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 4×8 and an 8×4 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.
|Max sequential (MB/s)||Max 4KB random (IOps)||Price||$/GB|
|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…
CrystalDiskMark — transfer rates
TR regulars will notice that we’ve trimmed a few tests from our usual suite of storage results. The drives were all benchmarked in the same way, but we’ve excluded the results for tests that have grown problematic or less relevant over time. This abbreviated format should be a little easier to digest until our next-gen storage suite is ready.
First, we’ll tackle sequential performance with CrystalDiskMark. This test runs on partitioned drives with the benchmark’s default 1GB transfer size and randomized data.
We’ve color-coded the results to make the Adata drives—and the Premier SP610—easier to pick out of the fray.
The Premier SP610 doesn’t seem handicapped in our sequential throughput tests. Heck, it’s the second-fastest drive with reads and ahead of plenty of eight-channel alternatives with writes. Note that our testing was limited to the 512GB version, though. The 256GB unit should have much lower sequential write speeds.
Surprisingly, the SP610 posts a higher read speed than its pricier sibling, the Premier Pro SP920. That drive is basically a re-stickered version of the Crucial M550.
HD Tune — random access times
Next, we’ll turn our attention to random access times. We used HD Tune to measure access times across multiple transfer sizes. SSDs have near-instantaneous seek times, so it’s hard to graph the results on the same scale as mechanical drives. The WD Black and Seagate SSHD will sit out this round to focus our attention on the SSDs.
The Pro comes out ahead of the Premier in all of our random access tests, but only by a smidgen. Most of the SSDs are on reasonably even footing here. The 1MB random write test proves a little more challenging for some, just not for the SP610, which sticks to the middle of the pack.
TR FileBench — Real-world copy speeds
FileBench, which was concocted by TR’s resident developer Bruno “morphine” Ferreira, 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 and their compressibility. We evaluated the compressibility of each file set by comparing its size before and after being run through 7-Zip’s “ultra” compression scheme.
|Number of files||Average file size||Total size||Compressibility|
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. Those two sets contain much larger numbers of smaller files than the other three. They’re also the most amenable to compression.
To get a sense of how aggressively each SSD reclaims flash pages tagged by the TRIM command, the SSDs are tested in a simulated used state after crunching IOMeter’s workstation access pattern for 30 minutes. The drives are also tested in a factory fresh state, right after a secure erase, to see if there is any discrepancy between the two states. There wasn’t much of one with the Premier SP610, so we’re only presenting the used-state scores.
Well, well. Despite its controller-level handicap, the SP610 copies the files in our TR test faster than all the other SSDs. It ties for the highest copy speed with the similarly small files in the Mozilla test, too, but the SP610 isn’t as competitive in the movie, RAW, and MP3 tests. Those tests involve much larger files—and much higher speeds overall.
If I were to lazily lean on another automotive analogy, I might suggest that the SP610 is faster in the corners, as it darts from small file to small file, than it is on the straights, where its top speed isn’t high enough to keep up with larger, lengthier transfers. But I’d never stoop to such tactics to spice up an otherwise dull subject.
TR DriveBench 2.0 — Disk-intensive multitasking
DriveBench 2.0 is a trace-based test comprised of nearly two weeks of typical desktop activity peppered with intense multitasking loads. More details on are available on this page of our last major SSD round-up.
We measure DriveBench performance by analyzing service times—the amount of time it takes drives to complete I/O requests. Those results are split into reads and writes.
DriveBench is arguably our most important benchmark, and the Premier SP610 fares quite well in it. The drive has lower mean service times than most of the solid-state pack, including the pricier Premier Pro. Not only that, but the SP610’s standard deviation for these results is also reasonably low, indicating relatively little variance in the results. Consistency is a good thing, especially over a long-term test like this one.
All the SSDs execute the vast majority of DriveBench requests in one millisecond or less—too little time for end users to perceive. We can also sort out the number of service times longer than 100 milliseconds, which is far more interesting data. These extremely long service times make up only a fraction of the overall total, but they’re much more likely to be noticeable.
Although the SP610’s service times are consistently quick for the most part, a notable number of them exceed our 100-millisecond “badness” threshold. The problem is especially acute with writes, where the number of extremely long service times is several orders of magnitude higher than for much of the solid-state field. Ouch.
To be fair, a few of the other SSDs are similarly afflicted. The Premier Pro SP920 is one of them, as are most of the Crucial drives. On the Crucial units, where we’ve tested multiple capacities, the number of bad episodes climbs steeply as the capacity declines. It’s probably a safe bet that smaller SP610 variants will follow a similar trajectory.
Our IOMeter workload features 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.
We run our IOMeter test using the fully randomized data pattern, which presents a particular challenge for SandForce’s write compression scheme. We’d rather measure SSD performance in this worst-case scenario than using easily compressible data.
There’s too much data to show clearly on a single graph, so we’ve split the results. You can compare the Premier SP610’s performance to that of the competition by clicking the buttons below each graph.
Instead of presenting the results of multiple access patterns, we’re concentrating on IOMeter’s database test. This access pattern has a mix of read and write requests, and it’s similar to the file server and workstation tests. The results for these three access patterns are usually pretty similar. We also run IOMeter’s web server access pattern as part of our standard suite of tests, but it’s made up exclusively of read requests, so the results aren’t as applicable to real-world scenarios. Our own web servers log a fair amount of writes, for example.
The Premier SP610 shadows its sibling in IOMeter. Both Adata drives start out reasonably well, but they fail to scale up appreciably with the number of concurrent requests, especially compared to some of the faster alternatives. Even OCZ’s budget-priced ARC 100 has a significant edge over the Adata drives. The SP610 still scores better than direct rivals from Crucial and Samsung, though.
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 test in which we’re booting Windows off each drive; up until this point, our testing has been hosted by an OS housed on a separate system drive.
Level load times
Modern games lack built-in timing tests to measure level loads, so we busted out a stopwatch with a couple of titles.
Not much to see here, folks. Most modern SSDs complete our timed load tests within about a second of each other. The SP610 doesn’t distinguish itself from the crowd.
We’re working on an updated batch of load-time tests for our next-gen storage suite. Shoot me an email if you have any suggestions. (And thanks to those who have already chimed in.)
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.
Impressive. The Premier SP610 has just about the lowest overall power consumption we’ve seen from an SSD. Its advantage over the competition is most pronounced at idle, a state the drive will likely occupy for most of its life, at least with typical notebook users. SSDs don’t draw enough power for differences of even a few watts to matter in desktop systems.
That’s it for performance. If you’re curious about the other SSDs in this review or about how we conduct our testing, hit up the methods section on the next page. Otherwise, feel free to skip ahead to the conclusion.
Test notes and methods
Here’s a full rundown of the SSDs we tested, along with their essential characteristics.
|Adata Premier SP610 512GB||512MB||Silicon Motion SM2246EN||20nm Micron sync MLC|
|Adata Premier Pro SP920 512GB||512MB||Marvell 88SS9189||20nm Micron sync MLC|
|Corsair Force Series GT 240GB||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25nm Intel sync MLC|
|Corsair Neutron 240GB||256MB||LAMD LM87800||25nm Micron sync MLC|
|Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB||256MB||LAMD LM87800||26nm Toshiba Toggle MLC|
|Crucial M500 240GB||256MB||Marvell 88SS9187||20nm Micron sync MLC|
|Crucial M500 480GB||512MB||Marvell 88SS9187||20nm Micron sync MLC|
|Crucial M500 960GB||1GB||Marvell 88SS9187||20nm Micron sync MLC|
|Crucial M550 256GB||256MB||Marvell 88SS9189||20nm Micron sync MLC|
|Crucial M550 512GB||512MB||Marvell 88SS9189||20nm Micron sync MLC|
|Crucial M550 1TB||1GB||Marvell 88SS9189||20nm Micron sync MLC|
|Crucial MX100 256GB||256MB||Marvell 88SS9189||16nm Micron sync MLC|
|Crucial MX100 512GB||512MB||Marvell 88SS9189||16nm Micron sync MLC|
|Intel 335 Series 240GB||NA||SandForce SF-2281||20nm Intel sync MLC|
|Intel 520 Series 240GB||NA||SandForce SF-2281||25nm Intel sync MLC|
|Intel 730 Series 480GB||1GB||Intel PC29AS21CA0||20nm Intel sync MLC|
|OCZ Vertex 4 256GB||512MB||Indilinx Everest 2||25nm Micron sync MLC|
|OCZ Vertex 450 256GB||512MB||Indilinx Barefoot 3 M10||20nm Micron sync MLC|
|OCZ Vertex 460 240GB||512MB||Indilinx Barefoot 3 M10||19nm Toshiba Toggle MLC|
|OCZ ARC 240GB||512MB||Indilinx Barefoot 3 M10||A19nm Toshiba Toggle MLC|
|SanDisk Extreme II 240GB||256MB||Marvell 88SS9187||19nm SanDisk Toggle SLC/MLC|
|Samsung 840 Series 250GB||512MB||Samsung MDX||21nm Samsung Toggle TLC|
|Samsung 840 EVO 250GB||256MB||Samsung MEX||19nm Samsung Toggle TLC|
|Samsung 840 EVO 500GB||512MB||Samsung MEX||19nm Samsung Toggle TLC|
|Samsung 840 EVO 1TB||1GB||Samsung MEX||19nm Samsung Toggle TLC|
|Samsung 840 Pro 256GB||512MB||Samsung MDX||21nm Samsung Toggle MLC|
|Samsung 850 Pro 512GB||512MB||Samsung MEX||32-layer Samsung V-NAND|
|Seagate 600 SSD 240GB||256MB||LAMD LM87800||19nm Toshiba Toggle MLC|
|Seagate Desktop SSHD 2TB||64MB||NA||24nm Toshiba Toggle SLC/MLC|
|WD Caviar Black 1TB||64MB||NA||NA|
The solid-state crowd is augmented by a couple of mechanical drives. WD’s Caviar Black 1TB represents the old-school hard drive camp. Seagate’s Desktop SSHD 2TB is along for the ride, as well. The SSHD combines mechanical platters with 8GB of flash cache, but like the Caviar Black, it’s really not a direct competitor to the SSDs. The mechanical and hybrid drives are meant to provide additional context for our SSD results.
If you’ve made it this far, you might be the sort of person who enjoys naked circuit board shots. Here are a couple more of the SP610:
We used the following system configuration for testing:
|Processor||Intel Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz|
|CPU cooler||Thermaltake Frio|
|Motherboard||Asus P8P67 Deluxe|
|Platform hub||Intel P67 Express|
|Platform drivers||INF update 220.127.116.110
|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||Seagate Desktop SSHD 2TB with CC43 firmware
WD Caviar Black 1TB with 05.01D05 firmware
Adata Premier SP610 512GB with N0402C firmware
Adata Premier Pro SP920 512GB with MU01 firmware
Corsair Force Series GT 240GB with 1.3.2 firmware
Corsair Neutron 240GB with M206 firmware
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB with M206 firmware
Crucial MX100 256GB with MU01 firmware
Crucial MX100 512GB with MU01 firmware
Crucial M500 240GB with MU03 firmware
Crucial M500 480GB with MU03 firmware
Crucial M500 960GB with MU03 firmware
Crucial M550 256GB with MU01 firmware
Crucial M550 1TB with MU01 firmware
Intel 335 Series 240GB with 335s firmware
Intel 520 Series 240GB with 400i firmware
Intel 730 Series 480GB with XXX firmware
OCZ Vector 150 256GB with 1.1 firmware
OCZ Vertex 450 256GB with 1.0 firmware
OCZ Vertex 460 240GB with 1.0 firmware
OCZ ARC 100 240GB with 1.0 firmware
SanDisk Extreme II 240GB with R1131
Samsung 830 Series 256GB with CXM03B1Q firmware
Samsung 840 Series 250GB with DXT07B0Q firmware
Samsung 840 EVO 250GB with EXT0AB0Q firmware
Samsung 840 EVO 500GB with EXT0AB0Q firmware
Samsung 840 EVO 1TB with EXT0AB0Q firmware
Samsung 840 Pro Series 256GB with DXM04B0Q firmware
Samsung 850 Pro 512GB with EXM01B6Q firmware
Seagate 600 SSD 240GB with B660 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
- MinGW 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.
- 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.
Before we weigh in with our final verdict, we’ll bust out a few of our famous value scatter plots. These plots use an overall performance score compared against a common baseline. The score is based on a subset of the performance data from our full suite, with CrystalDiskMark’s sequential transfer rates substituted for older HD Tune scores. (More details about how we calculate overall performance are available here.)
We’ve mashed up the overall scores with per-gigabyte prices from Newegg (and other vendors when necessary). The best solutions will gravitate toward the upper left corner of the plot, which signifies high performance and low prices.
Solid-state and mechanical storage have vastly different performance and prices, and those disparities make the main plot a little busy. Click the buttons below the plot to switch between all the drives and a cropped look at just the SSDs—and keep in mind that we’ve trimmed the axes for the SSD-only plot. Unfortunately, the plot with all the SSDs is just too crowded to have individual labels for each one.
Betcha weren’t expecting that. Even with only four NAND channels under the hood, the Premier SP610 matches the overall performance of most of the eight-channel SSDs we’ve tested recently. It’s right up there with direct rivals like the Crucial MX100, Samsung 840 EVO, and OCZ ARC 100.
The SP610 isn’t the fastest SSD in every situation, but it’s competitive overall and particularly quick when dealing with smaller files. Our only concern is the relatively high number of sluggish response times in our long-term simulation of real-world desktop use. That unappealing characteristic is shared with the MX100, our favorite budget SSD, and it’s somewhat easier to forgive given the low asking prices for both drives.
The MX100 is a fair bit cheaper per gig, and it has much better encryption support, but it’s not as power-efficient as the SP610. Neither are the pricier 840 EVO and ARC 100. Notebook users should be able to squeeze a little more battery life from the Adata drive than from other budget contenders.
That power-efficiency advantage is probably the SP610’s most distinctive trait. Although the drive does more with less—it’s basically a solid-state sleeper—it doesn’t otherwise distance itself from a market crowded with affordable all-arounders. The Premier SP610 very much deserves to be discussed in the same breath as the best budget SSDs on the market. I’m just not sure I’d choose it over any of them right now.