Solid State Drive Showdown: SSD Is On PC Gamers' Minds

It's been a great year for prospective SSD shoppers as prices are finally becoming more practical for system builders and consumers alike. Scrolling through our reviews from last year, most of the higher capacity models were prohibitively expensive for "mainstream" enthusiasts.

The OCZ Vertex 3 240GB was $US500 ($US2.08/GB) when it arrived last year, while the Crucial m4 256GB appeared around the same time for $US1.95 per gigabyte and Samsung's 830 Series debuted later in the year for around $US1.66 per gigabyte.

By mid-2012, SSD prices fell through the floor, costing approximately half as much as last year.

Granted, that's still nowhere near as economical as standard hard drives, so companies have continued to offer affordable solutions in addition to their high-end series to drive sale volumes. Such is the case with OCZ and the Agility 4, a budget-minded counterpart to the Vertex 4 that employs cheaper NAND flash memory.

In similar fashion we recently saw the arrival of the Crucial v4 series. Compared to the m4 series, the v4 has a different controller and memory, and it's not SATA 6Gb/s-complaint, which significantly reduces its peak read and write performance. So in this particular case, the v4 isn't precisely a neutered version of Crucial's flagship drive.

With both the Agility 4 and Crucial's v4 priced at just under $US200 for 256GB models, it seems we have the makings of a value-driven shootout...

OCZ Agility 4 Series

First, let's take a closer look at the Agility 4, as I am sure many of you are familiar with its big brother. Like the Vertex 4, the Agility 4 is available in 64GB, 128GB, 256GB and 512GB capacities.

The performance of the smaller 64GB and 128GB models is slower than the 256GB and 512GB versions. For example, the 64GB model features a read/write throughput of 300/200MB/s, while the 128GB model is much faster at 420/300MB/s.

Even so, when compared to the 560MB/s read performance of the 128GB, 256GB and 512GB Vertex 4 drives, the Agility 4 series is at least 25 per cent slower on paper because it uses asynchronous memory instead of synchronous. The cheaper unit also has a modified DRAM cache. Instead of two Micron DDR3-800 512MB chips for a DRAM cache capacity of 1GB, the Agility 4 has a pair of smaller Hynix DDR3-1333 256MB cache chips, for a total capacity of 512MB.

Besides those changes, the Agility 4 and Vertex 4 are virtually indistinguishable, featuring the same Indilinx Everest 2 IDX400M00-BC controller on an identical-looking PCB.

The Agility 4 includes features that are purportedly unique to the Indilinx controller, including latency reduction technology to enhance system responsiveness and enable instant-on boot-ups (OCZ says access times are as low as 0.02ms), and a "Fast Boot" technology that supposedly delivers speedier boot times compared to existing SSDs. Couple that with no data compression limitations as in SandForce drives and you can expect better performance with certain operations involving media files and the like.

There's also the proprietary NDurance 2.0 technology which increases the lifespan of the NAND flash memory by as much as two times, from the 3000-5000 PE write cycles currently seen on 20nm NAND drives, back to the 6,000-10,000 range we saw with 30nm NAND.

Despite NDurance 2.0, OCZ has only given the Agility 4 a MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) rating of two million hours, identical to the Vertex 4. Regardless, the Agility 4 carries a respectable three-year warranty, which is also backed by toll-free tech support and 24-hour Web support on the OCZ forum.

Crucial v4 Series in Detail

Whereas the Agility 4 is a reduced version of the Vertex 4, the v4 is an entirely different animal than Crucial's flagship offering. The v4 series consists of four models in sizes of 32GB, 64GB, 128GB and 256GB. The drives are built in the 2.5-inch form factor and only support the SATA 3Gb/s interface.

With the v4 series being limited to SATA 3Gb/s, read throughput maxes out at just 230MB/s while write performance peaks at 190MB/s for the 256GB model. The 128GB version is slightly slower at 175MB/s, while the 64GB version sustains just 100MB/s and the 32GB model 60MB/s.

This is the kind of performance that we saw from the Crucial M225 series back in 2009, which has led many to believe that Crucial's parent company Micron Technology is using the v4 series to clear inventory of unused 25nm MLC NAND flash chips.

Whereas the m4 is powered by the Marvell 88SS9174 controller, the v4 carries a Phison PS310. Phison has been around for a long time and they have shipped a huge volume of controllers, though most have been for USB flash drives and memory cards rather than SSDs.

The v4 uses the same NAND flash memory found in the m4 series, Micron 29F256G08CJAAB 25nm MLC NAND chips. And while this memory can achieve great speeds, it will be handicapped by the 3Gb/s Phison controller.

However, the point of this new series is affordability, and the Crucial v4 comes with some of the lowest launch prices ever seen for consumer SSDs. The 32GB model sells for just $US50, 64GB for $US70, 128GB for $US100 ($0.78/GB), and 256GB for $US190 ($0.74/GB). The drives are backed by a three-year warranty.

How We Test, System Specs

In addition to our featured flash devices, the Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C 1TB 3.5-inch 7200RPM hard drive has been included for comparison's sake. Other SSDs tested for comparison feature controllers such as the SandForce SF-2281, JMicron JMF616, Intel PC29AS218A, Marvell 88SS9174, Toshiba TC58NCF618GBT and Samsung S3C29MAX01. Our testing suite consists of four synthetic benchmark programs and our own file copying and load time tests.

As you likely know, while manufacturers claim impressive peak I/O performance out of the box, this performance can diminish over time. Unlike a conventional hard drive, any write operation made to an SSD is a two-step process: a data block must be erased and then written to. Obviously if the drive is new and unused there will be nothing to erase and therefore the first step can be bypassed, but this only happens once unless the drive is trimmed.

Considering this, we'll test how much performance you can expect to lose from each SSD over time. We'll examine all drives in their clean unused state, and then run the HD Tach full benchmark several times to fill the entire drive. This simulates heavy usage and clearly indicates how performance will be affected after normal long-term use.

All drives in this roundup support the Windows 7 TRIM function, which is meant to counteract these negative effects.

Test System Specs

  • Intel Core i7-2600K (LGA1155)
  • x2 4GB DDR3-1600 G.Skill (CAS 8-8-8-20)
  • Asus P8P67 Deluxe (Intel P67)
  • OCZ ZX Series (1250w)
  • Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C 1TB (3Gb/s)
  • OCZ Vertex 4 256GB (6Gb/s)
  • OCZ Agility 4 256GB (6Gb/s)
  • OCZ Octane 512GB (6Gb/s)
  • Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB (6Gb/s)
  • Kingston HyperX 240GB (6Gb/s)
  • Kingston SSDNow V+200 240GB (6Gb/s)
  • Kingston SSDNow V+100 256GB
  • Patriot Torqx 2 128GB (3Gb/s)
  • Patriot Pyro 120GB (6Gb/s)
  • Crucial m4 256GB (6Gb/s)
  • Crucial v4 256GB (3Gb/s)
  • Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB (6Gb/s)
  • Samsung 470 Series 256GB (3Gb/s)
  • Intel SSD 320 Series 300GB (3Gb/s)
  • Intel SSD 510 Series 120GB (6Gb/s)
  • Samsung 830 Series 512GB (6Gb/s)
  • Samsung 470 Series 256GB (3Gb/s)
  • Asus GeForce GTX 580 (1536MB)

Software

  • Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 (64-bit)
  • Nvidia Forceware 301.34

Continue Reading...

TechSpot is a computer technology publication serving PC enthusiasts, gamers and IT pros since 1998.

Republished with permission.


Comments

    Not a single mention for the Intel SSD's... Been buying them for a year now at work, rock solid devices and top notch performance... My latest build with one of the 330 series boots Windows 7 so quickly it finishes loading before the Windows logo finishes it spin.

      Every advice site I read when selecting my SSD said that Intel was the way to go, and to stay the hell away from OCZ due to high failure rates

        Ill second that. Not only did my OCZ fail within a couple of years, but it ran slow for a very long time beforehand due to a bad manufacturing decision.

      Intel is by far the best option. I had a patriot and few other models stop working out of the blue.
      Moved to Intel 330 and never had any issues.

    I just got a new PC, and I'm using a SSD.
    Let me tell you, it's pretty nuts!!!

      Yeah I just an Agility 4 and speed that anything installed on it (inc Windows) loads up at is quite impressive

    I'm interested in installing an SSD.. but I have no desire to have to reinstall windows and all my apps etc.. if I install an SSD and then install games on it.. will the games load quicker even though Windows install is still on the "slow" drive?

      yes. Windows will still run like shit but the games will run better.

      You really do need to have your Windows7 on the SSD . Suck it up. It only takes one afternoon :). You will really love the difference

      SSD will only improve loading times, so best used if you're switching between maps or areas with lots of loading screens. besides, that it makes almost no difference to how the game runs. save your money and get the SSD when you install/re-install OS and programs like CS6 suite.

    Just ordered a new build with an Intel 520 Series 180GB, $209. Every time I've seen an article relating to SSD's on this site, or its sister sites, it highly recommends Intel drives. Why no mention here? I know 180GB isn't huge, but for someone looking for a high performance primary drive at a decent price, I couldn't go past this one... Just decided to back it up with a WD 2TB and maybe get another SSD down the track if we have enough need.

    Been wanting to get an SSD for my laptop, and tried one in October, a 60GB Patriot Pyro... it lasted a month. I tried again in January with an OCZ Octane... it lasted about three weeks. I bit the bullet and got one with my new PC, a 120GB Fujitsu something-or-other, and it's been going strong for nearly three months. Moral of the story? Do thorough research, check everywhere for people having issues with the model you're looking at, and don't buy a cheap SSD.

      OTOH, my Patriot Pyro has been going for 9 months or so with no worries.

      Agree completely, I don't trust SSDs. First one I used (A-Ram Pro) died in 10 months. Completely died, to the point that it being attached to the computer caused NO drives to boot at all! Second one (OCZ Vertex 2) worked fine for a year but now takes 5-20 minutes of being powered before the computer even recognises it for booting. It's absolutely infuriating to have to turn the computer on, walk away, and come back later before it'll work. Most bizarre problem ever. Never put anything you need on an SSD...

        I had the same problem with a Vertex 2. Would often not be detectable at boot and when it was, it ran extremely slow! Firmware upgrades to everything was little help. OCZ were unhelpful in general.

        I replaced it with a Patriot Torqx 2 and it has been good. Not a single problem so far after many months. So not all cheap drives are bad bad certainly seems to be a luck of the draw situation

        "Never put anything you need on an SSD."
        Completely agree with you there, although with my experience, I tend to go with "never put anything you need on any fewer than three different drives". Everything fails eventually, some faster than others. I've had my entire ~700GB media library wiped out by a router, so I may be biased (and slightly paranoid).

    I just installed my new 256GB Samsung 830 series 256GB SSD last night. A quick image of the old drive followed by using the included utils and all was well. SSD magician is a damn isght better than the barebones (but functional) software that cam with my preious Vertix 2. Highly recommended.

      I thought that imaging from a mechanical drive to an SSD caused partition alignment problems?? It certainly did when i did it although i used Ghost i think. I had to use a special partition utility to fix it.

      Apparently the partition alignment affects performance but it was not noticeable to me

      Ahh just found the article regarding this - http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2011/09/make-sure-your-partitions-are-correctly-aligned-for-optimal-ssd-performance/

    OS and core programs on SSD; everything else on disk. Beautiful.

    I have a MacBook Pro with a 240GB SanDisk SSD, which spends almost all of its time in Windows 7 through Bootcamp. Huge increase in speed over a standard magnetic disk. No problems so far (about three months).
    Just upgraded my home workstation too, using two of the same 240GB SanDisk SSDs with hardware RAID 0. Disk benchmark run immediately after installation showed throughput of 559MB/s read, 536MB/s write. Worth pointing out that although the SSDs support SATA 3, my motherboard is SATA 2. So 559MB/s is pretty much maxing out the two SATA channels.
    As it's RAID 0, though, all data is now permanently on my Synology NAS, mounted within Windows via iSCSI. Speed and data security.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now