A quick look at AMD's Radeon R7 SSD

Radeon solid-state drives are a thing now

AMD is known primarily for its CPU and graphics products. The company has been selling Radeon-branded memory since 2011, though, and it's now entering the storage market. Put your hands together for the new Radeon R7 SSD:

The drive is the next step in a strategy to increase the number of PC components bearing the Radeon name. And that's mostly what this is—an SSD bearing the Radeon name. It's actually made by OCZ, which tunes the firmware and configuration to meet AMD's specifications. That relationship isn't exactly a secret, either. OCZ's name is printed prominently on the back of the drive.

Under the hood, the R7 SSD uses the same Barefoot 3 controller as OCZ's high-end Vector 150. Like most other contemporary controllers, the chip has eight parallel NAND channels, a 6Gbps Serial ATA interface, and hardware-based AES encryption. The clock frequency is higher than in other OCZ SSDs, but AMD isn't saying by how much.

The flash is familiar from OCZ's budget-oriented ARC 100. Toshiba manufactures the NAND on the latest "A19" version of its 19-nm process. Each chip has 8GB of storage and a two-bit MLC configuration. Pretty standard fare, all things considered.

Per the blueprint for new SSDs, the R7 SSD is governed by tweaked firmware. Changes were made to accommodate the A19 NAND and the higher controller frequency. OCZ also tuned the wear-leveling algorithms to extend the drive's endurance. The R7 SSD is rated for 30GB of writes per day for the length of its four-year warranty. That works out to about 44TB of total writes, which is better than average for a consumer-grade SSD.

Plenty of other consumer drives have higher endurance ratings. For example, OCZ's Vector 150 is good for 50GB of writes per day for five years. The Radeon R7 SSD is meant to "shoot the gap" between that drive and the Vertex 460, which is covered for three years at 20GB/day. Here's how it fits into the current OCZ lineup:

  Vector 150 Radeon R7 Vertex 460 ARC 100
Controller Barefoot 3 M00 Barefoot 3 M00 Barefoot 3 M10 Barefoot 3 M10
NAND 19 nm MLC A19 nm MLC 19 nm MLC A19 nm MLC
Max seq. read 550MB/s 550MB/s 545MB/s 490MB/s
Max seq. write 530MB/s 530MB/s 525MB/s 450MB/s
Endurance 50GB/day 30GB/day 20GB/day 20GB/day
Warranty 5 years 4 years 3 years 3 years
Price (240GB) $189.99 $163.99 $139.99 $119.99

The R7 is pretty much the epitome of a mid-range SSD. Like the rest of its Barefoot kin, available capacities range from 120GB to 480GB. Those drives have the same amount of total flash as 128GB to 512GB SSDs, but they reserve more of it for the controller. This overprovisioned area is used to accelerate write performance and to perform various management functions.

We've tested enough Barefoot 3-based SSDs to have a pretty good sense of their performance characteristics. They tend to be competitive all around and especially strong in sustained tests with lots of random I/O. The Radeon R7 isn't different enough from those drives to justify putting it through our full suite of tests. However, we did run the Radeon through DriveBench 2.0, our trace-based simulation of nearly two weeks of real-world desktop activity.

We quantify DriveBench performance using service times—the amount of time it takes to complete I/O requests. Click the buttons below the graph to switch between reads and writes.

OCZ's recent SSDs all perform well in this test, so it's no surprise the Radeon has the quickest mean write service time of the bunch. It's only 0.01 milliseconds ahead of the Vector 150 in that metric, though—and 0.01 milliseconds behind OCZ's desktop flagship with reads.

We also evaluate DriveBench performance by looking at the number of requests that take longer than 100 milliseconds to execute. These extremely long service times make up only a fraction of the overall total, but they're much more likely to be noticeable. Again, click the buttons to switch between reads and writes.

Once more, the Radeon scores very well. Barely any of its service times exceed 100 milliseconds. The differences between it and the Vector 150 are negligible.

We tested the Radeon R7 240GB, which has slightly higher performance ratings than the 120GB unit. The 480GB version, in turn, has marginally better specs than the 240GB model.

Capacity Die config Max sequential (MB/s) Max 4KB random (IOps) Sustained
4KB write IOps
Price $/GB
Read Write Read Write
120GB 16 x 8GB 550 470 85,000 90,000 12,000 $99.99 $0.82
240GB 32 x 8GB 550 530 95,000 90,000 20,000 $163.99 $0.68
480GB 64 x 8GB 550 530 100,000 90,000 23,000 $298.99 $0.62

Higher-capacity drives typically cost less per gig, and the Radeons don't deviate from that trend. They're hardly cheap compared to budget SSDs, but they're not exactly expensive given the performance and warranty.

The Radeon drives come with 3.5" bay adapters and download codes for Acronis True Image HD. They're also compatible with OCZ's Toolbox software, which is handy for updating the firmware and checking the SMART attributes.

My more cynical side can't help but scoff at the fact that the Radeon R7 is just another Barefoot 3 SSD cooked with a slightly different recipe. But there's nothing wrong with that. The controller has appealing performance characteristics, and this implementation effectively plugs a hole between OCZ's high-end and value-oriented spins on the same core technology. Loyal fanboys will surely appreciate being able to buy another Radeon-branded component to match their other AMD gear.

Despite the sticker on the front, though, this is very much an OCZ product. That company is even handling the support and warranty service. Whether there's anything wrong with that depends on whether you believe OCZ has turned a corner since being acquired by Toshiba last year. The jury's still out, but initial indications are positive, at least.

In any case, AMD tells us Radeon R7 SSDs will be available by the end of the month. The firm says we could see more Radeon SSDs in the future. AMD and OCZ are "exploring other opportunities" that could include a more premium solution with an R9 designation. OCZ is surely cooking up a next-gen drive with a native PCIe interface, and I'm sure AMD would be happy to put a Radeon sticker on it if the R7 drives prove to be a success.TR

Tags: Storage

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