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Adata Premier Pro SP920 SSD: From 128 To 1024 GB, Reviewed

Adata Premier Pro SP920 SSD: From 128 To 1024 GB, Reviewed
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Adata shifts away from SandForce in its Premier Pro SP920 SSD family. With promises of incredible performance and spiffy features like DevSlp, Adata's latest employs the Marvell controller we saw in Crucial's M550. But the two share quite a bit more...

Adata is one of several solid-state storage purveyors in somewhat of a bind. These companies, SandForce partners all, are currently facing a problem: the next-generation controller is late. Like, super-late. If you're Adata, relying on SandForce's turnkey controller and firmware combination, no new architecture means no new products.

The last time we checked, SF-3000-series silicon was scheduled to ship in the fall. Now it's looking like we might have to wait until 2015. The hardware is real. And it's fast, from what we've already seen. But it's not yet ready to sell. 

So, what do you do if you're Adata?

You start looking for something to fill the gap, particularly in the retail space (OEM sales aren't as sensitive to the typical consumer mentality). Us enthusiasts are all about higher-end specs and lower price tags. But we also tend to track the perception of brands. And Adata certainly doesn't want to fall off the face of the planet. Maintaining a presence is important, and that's hard to do without a compelling product receiving attention.

That's why Adata needs this new Premier Pro SP920. Without a new LSI SandForce-based product to wedge into its line-up, the company was looking for something fast and fierce to introduce, keeping the brand relevant in an always-evolved storage market.

But First, A Little History

In August of last year, I had the opportunity to walk the exhibit floor of Flash Memory Summit 2013. There was one constant amongst the big SandForce partners: a lack of upcoming products rocking new silicon. At LSI's Accelerating Innovation Summit, some of those same vendors had prototype SF-3000 based drives on display. Even then, we knew the next-gen controller still wasn't ready. And you know what? That's fine. If the company needs more time to iron out firmware kinks and optimize some corner cases, we're not going to complain.

But a partner like Adata might. The same for Mushkin or PNY. SandForce became the processor of choice for much of the SSD industry, and if you're only selling LSI-based drives, you have to take the lean times with the fat. Now is one of those lean times, which is why Adata is introducing the SP920, a product not based on SandForce technology.

You won't see the SP920 in mSATA or M.2 form, nor will it be an OEM product. It's retail-only, making it a product built for you, the enthusiast reading Tom's Hardware.

All of this would be business as usual, except for a curious turn of events that started when Adata delayed the SP920 for a few weeks. Then, we published The Crucial M550 SSD Review: Striking Back With More Performance. And as soon as the virtual ink dried, we received Adata's drives. Coincidence? Not exactly...

Adata SP920

128 GB
256 GB
512 GB
1024 GB
Controller
Marvell 88SS9189-BLD2
Form Factor/ Interface
7 mm, 2.5" SATA 6 Gb/s
NAND128 Gb density, Micron 20 nm L85A ONFi, 200 MT/s
NAND Part
MT29F128G08CBCABH6MT29F256G08CECABH6MT29F512G08CKCABH7
DRAM
Micron LPDDR3 128 MB
Micron LPDDR3 256 MBMicron LPDDR3 512 MB
Micron LPDDR3 1024 MB
Max Seq Read/Write (MB/s)
560 / 180
560 / 360
560 / 470
Max 4 KB Read/Write (IOPS)
80,000 / 45,000
96,000 / 80,000
98,000 / 88,000
Price
$90
$169
$335
$530
Warranty3 Years

So, here's the line-up. As with Crucial's just-reviewed M550, the Marvell 9189 controller make another appearance. Notice also that all four drives use IMFT L85-series NAND. In fact, if you read my M550 review, you're probably seeing a lot of similarities.

One notable difference is that Crucial's M550 uses 64 Gb die to bolster performance via interleaving in its 128 and 256 GB capacities. Adata's comparable models use 128 Gb NAND, though, halving the number of dies and conveying specifications that look a lot more like the M500 as a result.

Adata includes a 7 mm-to-9 mm spacer and a 3.5\Adata includes a 7 mm-to-9 mm spacer and a 3.5" sled for desktop installs

Inside The Adata SP920

Here's where the story gets more complicated. Normally we'd show you some interior shots of the drive's internals and proceed on to our performance-oriented evaluation. However, we have to pull up short and point out the striking similarities between the SP920 and Crucial's M550.

We begin with the least-functional part of the SSD, its chassis.

Surprise! That's actually the enclosure shot from my M550 piece. Why is it here? First, because I took a fairly nice photo, if I may say so. Also, the SP920 and M550 have this component in common, right down to the production line QR code and pink gap pads. And that's not all they share.

Inside, we find a PCB that also looks familiar. This 512 GB SP920 hosts eight packages of Micron MT29F256G08CECABH6-10:A. That's a mouthful, but it means we're looking at 20 nm NAND sporting two dies per package, along with two chip enables per. Add that up, and we get 32 GiB per package, totaling 256 GiB on each side, and 512 GiB total. For those of you keeping score at home, Crucial's 512 GB M550 also uses this flash, though Micron's abbreviated part code on the package itself is slightly different. This flash can operate synchronously or asynchronously, and is purported to operate at just 200 MT/s. 

Flip the drive over and things get even spookier. There are the other eight packages, plus Marvell's 9189 controller and Micron's low-voltage LPDDR3 (512 MB, in this capacity). The new processor offers improved DevSlp and idle state power draw, but also bumps up bandwidth.

Also present are capacitors to help enable power-loss protection. Again, where have you seen this before?

It's time to stop being coy and just come out with it: Adata's Premier Pro SP920 is not the company's own design. Of course, it isn't 2009 anymore, and we tend to expect more in the way of innovation from new products. But a lot of companies have been down this road before, and in Adata's case, it's probably a smart decision.

Why? Well, although Adata has experimented with non-SandForce-driven SSDs before, this time it needed something fast, and building a new storage product takes time. Adata has extensive production and engineering capabilities. But taking a processor like Marvell's 9189, building up a PCB, and optimizing a firmware doesn't happen overnight. The company had to find a stopgap quickly, so it took drastic measures and adopted the sexy-hot Crucial M550 platform. How can I be so sure? Great question...

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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