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A Look at the Latest SSDs

Solid-state drives (SSDs) are exploding in popularity, and are starting to replace traditional hard drives en masse on high-performance systems. After all, what’s not to like? SSDs are faster, use less energy and come in a small form factor that offers abundant storage.

Nevertheless, there are some caveats with SSDs–namely, cost and longevity.

Manufacturers are attempting to eliminate those perceived negatives by reducing manufacturing costs and improving the quality of the components used to build SSDs. What’s more, manufacturers are also establishing rigorous quality assurance programs, and are increasing capacities to keep up with demand.

While there is no denying that SSDs can outperform traditional hard drives, there is a question as to how much performance can be gained. The only way to determine that is to benchmark the drives and measure the performance increases offered. Does one brand or type of SSD outperforms another? Obtaining that knowledge can be crucial when it comes to upgrading a workstation or server to provide maximum performance.

According to Zsolt Kerekes, editor of StorageSearch.com, there are approximately 400 manufacturers actively designing and marketing SSD products and systems today. However, the majority of those vendors are focusing on enterprise and industrial solutions that are far different than the typical workstation or notebook storage device. With that in mind, the list of SSD vendors quickly shrinks, with some of the top vendors sporting well-known names such as Intel, Corsair, OCZ, Samsung and Kingston.

To see whether these replacement SSDs live up to their claims, I decided to put the latest 200GB models through their paces, using a methodology that most upgraders would follow. I started off with a workstation class system: an HP Z220 SFF, with an Intel Panther Point Chipset, Intel E3-1245V2 3.4Ghz Xeon (Sandy Bridge) processor, 8GB of DDR3-1600 ECC RAM, 250GB 7,200rpm hard drive, 16X DVD+-RW SuperMulti SATA optical drive and NVIDIA Quadro 600 graphics.

Benchmarking Solid-State Drives vs. a Standard Hard Drive
Drive Boot Time 1024K WriteMB/Sec 1024K ReadMB/Sec 4K WriteMB/Sec 4K ReadMB/Sec 8192K WriteMB/Sec 8192K ReadMB/Sec
7200 RPM Factory Hard Disk Drive 67 Seconds 106100 10449 54344 67962 98508 90687
Corsair Neutron 26 Seconds 512525 555383 272531 64887 51225 555948
Intel SSD DC S3700 25 Seconds 523776 550323 202877 134568 526344 554109
Kingston SSDNOW E100 36 Seconds 479349 394182 169033 71691 488064 479349
OCZ Vector 26 Seconds 535532 559240 301203 252918 533315 555383
Numbers in blue indicate best recorded results.

My test unit bordered on the high end of small form factor workstations, and featured what most professionals would want in a high-performance workstation–save for the factory hard drive, which was a traditional spindle-based 7,200rpm hard disk. As configured, the HP Z220 became a likely candidate to benefit from an upgrade to SSD technology.

I performed the upgrade process by duplicating the image of the existing hard drive onto the new SSD using a methodology often referred to as cloning. I performed the cloning task using Macrium Reflect (free edition) from Macrium Software.

Building a Baseline

To fully expose the performance gains that SSDs can deliver, I first tested the system using Disk Benchmark v2.47 from ATTO Technology, a utility that measures drive performance by writing and reading various sized files to and from a hard disk drive.

I first ran ATTO’s disk benchmarking program on the HP Z220 SFF using the unit as shipped with the 7,200rpm drive to determine throughput. I also measured boot times, from power-up to the appearance of the Windows 7 Logon Prompt. I then compiled those results into a chart, which offers a comparison between the base configuration and each of the test SSDs.

A Closer Look

I tested and evaluated the latest SSDs with approximately 200GB of capacity from Intel, Kingston, Corsair and OCZ for performance and design. I was unable to include Samsung’s latest drive, the SM843 Series, because at press time none were available for review.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the other candidates:

Intel SSD DC S3700 Series 200GB: Designed for low latency and high performance, the DC S3700 series of drives are 2.5-in., 6GB/s SATA drives that are based on 25nm NAND Flash memory. Intel has targeted these drives for data centers and other high-performance environments where reliability is a major concern. Intel claims that the DC S3700 series is designed for 2 million hours of mean time between failures (MTBF), and backs that claim up with a five-year warranty. With a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $470, the Intel DC S3700 series is pricey, especially when compared with low-end, basic consumer-level SSDs, which do not offer the warranty and performance of Intel’s offering. Intel’s SSD DC S3700 Series just started shipping in quantity in December, making these SSDs one of the latest to hit the market.

Kingston SSDNOW E100 Series 200GB: Like other SSDs tested here, Kingston Technology Co. targets the SSDNOW E100 Series at the enterprise, which translates to higher prices, yet improved performance and reliability. The E100 uses a standard 2.5-in. body with SATA interface; like most other drives tested here, it comes in at just 7mm thick. Kingston offers the drives in three capacities: 100, 200 and 400GB. Each offers claimed burst speeds of up to 535MB/s sequential read and 500MB/s sequential write. Kingston does not publish MTBF rates, but does offer a three-year warranty on the drives. The 200GB SSDNow E100 SSD uses a SandForce SF-2500 controller and Toshiba 24nm eMLC NAND with a SATA 3.0 interface. While priced at $734 MSRP, it’s heavily discounted by most sales outlets.

Corsair Neutron Series GTX 240GB: Corsair touts the Neutron Series GTX as its flagship line of SSD products–and the company does have something to be proud of with these enterprise-class SSDs. The 2.5-in., 7mm thick drive offers a SATA 3 interface, and comes with a five-year warranty. Corsair uses 24nm Toshiba Toggle Model flash to create the 240GB of capacity, and a Link_A_Media Devices Controller. With a MTBF of 2 million hours and a street price of just $250 (the company does not publish MSRP), the Corsair Neutron Series GTX 240GB may be one of the best values for those looking for enterprise-level quality and performance at a reasonable price.

OCZ VECTOR Series SATA III 256GB: The Vector is OCZ Technology Group’s top-of-the-line SSD; it features SATA 3 connectivity and is backed by a five-year warranty. The drive features OCZ-branded NAND flash memory and an OCZ-made Barefoot 3 controller. The 7mm-thick, 2.5-in. drive is designed for workstations and laptops, where durability, speed and low power use are all a concern. Although the drive is not marketed as an enterprise (or data center)-level drive, the company does claim it can support sequential read speeds of 550MB/s and write speeds of 530MB/s–putting it in the same ballpark of other vendors’ enterprise-class SSDs. Although the company does not offer an MTBF rating, OCZ claims that the drive is rated for 20GB/day of host writes for five years under typical client workloads.

Frank Ohlhorst is chief analyst and freelance writer at Ohlhorst.net. Send e-mail about this article to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.

About Frank J. Ohlhorst

Frank Ohlhorst is chief analyst and freelance writer at Ohlhorst.net. Send e-mail about this article to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.