Differentiating With Marvell's SSD Controllers
Aside from Intel and Samsung, most SSD vendors employ storage controllers from either Marvell or SandForce. Developing the logic necessary to drive a solid-state drive at high performance in all relevant workloads without compromising data integrity is not an easy task, and buying the hardware directly from Marvell or SandForce lets new players participate in the market with a much smaller investment and compete aggressively.
Adopting a turnkey solution also makes it a lot more difficult to stand apart, though. As we found in Ten 60 GB SandForce-Based Boot Drives, Rounded-Up, there are a number of brands selling comparable SSDs, but most of them perform pretty much identically.
Unlike SandForce, Marvell gives its partners the option to license its controller firmware framework, which then gives vendors the option to lean on Marvell's reference design or optimize, facilitating differentiated solutions. OCZ seems to have taken that flexibility to an extreme in its Vertex 4, which operates at higher frequencies than Marvell's design and purportedly employs a heavily-modified firmware. You can read more about that particular implementation in OCZ Vertex 4 Review: A Flagship SSD Powered By...Indilinx?.
Of course, getting more heavily involved in modification means we're no longer talking about turnkey SSDs that perform similarly. Yay. That should make for a more interesting session of benchmarking, at least. Considerable development resources must be devoted to fully validating drive performance and endurance, creating unique or compelling features, and establishing the differentiation needed to make an SSD stand out from the rest of the pack.
Requiring that extra effort probably helps explain why there are fewer Marvell-based SSDs than there are from SandForce. And now that the SSD 510 is no longer with us (Intel SSD 510-Series 250 GB Review: Adopting 6 Gb/s SATA), making room for the newer SSD 520 (Intel SSD 520 Review: Taking Back The High-End With SandForce), we can no longer count Intel as a member of that fairly exclusive group of contenders.
Among the remaining guard, we have Corsair, Crucial, Plextor, and of course, OCZ.
We rounded up several Marvell-based SSDs to (hopefully) divulge how they differ. We're throwing in a SandForce-based OCZ Vertex 3 120 GB for comparison, too. The round-up is limited to 64 GB and 128 GB drives, two of the most popular capacities. Hopefully, our results help guide you in the direction of the most cost-effective Marvell-based SSD for your PC.
On deck, we have:
- Corsair Performance Pro 128 GB (CSSD-P128GBP-BK)
- Crucial m4 64 GB (CT064M4SSD2)
- Crucial m4 128 GB CT128M4SSD2)
- OCZ Octane 128 GB (OCT1-25SAT3-128G)
- Plextor M3 64 GB (PX-64M3)
- Plextor M3 128 GB (PX-128M3)
- Plextor M3 Pro 128 GB (PX-128M3P)
Beyond modifications to the way the controller logic operates and firmware-based optimizations, vendors are also able to differentiate their drives through the use of three memory interfaces. We've talked about this in the past; however, leaning on Toggle-mode, synchronous ONFi, and asynchronous ONFi flash affects performance (and pricing) in a number of ways. To be sure, we'll be keeping an eye out for that.
Corsair and Plextor position their SSDs to attract enthusiasts willing to spend a little more, justifying their use of Toggle-mode NAND. Meanwhile, Crucial and OCZ both lean on familiar Synchronous ONFi flash from IM Flash Technologies.
|Corsair Performance Pro 128 GB||Crucial m4 64 GB|
|Plextor M3 64 GB||Crucial m4 128 GB|
|Plextor M3 128 GB||OCZ Octane 128 GB|
|Plextor M3 Pro 128 GB||Row 3 - Cell 1|