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Adata's Premier SP610 solid-state drive reviewed

A budget four-banger takes on a pack of V8s

A staggering assortment of Serial ATA SSDs has passed through the Benchmarking Sweatshop in recent years. Seriously, we've got results for something like 70 drives on our current testbed alone. Most of them use eight-channel controllers either developed in-house by the drive makers or selected from Marvell or SandForce stocks. Each new generation brings lower prices thanks to NAND built on a finer fabrication process, but they all start to look the same after a while.

Then, every so often, one of them stands out. The Adata Premier SP610 isn't yet another die-shrunk spin on a familiar controller; it's based on an entirely unfamiliar Silicon Motion SM2246EN chip that gets by on just four memory channels. Despite this narrower NAND interface, the SP610 is supposed to keep up with budget contenders that have twice as many memory channels. At under $0.50/GB, it's priced to compete with them, too.

But can a budget four-banger really hang with affordable V8s? You'd be surprised...

Or maybe you wouldn't, because the math is actually on Adata's side. The important bottleneck is the link to the host system—not to the NAND. Transfer rates for the fastest 6Gbps SATA drives top out at a mere 550MB/s, which is pretty slow in the context of modern NAND interfaces. The ONFI 3.0 and Toggle DDR 2.0 standards supported by the Silicon Motion controller, for example, are built for speeds up to 400MB/s. With fast enough flash, even a two-channel controller should be able to saturate a 6Gbps SATA connection.

The Silicon Motion controller can talk to eight memory chips simultaneously on each of its four channels, ensuring plenty of internal parallelism. 32-chip configurations ideal for peak performance, just like with typical eight-channel SSDs, which are usually limited to four "chip enables" per channel.

As it turns out, this isn't really a contest between four- and eight-cylinder engines. It's more of a battle between a 4x8 and an 8x4 swung by the same, somewhat feeble arm. Kinda puts things into perspective.

Opening the SP610's case reveals a tiny circuit board that looks like it's been cut in half. Seems rather fitting to me. We've seen similarly stubby boards on other SSDs, so the smaller footprint isn't an artifact of the four-channel controller. Modern flash has a high enough density that full-sized circuit boards simply aren't required.

The memory packages bear Adata's name, but the underlying silicon is manufactured by a third party. That's not a problem; plenty of SSD vendors use off-the-shelf flash, and some of them even handle the chip packaging themselves. However, the spec sheet vaguely refers to the NAND as "synchronous MLC," seemingly leaving Adata some wiggle room to use different chips depending on component availability and other market conditions. We've asked the company for more details on the NAND and whether the same chips will be used throughout the SP610's production life. Enthusiasts tend to have a dim view of mid-stream component changes.

We've also asked Adata to clarify the Premier SP610's encryption capabilities, which aren't detailed in the official product documentation. The Silicon Motion controller can scramble data with a 256-bit AES algorithm, and it conforms to the TCG Opal standard. These "enhanced security" features won't be enabled until a new firmware revision hits later this year, though. Even if that update trickles down to the SP610, Silicon Motion's specifications make no mention of the IEEE 1667 compliance required by Microsoft's eDrive scheme.

Capacity Die config
Max sequential (MB/s) Max 4KB random (IOps) Price $/GB
Read Write Read Write
128GB 8 x 16GB 560 150 66,000 35,000 $69.99 $0.55
256GB 16 x 16GB 560 290 73,000 67,000 $119.99 $0.47
512GB 32 x 16GB 560 450 73,000 72,000 $239.99 $0.47
1TB 64 x 16GB 560 450 73,000 72,000 $469.99 $0.46

The Premier SP610 starts at 128GB and scales all the way up to a terabyte. The die counts and sizes listed above are estimated, pending confirmation from Adata, but they jibe with the performance ratings (and with the information in other reviews around the web). At 16GB per chip, the SP610 needs at least 512GB of NAND to hit top speed. Write performance drops considerably for the 256GB model, and the 128GB is slower still.

At least they're all pretty cheap. Even the 128GB variant flirts with the $0.50/GB mark. The rest of the family is available for $0.47/GB or less.

Adata covers the SP610 with the usual three-year warranty, but it doesn't publish an endurance specification for the drive. For what it's worth, the controller datasheet lists an "internal data shaping technique" that "increases data endurance." Sounds like the sort of thing most SSDs have been doing for years.

Unlike some budget-oriented SSDs, the SP610 ships with a small collection of extras. The box includes a 3.5" adapter for desktop bays and a 9.5-mm shim for typical notebook receptacles. The 7-mm case should slide into slimmer notebook bays on its own.

On the software side, a registration key for Acronis' True Image HD cloning software is printed on the back of the drive. Adata also offers a homegrown SSD utility software that monitors drive health, tweaks system settings, and executes secure-erase commands. The SP610 isn't on the app's official support list, though, and the Total Bytes Written tally is way off. We wrote about 6TB to the drive while testing it—nothing close to the 194TB claimed by Adata's software.

Fortunately, the raw SMART attributes make health monitoring easy enough. The drive logs reallocated sectors, valid spare blocks, uncorrectable errors, and total reads and writes, among other variables.

And, well, that's about it. The SP610 isn't a terribly complicated product to explain. So, let's see how it performs...