At last! After many long weeks of work, here’s our new SSD report. For 2012, we have decided to focus on the flagship 120 and 128 GB models and limit our selection to SSDs with an SATA 6 Gbps/s interface. We have tested no fewer than seventeen models:
- Corsair Force 3
- Corsair Force GT
- Corsair Perf Pro
- Crucial C300
- Crucial M4
- Intel 330
- Intel 510
- Intel 520
- Kingston V200
- OCZ Octane
- OCZ Petrol
- OCZ Vertex 3 MI
- OCZ Vertex 4
- Plextor M3
- Plextor M3P
- Samsung 830
- Sandisk Extreme
We're also going to take the opportunity of going over numerous aspects of SSD technology. We hope you find the report of interest!
What is an SSD in fact?
First of all, and for those coming out of hibernation, here’s a little recap. An SSD (Solid State Drive) is a storage device made up of flash memory, as opposed to the magnetic platters used on standard hard drives (HDD).
There are numerous advantages to using SSDs over standard hard drives, the first being performance. In addition SSDs don't make the noise HDDs make and are resistant to knocks. Using them is transparent as far as the system goes, as they’re addressed like hard drives by the SATA controller.
The disadvantage with them comes from the fact that flash memory has a limited lifespan. MLC flash NAND can for example only be written to 3000 to 5000 times when engraved at 24-27nm or 10,000 times at 34-35nm. Fortunately this is compensated for by wear levelling algorithms that share the wear between the cells and completely resolve the issue of flash NAND lifespan, except if you’re rewriting your entire SSD every day, which isn’t of course standard usage.
The chips are also limited in terms of data retention, with a new cell only capable of storing data for ten years. This drops to one year at the end of the life of the drive. In practice and now that the technology has been around for four years, we can confirm that the confidence placed by manufacturers in the reliability of flash memory is justified.
What’s new since last year’s review
? After all the early activity, the world of SSDs seems to have calmed down a great deal and the flagship models of last year, such as the Crucial M4 and the OCZ Vertex 3, are still around.
Of course new models have also been released but, as we're already at the limit of what the SATA 6 Gbp/s interface will allow in terms of reads, they stand out mainly due to their higher write speeds, notably the smaller capacity models (Samsung 830 and Plextor M3P for example). Other manufacturers have focussed more on random accesses, reaching new records in this domain (OCZ Vertex 4).
Recent months have also shown us that no one is immune from firmware issues either. In August, Intel released a firmware for its 320 SSDs that aims to correct a bug that sometimes made the SSD unusable in the case of an unexpected power outage. In October SandForce brought out a new firmware to end the blue screen issues some users had when coming out of standby. In January, Crucial updated its M4 to deal with a bug that was causing a blue screen every hour after the SSD had been used for 5184 hours and Samsung put a firmware online for the Samsung 830, correcting an issue with a blue screen when coming out of standby. Note however that while this list may appear slightly alarming at first sight, we should say that these problems were not systematic. Thankfully, the great majority of users enjoy the use of their SSDs without coming across these problems!