Logo   Banner   TopRight
TopUnder
Transparent
7-Way SSD Round-Up: Sandforce vs. JMicron
Transparent
Date: Jun 25, 2010
Section:Storage
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Transparent
Introductions and Controllers

It is hard to believe that almost two years has passed since we first rounded-up some of the first solid state drive offerings for the PC. Since that time, the landscape has changed dramatically. Capacities have increased somewhat, but performance has been improved significantly. Many early solid sate drives suffered from terrible stuttering issues and offered performance that was actually lower than much more affordable, traditional hard drives. Today though, SSDs are far more stable and reliable and their performance is orders-of-magnitude better than even the fastest of hard drives.

Despite the rapid pace of advancement in the SSD space, innovation doesn't seem to be slowing. With that in mind, we've pulled together a quintet of the newest drives to hit the market, based on recently released controller designs from SandForce and long-time player JMicron, the SF1200 and JM612, respectively. We've got drives from OCZ, OWC, Corsair, and Patriot Memory on tap, but before we dig into the products themselves, let's take some time to talk about the controllers at the heart of the drives. It is, after all, the SSD's controller that determines much of how a drive will behave and perform in the real-world...

Update 6/25/2010: Shortly after publishing this round-up, a number of SSD manufacturers that employ Sandforce controllers released updated drives that offered more usable capacity to end users. The first wave of SF-1200 based drives to hit the scene had about 22% of their flash memory over-provisioned for cache purposes, wear-leveling, and other proprietary Sandforce functions. 100GB drives like the OCZ Vertex 2 and Corsair Force 100, for example, actually featured 128GB of flash memory on-board. The second wave of drives to arrive, however, have about 6.25% of their flash memory over-provisioned, and as such, they offer more usable capacity to end users.

We received 120 GB variants of the OCZ Vertex 2 and Corsair Force drives, and have updated this round-up with their performance results. As you'll see, other than offering more capacity, not much has changed in terms of performance. What the less over-provisioning means to the longevity of the drives remains to be seen, but the new drives still offer the same warranty. Manufacturers are willing to stand behind them.



SandForce and JMicron Based Drives From OCZ, OWC, Patriot and Corsair -- One of These Drives Is Not Like the Others...


Although it has a different model number, the SandForce SF1200 controller is actually based on the same piece of silicon as the higher-end SF1500, which first debuted in OCZ's Vertex 2 Pro. The SF1500 is targeted at enterprise-class products, and as such, it goes through more vigorous validation and testing. This inevitably leads to higher costs. The SF1200 is targeted at the desktop PC space, however, and isn't subjected to as vigorous a test routine. But as a result, SandForce also imposes some random read / write limits via tweaked firmware to minimize risk. Whereas the SF1500 can theoretically push upwards of 30,000 4K random-write IOPS, for example, the SD1200 is rated for only 1/3 of that. Other than the imposed performance limitation though, the SF1200 is virtually identical to the SF1500.

Even though there's a supposed performance limiter imposed via firmware by SandForce on the SF1200, not every manufacture has implemented it. Of the drives we feature here, the OCZ Vertex 2 and Corsair Force Series F100 actually don't have the limiter in place. The Agility 2 and OWC drive do.

Above is a high-level block diagram of the SF1200, that may look familiar to some of you. It is the same diagram we first showed you in our coverage of the Vertex 2 Pro. Because we've already covered the main features of this controller in a previous article, we won't do the same here. But those of you seeking a more technical deep-dive into SandForce's controller offerings, should check out our Vertex 2 Pro article. We talk about the SandForce controller's DuraWrite, RAISE, and other features there.

Above is a high-level block diagram of the JMicron JMF612. The JMicron JMF612 is a single-chip, 8-channel NAND flash controller with a SATA II and USB 2.0 combo interface. The JMF612 supports external SDRAM cache and also offers support for hardware error correction code (ECC), wear leveling, and bad block management technology. And unlike JMicron's much maligned early SSD controllers though, the HMF612's firmware is field upgradeable via a simple utility. The JMF612 sports an embedded processor, internal masked ROM, data SRAM, a SATA link/transport layer, SATA PHY, USB 2.0 device controller and USB 2.0 PHY. And the chip itself is available in a 281-pin BGA (12mm x12 mm) package.

Of all of the drives represented here, the Patriot Zephyr is the only one to be built around the JMicron JMF612 controller.

Transparent
OCZ Vertex 2 and Agility 2

All of the drives featured in this article conform to the same 2.5" form factor with 9.5mm Z-Height and all of the drives have identical connector configurations (just SATA, no USB), so there's little to differentiate one from another from a pysical standpoint, save for their decals and the colors of their enclosures.  First up is the OCZ Vertex 2...



  
Note: The OCZ Vertex 2 100GB and 120GB Drives Are Physically Identical

OCZ Vertex 2 - SandForce 1200
Specifications & Features

Max Read: up to 285MB/s
Max Write: up to 275MB/s
Sustained Write: up to 250MB/s
Random Write 4KB (Aligned): 50,000 IOPS
Native TRIM support
Max IOPS Firmware
Seek Time: .1ms
Slim 2.5" Design: 99.8 x 69.63 x 9.3mm
Lightweight: 77g
Operating Temp: 0°C ~ 70°C
Storage Temp: -45°C ~ +85°C
Low Power: 2W in operation, .5W in standby
Shock Resistant up to 1500G
RAID Support
Included 3.5" Desktop adapter bracket
Compatible with Windows XP, Vista, 7, and Linux
MTBF: 2 million hours
3-Year Warranty

The 100GB OCZ Vertex 2 shown here represents the current high-end of OCZ's SandForce 1200 based solid state drives, in terms of it firmware configuration (a 200GB model is also available). The Vertex 2's firmware does not impose the the 4K random write speed limitation mentioned on the previous page, hence the higher IOPS rating in the specs above versus the Agility 2. As you can see, the drive is rated for 285MB/s reads with 275MB/s writes (sustained writes up to 250MB/s). It has TRIM support built-in and it carried a 3-Year warranty.





   

OCZ Agility 2 - SandForce 1200
Specifications & Features
Max Read: up to 285MB/s
Max Write: up to 275MB/s
Sustained Write: up to 250MB/s
Random Write 4KB (Aligned): 10,000 IOPS
Native TRIM support
Seek Time: .1ms
Slim 2.5" Design
99.8 x 69.63 x 9.3mm
Lightweight: 77g
Operating Temp: 0°C ~ 70°C
Storage Temp: -45°C ~ +85°C
Low Power: 2W in operation, .5W in standby
Shock Resistant up to 1500G
RAID Support
Included 3.5" Desktop adapter bracket
Compatible with Windows XP, Vista, 7, and Linux
MTBF: 2 million hours
3-Year Warranty


The OCZ Agility 2 and Vertex 2 are very similar products (the drive pictured here is also a 100GB model). In fact, they're virtually identical in terms of their hardware. Of course, the Agility 2 bears different branding, but other than its decals, the only major difference between it and Vertex 2 is its firmware configuration. The Agility 2's firmware limits random write performance, hence its lower IOPS rating (10,000 4K random writes versus 50,000 with the Vertex 2). As you'll see in the performance data, however, the random write limitation of the Agility 2 doesn't hinder its performance much at all in most workloads.

Transparent
Corsair F100 and OWC Mercury

As its name implies, the Corsair Force F100 is also a 100GB solid state drive, similar to the OCZ offerings shown on the previous page. The F100 is also based on the SandForce 1200 controller as well. We should also note that the newer 120GB model tested as part of an update to this article is physically identical to the 100GB version--they only differ in their firmware configurations...



  

Corsair Force Series F100 - SandForce 1200
Specifications & Features

Maximum sequential read speed 285MB/second
Maximum sequential write speed 275 MB/second
Random 4K write performance of 15,000 IOPS
Latest generation Sandforce controller and MLC NAND flash for fast performance
Internal SATA II connectivity
TRIM support (O/S support required)
No moving parts for increased durability and reliability and quieter operations over standard hard disk drives
Decreased power usage for increased notebook or netbook battery life
2.5" form factor for your portable computer needs
Included 2.5" to 3.5" bracket
Three year warranty

While the Corsair Force Series F100's specifications suggest it uses firmware similar to the OCZ Agility 2, based on its Random 4K IOPS performance rating of 15K, the F100's firmware in its current form does not impose the performance limitation mentioned earlier. In fact, throughout our testing, the Corsair Force F100 performed very similarly to the OCZ Vertex 2. Other differences between the Corsair Force F100 and the other drives are it's physical branding (of course) and it's warranty. Corsair offers only a 2 year warranty on the Force series--which is the shortest warranty of the bunch.





 

OWC Mercury Extreme Pro RE 100GB - SandForce 1200
Specifications & Features
Controller: SandForce SF1200
SMART attributes: Standard
Capacity: 100GB useable capacity
Total Flash Memory Components - 128GB
Sustained Sequential Read: up to 285MB/s
Sustained Sequential Write: up to 275MB/s
IRandom 4KB Writes: Up to 30,000 IOPS, 10,000 IOPS
Random 4KB Reads: Up to 30,000 IOPS
NAND Flash Components: Tier 1/Grade A Multi-Level Cell (MLC) NAND Flash Memory
Read Latency: less than 0.1ms
Write Latency: less than 0.1ms
Reliability: 10,000,000 hours (MTTF)
Interface: SATA 1.5 Gb/s and 3.0 Gb/s
TRIM Support: Advanced TRIM Support in Windows 7
Operating Env. Temp: 0°C to +70°C
Non-Operating Env. Temp: -55°C to +95°C
Power Consumption: Active: 550mW (.5W)Typical, Idle (DIPM): 50mW (.05W) Typical
Protection: ECC Recovery: Up to 24 bytes correctable per 512-byte sector
Unrecoverable Read Errors: Less than 1 sector per 1017 bits read
Chip Based Data Encryption: 128-bit AES-compliant
RoHS Compliant: Yes
Dimensions: 100.12mm x 70.06mm x 9.45mm

 
The OWC Mercury Extreme Pro RE 100GB SSD is definitely the most distinctive looking drive in this round-up. Its metallic blue enclosure certainly stood out from the pack. Internally, however, the Mercury Extreme Pro RE 100GB is another SandForce 1200 based offering, with specifications that are most similar to the OCZ Agility 2. We should note, OWC offers the best warranty of the bunch at 5 years.

Transparent
Patriot Zephyr

Patriot Memory recently releaed the Zephyr line of Solid State Drives, based on the JMicron JMF612 controller. Unlike the other drives featured here, the Zephyr's capacity is somewhat larger at 128GB, but the performance of the JMicron controller isn't on the same level as the SandForce SF1200...



  

 

Patriot Zephyr 128GB - JMicron JMF612
Specifications & Features
Interface: SSD SATA 2.5" Serial ATA I/II
Raid Support: 0, 1, 0+1
Performance
Sequential Read: up to 240MB/s
Sequential Write*: up to 180MB/s
64MB DRAM Cache
JMicron 612 controller paired with qualified MLC NAND flash for best performance reliability
TRIM support (Operating System support required)
Power Consumption: DC 5V Operating 6.6W
MTBF: >1,500,000 Hours
Data Retention: 5+ years at 25°C
Data Reliability: Built in BCH 16, 24-bit ECC
Operating Temperature: 0°C~70°C
Storage Temperature: -40°C~ 85°C
Operating Shock: 1,500G (@ 0.5msec half sine wave)
Vibration Resistant: 15G/10~2000Hz w/ 3 axis
O/S Support: Microsoft Windows Series, Linux, and Apple Mac OS
3 Year Warranty


The JMicron based Patriot Zephyr 128GB drive's specifications show max read and write speeds that are significantly lower than those of the SandForce based drives (240/180MB/s versus 285/275MB/s). Also note, it is the only drive in the round-up to feature a DRAM cache. SandForce's controller is designed as such that it doesn't require external DRAM cache, but the JMF612 is a differnt animal, and hence, performs best with some cache attached. TRIM support is present here as well, and Patriot offeres a 3-year warranty on the device.

Transparent
Test System and IOMeter

Our Test MethodologiesUnder each test condition, the Solid State Drives tested here were installed as secondary volumes in our testbed, with a standard spinning hard disk for the OS and benchmark installations.  The SSDs were left blank without partitions wherever possible, unless a test required them to be partitioned and formatted, as was the case with our ATTO, Vantage, and CrystalDiskMark benchmark tests. And all drives were secure erased prior to the start of any testing. Windows firewall, automatic updates and screen savers were all disabled before testing. In all test runs, we rebooted the system and waited several minutes for drive activity to settle before invoking a test.

HotHardware Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Card -

Memory -


Audio -

Hard Drives -

 

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7 965


Gigabyte GA-EX58-Extreme
(X58 Express Chipset)


GeForce GTX 280

6144MB Corsair DDR3-1333
CAS 7


Integrated on board

OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 100GB
OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
OCZ Agility 2 100GB
Corsair Force 100GB
Patriot Memory Zephyr 128GB

OS -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-


Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate
Intel 9.1.1.1025 w/ Matrix Storage
DirectX 11

NVIDIA ForceWare v196.34

Benchmarks Used:
HD Tach v3.0.1.0
ATTO v2.46
CrystalDiskMark v3
PCMark Vantage
SiSoftware Sandra 2010 SP1

IOMeter
I/O Subsystem Measurement

In the following tables, we're showing two sets of access patterns with IOMeter; one with an 8K transfer size, 80% reads (20% writes) and 80% random (20% sequential) access and one with IOMeter's default access pattern of 2K transfers, 67% reads and 100% random access. Both tests were conducted with 8 worker threades. 

Our IOMeter testing shows a huge disparity in performance between the JMicron based Patriot Zephyr and SandForce based drives. The Zephyr offers only a fraction of the performance of the other drives with the access patterns we used with IOMeter. The SandForce based drives, however, were tightly grouped, with the OCZ Vertex 2 100GB technically coming out on top by the slightest of margins.

The updated 120GB Sandforce drives perform somewhat lower than their 100GB counterparts, however.

 

 

Transparent
SANDRA Testing

For our next set of tests, we used SiSoft SANDRA, the the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. Here, we used the Physical Disk test suite and provided the results from our comparison SSDs. The benchmarks were run without formatting and read and write performance metrics are detailed below. We have also included SANDRA's detailed graph so you are able to see how the drive performs over time along with the average rated result.
     
SiSoft SANDRA 2010
Synthetic Benchmarks


OCZ Agility 2 100GB
(Read)

 


OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
(Read)
 


Corsair Force 100GB
(Read)
 


OWC Mercury Extreme Pro RE 100GB
(Read)
 


Patriot Zephyr 128GB
(Read)


Corsair Force 120GB
(Read)


OCZ Vertex 2 120GB
(Read)



SiSoft SANDRA physical disk benchmark has all of the SandForce based drives performing at near identical levels, with only a few MB/s separating the drives. The JMicron based Patriot Zephyr, however, trailed the others by about 9% in the read badwidth test.

 


OCZ Agility 2 100GB
(Write)
 


OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
(Write)
 


Corsair Force 100GB
(Write)
 


OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 100GB
(Write)
 


Patriot Zephyr 128GB
(Write)


Corsair Force 120GB
(Write)


OCZ Vertex 2 120GB
(Write)



SANDRA's physical disk write performance test tells a similar story. The SandForce based drives are all tightly grouped, once again, and the drives hold onto a significant lead over the JMicron based Patriot Zephyr.

Interestingly, the updated 120GB variants from OCZ and Corsair exhibit significantly lower write performance accorging to SANDRA.

Transparent
ATTO Disk Benchmark
ATTO is a more straight-forward type of disk benchmark that measures transfers across a specific volume length.  It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and graphs them out in an easily interpreted chart.  We chose .5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes over a total max volume length of 256MB.  This test was performed on blank, formatted drives with NTFS partitions.

ATTO Disk Benchmark
Version 2.46


OCZ Agility 2 100GB
 


OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
 


Corsair Force 100GB
 


OWC Mercury Extreme RE 100GB
 


Patriot Zephyr 128GB


Corsair Force 120GB


OCZ Vertex 2 120GB


The SandForce based drives continued their dominant performance in the ATTO Disk Benchmark. All of the drives begun hitting their peak performance once block sized hit the 32K mark, but it was the SandForce based drives that broke out to a commanding lead, especially in terms of write performance.

The 120GB drives perform exactly as their 100GB counterparts do here.

Transparent
CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks

CrystalDiskMark is another synthetic test we've started looking at that evaluates both sequential as well as random small and large file transfers.  It does a nice job of providing a quick look at best and worst case scenarios with SSD performance, best case being large sequential transfers and worse case being small, random 4K transfers.

CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks
Synthetic File Transfer Tests


OCZ Agility 2 100GB
 


OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
 


Corsair Force 100GB
 


OWC Mercury Extreme RE 100GB
 


Patriot Zephyr 128GB


Corsair Force 120GB


OCZ Vertex 2 120GB


CrystalDiskMark does a good job of showcasing the performance difference between the differen firmware revisions used with the SandForce based drives and actually shows the JMicron based Zephyr with the strongest sequential reads and writes. Notice the OCZ Agility and OWC drives have much lower performance with 4K writes when the queue depth is increases, versus the Vertex 2 and Corsair drives. This performance difference is a direct result of the performance limiter incorporated into certain firmware revisions for SandForce 1200-based drives.

Like we saw in the ATTO benchmark, the newer 120GB drives from Corsair and OCZ perform just like the 100GB drives here.

Transparent
HD Tach Testing

Simpli Software's HD Tach is described on the company's web site as such: "HD Tach is a low level hardware benchmark for random access read/write storage devices such as hard drives, removable drives, flash devices, and RAID arrays. HD Tach uses custom device drivers and other low level Windows interfaces to bypass as many layers of software as possible and get as close to the physical performance of the device being tested."

HD Tach v3
http://www.simplisoftware.com/


OCZ Agility 2 100GB
 


OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
 


Corsair Force 100GB
 


 OWC Mercury Extreme Pro RE 100GB
 


Patriot Zephyr 128GB


Corsair Force 120GB


OCZ Vertex 2 120GB



The performance trend we've seen throughout this piece continues in the HD Tach benchmark. Here, once again, the SandForce based drives finish right on top of each other in terms of reads, writes, burst speeds, and access times, and the JMicron based Patriot drives trails the pack.

Transparent
PCMark Vantage

Next we ran the three drives through a battery of tests in PCMark Vantage from Futuremark Corp. We specifically used only the HDD Test module of this benchmark suite to evaluate all of the drives we tested. Feel free to consult Futuremark's white paper on PCMark Vantage for an understanding of what each test component entails and how it calculates its measurements. For specific information on how the HDD Test module arrives at its performance measurements, we'd encourage you to read pages 35 and 36 of the white paper.

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com

We really like PCMark Vantage's HDD Performance for its real-world application measurement approach to testing.  From simple Windows Vista start-up performance to data streaming from a disk drive in a game engine and video editing with Windows Movie Maker, we feel confident that these tests best illustrate the real performance profile of our SSDs in an end user/consumer PC usage model.

The first round of PCMark Vantage tests doesn't reveal anything new. The SandForce drives continued to perform similarly with the OCZ Vertex 2 showing slight leads in a couple of tests, but all of the differences between the SandForce drives are well within the margins of error for these tests. The JMicron based Patriot drive, however, can't match the performance of the others.

Once again, the new 128GB drives from OCZ and Corsair perform almost identically to their 100GB counterparts.

 

Transparent
PCMark Vantage (Cont.)

Our next series of Vantage tests will stress the write performance. Applications like video editing, streaming and recording are not what we would call a strong suit for the average SSD, due to their high mix of random write transactions.  We should also note that it's not so much a weakness of the memory itself, but rather the interface and control algorithms that deal with inherent erase block latency of MLC NAND flash.  SSD manufacturers are getting better at this, as is evidenced by our results below...

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com

We saw more of the same in the remainder of the PCMark Vantage tests. The SandForce based drives continue their strong performance here, with little to separate the OCZ, Corsair, and OWC drives. And the 120GB offerings continued to perform just like the 100GB drives.

Transparent
Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Due to the similarities between the SandForce based drives, i.e. the OCZ Vertex 2, Agility 2, Corsair Force F100, and the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro RE, they all performed at essentially identical levels, in the vast majority of the tests we ran. Despite the firmware limitations imposed on the Agility 2 and OWC Mercury Extreme drives, they performed similarly to the other SandForce based drives in every test, except for CrystalDiskMark, where their random 4K writes (QD32) were about 2.4x lower. Comparing the SandForce and JMicron based drives showed the SandForce drives with measurable performance advantages across the board, save for some sequential read tests where the JMicron based Patriot Zephyr drive put up the best scores.

Now that we know all of the SandForce based drives perform similarly in most workloads, despite their firmware differences, and that the JMicron based drives don't offer the same kind of performance, it's time to discuss pricing.

All of the SandForce based drives we looked at offered the exact same usable capacity--93.16GB. The Patriot Zephyr, however, offered 119 usable gigabytes. These are important numbers to keep in mind, as we explain the chart below:

 

 

At the current time, the OCZ Vertex 2 and OWC Mercury Extreme Pro RE are available for the same $399, which equates to a cost of $4.28 per gigabyte. The Corsair Force Series F100 drive is harder to find at the moment, but they can be found for $359, or $3.85 per gigabyte. The OCZ Agility 2 comes in with the lowest cost of the SandForce based drives at $349, or $3.74 per gigabyte. Which brings us to the Patriot Zephyr, which can be had for a relatively low $3.06 per gigabyte.

Update 6/25/2010: Since this article was originally published, the cost of the 100GB SandForce-based drives has dropped considerably, if there are available at all. The newer Corsair Force F120 and OCZ Vertex 2 120GB drives have replaced the 100GB models at all of the on-line retailers we've checked, and at somewhat lower price points. The Corsair Force F120 is available for $349, or $2.93 per GB, while the OCZ Vertex 2 120GB can be had for about $354, or $2.97 per GB. At these lower price points, considering their performance, these drives are both excellent choices for enthusiasts looking to make the move to an SSD.

Taking all things into consideration, the Corsair Force Series and OCZ Agility 2 drives would be our preferred all-around choices, for obvious reasons. The Corsair F100 offers better overall performance than the Agility 2 thanks to its firmware, but the latter is the most affordable SandForce based drive of the bunch and its performance is also excellent. With that said, we have absolutely no problem recommending any of the drives we've tested here. All of the drives performed extremely well and will be a significant step up from any standard hard drive. Although its performance wasn't on-par with the others, the Patriot Zephyr offers roughly 28% more capacity with by far the lowest cost per gigabyte of the bunch. What we're getting it is that each of the drives represented here has its merits and all are solid products.



Corsair Force Series F100 / F120
OCZ Agility 2
OCZ Vertex 2 120GB



OCZ Vertex 2
OWC Mercury Extreme Pro RE
Patrior Memory Zephyr



Content Property of HotHardware.com