Hyundai Sapphire Low-Cost SSD Review

We've discussed DRAMless SSDs for the last few years, but they are finally coming to market. If you've cruised Newegg's SSD section in the last couple of months, the 240GB Hyundai Sapphire stood out. It's the lowest-priced 2.5" 256GB-class SSD on the market, and at $50, it sells for $20 less than other products. We stumbled across Hyundai at CES and quickly arranged for a sample.

The NAND fabs dream of the day when flash is a part of every OEM system. CPU performance, the amount of system memory, and storage capacity are the big three marketing points for desktop PCs. Flash has gained market share in notebooks, but the percentage of desktops shipping with SSDs is still abysmal. It's a hard sell to convince a casual user to pay more for 256GB of flash than they would pay for a 1TB HDD. It will be easier to market solid-state drives as more casual users become aware of the benefits, but that doesn't mean they will pay significantly more for the technology in a low-cost notebook selling at a large retailer. 

In 2015, we learned that OEM system builders had asked the SSD industry to deliver 256GB SSDs in volume for $30 to $40 per unit. At that price, the system builders can promote flash without adding to the cost of the system. In a market where margins are less than $100 per system, any added expense cuts into the profit.

The solution is to streamline the entire SSD for the lowest price point, which begins with the controller. Products like the Samsung 850 series utilize 8-channel SSD controllers. Faster NAND propelled 4-channel controllers into competition with regular 8-channel SSDs, but with lower R&D and manufacturing overhead. Two-channel designs are the next phase. They take advantage of advanced manufacturing processes that include a small amount of SRAM memory inside the controller, which helps eliminate the need for DRAM.

Hyundai Technology is not the same company that builds automobiles, nor is it the previous parent company of Hynix. General Procurement, Inc. (out of Santa Ana, CA) licenses the Hyundai name. The company is new to flash-based products but also sells notebooks along with USB and SD cards. The company makes several general claims about the advantages of its solid-state drives over HDDs, like increased multitasking performance, energy efficiency, file transfer speeds (via Dynamic Write Acceleration), and reliability. Some of the claims don't line up with our initial DRAMless SSD findings.

Hyundai Technology offers both Cobalt and Sapphire SSDs. Both share the same product specifications and warranty information. There is very little data about either series on the website or Newegg's product page.

Specifications

Hyundai Technology lists the Sapphire in four capacities that range from 120GB to 960GB. To date, we've only spotted the Sapphire in 120GB and 240GB capacities.

The Sapphire 240GB sample we received uses the Marvell 88NV1120 controller. The controller is attractive to vendors because it's a DRAMless part designed to reduce manufacturing and component costs. The product page lists the NAND as 2D TLC / 3D TLC without any technical specifications. We suspect this drive will have a variable BOM (Bill Of Materials), so customers will receive "luck of the draw" components. 

On its website, the company lists the sequential read/write performance at 500/300 MB/s. Newegg lists the sequential write performance as 423 MB/s, slightly higher than the Hyundai website, but the retail package lists 430 MB/s. Random performance is not listed on either site or the package. To gain further insight into the Hyundai Technology Sapphire we turned to the Marvell website and our notes from a private meeting that took place in June 2015.

Marvell 88NV1120 Controller Features

The drive uses Marvell's ARM-based 88NV1120 2-channel dual-core controller. This is the first time we've tested the new Marvell controller. It's a fascinating part that can operate in either SATA AHCI mode or NVMe mode over a PCIe 3.0 x1 connection. The NVMe variant uses the 88NV1140 model name.

  • SATA 6Gb/s support
  • 2 channel / 4 CE
  • TA DevSlp support
  • Dual-core Cortex R5 CPU’s
  • Embedded SRAM with hardware accelerators to optimize IOPS performance
  • ONFI3 and Toggle2 NAND support
  • 3rd Gen LDPC NANDEdge error-correction: 15nm TLC and 3D NAND support using LDPC technology to boost endurance and reliability
  • BGA SSD and M.2/2.5 slim form factor support with thermal optimization and small package size
  • 28nm low-power CMOS process

Marvell’s specifications state the company designed the controller for Toshiba NAND, so the Sapphire most likely uses 15nm planar TLC. We've yet to see Toshiba's 3D NAND, called BiCS, in a consumer SSD. We do know that Apple uses the flash in the latest iPhone products. 15nm planar TLC costs less than BiCS, so the low price point verifies our assumption without a firm confirmation.

Pricing And Availability

The Hyundai Sapphire was sold out at the time of writing. Just a few days before, we found the 240GB drive at Newegg selling for roughly $55 and the 120GB model for roughly $40. The drive seems to come and go on Newegg regularly. That's to be expected given the low price point. The $71.99 OCZ TL100 240GB (another DRAMless product) is the closest non-refurbished 256GB-class SSD on Newegg.

Warranty And Endurance

Hyundai Technology covers the Sapphire with a five-year warranty. The company doesn't list any endurance specifications, and that may be something to worry about.

At Computex 2016, a flash controller manufacturer warned us about DRAMless SSDs shipping with low-endurance planar TLC NAND. 1xnm planar NAND has far less endurance than 3D NAND. The vendor told us that some of the new NAND only has 100 P/E cycles.

"Since they are designed for low-cost OEM systems they just have to survive the warranty cycle. In many cases that is one year."

Marvell's 3rd generation LDPC technology increases the endurance far beyond 100 program/erase cycles per cell, but if you write a lot of data, you will want to keep an eye on drive wear. Gamers with large Steam libraries that automatically update may be among the most susceptible. 

Monitoring endurance and other SMART attributes may be an issue with this drive. We couldn't find a single program that could read the amount of data written to the flash or the amount of data sent from the host. We tried CrystalDisk Info, SSD-Z, SSD Life, and HDD Sentinel. DRAMless SSDs may require more wear leveling, and they certainly increase the amount of write amplification because they only cache a small amount of flash translation layer on the tiny embedded SRAM. Without a monitoring utility, using this drive is like driving a car without a fuel gauge.

Product Packaging

Hyundai put together an attractive package for the Sapphire, but it lacks basics that we like to see, like warranty information. Nearly all these drives will sell through online retailers until Hyundai gains some brick and mortar exposure. Before that happens, retailers will step in and insist upon warranty information on the package. Many retailers have policies that require such information.

A Closer Look

The Marvell 88NV1120 2-channel controller is tiny compared to the 8-channel controllers we often test. A third party packaged the flash, so we don't get to see the Toshiba part numbers. There are four packages total, two on each side. The drive uses all four CE per channel for maximum performance in the 240GB capacity.

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  • AgentLozen
    This SSD seems to be competent enough in its price class. It's not something I would ever buy, but I can see it's appeal in low cost computers.

    I think I would feel better about this type of SSD in a year or two when 3D NAND phases out old planar stuff. By virtue of 3D memory's naturally high endurance and performance, this sort of SSD will become more desirable and less cringe worthy.
  • Sakkura
    Surprisingly acceptable performance, given that it's a DRAMless drive from an unexpected brand. I was afraid it was going to be even worse than Sandisk's low-end junk (Z410, SSD Plus), but I guess not.

    Too bad they can't keep it in stock at $50. Newegg saying sold out, with a $193 price tag. Otherwise it would be an easy recommendation for budget builds.

    I'd like to see a design like this at the 500GB capacity point. I feel like that's a much more comfortable capacity if it's going to be the only drive in a system. And an SSD-only system is the dream. A ~$100 price would make that viable even on a fairly restricted budget.
  • AgentLozen
    Sakkura said:

    I'd like to see a design like this at the 500GB capacity point. I feel like that's a much more comfortable capacity if it's going to be the only drive in a system. And an SSD-only system is the dream. A ~$100 price would make that viable even on a fairly restricted budget.


    I like the words you're typing.
  • DavidC1
    It's actually better to get a regular modern HDD. SSDs like this will feel fast for a bit but will screech to a halt. That's much worse than a constant chug.

    The steady state performance is the real performance. Few hundred IOPs aren't better than HDDs, without mentioning the more complete stops you'll notice with these kind of drives.
  • DavidC1
    "The Hyundai Sapphire provides inconsistent performance. In some application tests the drive performs well compared to the others, but in other tests, it falls well short of the competition."

    This is ridiculous. Most of the applications show less than 5% gain. I mean you are talking about saving 2-3 seconds at most.
  • Reaver192
    DAVIDC1, would you mind explaining further type of systems you have encountered this with? I have seen that problem when people use aftermarket SSD's on macbooks because trim cannot be automatically enabled, and has to be reset after each update manually so trim is off and the users are not aware of it which will slow the drive speed dramatically over time. Is it a situation like this that you're referring to? I have not noticed that issue with any of my builds and my current PC has had numerous games installed and uninstalled on it, with a mediocre SSD at best. I'm interested in avoiding the pitfall you have mentioned. Thanks
  • Gregory_3
    I'm surprised to see anyone still clinging to standard HDDs. I've been using multiple SSDs of various kinds for years, beginning with Intels. It's certainly possible to get along without them, but for serious gaming, they are absolutely essential in my view. If you computer is nothing more than an office tool, then the continued use of the HDD might make economic sense. But it won't be long before the prices eclipse and the whole matter will be settled.
  • 4745454b
    The read/write speeds of 500+/400+ seemed good, but all the rest of the tests showed it being much slower than the other drives. After looking at the first test I thought it might be a good drive, but now I wouldn't touch it.
  • raventothepowerofpi
    hdd's dont work if youre traveling though @davidc1
  • JimmiG
    Anonymous said:
    I'm surprised to see anyone still clinging to standard HDDs. I've been using multiple SSDs of various kinds for years, beginning with Intels. It's certainly possible to get along without them, but for serious gaming, they are absolutely essential in my view. If you computer is nothing more than an office tool, then the continued use of the HDD might make economic sense. But it won't be long before the prices eclipse and the whole matter will be settled.


    Well until you can buy 4 TB SSD's for under $200, I'll continue to "cling" to my HDD's.
  • 4745454b
    I use 4TB HDDs for mass storage. You don't need SSD speed for your music or itunes collection. Keep an SSD for OS and games, but you don't really need 4TB SSDs unless your steam folder is really that large.
  • Jeff Fx
    >It's a hard sell to convince a casual user to pay more for 256GB of flash than they
    would pay for a 1TB HDD.

    Not if they're Windows users. Let them try using Windows on a PC with Windows on an SSD, and they'll never be willing to put up with the sluggish UI of a hard-drive based machine again.
  • AcesB
    Its weird that nobody say a word about cache software, using RAM as L1 cache and optionally SSD as L2 Cache. This improves both IOPS and throughput to stellar performance level. I use 4GB RAM as L1 and half partition of a Sandisk SSD 240gb as L2. CrystalDiskMark shows Sequential (Block Size=128KiB) Read/Write as 8439MB/s and 7255MB/S; Random 4KiB Read/Write with multi Queues are 1038MB/s and 790/MBS. This are impossible number for any bare SSD.
  • Sakkura
    Anonymous said:
    The read/write speeds of 500+/400+ seemed good, but all the rest of the tests showed it being much slower than the other drives. After looking at the first test I thought it might be a good drive, but now I wouldn't touch it.


    It crushes the Z410 and SSD Plus in 4K random write, mixed sequentials, steady-state sequentials, and service times. I don't see how you can call it much slower than those drives.
  • asim1973
    You only need an SSD for the OS, for everything else including gaming a HDD is absolutely fine, had my laptop for 3 years and never had a problem with using HDD'S.
  • hellwig
    Is this the type of RAM-less SDD that has direct access to system RAM and stores the file tables there? Or are file tables directly read/written from/to the NVM? The former scares me, and I would never even consider it in a system that wasn't battery-backed. Based on some performance numbers, though, I assume it's the latter?
  • 4745454b
    Quote:
    It crushes the Z410 and SSD Plus in 4K random write, mixed sequentials, steady-state sequentials, and service times. I don't see how you can call it much slower than those drives.


    Again, it does good in the sequential read/write tests. I said as much in my first post. But every test after that has it down at/near the bottom of the pack. Random read? Dead last. Random write? Third place. 80% mixed? At nearly all queue depths it's dead last. And when it's not last it's still at the bottom. Two other tests that stood out were the Application Storage Bandwidth and battery life tests which showed it again, dead last. Considering how well it did with the sequential read/write tests I would have thought it would have done better with the other tests. But test after test had it bringing up the rear. I get that it's not a performance drive and I wouldn't expect it to be a leader everywhere. Just really odd to me that it reads/writes so well only to have it fail so bad at everything else. Hopefully a firmware update can fix this.

    I'm interested in these SSDs because I have performance SSDs for my OS. What I need is a large SSD for my steam folder. Something simple that can send the data to my system quickly. If I can get a large ~1TB drive that provides middle of the road speeds for my Steam folder at a much cheaper price than the Sumsung Evo's, etc then I'd be all over one. This article said they have a 960GB model, but if it performs this poorly then I'm passing.
  • Sakkura
    Anonymous said:
    Quote:
    It crushes the Z410 and SSD Plus in 4K random write, mixed sequentials, steady-state sequentials, and service times. I don't see how you can call it much slower than those drives.


    Again, it does good in the sequential read/write tests. I said as much in my first post. But every test after that has it down at/near the bottom of the pack. Random read? Dead last. Random write? Third place. 80% mixed? At nearly all queue depths it's dead last. And when it's not last it's still at the bottom. Two other tests that stood out were the Application Storage Bandwidth and battery life tests which showed it again, dead last. Considering how well it did with the sequential read/write tests I would have thought it would have done better with the other tests. But test after test had it bringing up the rear. I get that it's not a performance drive and I wouldn't expect it to be a leader everywhere. Just really odd to me that it reads/writes so well only to have it fail so bad at everything else. Hopefully a firmware update can fix this.

    I'm interested in these SSDs because I have performance SSDs for my OS. What I need is a large SSD for my steam folder. Something simple that can send the data to my system quickly. If I can get a large ~1TB drive that provides middle of the road speeds for my Steam folder at a much cheaper price than the Sumsung Evo's, etc then I'd be all over one. This article said they have a 960GB model, but if it performs this poorly then I'm passing.


    You are completely misrepresenting the facts. Sequentials? When the Sapphire gets 11,000 QD1 random write IOPS, and the Sandisk SSD Plus gets 496?
  • dorsai
    "You only need an SSD for the OS, for everything else including gaming a HDD is absolutely fine..."

    Seriously...gaming is THE reason to buy an SSD. Level load times on modern games are killer on an old school HDD's...I gave up running even 10k Raptors for SSD's about 4 years ago...
  • Brian_R170
    They've should've branded it as a Kia. Isn't that the low-end Hundai? :)