Despite being a consumer electronics giant that makes everything from smartphones to home appliances, Samsung has always been something of a dark horse in the PC storage industry. For years, the company cranked out some of the finest desktop hard drives around, yet they were often difficult to find in stock at online retailers. We got the sense that Samsung was far less interested in selling bare drives to the enthusiast community than the other hard drive makers.
Indeed, Samsung has now bailed out of selling hard drives completely. This past spring, Seagate announced plans to acquire Samsung’s hard drive business. The deal doesn’t include Samsung’s SSD division, but it does stipulate that Seagate use Samsung flash memory in its hybrid and solid-state drives. Hmmm.
As one of the world’s largest producers of flash memory—and slim computing devices too small for traditional hard drives—Samsung’s solid-state focus makes a lot of sense. The firm is in the enviable position of being one of very few in the industry capable of producing all the key components within an SSD. It’s been doing so for years, and as with hard drives, the focus has largely been on catering to big-name PC vendors and system builders.
Perhaps because PC enthusiasts have been quick to adopt SSDs in their desktop systems, Samsung has recently seemed more intent on catering to us. A little more than a year ago, it released a 470 Series SSD with slick packaging, competitive performance, and only a few weaknesses. Now, Samsung is back with an 830 Series drive that promises to be substantially faster without breaking the bank. In a nod to enthusiasts, the drive even comes with a free copy of Batman: Arkham City. It’ll take more than a fancy game bundle to impress us, so we’ve run Samsung’s latest through our usual gauntlet of storage tests to see how it stacks up. The results might surprise you.
Solid-state drives are undeniably premium storage solutions, and they should really look the part. Alas, all too many are clad in uninspired cases that look particularly out of place considering the associated price tags. Not the Samsung 830 Series, whose case features a brushed metal face with nicely beveled edges. Although there’s nothing particularly flashy about the design, it at least gives the impression of a high-end product.
The 830 Series is skinnier than the competition, too. Though it has the same footprint as a standard 2.5″ drive, it’s only 7 mm thick. Most solid-state drives, like the OCZ Octane pictured on the left in the image above, have a 9.5-mm thickness. The same goes for most 2.5″ mechanical hard drives. With a thinner profile, this new Samsung SSD should offer better compatibility with the increasing number of ultra-slim notebooks on the market.
The only thing I don’t like about the case is how difficult it is to pry open. SSD enclosures are typically held together with miniature screws that are easily removed; the biggest barrier to entry is usually a warranty sticker over one of the screws. Samsung instead uses a press-fit case that appears impossible to crack open without breaking a few of the internal plastic clips holding things together. Gingerly sliding a pocket knife around the edge of the top piece was enough to do the trick, but this sort of surgery will definitely void your warranty.
Will end users ever need to bust open their drives? Probably not. But Samsung shrouds much of this new model in mystery, so we couldn’t resist the opportunity to peek up its skirt.
The chips at the heart of the drive are particularly important because Samsung makes each and every one of them. Quick, name another SSD company that produces its own controller, flash memory, and cache. Toshiba is the only one that comes to mind, and it isn’t exactly a big player in the consumer SSD market. (Intel does produce its own flash memory and controllers, but it’s made a habit of using third-party controller tech for high-end drives.)
Samsung was tight-lipped about the controller in its 470 Series SSD, and the firm has remained secretive regarding the MCX chip in the 830 Series. We know the chip has a 6Gbps interface, which is a step up from the 3Gbps SATA link in the old model. We also know the MCX controller has three processor cores based on the ARM9 architecture, and that those cores can execute different instructions in parallel. Samsung is quite explicit about the fact that the controller doesn’t engage in any funky write-compression trickery, but it can encrypt bits with a 256-bit AES algorithm. That’s about it as far as details are concerned.
We’ve asked Samsung to reveal more specifics about the MCX chip and how it differs from previous generations, but our questions remain unanswered. Samsung pushed the 470 Series as a “multi-CPU” design, so the new MCX may not be its first triple-core controller. This isn’t the company’s first ARM-based SSD controller; the chip in the 470 Series was prominently inscribed with the ARM name, too.
Since solid-state drives extract much of their performance from parallelism, both within their controllers and in the attached NAND arrays, I suspect the MCX chip may have more memory channels than its predecessor. Unfortunately, Samsung has declined to reveal the number of channels in each controller. We do, however, know a little bit more about the memory chips in this new SSD.
Toggle my DDR
There are two kinds of memory in the Samsung 830 Series SSD: a 256MB DRAM cache chip and an array of Toggle DDR NAND. Backed primarily by Samsung and Toshiba, Toggle DDR NAND is an alternative to the ONFI flash specification supported by Intel, Micron, and others. Both standards are JEDEC-approved, but they go about things a little differently.
Toggle DDR NAND is similar to synchronous ONFI memory in that reads and writes can be executed on both the rising and falling edges of a data query strobe. This strobe is activated only when transfers are taking place, making Toggle NAND potentially more power-efficient than the ONFI stuff. In order to hit a similar double data rate, synchronous ONFI NAND uses an external clock cycle in addition to its data strobe.
Samsung’s marketing materials for the 830 Series reveal that the NAND dies are capable of transferring data at speeds up to 133Mbps. Surprisingly, that’s the same data rate quoted for the Toggle DDR chips in the old Samsung 470 Series. 133Mbps is the maximum speed for the first-generation Toggle standard, while Toggle DDR 2.0 promises per-chip data rates as fast as 400Mbps.
Although the 830 Series’ individual NAND dies don’t appear to be any faster than the ones found in Samsung’s last-generation SSD, the individual transistors are definitely smaller. The last-gen NAND was manufactured on a 32-nm process, but the new drive uses memory built on a “20-nanometer-class” node. Samsung wouldn’t be more specific about exactly where its fabrication technology falls inside the 2x-nm spectrum.
Our 256GB sample features eight NAND packages arranged on the same side of the circuit board as the controller and cache memory. According to Samsung’s decoder ring, those K9PFGY8U7A-HCK0 packages offer 256Gb spread across eight NAND dies, resulting in a 64 x 32Gb die configuration for the drive as a whole. SSDs in the same size range usually achieve their capacities with 32 x 64Gb die configurations, so the Samsung 830 Series has an apparent edge in die-level parallelism.
In our look at SSD performance scaling across multiple capacities, we learned that increasing the number of NAND dies on an SSD can dramatically improve its performance. We also saw that performance can be improved by using higher-density dies, so I wouldn’t draw any conclusions based on die counts alone.
Do note the high die-per-package count, though. The NAND packages in most of the SSDs we’ve tested have one or two dies each. Samsung crams in eight dies per package on the 830 Series 256GB, and the NAND packages in its 470 Series predecessor have a similar die density. More dies per package means fewer packages per drive, which enables smaller and slimmer form factors. This is the first 256GB SSD we’ve seen mount all its components on only one side of the circuit board, leaving an eerily naked underbelly. The Samsung 470 Series is also a bit of an oddity on the form-factor front; although the 256GB model comes in a 2.5″ case, the circuit board is about the same size as a 1.8″ drive.
|Capacity||Max sequential||Max 4KB random||Price|
|64GB||520MB/s||160MB/s||75,000 IOps||16,000 IOps||
|128GB||520MB/s||320MB/s||80,000 IOps||30,000 IOps||
|256GB||520MB/s||400MB/s||80,000 IOps||36,000 IOps||
|512GB||520MB/s||400MB/s||80,000 IOps||36,000 IOps||
With NAND packages of a similar density, Samsung could probably build the smaller versions of the 830 Series on single-sided 1.8″ circuit boards. We’re still waiting to hear back from Samsung on the die configurations for other sizes in the family.
Samsung’s performance specifications give us a sense of what to expect from the 256GB model’s siblings, though. The 512GB drive doesn’t appear to be any faster, and the 64GB variant is purportedly quite a bit slower. We tend to prefer 128GB drives, and that looks like a pretty good spot in the lineup. The 128GB model should offer roughly double the write performance of the 64GB version without being too big of a step down in performance from the 256-512GB flavors.
Regardless of the capacity, the Samsung 830 Series comes in a couple of fancy retail kits: one with mounting hardware for desktops, and the other with a SATA-to-USB adapter meant for notebooks. Each retail package includes a copy of Norton Ghost and a download code for the PC version of Batman: Arkham City. Bundling a hot new game with a solid-state drive is a little bit weird, especially since most notebook users will struggle to run Arkham City at playable frame rates. If your PC is up to snuff, the game is pretty awesome. After spending only a few hours in Arkham City, I can tell you that all the critical acclaim is well deserved. Even those with no desire to play the game should be able to find a grateful recipient for the coupon code.
Before sitting down to test Samsung’s latest, I realized that I’d yet to hear any complaints about the company’s SSDs losing data, bricking after firmware updates, or spitting out BSOD errors. Every major SSD maker seems to have been hit with one bug or another, and for a moment, I thought Samsung might be immune. No such luck. The release notes for the latest firmware list improvements to “compatibility and stability,” and a prior update fixed a “blue screen, hang problem.”
Samsung SSDs haven’t been entirely devoid of issues, but we also haven’t heard of any widespread problems. Perhaps that’s because the drives and their firmware are more robust. Then again, it might be because the notoriously vocal enthusiast community has favored other solutions. There are only a few hundred user reviews of Samsung’s 470 and 830 Series SSDs on Newegg. Meanwhile, the very same retailer has thousands of user reviews of just OCZ’s latest SandForce-based SSDs.
At least Samsung’s SSD Magician software makes downloading and installing firmware updates a snap. This application can secure-erase drives and perform various system optimizations. It also features an overprovisioning tool that can increase the amount of NAND capacity used as “spare area” by the controller. Other SSDs allow their overprovisioning to be tweaked simply by creating a partition smaller than the total size of the drive, but kudos to Samsung for wrapping up this and other functionality in a tidy little app.
Our testing methods
Over the last few months, we’ve tested a huge stack of SSDs based on all the latest controller configurations. Today, the Samsung 830 Series will face them all.
If you’ve been keeping up with our storage coverage, you’ll know all the nerdy details about our test methods and hardware; feel free to skip ahead to our performance analysis. For the rest of you, we’ve detailed each drive’s essential characteristics in the chart below. You’ll want to pay particular attention to how the Samsung 830 Series compares to the other high-capacity SSDs, which represent the highest performance levels for their respective drive families.
|Interface||Cache||Spindle speed||Areal density||Flash controller||NAND|
|Corsair Force Series 3
|6GBps||NA||NA||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25-nm Micron async MLC|
|Corsair Force Series 3 120GB||6GBps||NA||NA||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25-nm Micron async MLC|
|Corsair Force Series 3 240GB||6Gbps||NA||NA||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25-nm Micron async MLC|
|Corsair Force Series GT
|6Gbps||NA||NA||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25-nm Intel sync MLC|
|Corsair Force Series GT 120GB||6GBps||NA||NA||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25-nm Intel sync MLC|
|Corsair Force Series GT 240GB||6GBps||NA||NA||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25-nm Intel sync MLC|
|Corsair Performance 3 Series 128GB||6GBps||128MB||NA||NA||Marvell 88SS9174||34-nm Toshiba MLC|
|Crucial m4 128GB||6Gbps||128MB||NA||NA||Marvell 88SS9174||25-nm Micron sync MLC|
|Crucial m4 128GB||6GBps||128MB||NA||NA||Marvell 88SS9174||25-nm Micron sync MLC|
|Crucial m4 256GB||6Gbps||256MB||NA||NA||Marvell 88SS9174||25-nm Micron sync MLC|
|Intel 320 Series 120GB||3Gbps||64MB||NA||NA||Intel PC29AS21BA0||25-nm Intel MLC|
|Intel 320 Series 120GB||3GBps||64MB||NA||NA||Intel PC29AS21BA0||25-nm Intel MLC|
|Intel 320 Series 300GB||3Gbps||64MB||NA||NA||Intel PC29AS21BA0||25-nm Intel MLC|
|Intel 510 Series 120GB||6GBps||128MB||NA||NA||Marvell 88SS9174||34-nm Intel MLC|
|Intel 510 Series 250GB||6Gbps||128MB||NA||NA||Marvell 88SS9174||34-nm Intel MLC|
|Kingston HyperX 120GB||6GBps||NA||NA||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25-nm Intel sync MLC|
|OCZ Agility 3 120GB||6GBps||NA||NA||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25-nm Micron async MLC|
|OCZ Octane 512GB||6Gbps||512MB||NA||NA||Indilinx Everest||25-nm Intel sync MLC|
|OCZ Vertex 3 120GB||6GBps||NA||NA||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25-nm Intel sync MLC|
|Samsung 830 Series 256GB||6Gbps||256MB||NA||NA||Samsung S4LJ204X01||2x-nm Samsung Toggle DDR|
|Seagate Momentus 5400.4 25GB||3Gbps||8MB||5,400 RPM||204 Gb/in²||NA||NA|
|Seagate Momentus XT 500GB||3Gbps||32MB||7,200 RPM||394 Gb/in²||NA*||4GB SLC|
|Seagate Momentus XT 750GB||6Gbps||32MB||7,200 RPM||541 Gb/in²||NA*||8GB SLC|
|WD Caviar Black 1TB||6Gbps||64MB||7,200 RPM||400 Gb/in²||NA||NA|
|WD Scorpio Black 750GB||3Gbps||16MB||7,200 RPM||520 Gb/in²||NA||NA|
Our performance data also includes a number of more traditional hard drives. I’ve grayed out the latter in the chart and in the graphs on the following pages to focus our attention on how the Samsung SSD fares against its solid-state competition. Neither the mechanical drives nor the hybrids are in the same league, at least in terms of performance.
We used the following system configuration for testing:
|Processor||Intel Core i7-2500K 3.3GHz|
|Motherboard||Asus P8P67 Deluxe|
|Platform hub||Intel P67 Express|
|Platform drivers||INF update 22.214.171.1240
|Memory size||8GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz|
|Audio||Realtek ALC892 with 2.62 drivers|
|Graphics||Asus EAH6670/DIS/1GD5 1GB with Catalyst 11.7 drivers|
|Hard drives||Corsair Force Series 3 60GB with
Corsair Force Series 3 120GB with 1.3 firmware
Corsair Force 3 Series 240GB with 1.3.2 firmware
Corsair Force series GT 60GB with 1.3.2 firmware
Corsair Force Series GT 240GB with 1.3.2 firmware
Crucial m4 64GB with 0009 firmware
Crucial m4 256GB with 0009 firmware
Intel 320 Series 40GB with 4PC10362 firmware
Intel 320 Series 300GB with 4PC10362 firmware
Intel 510 Series 120GB with PPG4 firmware
Intel 510 Series 250GB with PWG2 firmware
Kingston HyperX 120GB with 320ABBF0 firmware
Corsair Performance 3 Series 128GB with 1.1 firmware
OCZ Agility 3 120GB with 2.15 firmware
OCZ Vertex 3 120GB with 2.15 firmware
WD Caviar Black 1TB with 05.01D05 firmware
Seagate Momentus 5400.4 250GB with 3.AAB firmware
Seagate Momentus XT 500GB with SD22 firmware
WD Scorpio Black 750GB with 01.01A01 firmware
Seagate Momentus XT 750GB with SM12 firmware
OCZ Octane 512GB with 1313 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:
- Intel IOMeter 1.1.0 RC1
- HD Tune 4.61
- TR DriveBench 1.0
- TR DriveBench 2.0
- TR FileBench 0.2
- Qt SDK 2010.05
- MiniGW GCC 4.4.0
- Duke Nukem Forever
- Portal 2
Some further notes on our test methods:
- To ensure consistent and repeatable results, the SSDs were secure-erased before almost every component of our test suite. Some of our tests then put the SSDs into a used state before the workload begins, which better exposes each drive’s long-term performance characteristics. In other tests, like DriveBench and FileBench, we induce a used state before testing. In all cases, the SSDs were in the same state before each test, ensuring an even playing field. The performance of mechanical hard drives is much more consistent between factory fresh and used states, so we skipped wiping the HDDs before each test—mechanical drives take forever to secure erase.
- We run all our tests at least three times and report the median of the results. We’ve found IOMeter performance can fall off with SSDs after the first couple of runs, so we use five runs for solid-state drives and throw out the first two. The Hybrid drives have also been subjected to five runs, but only in tests that show their performance improving after the first one.
- Steps have been taken 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.
The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. 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 present transfer rates in a couple of different ways. Using the benchmark’s “full test” setting gives us a good look at performance across the entire drive rather than extrapolating based on a handful of sample points. The data created by the full test also gives us fodder for a line graph.
To make the line graph more readable, we’ve excluded everything but the high-capacity SSDs and the Caviar Black. All the mechanical and hybrid drives have been greyed out in the graphs to focus our attention on the SSDs. Otherwise, the results are colored by drive maker, with the Samsung 830 Series set apart in a much lighter shade of blue than the Intel drives. Excel only has so many colors, and you’d probably prefer that we avoid hot pink.
This is as close as our test suite gets to an all-out drag race, and the Samsung 830 Series has the fastest read speeds from 0-100% capacity. The line graph shows that the Samsung SSD maintained its blistering pace across the full extent of the drive, too. Its fastest rival, the Crucial m4 256GB, is 15MB/s slower on average.
Although all of the top SSDs nip at the Samsung 830 Series’ heels in HD Tune’s read speed test, there’s no contest with writes. The Samsung SSD’s average write speed is more than 100MB/s higher than the closest competition.
Technically, the SandForce-based SSDs achieve higher peak write speeds than the Samsung offering. As the line graph illustrates, though, those peaks are always followed by deep valleys, resulting in much lower average write speeds. The write speed of the Samsung 830 Series never drops more than 8MB/s below its maximum rate in this test.
HD Tune’s burst speed tests are meant to isolate a drive’s cache memory.
The Samsung 830 Series has the highest write burst speeds of any of the drives we tested. However, it’s not quite as fast in HD Tune’s burst read test, pushing the drive well down in the standings. Among the other high-capacity SSDs, only the OCZ Octane and Intel 320 Series offer slower read burst speeds.
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 mechanical drives and smaller SSDs have been dropped from the line graphs for clarity.
In the 4KB random read test, the results are pretty much a wash. Virtually all of the SSDs stack up between 0.03 and 0.05 ms. The Samsung 830 Series looks a little slow in the 1MB test, though. Most of the SSDs are clustered under two milliseconds, but the Samsung drive pulls up half a millisecond slower than its rivals.
As you can see, the minute differences in access times between our vast assortment of SSDs pale in comparison to the huge gaps between the solid-state field and the mechanical drives. The only exceptions to that rule are the Seagate Momentus XT hybrids, whose NAND read caches do a good job of speeding things up in HD Tune’s 4KB random read test. Those caches appear to have no impact in the 1MB random read test, and they certainly don’t help with random writes.
As they did in HD Tune’s 4KB random read test, all the SSDs turn in similarly quick access times for 4KB random writes. The field spreads out quite a bit more in the 1MB test, which produces much slower access times across the board. The Samsung 830 Series isn’t hit too hard by the shift to a larger transfer size, but its access times are about half a millisecond slower than those of the SandForce posse. That said, the 830 Series’ access times are still faster than, well, everything else—including high-capacity members of the OCZ Octane, Crucial m4, and both Intel SSD families.
TR FileBench — Real-world copy speeds
Concocted by resident developer Bruno “morphine” Ferreira, FileBench 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. We tested using the following five file sets—note the differences in average file sizes:
|Number of files||Total size||Average file size|
The names of most of the file sets are self-explanatory. The Mozilla set is made up of all the files necessary to compile the browser, while the TR set includes years worth of the images, HTML files, and spreadsheets behind my reviews.
To get a sense of how aggressively each SSD reclaims flash pages tagged by the TRIM command, we’ve run FileBench with the solid-state drives in two states. We first test them in a fresh state after a secure erase. The SSDs are then subjected to a 30-minute IOMeter workload, generating a tortured used state ahead of another batch of copy tests. We haven’t found a substantial difference in the performance of mechanical drives between these states.
These first three sets are made up of relatively large files, and the Samsung 830 Series excels at copying them. The Intel 510 Series and OCZ Octane come close, but they’re not fast enough to bump the Samsung SSD out of first place.
When copying the smaller files in our other two sets, the Samsung 830 Series is quite a bit slower—both in absolute terms and versus the competition. The SandForce-based SSDs have a clear edge with smaller files, particularly in the Mozilla set, which sends the Samsung drive tumbling down the standings. It’s more competitive in the TR set, but even then, the 830 Series has slower copy speeds than half of its high-capacity rivals.
Overall, the Samsung SSD offers consistent copy speeds between its fresh and used states. That’s a big improvement over the drive’s predecessor, whose used-state copy speeds were 38% slower than its fresh-state performance.
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 as fast as possible 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. The individual workloads are explained in more detail here.
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.
The Samsung 830 Series doesn’t quite make it to the middle of the pack among our high-capacity SSDs. Although the Intel drives fare worse overall, the Crucial m4, OCZ Octane, and Corsair Force SSDs all post higher overall DriveBench scores than the Samsung. Let’s see if any of DriveBench’s individual tests point to specific weaknesses.
As it turns out, the Samsung SSD’s strength is easier to see. The 830 Series climbs up to a third-place finish in the file copy test, which seems fitting given its strong performance in FileBench. In the other tests, the Samsung drive drifts back toward the middle of the pack; among the high-capacity models, only Intel’s SSDs score lower.
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, solid-state 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 that spans two weeks of typical desktop activity peppered with multitasking loads similar to those in DriveBench 1.0. We’ve also adjusted our testing methods to give solid-state drives enough idle time to tidy up after themselves. More details on DriveBench 2.0 are available on this page of our last major SSD round-up.
Instead of looking at a raw IOps rate, we’re going to switch gears and 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.
Although its margin of victory is very narrow, the Samsung 830 Series has a lower mean service time across our two-week trace than any other SSD we’ve tested. Corsair’s fastest Force SSD may be nipping at the Samsung drive’s heels, but those two have a comfortable lead over the closest competitor.
The Force Series GT 240GB actually has a lower read service time than the Samsung SSD. However, the 830 Series’ write service time is lower by a bigger margin. Notice that that the SSDs have a much wider range of service times for writes than for reads. All of the solid-state drives turn in average read service times of 0.5-1.8 ms, while the span for writes is about four times wider, from 0.4-8.2 ms.
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.
In addition to being very low, the Samsung 830 Series’ read and write service times are also very consistent. The drive exhibits less variance than pretty much everything else we’ve tested, which is a very good thing when coupled with some of the lowest mean service times we’ve measured.
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.
There are two things to pay attention to here. Look at the percentage of service times under one millisecond—those are the biggest bars. The Samsung 830 Series has the highest percentage of extremely short write service times, but it’s a few percentage points shy of the leaders if we look at reads.
Now, check out the service times longer than 100 milliseconds. The Samsung SSD barely moves the needle, which matches the behavior of most of the other SSDs. Only the Crucial m4, Corsair Performance 3, and Intel 510 Series suffer from worryingly high percentages of those longer service times.
Our IOMeter workloads feature a ramping number of concurrent I/O requests. Most desktop systems will only have a few requests in flight at any given time (87% of DriveBench 2.0 requests have a queue depth of four or less). We’ve extended our scaling up to 32 concurrent requests to reach the depth of the Native Command Queuing pipeline associated with the Serial ATA specification. Ramping up the number of requests also gives us a sense of how the drives might perform in more demanding enterprise environments.
As we’ve done with the other line graphs in this review, we’ve dropped the smaller SSDs and all the mechanical drives to make the results easier to interpret. IOMeter scores for some of the smaller SSDs can be found on this page of our last SSD round-up, while the others can be found in our in our SSD scaling article. The results from the mechanical drives can be viewed here.
While the Samsung 830 Series’ domination of our IOMeter testing isn’t complete, it’s the clear winner overall. The Samsung SSD does require higher load levels to achieve its full potential, though. When processing only one I/O request at a time, the 830 Series achieves lower transaction rates than much of its competition.
Those transaction rates ramp up rapidly in the web server test, which is made up entirely of read requests. In the other tests, which include a mix of reads and writes, the Samsung SSD gets off to a slow start and stumbles at the highest load level. Even so, it still reaches the highest peak transaction rates.
Before timing a couple of real-world applications, we first have to load the OS. We can measure how long that takes by checking the Windows 7 boot duration using the operating system’s performance-monitoring tools. This is actually the first time we’re booting Windows 7 off each drive; up until this point, our testing has been hosted by an OS housed on a separate system drive.
There’s only about a second separating the fastest and slowest SSDs in our Windows 7 boot test. (Let’s not mention the Intel 320 Series 40GB in the same breath as the other solid-state drives, please.) The Samsung 830 Series sits in the middle of that pack, marginally ahead of most of the high-capacity SSDs. It can’t, however, catch the Crucial m4 256GB, which is the fastest-booting drive of them all.
Level load times
Modern games lack built-in timing tests to measure level loads, so we busted out a stopwatch with a couple of reasonably recent titles.
Our level load times are similarly close. While the Samsung 830 Series’ Portal 2 load time may look a little slow, a one-second gap in a hand-timed test isn’t worth worrying about.
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.
The Samsung 830 Series’ power consumption is a little on the high side. At idle, the drive’s power draw doesn’t look too bad. However, the 830 Series ends up pulling close to 5W when stressed with a demanding IOMeter load. Samsung claims the SSD has “active power use” of only 0.117W, but that may require a medically induced coma. The 830 Series draws a lot more power under our idle and load conditions, and we’ve double-checked our numbers to be sure.
The value perspective
Welcome to 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, 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 the amount of storage capacity accessible to users in Windows.
With a $360 street price, the Samsung 830 Series 256GB is a pretty sweet deal. In our high-capacity collection, only the Corsair Force Series 3 and Crucial m4 are cheaper per gigabyte. It’s worth noting, too, that the 256GB Samsung SSD is the best deal of the available capacity points. The 830 Series 64GB and 128GB variants cost closer to $1.70 per gigabyte.
Our remaining value calculations use a single performance score that we’ve derived by comparing how each drive stacks up against a common baseline provided by the Momentus 5400.4, a 2.5″ notebook drive with a painfully slow 5,400-RPM spindle speed. This index uses a subset of our performance data described on this page of our last SSD round-up. Some of the drives were actually slower than our baseline in a couple of the included tests, so we’ve fudged the numbers a little to prevent those results from messing up the overall picture.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new overall leader. The Samsung 830 Series just squeaks ahead of the fastest SandForce configuration in our performance index. The difference between the two SSDs amounts to less than 20 percentage points, so it’s a much smaller gap than the distance to the third-place Octane, whose performance score doesn’t quite break 800%.
Now, for the real magic. We can plot this overall score on one axis and each drive’s cost per gigabyte on the other to create a scatter plot of performance per dollar per gigabyte.
Man, do I love scatter plots; they make everything so clear. While the Samsung 830 Series doesn’t offer much better overall performance than the Force GT, it does cost a lot less per gigabyte, pushing the Samsung SSD toward the ideal location in the upper-left corner of the plot. A couple of other high-capacity SSDs are cheaper per gigabyte, but they’re well behind on performance.
Obviously, our Caviar Black desktop reference has a much lower cost per gigabyte than any of the SSDs. It’s a whole lot slower, too, as the scatter plot plainly illustrates.
Although this analysis is helpful when evaluating drives on their own, what happens when we consider their cost 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. Those parts total around $800, which also happens to be a reasonable price for a modern notebook.
Within the context of a complete system, the Samsung 830 Series still looks like a sweet deal. The SSD’s overall performance is closely matched by the Force GT, and the price difference between those two looks pretty small from this perspective. There are cheaper solid-state options available, of course, but they’re not even close on the performance scale.
The Samsung 830 Series has a whole lot going for it. In addition to offering the best overall performance of any SSD we’ve tested, the drive comes in a slim form factor, includes a copy of Batman: Arkham City, and is backed by a company whose SSD history appears largely devoid of serious issues. Given those perks, one might expect the 830 Series to be priced at a premium—but it’s not. The 256GB model can be had for just $360, while the 128GB and 64GB flavors sell for $220 and $110, respectively.
To be fair, the 64GB and 128GB variants cost a little more per gigabyte than their higher-capacity siblings. Based on Samsung’s performance ratings and the results of our latest look at SSD scaling, those lower-capacity models will also be slower than the 256GB one we tested. I’m optimistic about their chances versus like-sized rivals due to the 256GB drive’s strong overall showing, though.
I’d like to speculate more about how the 64GB and 128GB models might fare, but that’s difficult to do without more information on their die configurations and Samsung’s MCX controller. Based on the high number of NAND dies in the 256GB drive, I suspect the Samsung 830 Series is particularly dependent on die-level parallelism to achieve peak performance. We’ll have to see about getting some smaller versions of the drive into the Benchmarking Sweatshop for testing.
Looking back over the results we do have, it’s clear that Samsung has put together a well-rounded SSD. The 830 Series tends to perform comparatively better with larger files than it does with smaller ones, and it seems to need multiple concurrent I/O requests to really ramp up performance with random I/O. That said, the drive scored highly in nearly every one of our tests. The only glaring weakness? High power consumption under a demanding IOMeter load that’s much more strenuous than anything notebook users are likely to throw at their SSDs.
If it’s not obvious already, the Samsung 830 Series is taking home an Editor’s Choice award. We can only single out the specific model we’ve tested, but that’s really the best one of the bunch. The 256GB version boasts not only the best performance in the family, but also the lowest—and most competitive—cost per gigabyte. If you’re in the market for a high-capacity SSD, the Samsung 830 Series should be at the very top of your list.