If you can't beat 'em, join 'em; Intel goes Sandforce

Subject: Storage | February 6, 2012 - 01:12 PM |
Tagged: ssd, SF-2281 controller, sandforce, Intel, 520 Cherryville, 25nm

While the Intel 320 Series did hold the top spot for quite a while it has been a while since Intel refreshed their SSD line and has fallen behind new controllers in performance.  As of today that changes for the 520 Cherryville series has arrived and it is using none other than SandForce's SF-2281 controller.  Using such a popular controller leaves Intel with a bit of a problem, how do they stand out in such a crowded market?  One way that they have chosen is their home made 25nm synchronous NAND flash; Intel designs and fabs their own which gives them the opportunity to ensure the best flash chips make it into their drives.  The other way they've chosen to differentiate themselves is with a 5-year warranty for owners of this new drive.  Read how they did performance-wise at The Tech Report or else head straight to Al's review right here.

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"Intel's newest solid-state drive pairs a SandForce controller with custom firmware and 25-nm NAND. We've tested the 60 and 240GB models to see how they fare against more than two dozen SSDs, hybrids, and mechanical drives."

Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:

Storage

 

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Intel

Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging

 

Introduction

Today we take a look at Intel's newest 6Gb/sec SATA SSD - the 520 Series. This is the second non-Intel controller to appear in one of their products. The first was the Marvell controller, which appeared in the 510 Series last March. This time around, Intel has gone with SandForce. This should leave at least one SATA 6Gb/sec model to be released. Taylorsville is the code name for the next SATA 6Gb/sec native-Intel controller, which has been on their roadmap since mid-2010 but has yet to actually materialize. While Taylorsville development continues, Intel has stop-gapped the 6Gb/sec slot with the 510 and now the 520 Series. Intel seemingly worked wonders with the stock Marvell firmware, and while the Marvell controller was much improved over stock, it still lagged far behind other higher performing SATA 6Gb/sec solutions. The SandForce was one of the much more capable controllers eating the 510's lunch, but how much further could Intel improve upon the SandForce firmware?

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I guess a good question to answer up front is - What took them so long?!?! The answer is a bit complicated. Intel has actually been working on getting the 520 out the door for over a year now. They had to start with the same base SandForce firmware but accomplish two things for their version to be successful:

  • Optimize to perform better than other equivalent SandForce models (from competitors).
  • Pass Intel's stringent validation testing.

They didn't say so directly, but I can only imagine Intel's process was plagued by multiple 'back to the drawing board' moments. Trying to one-up competition like OCZ can't be easy as they've been tweaking SandForce firmware since the very beginning. There's also those nasty bugs that would cause random BSOD's or even permanently brick the drive. Such failures have no place in an Intel SSD. Intel's upper limit for each SSD line is a 0.75% annual failure rate, and we've seen SandForce SSD's failing at a higher rate than that this past year.

With each tweak made, Intel would have to once again pass their drives through another round of full validation testing. This is no small task for Intel. As an example: It took Intel just a couple of weeks to recreate and correct the long-term performance issue I discovered back in 2009, but despite mountingpressure, they could not release the updated firmware until it had successfully passed their validation a full three months later. Intel takes this testing very seriously, and that's what leads people to trust their reliability.

Read on for the full review!

 

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Corsair

Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging

 Introduction

A couple of days ago we looked at a pair of SSD's from Patriot. Next up is a pair of SSD's from Corsair. These are another two SandForce controlled units, but this time it's Async IMFT flash vs. Sync IMFT flash:

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We'll carry the Patriot Pyro (IMFT Async) into the results for comparison, and keeping the other benchmark OCZ and Intel models in with the mix of results. The OCZ Vertex 3 and Agility 3 will again share the same SandForce controller, but OCZ has been known to add many performance tweaks to their firmware. Let's see if Corsair was able to use 'tweaked' firmware or instead went with the stock one provided by SandForce.

Specifications

The Corsair Force 3 and Force GT are both available in the following capacities:

  • 60GB
  • 90GB
  • 120GB
  • 180GB
  • 240GB
  • 480GB

The added capacity points are a bonus of how IMFT can stack their dies in 'odd' multiples (i.e. 3 per package, making a 24GB TSOP). Varying slightly from low to high capacities (and across the two models), specs range from 490 to 525 MB/sec writes and 550 to 555 MB/sec reads. 60GB models get 80,000 4K IOPS and the rest get a rating of 85,000 4K IOPS. Corsairs specs indicate IOMeter 2008 was used for this test, and it's important to note that 2008's writes were a repeating pattern that is easily and fully compressible by the SandForce controller, meaning those specs were derived using fully compressible data.

Take your SSD to work day

Subject: Storage | January 30, 2012 - 02:35 PM |
Tagged: ssd, enterprise, eMLC, Samsung, SM825 400GB

Enterprise level storage has vastly different priorities than consumer grade storage as data that is lost is of a different level than lost pictures and home movie.  As precious as those memories are it is unlikely that family members will sue you or disown you because you lost their data, internal and external customers on the other hand are very likely to.  This places a large priority on reliability which must be considered even before the cost savings are considered.  For companies with large databases and numerous users connecting to them concurrently there is a huge time savings possible from introducing an SSD to the front end, but only if it can be guaranteed to be available and not down.

The SSD Review takes a look at Samsung's enterprise class SSD, the SM825 which has 400GB of eMLC flash storage which is rated at 7000TBW (terabytes written) before failure; consumer models are usually 60TBW.  When the SSD Review cracked the case and did some addition, they spotted 112GB being used for over-provisioning as well as four impressively sized capacitors for protection against power outages.  Check out the full review to see how it performs.

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"In reviewing the Samsung SSD SM825 Data Center Edition 400GB eMLC solid state drive, we understand that we have wandered off the beaten path of normal consumer reviews but there are some things in this SSD that will just grab your attention. Although it’s interesting to see that Samsung has chosen its own premium eMLC NAND flash memory in the SM825, we believe that it is the total write endurance that truly stands out in this enterprise class SSD."

Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:

Storage

 

Source: SSD Review
Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Patriot Memory

Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging

Introduction

Today we're going to take a look at a pair of SSD models from Patriot. While they both share the same SandForce controller, that's where the differences end. This won't be your typical review - because this time we're pitting an Async IMFT flash unit against a Toshiba Toggle-mode flash unit:

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We're also tossing a few OCZ and Intel models into the mix. The OCZ Vertex 3 and Agility 3 will again share the same SandForce controller, but OCZ has been known to add many performance tweaks to their firmware. This will give us a chance to see the 'baseline' SandForce firmware in action.

Specifications

Patriot has their drive specs spread out over several pages. Here's a consolidated list for these two models. We will be reviewing a 120GB sample from each of the two product lines.

  • Wildfire 120GB:

-Sequential Read & Write Transfer: 555MB/s read | 520MB/s Write
-Max Random Write IOPS: Up to 85,000 (4K aligned)

  • Wildfire 240GB:

-Sequential Read & Write Transfer: 555MB/s read | 520MB/s Write
-Max Random Write IOPS: Up to 85,000 (4K aligned)

  • Wildfire 480GB:

-Sequential Read & Write Transfer: 540MB/S Read | 450MB/S Write*
-Max Random Write IOPS: Max 4K Random IOPS: 40K*

  • Pyro 60GB:

- Sequential Read & Write Transfer: 520MB/s read | 490MB/s Write.
- Max Random Write IOPS: Up to 80,000 (4K aligned).

  • Pyro 120GB:

- Sequential Read & Write Transfer: 550MB/s read | 515MB/s Write.
- Max Random Write IOPS: Up to 85,000 (4K aligned).

  • Pyro 240GB:

- Sequential Read & Write Transfer: 550MB/s read | 515MB/s Write.
- Max Random Write IOPS: Up to 85,000 (4K aligned).

I've highlighted a few outlier specs in the above list. While the Pyro sees the now expected dip in performance when transitioning from 120GB down to 60GB - due to a reduction in the communication channels to the (fewer) flash chips, the Wildfire sees a seemingly opposite and more drastic effect. This is not due to a change in the number of data paths - it's a limit inherent in the SandForce controller itself, and is not limited to Toggle-mode flash. The difference caused by the Toggle-mode flash is the missing 60GB model - caused by the intermix of capacity points and configuration needed for this different type of flash memory.

Read on for our full review!

LaCie's Little Big Disk now comes in Thunderbolt

Subject: Storage | January 20, 2012 - 01:50 PM |
Tagged: thunderbolt, LaCie, Little Big Disk, ssd, external drive

Thunderbolts and lightning have been gracing the front page of PC Perspective for a while now, the new external interfaces are well described but there is a lack of products on the market to review.   Hopefully that will change soon as there is little point of having an interface with nothing to plug into it.  LaCie is one of the few to have actually managed to get a product to market, a Thunderbolt connected external 240GB SSD version of their Little Big Disk.  It was certainly fast in the testing that TechReviewSource performed but it does leave one with a question, who needs to back up 200GB in a big hurry and is willing to spend over $900 for the ability to do so?

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"The LaCie Little Big Disk Thunderbolt (240GB SSD) is currently the least expensive way to obtain Thunderbolt speeds for your late-model Mac. It's half the price of the Promise Pegasus R6, the only other Thunderbolt drive on the market, but that doesn't mean it's cheap."

Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:

Storage

 

CES Storage Roundup Part 4 - Sandisk, PQI

Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | January 16, 2012 - 06:36 PM |
Tagged: ssd, sandisk, PQI, memory, flash, CES

Sandisk

Sandisk had a booth with a large array of small nand flash storage devices, though most of it appeared to be SD, CF, or for embedded mobile applications:

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One of the more interesting pieces was a 64GB e.MMC nand flash part that fit *within* the dimensions of a penny! This is not a plug-in module - it's the type that would be soldered onto the mainboard of a cell phone or other small mobile device:

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While the booth was generally light on SSD's, there were a couple on display, namely the U100, in both 7mm (left) and 9.5mm (right) form factors:

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The U100 is also available in even smaller form factor. We're currently taking a look at an Ultrabook equipped with the same Sandisk U100 SSD - mounted to an even smaller PCB.

PQI

PQI has been a favorite of mine for years. They were among the first to make a really tiny thumb drive, and I'm glad to see they continue to make a versatile line of products:

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A little known fact is that PQI also has a line of SATA SSD's:

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The S525 Series (also available as the S518 - 1.8" form factor), is a bit long in the tooth and uses a dated JMicron controller, but PQI made the extra effort to include the optional USB 2.0 interface that most other manufacturers chose to omit.

More to follow

I've still got some pics to sift through, so stay tuned for more CES Storage goodies!

PC Perspective's CES 2012 coverage is sponsored by MSI Computer.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

CES Storage Roundup Part 3 - Intel Cherryville and IMFT 20nm flash die spotted!

Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | January 16, 2012 - 05:33 PM |
Tagged: ssd, micron, Intel, imft, flash, cherryville, CES, 20nm

CES is sort of like a Where's Waldo book. There are thousands of places to look, with new technology spread around all over the place. Some of that unreleased tech shows up right in front of you and you don't even realize what you were looking at until later on. It's how we caught a look at prototype Light Peak (now Thunderbolt) two years ago, and this year we saw some more goodies not previously seen in the wild. I tend to be a bit of a shutterbug, and I take seemingly random pics of things as the PCPer gang runs around the various vendor booths and hotel suites. While going through the pics from my phone, I ran across this shot of what I thought was an Intel 320 Series SSD:

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Definitely not a 320, that's an Intel 520 Series (Cherryville) SSD. While Intel had their 520 Series locked up tight at their Storage Visions booth, this one was powering another motherboard makers product elsewhere in Vegas. Unfortunately this system was only to demo the motherboard itself, without a connected display, so it would not have been possible to run our own benches.

At storage visions, we also saw this display at the Micron booth. It's interesting to see how 16GB of flash memory has shrunk over the past few years. We've certainly come a long way from the good old X25-M:

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Some of you may know that I'm a sucker for a good die shot, so I snuck back out to Micron's suite later on to get my own macro shot of the 20nm IMFT flash die:

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Micron is, like many other vendors, working on their own SSD solution specifically for SSD caching applications. It's currently unreleased, so more to follow on this.

PC Perspective's CES 2012 coverage is sponsored by MSI Computer.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!

OCZ's RevoDrive Hybrid tries for the best of both worlds

Subject: Storage | January 12, 2012 - 01:24 PM |
Tagged: ocz, revodrive hybrid, PCIe SSD

Although Al polished off his review of the OCZ RevoDrive Hybrid just before Christmas it is worth revisiting this unique hybrid of PCIe SSD and HDD.   Consisting of a PCIe SSD with 100GB of usable storage and a 1TB 5400RPM HDD which uses the SSD as a cache.  The Dataplex software which is needed for the RevoDrive to function properly has a small flaw; in order to function you need to be using the Hybrid drive as your boot drive.  That complaint is the exact opposite of Al's problem with the first generation of PCIe SSD which could not be used as a boot drive.  Read how the drive performed on RealWorldLabs test bench here.

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"Aimed mostly towards professionals and enthusiasts the latest RevoDrive Hybrid 1TB PCI Express Storage Solution by OCZ combines the breathtaking read/write speeds of the RevoDrive3 PCI-E SandForce based SSD with the large capacity of a 1TB 2.5inch hard disk drive, all in one very convenient package."

Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:

Storage

 

CES Storage Roundup Part 2 - Corsair, Patriot

Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | January 12, 2012 - 12:29 AM |
Tagged: ssd, patriot, memory, flash, corsair, CES

While roaming Vegas, we came across lots of storage goodies. Here are a few:

Corsair

Corsair showed their line of SSD's, with a new addition:

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The new addition is on the right. This is the 'Accelerator' series, an SSD primarily meant for caching duties:

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The Accelerator series will be available in 30, 45, and 60GB capacities, and will be packaged with caching driver software for those not running a Z68 or better caching capable Intel board.

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Also on display was a refresh to the Voyager, Voyager GT, and Survivor series, bringing their interface up to USB 3.0 speeds.

Patriot

We also saw Patriot's lineup:

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Pictured above, from top down, is the following:

  • Wildfire (Sandforce 6Gb/sec / Toshiba Toggle-mode flash)
  • Pyro SE (Sandforce 6Gb/sec / IMFT Sync flash)
  • Pyro (Sandforce 6Gb/sec / IMFT Async flash)
  • Magma (Phison / Async flash)
  • Mac Series (identical Pyro SE, but Apple certified)

Next is the USB lineup, with many new USB 3.0 models replacing the older 2.0 units. The Transporter series is a bit shorter than it used to be, which is a welcome bonus.

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Here are Patriot's portable flash offerings, consisting of high capacity SD cards and Phison-driven mSATA and smaller (!) form factors:

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This is 'mSATA mini', which is about half the length of a standard mSATA SSD. On the other end of that spectrum is a 240GB Macbook Air unit (just off camera in the above pic).

Stay Tuned!

...I've got a few more goodies to post!

PC Perspective's CES 2012 coverage is sponsored by MSI Computer.

Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!