Let's be honest, if you bring a product with the name "Ultimate" to market, it had better deliver. It can't be average, regular, or even mainstream. Most importantly, though, it had better not be sub-par.
Adata is one of the last remaining SSD manufacturers that still works with all of the controller and NAND flash manufacturers (other than Samsung). Over the last few years, many DRAM-turned-SSD companies have aligned with a single controller or flash manufacturer and continued to release cookie-cutter products using reference designs. In contrast, Adata doesn't like being in a box with limited options. Because of that, the company offers several different products that often overlap. When a new technology comes to market, Adata is often the first non-fab to bring it to market regardless of the original source of the components.
Adata's wide range of products is good for consumers, but there are negative aspects to the approach. The development cost of working with two or three NAND flash companies and a handful of flash processor designers is inevitably higher than working with a shorter list of partners. Over time, Adata has learned quite a bit by working with so many partners, so one project gives greater insight into how to approach the next. Sadly, everything has a starting point. The Ultimate SU800 is Adata's starting point with Micron's 384Gbit 3D TLC flash.
Our coverage of the Micron's first 3D-derived NAND hasn't been very promising. The large 384Gbit TLC die should have elevated SSD capacities. We often think about 4TB, and beyond, as a capacity expansion for consumer SSDs. No one expected it to be a jump from 1,000 GB to 1,050 GB. That is what Crucial's MX300 product delivered, along with a few other oddball capacities. Micron also paired the first generation 3D TLC flash with an entry-level 4-channel controller that amplified the poor latency of the flash. The performance cost of a few extra gigabytes of space was much more; I would call it a penalty. The MX300 was a sub-par product, but the company had already canceled one 3D NAND SSD (Ballistix TX3), and another would have been a disaster.
Building a product using IMFT's 3D NAND has proven to be challenging. Micron and Intel themselves have both released under-performing products using the technology, but to put it into perspective (but not to step on it), we are not just talking about below average.
Unlike the Crucial MX300, Adata chose to utilize the odd capacity TLC die a little differently. Adata used one-third of the capacity, essentially all of the extra space (128Gbit of the total 384Gbit die), to build a massive SLC buffer. That eliminates any capacity advantage, but it does give us a massive buffer that should (at least on paper) be very fast. We will have to see if the buffer is enough to make 384Gbit TLC fast enough for us to consider it “Ultimate.”
Adata plans to release the Ultimate SU800 in four standard capacities that range from 128GB to 1TB. The largest capacity has yet to ship in the channel. We have the three low-capacity drives to test and analyze.
A Silicon Motion, Inc (SMI) SM2258 controller with advanced Low-Density Parity Check (LDPC) code is at the heart of the Ultimate SU800. We tested this controller and flash combination in a technical preview article earlier this year. The technical preview delivers much more detail about the controller and its inner workings than this article. If the SSD manufacturer does not disclose the feature set, we try not to highlight the controller features that might be embedded in the retail SSD. Some controller features may be enabled even though the SSD maker hasn't released the information. On the other side of the coin, the vendor may have disabled some of the features, as well.
The Ultimate SU800 falls at the top of Adata's SATA product line and serves as the flagship even though it utilizes 3D TLC NAND flash. The sequential read performance reaches up to 560 MB/s, but the SSD only achieves a sequential write speed of 520 MB/s. The random performance peaks at 85,000/85,000 read/write IOPS on the 512GB model. The other capacities have slight performance variations.
- 3D TLC NAND Flash
- SMI controller
- Wide capacity range: 128GB to 1TB
- Advanced hardware LDPC ECC technology
- Intelligent SLC Caching and DRAM cache buffer
- DEVSLP (Device Sleep) supported
- High TBW for extended drive longevity
- Free software: SSD Toolbox
- Supports S.M.A.R.T, TRIM Command, NCQ, and Migration Utility
We spoke with Adata for more information about the one-third size SLC buffer. The company doesn't disclose the information on the official product page, or even mention the feature beyond a single bullet point that refers to it as "Intelligent SLC Caching." The Ultimate SU800 has the largest SLC buffer of any consumer SSD ever released. If the buffer is effective, the series should be very fast.
Pricing And Accessories
The Adata Ultimate SU800 sells at very attractive price points. The series starts out at just $59.99 (128GB), but we can't even begin to recommend that model when the 256GB drive sells for just $79.99. The 512GB drive offers the best value of the three, but the price increases to $139.99. This is where things become more difficult for shoppers, though. The Intel 600p 512GB NVMe SSD also retails for roughly the same $140 when it is on sale. In the Intel 600p review, we compared the drive to the absolute best SATA SSDs available in daily-use applications, and the 600p delivered slightly more performance.
Adata released a software package a few years ago and has steadily optimized it over the years. The SU800 works with the downloadable software and a custom version of Acronis True Image HD. You will need to make an account on Adata's website to download both.
Warranty And Endurance
The Ultimate SU800 ships with a 3-year warranty, which is common in the mainstream SSD market. Adata limited the warranty with an endurance cap that starts at 100TB (128GB) and doubles with each increase in capacity.
The SU800 ships in an attractive package, but don't expect too many extra parts. For what it's worth, the drive does ship with a 7mm to 9.5mm adapter. I really have to wonder what people use these for because I've yet to encounter a situation where one was absolutely required.
A Closer Look
This is a fairly new case design from Adata and it's difficult to get into. Half of the case is metal, and the other half is plastic. We only opened one of the SSDs because it required destroying the case.
The only real surprise we found in the drive came from the flash. There are six packages, much like the SM2258 sample we analyzed in the technical preview editorial.
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