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A Primer: The Art Of The Platform, SMART, And You

Adata Premier Pro SP920 SSD: From 128 To 1024 GB, Reviewed
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There are a couple of ways we can tell that Adata's SP920 shares more than its controller with Crucial's M550 if you don't want to dismantle your own SSDs.

Before I popped the top on our own samples, I thought to myself, "Oh, it looks like Adata leased Micron's firmware IP for the SP920." On the next page, you'll see that both drives use the same firmware revision, MU01. The M500 is up to MU03 MU05 now, but Crucial's M550 launched on MU01. That the SP920 employs similar nomenclature was the first real indicator of something amiss. And there's more to it than that.

You see, Marvell doesn't sell firmware. It simply sells its controllers. Whether Plextor, Micron, or SanDisk chooses to implement a feature is up to each company. Generally, that also means firmware has to be developed, creating a pretty big barrier to entry before you're able to take a Marvell-powered SSD and start selling it. For Adata to come out with something new from Marvell as it waits on LSI, and to do that quickly, required getting its hands on software that was fully-baked already.

And if the matching firmware versions hadn't tipped me off, there is another surefire way to know that two Marvell-based solutions are identical: SMART data.

Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology data is defined by the firmware architecture. If you want to track host LBAs written or power-on time, the firmware author has to enable that functionality. Since each Marvell-based implementation is unique, we see SanDisk using certain SMART attributes, while Plextor uses others. Sometimes they overlap; sometimes they don't. Micron's own implementation tracks RAIN activity. That is, if some flash fails, RAIN uses parity to recover the information that would have been otherwise unrecoverable. Marvell's newest controllers can use parity to protect against data loss as well, but RAIN is a beast of Micron's own creation.

So, when we see this, we know what's up:

SMART Attributes (Raw Values, Decimal)
Crucial M500 480 GB
Crucial M550 512 GB
Adata SP920 512 GB
01 Raw Read Error Rate
1
0
0
05 Reallocated Sector Count
1
0
0
09 Power On Hours
181
247
83
0C Power Cycle Count
50
23
16
AB Program Fail Count
0
0
0
AC Erase Fail Count
0
0
0
AD Average Block Erase Count
56
56
40
AE Unexpected Power Loss
36
17
12
B4 Unused Reserve NAND Blocks
8218
4403
4403
B7 SATA Interface Downshift
0
0
0
B8 Error Correction Count
0
0
0
BB Reported Uncorrectable Errors
0
0
0
C2 Temperature
171800002583
197570068506
180390133785
C4 Reallocation Event Count
17
16
16
C5 Current Pending Sector Count
0
0
0
C6 Smart Offline Uncorrectable Error Count
0
0
0
C7 Ultra DMA CRC Error Rate
0
3
1
CA Percent Lifetime Used
1
1
1
CE Write Error Rate
0
0
0
D2 Successful RAIN Recovery Count
346
0
0
F6 Total Host Sector Writes
26638204322
20741567941
15230511355
F7 Host Program Page Count
803332972
652193216
480081235
F8 FTL Program Page Count
1181515239
1240751859
724621376

I don't have a complete list of Micron's SMART data, but most attributes are carried over from previous models. Adata's SP920 isn't detected as exactly the same drive, so attribute names may vary based on the utility you use to view them. For example, Adata's own toolbox doesn't know the true names of each attribute. CrystalDiskMark has it mostly correct for the M500, and thus the M550 and Adata SP920. The raw values are don't change either way.

Some of these attributes are found in other drives as well. Some aren't. Intel's dalliance with Marvell's 9175 controller in the SSD 510 (a short-lived product that tided the company over until its SandForce-based solution was ready, oddly enough) featured Intel's own SMART attributes from the X25 days. And when the transition to SandForce silicon happened, those attributes followed.

So there it is. Had Adata used its own PCB and enclosure, we might not have stumbled upon this mystery. But we did, dug deeper, and the SMART data doesn't lie.

While we're here, though, let's make some observations. First, we're displaying raw decimal values. D2 is RAIN recovery count. The M550 and Adata SP920 both report values of zero. However, our 480 GB M500 didn't make it through the last year unscathed. I don't know exactly what that field represents. It could be a number of blocks, or actual data in KB or MB. Perhaps part of the flash went belly-up, prompting the drive to recalculate affected area values from parity.

And that's why it's good to have RAID support on Crucial's M550 and Adata's SP920. Micron was aggressive in transitioning to 128 Gb, 20 nm flash. While the process is much more mature today, we still like having a safety mechanism to protect our valuable information. The M500's parity ratio is 1:15, which is where the 480 GB capacity comes from. The M550 platform employs 1:127 parity to storage blocks, tying up a lot less of the drive's capacity. One gigabyte out of every 16 is reserved for RAIN on the M500. That's only one out of every 128 on the M550 and SP920.

I also love that Micron includes thorough write counter metrics. F6 is total host sector writes (think of this as the writes requested by the operating system in 512-byte sectors). Do the math for our 480 GB M500 and you get 12,702.09 GiB, or 26,638,204,322 sectors * 512 bytes each. Most drives expose this counter, and it's useful as a tool for calculating the beating a drive has endured.

Write amplification wears a drive down over time, reducing its performance. It's often a product of internal overhead, for example, shuffling a partially-filled block around during a program/erase cycle. This is normal. But it can greatly reduce the life of a client drive used for high-intensity write workloads, which is why enterprise-oriented SSDs are often substantially over-provisioned. The additional free space helps keep P/E cycles to a minimum.

We can see the result of that additional overhead through the F8 attribute, FTL program page count, which measures the number of 16 KB pages the controller has had to program. Our M500 went through difficult testing; I punished it over and over with long runs of full-span high-queue depth writes. Over its life, I've hit it with 18,028.50 GiB worth of page program operations. Compare that number to the host writes (12,702.09 GiB), and you can calculate that I've subjected the M500 to an extra 5300 GiB of shuffling and churning.

Display all 21 comments.
  • 0 Hide
    rolli59 , April 1, 2014 6:43 PM
    Would buy one in a heartbeat. Regardless of who makes them, nice move Adata.
  • 0 Hide
    blackmagnum , April 1, 2014 7:13 PM
    I prefer Sandisk, if you don't mind.
  • 1 Hide
    cryan , April 1, 2014 10:04 PM
    Quote:
    I prefer Sandisk, if you don't mind.


    The X210 is pretty awesome, but newer Marvell implementations are built with Haswell-style power features in mind. If you're looking for a drive to use in mobile applications, mind the heat and power consumption stats.

    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan
  • -2 Hide
    rajangel , April 1, 2014 10:51 PM
    Awhile back I purchased a few different SSD's to test out (OCZ, Crucial, Patriot, Adata). The Adata is the only one still running and was always the quickest. I don't know how this one is built, but the last Adata was built tough. The OCZ was so flimsy it felt like paper. The Crucial and the Patriot were slightly better in build quality. Now that I'm in the market for a new drive I may consider this.
  • 1 Hide
    cryan , April 1, 2014 10:54 PM
    Quote:
    Awhile back I purchased a few different SSD's to test out (OCZ, Crucial, Patriot, Adata). The Adata is the only one still running and was always the quickest. I don't know how this one is built, but the last Adata was built tough. The OCZ was so flimsy it felt like paper. The Crucial and the Patriot were slightly better in build quality. Now that I'm in the market for a new drive I may consider this.


    I have to say, the plastic or metal chassis a drive comes in doesn't mean much. In the lab, I like a nice heavy metal SSD casing, but in a laptop? You probably want a flimsy plastic chassis. It's not conductive and doesn't add much weight.


    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan
  • -2 Hide
    rajangel , April 1, 2014 11:01 PM
    It's a matter of opinion. I like things that are built well, and have a quality appearance. I think build quality does affect performance (read reliability). Especially when connectors/etc are cheap in construction. However, just my opinion.
  • 1 Hide
    cryan , April 2, 2014 12:44 AM
    Quote:
    It's a matter of opinion. I like things that are built well, and have a quality appearance. I think build quality does affect performance (read reliability). Especially when connectors/etc are cheap in construction. However, just my opinion.


    I agree that a substantial chassis tends to reinforce the perception of a drive's build quality, but much of the time its aesthetic. The component choice on the PCB speaks more to quality. I've seen some downright terrible drives in the fanciest of cases.

    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan

  • -4 Hide
    rajangel , April 2, 2014 3:32 AM
    I think there should be a restriction that prevents the article author from replying, unless there is a substantial mistake that was noted. I feel like tomshardware authors troll their own threads. This has become a problem lately. I'm at the point where I feel my business and time would be better spent on a real tech website. Tomshardware is like the Yahoo of tech sites lately.
  • 0 Hide
    iltamies , April 2, 2014 6:39 AM
    Typo on last page: "Adata gets a solid product able to soften the wait, and Micron (Crucial's parent company) gets to more more volume." should read "move more volume."
  • 0 Hide
    Wisecracker , April 2, 2014 6:45 AM

    Impressive ... power consumption is a bit high though, compared to the Samsung 120GB Evo (my current $80 fav)

    Are 'microseconds' considered 'milliseconds' ??
  • -1 Hide
    Pibee , April 2, 2014 7:26 AM
    Interesting review, sadly yet understandably reviews never examine the range issues that can arise in everyday usage, and consequently how something that begins relatively small can grow to be an absolute killer for what would otherwise be a good and very competitive product.

    Case in point. I read ADATA had released driver updates back in February. I have a SX 900 64G I use for benchmarking. After downloading and running the 525 FieldUpdater it was obvious that no matching driver was included in the newly released 525 driver update package I had downloaded despite the SX 900 being on the list.

    I emailed tech support and didn't receive a reply for 7 days despite the confirmation of receipt stating a response would come in 1 to 3 days. I did get a reply after a posting the issue to their Facebook page in which I was told "Please see the attached for the signature file you needed for the firmware update as it took us some time to obtain it from our headquarters"

    Indeed a matching 525 FieldUpdater driver had been included in this email and I installed it.

    The result was something to see, erratic and downright wonky, come to mind. A malfunction in the installation I presumed and so I downloaded the ADATA software suite SSD Tool which wouldn't and couldn't Security Erase the disk. Parted Magic was then installed and did the job allowing me to clean reinstall the driver I'd been emailed and hopefully resolve the erratic performance issue. In part it resolved erratic reads and writes but now every ATTO write above the 128k mark had lost 40% of its performance capability from the benchmarks using the previous driver.

    Support were emailed including ATTO screen captures, and their response was to send it back for replacement.
    _Wait a minute just sent me the old driver I stated in my response
    Can't "After consulting with our headquarters, it’s confirmed that once the firmware is updated, it cannot be removed or fallback to the older version".

    Having no choice I hinted that as this debacle had originated with them that an upgrade from 64G would be an appropriate compensation for the enormous waste of time, and additional costs I was incurring.


    The disk was packaged and insured then sent to ADATA for a cost of 20$ and it should be noted that locally this additional $20 represented the retail difference between a 64G and a 128G capacity.
    Tracking informed me ADATA received the disk in 5 days and later confirmed by them. Once the 3 to 5 days turn over stated by them came and passed and on day seven a status inquiry was sent and 6 hrs later, confirmation a package to me had been put in the hands of mail services.

    That was March 21 and I received the disk 11 days later April 1st in my snail mail box no signature required (a less scrupulous person could easily exploit that).

    The round trip experience total is six weeks with a dollar output of over 20% of the sticker price the disk was purchased for. Total time wasted on their error, fiddling with downloads installing and removing ADATA brand software that didn't accomplish the required tasks (additionally the Acronis suite that was packaged with the drive never successfully completed the key transaction on their site) research, installations removal... ya'll get the picture.

    Does the SX 900 perform well/competitively... all the published reviews and accompanying benchmarks hold true, so yes it's a cracker even in the 64G capacity.

    Would I recommend it?
    Only to a tech masochist with tons of time to waste as well a a few bucks.
    Now you have a more complete picture.
  • 0 Hide
    cryan , April 2, 2014 7:30 AM
    Quote:

    Impressive ... power consumption is a bit high though, compared to the Samsung 120GB Evo (my current $80 fav)

    Are 'microseconds' considered 'milliseconds' ??


    Remember (at least for idle) that these are active numbers. That is, the drive and host aren't collaborating to put the drive in a lower power state. In a mobile application, most every SSD is going to drop to lower sleep-state levels, but at the cost of higher latency when returning to idle. For the sake of consistent testing we choose to use active idle.

    Did we mix up our units somewhere?


    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan
  • 0 Hide
    sammyboi , April 2, 2014 8:23 AM
    "The M500 is up to MU03 now"you may want to update crucial fw from MU03 to MU05 as the latest fw
  • 1 Hide
    sammyboi , April 2, 2014 8:26 AM
    "The M500 is up to MU03 now"you may want to update crucial fw from MU03 to MU05 as the latest fw
  • 3 Hide
    Evolution2001 , April 2, 2014 1:24 PM
    Quote:
    I think there should be a restriction that prevents the article author from replying, unless there is a substantial mistake that was noted. I feel like tomshardware authors troll their own threads. This has become a problem lately. I'm at the point where I feel my business and time would be better spent on a real tech website. Tomshardware is like the Yahoo of tech sites lately.

    I disagree. I actually like seeing the authors chime in. I think it builds a better community as the authors seem more accessible and thus reliable and relatable.
    I also don't think Christopher Ryan is trolling in the strictest definition of the word; He's not trying to stir things up for the sake of starting a post war. He's simply continuing to give his opinion and replies in threads. Why should they not be able to make comments on articles they've written? It is expected that any knowledge they can impart to the community is considered of value, regardless if it's in the original article or in the comments section. I think there's also a potential consideration where maybe they have more to share, but due to time constraints or simply available space, they didn't say all they really wanted. So they chime in in the comments section. Kinda like the "extras" on a DVD or BR... "Oh, Director Commentary. Cool!"
  • 0 Hide
    Damn_Rookie , April 2, 2014 2:28 PM
    I agree with Evolution2001 above, I too like seeing the authors in the comment sections. It often leads to a greater insight into the topic, their take on things, and why they focused or didn't focus on specific things in the article. It's definitely a positive for me.
  • 0 Hide
    cryan , April 2, 2014 11:05 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    I think there should be a restriction that prevents the article author from replying, unless there is a substantial mistake that was noted. I feel like tomshardware authors troll their own threads. This has become a problem lately. I'm at the point where I feel my business and time would be better spent on a real tech website. Tomshardware is like the Yahoo of tech sites lately.

    I disagree. I actually like seeing the authors chime in. I think it builds a better community as the authors seem more accessible and thus reliable and relatable.
    I also don't think Christopher Ryan is trolling in the strictest definition of the word; He's not trying to stir things up for the sake of starting a post war. He's simply continuing to give his opinion and replies in threads. Why should they not be able to make comments on articles they've written? It is expected that any knowledge they can impart to the community is considered of value, regardless if it's in the original article or in the comments section. I think there's also a potential consideration where maybe they have more to share, but due to time constraints or simply available space, they didn't say all they really wanted. So they chime in in the comments section. Kinda like the "extras" on a DVD or BR... "Oh, Director Commentary. Cool!"


    I'm making an effort to try and encourage more discussion, which means becoming more active in the comment section. Previously, I tended to let them be. Now, I think I can increase the utility of the comments section over time by more active participation.

    As someone who used to read and post comments on Tom's as a reader, I always thought it was awesome that I had a place where I could interact with the author. I want to see more of that with my reviews, so my participation is the best way to make that happen.

    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan
  • 0 Hide
    Drejeck , April 3, 2014 5:40 AM
    i'd like to see more msata and m.2 offerings, sata3 just doesn't keep up anymore, it's getting obsolete even it's more than sufficient for 99% of the people
  • 0 Hide
    CaedenV , April 3, 2014 10:59 AM
    @rajangel You think that is trolling? You should see what Daniel Rubino does to readers over at WP Central. That is trolling at its finest and the community there is healthier for it. It helps keep ignorant morons who mistake aesthetics for reliability and performance in check so that the adults can hold more constructive conversation.
  • 0 Hide
    cryan , April 3, 2014 2:44 PM
    Quote:
    i'd like to see more msata and m.2 offerings, sata3 just doesn't keep up anymore, it's getting obsolete even it's more than sufficient for 99% of the people


    mSATA SSDs are still using the SATA 3.1 host spec, as are most M.2s. There are a few M.2 PCIe SSDs, but there are currently next to no applications for them. We have more M.2 and mSATA reviews on the way, so you should be able to judge for yourself.

    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan
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