviews. Is there actually a difference between these two that I’m missing?

    Looking around at one of your “competitors” forums it isn’t looking good either. These quotes are all from the last few days about the “A” version you tested, not exactly glowing reports from hardware geeks..: [url<][/url<] [quote<]"the new firmware still didnt fix all the issues with them"[/quote<] [quote<]"As someone who has RMA'd three of these I would pass and get the GT model which is faster and less likely to cause you problems"[/quote<] [quote<]"Same, RMA'd, then sold it on CL"[/quote<] [quote<]"Mine does an excellent job of holding down the papers on my desk. As a hard drive, it's a total piece of shit."[/quote<] [quote<]"Ha, I RMA'd it and sold it on CL for $160 unopened. Wasn't worth the risk to reinstall it."[/quote<]

  82. For the folks who have large steam folders my strategy is get a 120 gb ssd for my windows drive, which I have now. I used an unattended script while installing windows to get my users’s folder on a mechanical drive to help keep the main drive from getting bloated as my OS install gets older.

    Then for games I’m considering adding a cheap 60gb ssd. That way if the drive craps out no big deal I can download all my games again.

  83. Sounds like you’d be better off with a SSD cache like intel’s SRT (Z68 only) or OCZ’s Synapse.

    Dollar per GB, they’re actually worse than conventional SSDs, but they allow you to speed up you entire mechanical storage (once it caches).

  84. Once a level is loaded, the advantage of a faster storage device trails off and the value of having a faster CPU becomes relevant.

    All things considered, I can wait a little longer for a game to spool up if it means a trade off for a faster CPU or GPU.

  85. On the flip side, I can’t take people seriously who spend 300-500 on their gpus and 300 on a cpu they overclock to the bleeding edge and who’s total cost of the rig is $1200+ with 4TB of space they never use, but complain that the dollar/gig ratio of SSDs make them unfeasible for daily use. Imo 100 spent on a SSD even a first gen intel or first gen indilix drive is much more noticeable peformance wise than 100 spent on a cpu or a gpu.

    IMO any box in this day and age who’s sum parts total greater than $800 and doesn’t have a SSD even a little 40gb drive to hold the OS and a few key programs is poorly designed. .

  86. FYI, the many scenarios in DriveBench and FileBench are also based on real-world usage, as are the IOMeter access patterns. Don’t be fooled by the names; take the time to read the descriptions of the tests. I believe HDTune is the only truly synthetic benchmark in the group.

  87. I would recommend more real world type application benchmarks. The other benchmarks are nice, but they’re kind of useless to me for judging real value. The boot time and level loading tests are a good start; it’d be nice to see some application start up times for big apps/games too. Based on the few real-world benchmarks in this roundup, it seems hard to justify $200+ for shaving a few seconds off boot time and loading game levels. Clearly an SSD is a great choice for a laptop where mechanical drives are generally quite slow and power is a big consideration, but for the desktop I’m not so sure there is a huge benefit to having one.

  88. The Anand article insinuates it, at least that’s the impression I got from putting 1 and 1 together (Anand + Tech): Between Anand highlighting the fact that the Samsung drives were “all” running flawlessly ever since his lab got them, and then this Tech piece mentioning that “even Intel” had their share of issues despite their SSDs being one of the more reliable ones in the market.

    The conclusion I drew from that analysis based on these points was that Samsung is not the performance champ but one can say they have one of the best – if not the best – reliability track records so far – quote: “The only leg Samsung had to stand on was reliability, which believe it or not can sometimes take second place to performance depending on the target market. – Anand”

    Whether or not that’s correct is not even really important to me after considering the Intel drives costing almost double the $/gb vs competition based on this Techreport piece. Right now the main barrier to entry for me personally is not performance, but prices and reliability concerns.

    If Samsung’s current or soon to be released SSDs have the right pricing and uphold Samsung’s reliability track record that Anand was highlighting, then it might be the most attractive drive for my needs.

  89. The ability to put swap or a pagefile on a fast drive means that everything benefits to some degree, even if it’s constrained by the mechanical drive on first load. $/GB will get there eventually, but I’d agree that right now, it doesn’t make sense on a shoestring build.

  90. Agreed. I have two 120 GB Indilinx drives in RAID and I have no real clue what the difference in real life applications is between them and a brand new 6 Gbps drive.

  91. The Vertex 3 240GB is $430 at Canada Computers here in Toronto. That is starting to look interesting. I’ll have to check how much space Widows 7 + my Steam folder is using (I’m guessing I won’t have much room left for anything else).

  92. I agree. I have a 2+yr old X-25M G1 in my laptop and every time I read a SSD review on TR I wonder what difference, other than TRIM, it would make. I guess for people with older systems, the bottle neck is going to be 3Gbps SATA, not the drive itself.

  93. If it looks stable I’ll hold onto it, as it’s still a better performer than the m4. Otherwise, yeah, I’ll be returning it.

  94. “I’ll be hammering on it for the weeks and hopefully months to come but as I’ve already mentioned, Samsung’s reputation for reliability rivals that of Intel.”

    Rivals != trumps.

  95. Same boat. I could certainly make do with a 256 drive for my games+ OS and at 250-300 I’d buy, but getting 256 gigs of storage still entails laying about 400 out. Given that I try to keep my total builds to like 800 (excluding monitor, including OS) that’s too pricey for me still. But getting so tantalizingly close that it’s frigging painful.

  96. For my steam folder + OS I need at least 200 gigs, so 128s just ain’t big enough >< And two of them would still be 400 bucks which is pricey as hell for 256 but oh so temping..

  97. WoW. So those thinks that cost so much and generate so much blab all over are only good for speeding up boot times, app loads, and level loads by 8s ?

    I boot less than once a week, load maybe 2-3 apps a day, and rarely load a level. I’ll pass and keep wasting my half-minute per day ^^

  98. [quote<]The 320 Series nicely illustrates why these user reviews aren't necessarily a good indicator of reliability. Despite a firmware bug capable of compromising user data, the 320 Series has amassed the highest average score and the lowest percentage of one-star ratings from a drive with a decent number of total reviews. With that in mind, it's hard to know what to make of the largely positive responses to some of the other drives.[/quote<] I can tell you this: The firmware bug in this case is [url=<]known[/url<], it is explained clearly by Intel, and it is rare, just like the previous Intel firmware issue (which was on a password protected drive, not all that common.) To replicate the bug you apparently have to power cycle the drive numerous times under extremely stressful conditions unlikely for most consumers. (Much more likely in a lab or testing environment.) As opposed to OCZ, which gives strange advice (disable hibernation and Suspend, check your compatibility of your system before using our drives.) If you go into the OCZ forums, it doesn't take you long to get a sense of chaos in there. People aren't kvetching about niggling performance issues as much as dead drives and BSODs. Then there is the issue of MULTIPLE RMAs. I am not alone being on my third Vertex 2, and this drive isn't even very old. There's a definite difference between the reliability issues with Intel and with OCZ. 1 out of 4 1-egg reviews I'm going to take at face value, I can't see any other manufacturer Astroturfing OCZ given the risk of if they are discovered, they lose a major reputation point. And why bother? Again look at the OCZ forums to see the absolute chaos, rage, and anger. Even if 100% of OCZ drives worked and it was somehow the users fault every time, look at how they respond to their users asking for support within that forum.

  99. Great review, especially with the overall systemwide graphs for performance and value, which really says more about the value difference then the individual ones in many cases.

    I took a look at how the old x25-m v2 compared to the intel 320 series, and in the former bechmark where 320 and 510 was tested, the x25-m compared pretty favorable to the 320, so I’m happy to see its has stood as quite a solid choice since its also a 160GB drive compared to these 128GB drives when taking its age into account. At least enough so I dont feel a need to run out and get a Force GT right now until I know the firmware has matured abit.

    Also, for the ones that think the size of an SSD is too small, I did a split between my 160GB SSD with a few individual games I play alot and all programs on the SSD, while having the large steam folder on a secondary velociraptor of 300GB that also holds the fraps recording and download folders. That setup works very well, since the velociraptor by itsels is pretty snappy, if not the fastest in sequential reads and writes. It still able to go above 100MB/s.

    I just wish both Steam and Origin would implement a split-folder setup so you can choose the folder on a per game basis instead of having a 100-150GB at a single place.

  100. I’m not going to follow all sorts of “recommendations” that shouldn’t be necessary just to get my computer to be stable. Not sleeping? Seriously? I never shut down my computer. Sure, it boots up a lot faster with an SSD, but all of the programs I had open are gone and it still takes longer than the two seconds that it takes to resume from sleep.

    This is why I buy Intel SSDs. Sure, they’re not trouble free, but Intel acknowledges and fixes issues instead of telling me that I can’t put my computer to sleep.

    I’m really disappointed with TR saying this: “SandForce-based favorites must, of course, contend with the fact that something inside the drives makes them more prone to BSOD errors” and then recommending only SandForce-based drives. If hardware is prone to BSODs, it’s broken, period, and should be recalled, not recommended.

  101. Great review, just in time.. I’ve been looking at replacing my array of 3x40gb X25V’s with a single 120-128gb SATA3.. but with only the Marvell pos 9120 controller, I’m probably looking at a seperate controller card to get the full performance.

    Sandforce are pretty fast, but way too many negative comments on every single forum.

  102. I just can’t take these things seriously until the price of a usable (500-750GB) drive comes down to a $150 or so. The cost per GB, bugs, and small size of the affordable drives make thes nothing but a niche product.

    120GB gives you enough to put your OS and a few apps. The apps that I would want to use that kind of speed, games and the like, would swamp it in no time.

  103. Warning: anecdotal evidence. I’ve never had a problem with OCZ Sandforce drives, but then I was smart enough to follow OCZ recommendations by not sleeping, and setting up Windows properly for an SSD (fresh installs will disable defrag, but I imagine people move their install from a HDD to an SSD and don’t do this, or don’t run Windows Experience Index.) What’s funny is all the ‘I read about Sandforce problems…’ when people will be quick to jump on problem reporters saying ‘you just got bad hardware, it happens, we don’t know the real percentage that have problems’ in many other cases, but when it comes to OCZ/Sandforce they err the other way.

  104. more the 1 dollar per Gb and they are most likely going to die prematurely requiring users to have comprehensive back ups in place just to use them… BLAH. I’ll pass. Waiting for the HDD and SSD markets to remember what the term quality means before I buy something new. I don’t want to fear component failure when I plop down serious money for something.

  105. It made a bit more sense back when the performance wasn’t quite so incredible, but when you see that the worst-case scenario is that an SSD is “only” twice as fast as a good modern hard drive, the equation starts to change. At this point I could only see leaving an SSD off of a very budget build, or perhaps a file server (where $/GB is still the all-important metric).

    Right now I’m wishing I’d waited a week for this roundup before buying my current SSD; I avoided the m4 on the basis of TR’s earlier review, but it makes a much better showing here …and of course I got bit by the SandForce BSOD bug right off the bat. I’ve got my fingers crossed that the latest firmware update and a few driver changes have it licked, though.

  106. Both the Samsung 830 and Intel Cherryville are going to be out soon. Both can possibly upset all the ssds on this list, depending on what you’re after.

  107. Are there any Samsung products in this market segment? I think the Samsung 470 120gb drive is about $215 on Newegg.

    I’m wondering cause reliability is the most important metric for me, even more important than performance, and I just finished reading an article down at Anand claiming Samsung’s reliability even trumps Intel’s.

    Samsung is a dangerous competitor in the SSD space. Not only does it make its own controller, DRAM and NAND, but it also has an incredible track record in terms of reliability. Samsung SSDs were among the first I reviewed and while they weren’t anywhere near the fastest back then, every last one of those drives is still working without issue in my lab today.

    I hope you guys can take a look at those drives at some point, I’m keeping my eye on SSDs for a possible upgrade project, probably when Win8 hits the market, so I’d appreciate some second advice on Samsung’s stuff before making my decision.

  108. I’ve been thinking about buying a drive in this range for my laptop (already got a SSD in the desktop), and this roundup was really helpful.

    Are there any drives coming out in, say, the next 3-4 months that might upset the results?

  109. You run into the same thing with people who mod cars. On a turbo VW, an ECU flash costs ~ $500 and people scoff. But it adds 25hp and 50ftlbs of torque. Yet they’ll blow $200 on a cold air intake that adds 2hp/3ftlbs (if that, since such minor increases aren’t felt) without batting an eye. I guess its the fact that with an ECU flash you don’t get something ‘tangible’, but still… its essentially the best dollars/power ratio mod you can buy.

  110. Hi Geoff, lovely writeup as always.

    Would you (either for this article, or make a note for future articles) be able to include one or two older SSD’s in your results here are there?

    I love how TR articles throw in, say, an 8800GT in the latest GPU reviews to give readers a sense of perspective on how things have moved on. For people with 3-year old SSD’s, it’s useful to see at a glance where the improvements have come

    Perhaps an 120GB Indilinx Barefoot which was the first to compete with Intel’s X-25 and thus one that a lot of early-adopters jumped on in one format or another. It would show us early SSD adopters what we stand to gain from an upgrade in the same way that the Caviar black would show people about to make the jump from spinning platters to SSD.

  111. Just finished reading every single word of this. Wow. This is exactly the sort of article I was looking for in regards to SSDs. Thanks Geoff for a an amazing review, and a mammoth effort and putting it all together. 🙂

  112. Minor nitpick: in the drive copy tests you give the impression that it’s the overall size of the files that primarily affects copy speeds between the M4 and the sandforce drives. In my testing at home and at work (we evaluated the sandforce and crucial drives for a development testbed outside of the SAN) the overwhelming factor was the compressibility of the data itself, and not the file size. From your copy specs it seems that the crucial is better for non-compressible files (movies, music) whilst the SF drives are better at compressible gubbins (text files, spreadsheets, etc) which is what you’d expect given the drives’ architecture.

    Doesn’t affect the overall performance I know, but I feel it’s important to make the distinction.

    In case anyone’s interested, both myself and my work went with the crucial drives. Encrypted databases at work and video files at home meant the crucial was the clear winner even before we looked at reliability issues.

  113. The Samsung 830 series of SSDs look very interesting: [url<][/url<] I like how the performance of the Samsung drive doesn't vary with the compressibility of the data, unlike the SandForce based drives.

  114. +1, I’ll take a reliable manufacturer (Intel, Crucial, Samsung) any day over a brand with quality control like OCZ’s, never mind a few synthetic benchmarks. Maybe Kingston can do better with the SF controller..

  115. Very nice round up. Nice addition of distributions and a standard deviation.

    “Think mechanical hard drives are free of user complaints? Think again.”

    Little too forceful.

    “…crunch these data to…”


    On a side note, Hard Reset added a benchmark mode to their most recent version. The game looks extremely nice, I’d look into as an addition to your graphical benchmarks.

  116. Don’t worry too much. When it gets too expensive to make more advanced fabs, they will instead increase the operational lifetime. Chips are going to keep getting cheaper for a long time.

  117. I don’t understand why some people say they care so much about $/GB for a ~120GB boot drive when it’s so relatively cheap in absolute terms, and even when compared to the cost of the other major components in your enthusiast PC (e.g. mobo, CPU, graphics card, monitor). Add in the “snappiness” factor, and it’s probably the best $150-200 (or whatever) you’ll spend.

  118. Didn’t have much of a choice so I went with an OCZ Vertex 3 instead of the M4. If I were to buy the M4 I would end up with paying a bit more than the Vertex 3 considering I had to import it myself.

  119. Call me a scaredypants, but I’d rather take my chances with a Crucial M4 than with any of the Sandforce-based SSDs.

  120. The last great flash price drop happened with 30-nm class flash. Going forward we won’t see such huge year-over-year changes like when we were getting 2-4x the capacity/$. As flash is made on smaller processes, and setting aside your points, more flash must be set aside for redundancy and other schemes to maintain data integrity and that alone causes a levelling off of capacity/$ improvements.

    You and others may be slumbering for a while. Meanwhile, those of us who came to the realization that capacity/price isn’t going to get vastly better have been enjoying our SSDs…just keep your eyes open for great deals. Come on in, the water’s fine 🙂

  121. Other than a few fleeting deals on less than reputable drives, we still seem pretty far from the $1/GB barrier (mock it all you want – it’s still >15x more expensive than a many good HDDs).

    We’re still at ~$1.40/GB even at 25 nm flash. Scaling smaller may give us cheaper flash, but:
    1 – Without some new breakthrough technology, we’ve got maybe 2 die shrinks left before we hit some serious physical barriers.
    2 – end users must ultimately pay the billions of R&D to get more die shrinks, which will cut into the cost savings of NAND on a smaller process.

    This concerns me while I slumber.

  122. I hope you will compare the 128GB Samsung 830 against the SSDs in this review, as soon as you can get your hands on one.

  123. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is exactly what I have been trying to piece together based on reviews. Even the right size for what I have been looking for and all the SSDs I have been considering.

    Love the value plots.

  124. I do love that prices and performance are so great on the 120-128 gig SSDs. Sadly, my Steam folder is already about 110 gigs and it can at times get up to 150. Add on the occasional extra non-Steam game, and of course Windows, and I find myself looking at the 256 gig drives more and more. I have seen some good ones dip below 400 dollars, so that’s good.

  125. Much appreciated. As great as in-depth reviews of a single model are, the round-ups are what really help me with buying decisions.

Geoff Gasior

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