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Five SSD flavors — continued

Like the Intel 335 Series, the Kingston HyperX 3K is based on second-gen SandForce controller technology. Both drives are equipped with MLC NAND fabbed by IMFT, but Kingston uses older 25-nm chips. That difference gives us an opportunity to compare the endurance of similar drives based on subsequent flash generations.

There's no comparison when it comes to aesthetics, though. The HyperX series is the best-looking SSD family around.

Remember that we have a pair of identical HyperX drives to test. One will be run through the wringer with the same incompressible data as the other SSDs, while the other will be given a chance to flex SandForce's write compression tech. The HyperX will be at the center of a couple of interesting subplots.

With a $185 price tag, the HyperX 3K is a pretty sweet deal right now. The three-year warranty is standard fare, but the 192TB endurance rating is very impressive. Crossing that threshold will take some time.

Kingston's software looks pretty dated, and it doesn't play nicely with some versions of Intel's RST storage drivers—including the ones installed on our test rigs. Bummer. When drives are detected correctly, the app offers the basics: a general health indicator, a firmware update feature, a secure erase tool, and access to SMART data. Kingston tells us a new version of the Toolbox app is in the works, and I hope it has broader driver support.

As a consolation, perhaps, Kingston provides a handy PDF detailing all of the SSD's smart attributes. We'll be concentrating on attributes 5, 231, and 241, which cover bad blocks, overall drive health, and host writes, respectively.

Last, but not least, we have a couple of Samsung SSDs: the 840 Series and the 840 Pro. They look identical, and they're based on the same in-house MDX controller. Their NAND is built by Samsung on the same 21-nm fabrication process, too. But the 840 Series packs three bits per cell into its TLC NAND, while the 840 Pro has two-bit MLC chips.

To account for the lower endurance of its TLC NAND, the 840 Series allocates more flash capacity to overprovisioned spare area that can be used to replace bad blocks. That's why the drive advertises 250GB instead of the 256GB available in the 840 Pro. For what it's worth, Samsung says it was overly conservative when defining the 840 Series' spare area. The firm claims its first-gen TLC chips were more resilient than expected, which is why the newer, TLC-based 840 EVO uses that extra 6GB as a fancy write cache, instead.

As its $175 price tag attests, the 840 Series 250GB is a value-oriented model. You'll have to shell out $240 for the 840 Pro 256GB, but you'll get a longer five-year warranty in return. The 840 Series' coverage runs out after three years. Unfortunately, Samsung hasn't published official endurance specifications for the 840 family.

All the 840-series drives work with Samsung's Magician utility. The application has an attractive interface that tracks total bytes written and overall drive health right there on the main screen.

Clicking the SMART button in the upper-right corner brings up the list of available attributes, and we'll be watching a few of them. Attribute 241 tracks the total number of LBAs written, from which we can determine the number of bytes. We can also see how many write/erase cycles are consumed by watching the wear-leveling count, otherwise known as attribute 177. The number of bad blocks is tracked by attribute 5.

Although all of the vendor SSD utilities can read SMART attributes, we'll also be monitoring those values with third-party software. Hard Disk Sentinel lets us dump SMART values to CSV files that can be saved and digested easily.

Now, let's look at the systems that will serve as test rigs for the experiment.