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GSKill Phoenix Pro: Little Drive, Lotta Performance
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Date: Aug 26, 2010
Section:Storage
Author: Joel Hruska
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Introduction & Specifications

SSDs account for just a fraction of the storage market in terms of units shipped, but high consumer interest and significant profit margins have brought manufacturers in droves. GSkill isn't exactly a newcomer to the field, but the sheer number of companies in the dogpile make it more difficult for any single manufacturer to win a definitive lead against the others, at least in terms of technology alone. Today we're reviewing GSkill's 60GB Phoenix Pro. This relatively diminutive drive is meant to offer enthusiasts an attractive balance between price and performance, but the Phoenix Pro is fighting to distinguish itself in a tight field.


The G.SKILL Phoenix PRO 60GB SATA II SSD

GSkill Phoenix Pro (60GB, SandForce 1200)
Specifications & Features
Max Read: up to 285MB/s
Max Write: up to 275MB/s
Random Write 4KB (Aligned): 50,000 IOPS
Seek Time: 0.2ms
Power Consumption:  Idle 3W, Active 8W
Operating Temp: 0°C ~ 70°C
Storage Temp: -45°C ~ +85°C
Shock Resistant up to 1500G
Included 3.5" Desktop adapter bracket
Compatible with XP, Vista, 7, and Linux (32 and 64-bit flavors)
MTBF: 2 million hours
3-Year Warranty


When it comes to the drive's specifications and included bundle, the Phoenix Pro has all the right stats in all the right places. The SandForce SF-1200 controller is the current industry favorite, the published read / write specifications line up with its competitors, and the three year warranty is up to par with what's generally available elsewhere. Included along with the drive is a small user manual booklet, a drive tray, a few screws, and the drive itself. Quick, clean, and simple. 
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Meet the Competition, Cost Analysis


Today, we're comparing GSkill's Phoenix Pro against a brace of three other drives, each of which use a different controller. Corsair's F100 (an over-provisioned version of the F120) shares the GSkill's SF-1200, while the Crucial C300 and Intel X25-M G2 utilize the Marvell 88SS9174 and Intel's own proprietary controller respectively.



The Marvell controller has only shown up in the C300 to date, and details on its design are hard to come by—Marvell doesn't list the controller or mention it on their website at all. Of the three, Intel is similarly mum about the specifics of its own technology. The X25-M's controller is the oldest of the three, but it was also one of the first to support TRIM and NCQ. While it should have no impact on performance, our tests were conducted using the second-generation 34nm 80GB drive.

Pondering the Phoenix Pro's Pricing

The chart below shows the cost-per-gigabyte based on current retail prices at NewEgg (unless otherwise stated).



When we checked on the C300's price and availability a few weeks ago, it was out of stock virtually everywhere and selling for $2.41/GB in the few places we found it. Now that the drive is back in stock, the price has come down slightly—at $2.29/GB it's the cheapest of our tested drives from a dollar per GB perspective. The Corsair F120 hasn't moved, but the Phoenix Pro is actually 25 cents more expensive than it was just a short time ago. The older Intel 80GB drive is the second-most expensive SSD despite its relative age; we'll keep an eye on how its performance scales against younger, feistier newcomers.

We tossed in two hard drives to give you an idea of the relative costs. Given the dirt-low price of 1TB drives, we expect an increasing number of enthusiasts will switch to relatively small SSDs augmented by large storage arrays. At the same time, however, WD's 600GB VelociRaptor—unquestionably the fastest hard drive on the market—is less than a fifth as expensive as the cheapest SSD on our list. This suggests that WD can continue to eke out profitable sales on its high-performance HDDs--there's still a substantial gap in price per GB.
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Test System, HD Tune

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 i5 Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Card -

Memory -


Audio -

Hard Drives -

 

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i5-750


Gigabyte GA-P55-UD3R
(P55 Chipset)


ATI Radeon 5970

6144MB Corsair DDR3-1066


Integrated on board

WD Caviar Black 1TB (OS Drive)
Crucial C300 120GB
 GSkill Phoenix Pro 60GB
Corsair Force 100GB

OS -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-


Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate
Intel 9.1.1.1025
DirectX 11

Catalyst 10.5

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

HD Tune 4.5
http://www.hdtune.com

Given the age and limitations of HDTach, we've elected to adopt HDTune in its stead. HDTune is capable of performing a wide variety of performance tests—far more than HDTach—and can also be used to measure file system performance.

HD Tune is a synthetic benchmark that only tests one particular type of read / write performance, so it's not a test we put tremendous weight on. Results here are a bit mixed; the Phoenix Pro outpaces our other SandForce drive's read performance, but is passed by both the Crucial C300 and Intel's X25-M. When it comes to write performance, the Phoenix takes first place by a hair.

One thing to watch in the other benchmarks is the disparity between the read/write speeds of Intel's X25-M and, to a lesser extent, Crucial's C300. Neither drive is the focus of this review, but the Phoenix Pro's performance highlights just how much write rates have increased in a short time.

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SiSoft Sandra 2010


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. Drives were erased prior to the run and tested in a non-partitioned state.

SiSoft SANDRA 2010
Synthetic Benchmarks

Sandra's sequential read/write tests tend to be higher than HD Tune's, and sometimes show a different pattern of results. Here, Crucial's C300's leads overall read performance, a whisker ahead of the other drives. The X25-M slips far to the rear When it comes to write rates, the Corsair F100 leads the GSkill by a some 14 percent. The C300 falls well behind the SandForce, but is still some 68 percent faster than the X25-M.

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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



The X25-M and the C300 tangle with each other  when it comes to moving very small amounts of data. At 2K and below, the Intel drive leads the C300 on read rates, but the C300's write speeds are significantly higher. In the end, the X25-M slips into third place in read performance and fourth place in writes.

The Phoenix Pro takes first place in both reads and writes, with the Corsair F100 in second and third place, respectively.

As we've seen in other tests, the performance delta in write rates is significantly higher than in read rates. In reads, there's just a 14 percent gap between the F100 and the Phoenix Pro. In writes, however, the Phoenix Pro is some 310 percent faster than Intel's X25-M. Even if we compare to the considerably newer C300, there's still an 88 percent difference between the two.

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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

In CrystalDiskMark, the Phoenix Pro, which was formerly tripping down the performance lane with the light step of an eight year old girl, flumps to the earth with the grace of a half-frozen manatee tossed from a helicopter. We ran HDDErase and retested the drive multiple times, but our numbers stayed consistent.

The Phoenix Pro's Sequential Read performance isn't bad—the C300 runs away with this one—but its Sequential Write speeds are barely faster than the Intel X25-M. We see this repeat in several other tests--the GSkill's write rate lags the F100, which also uses a SandForce SF-1200 controller, by nearly 33 percent in 512K blocks. It matches the F100 in 4K Read/Writes but falls behind again in 4KQ32 tests.

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PCMark Vantage


Next we ran the 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 GSkill Phoenix Pro stretches its wings in the mostly Read Performance dependent section of our Vantage test, though the X25-M gives it a run for its money on several occasions and the F100 is breathing down its neck.The gap between the two SF-1200 drives is virtually nil—but the GSkill Phoenix Pro still leads by a fraction.

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PCMark Vantage (Cont)


With the exception of the Application Loading benchmark, the next series of Vantage tests will stress 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.

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

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, but comparative results can vary widely.



The Phoenix Pro and F100 are again neck-and-neck here, but the C300 and the X25-M are actually the most interesting match-up in Vantage. While the Intel X25-M wins more tests, if we average out the performance delta between the two, the Crucial drive leads by 28 percent in its three wins while Intel leads by 32 percent in its five.

This actually highlights one of the enduring frustrations of SSD performance--it varies considerably depending on workload. One could argue that the SF-1200 controller actually improves on this trend, insomuch as drives based on it are unilaterally faster than either of the other two options.

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Conclusion


Performance Summary: The Phoenix Pro's cost-per-GB is higher than the other drives we tested, but it does a fairly good job of justifying the price premium by offering somewhat higher overall performance. We were particularly pleased with the drive's performance in PCMark Vantage's application suites—the F100 kept close pace, but the Phoenix Pro still led the results. Its performance in synthetic tests was somewhat dicier, particularly in CrystalDiskMark, where it was flatly pummeled by the Corsair F100 in several tests. Application tests, however, still count for more than synthetics in our book.

The value of the 60GB Phoenix Pro shifts somewhat depending on your primary concerns. If you're looking for an SSD in the $150 price range, don't need much space, and want an SSD that doesn't compromise on performance as some of the $100 models do, then the Phoenix Pro is a great buy. It's a purchase we'd recommend without hesitation.

If you're more concerned with price-per-GB and/or storage capacity, however, the Phoenix Pro is less attractive. It's the most expensive drive we evaluated in terms of $$$/GB, and 60GB is somewhat small for a boot drive these days. Both the Crucial C300 and the Corsair F120 offer compelling capacity/performance/price arguments; determining the "best" drive out of these options is a matter of personal taste and individual workload. Alternatively, there's the 120GB Phoenix Pro—we have not reviewed it, but it's currently in-stock at NewEgg for $289, or $2.41/GB. At that price, only the C300, at $2.29/GB, is cheaper.

It's not a drive that'll fit everyone's needs, but it's $150 price tag make it darned attractive if you can work within the 60GB confines.

 

  • High Performance
  • ~$150 price tag

  • High $$/GB Ratio
  • 60GB offers limited install space



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