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Second-Gen SandForce: Seven 120 GB SSDs Rounded Up

Final Words

Most of us can't afford the highest-performance SSDs with 256 GB or more of flash memory. But that doesn't mean a smaller, slower solid-state device has to necessarily disappoint you, especially compared to a conventional hard drive-based setup. To the contrary, even an entry-level SSD is going to feel substantially faster.

Case in point: OCZ's 120 GB Agility 3 delivers 3.5x the performance of what you'd get from a 2 TB Barracuda XT, according to our Storage Bench v1.0. Spending more than twice as much on the 240 GB Vertex 3 yields two times the capacity, sure, but it only gets you 5.5x the performance of a desktop hard drive. That's hardly what we'd consider a quantum leap, though it's a nice perk to buying a larger SSD.

The real trick is balancing solid-state and mechanical storage. Let's face it. Buying enough capacity for an SSD-only storage setup is a great way to miss a mortgage payment. Most enthusiasts' music and movie libraries edge up into terabyte territory, making conventional hard drives much more economical for that sort of user data. Install your operating system and applications to the flash drive for optimal performance, and kick everything else down to a 1.5 or 2 TB disk. So, we've established that you don't need a massive (budget-busting) SSD to really enjoy the technology. In fact, we're going so far as to recommend 120 GB as a solid buy-in point for anyone interested in a solid system drive. 

As we've just seen though, even when you're talking about seven drives all based on the same controller, performance and pricing vary pretty significantly. There's the issue of memory type to consider, plus the firmware modifications each company makes. To that end, you're going to get the best transfer rates out of SF-2200-based drives matched up to synchronous ONFi 2.x-compliant NAND or Toggle Mode DDR memory. Patriot's Wildfire and Mushkin's Chronos Deluxe demonstrate the absolute pinnacle of what SandForce's newest controller can do when matched up to Toggle Mode flash. These are easily the two fastest 120 GB SSDs we've ever tested.

Unfortunately, then we turn to pricing. The Chronos Deluxe and Wildfire each command a hefty price premium over the models armed with asynchronous NAND, while delivering less than 20% additional performance. The synchronous ONFi 2.0-compliant memory from IMFT is a little slower, but it's also clearly cheaper, based on the prices of Adata's S511 and OCZ's Vertex 3. That helps explain why OCZ's high-end offering is only $30 richer than the Agility 3 and $60 less expensive than the Wildfire and Chronos Deluxe.

As of right now, OCZ's Solid 3 uses the same memory configuration as its Agility 3, which means the two drives perform differently due to firmware implementations. We're told this is intentional, and that OCZ plans to drive down SSD prices in the future by integrating cheaper memory still capable of enabling the Solid 3's more entry-level performance specifications. Right now, the Solid and Agility drives are priced very similarly, but we're looking forward to a day when 120 GB SSDs will sell for well under $200.

Second-gen SandForce-based SSDs are by no means perfect (as we've seen based on dissimilar issues from both Corsair and OCZ), but they are still some of the best-performing drives that you'll find for the dollar. Our 120 GB recommendation goes to the Vertex 3. It costs 20% more than the Agility 3 at the same capacity, but its price scales with performance, as you can also look forward to getting 22% more performance (at least in our Storage Bench v1.0 benchmark).

BrandAdataCorsairMushkinOCZOCZOCZPatriot
ModelS511Force 3Chronos DeluxeVertex 3Agility 3Solid 3Wildfire
NAND TypeSyncAsyncSyncSyncAsyncAsyncSync
Capacity120 GB
Price$239.99$209.99$283.99$239.99$199.99$199.99$299.99
  • dauthus
    The Corsair force series 3 drives should be instantly disqualified due to BSoDs etc. Go look at their reviews on newegg, it is horrifying.
    Reply
  • garage1217
    Nice review. You left out the corsair Force GT 120gb however which would have compared equally to the vertex as other sites have scored it. Also I own one, it ROCKS.

    On the force 3, it got horrible reviews because of a production issue. Corsair issued a full recall and now the issues with that particular drive have been cleared up which is why it was not disqualified. Very old news.
    Reply
  • dauthus
    On the force 3, it got horrible reviews because of a production issue. Corsair issued a full recall and now the issues with that particular drive have been cleared up which is why it was not disqualified. Very old news.

    You are wrong sir.
    Reply
  • gregzeng
    Googling told me that SSDs are almost impossible to use with Linux (EXT4). My netbook & notebook drives are in MS NTFS-COMPRESSED partitions (not Linux NTFS-4G, 'cos no compression). MS claims compressions has 'negligible' speed costs. Is that true, for about twice then storage space?
    Reply
  • mayankleoboy1
    why not include the max iops editions?
    anands benchies showed that 120gb vertex3 max iops ~= 256gb vertex 3 for quite a less price
    Reply
  • Hellbound
    This article mentions installing the OS and applications to SSD, and the rest (movies, music) to conventional hdd's. But I'm not sure how to do that. I've google'd it and there are many suggestions how to do it. I would like to know the best way to go about this.
    Reply
  • whysobluepandabear
    HellboundThis article mentions installing the OS and applications to SSD, and the rest (movies, music) to conventional hdd's. But I'm not sure how to do that. I've google'd it and there are many suggestions how to do it. I would like to know the best way to go about this.WTF?

    Step 1.) Install SSD.

    Step 2.) Install OS on SSD and everything you want to access and run quickly.

    Step 3.) Install HDD.


    Step 4.) Send files to E, F, G, H, I, J or whatever drive the HDD is. Performance orientated apps go to the C, or whatever drive your SSD is.


    It's literally no different than if you were to plug in an external HDD via USB. You direct files and applications as accordingly.

    We'll dismiss the Z68 - which allows you to use a small SSD to boost your normal HDD - otherwise if your SSD is large enough, it's actually a worse route, and just instead use the SSD.
    Reply
  • flong
    This is a superb review because it deals with real-world performance. I commend Tom's for providing a thorough review - one of the most thorough that I have read on any computer site. Tom's is right, the 120 GB size SSD is the sweet spot in SSD drive performance Vs cost.

    If you read similar reviews on other sites, the Patriot Wildfire, The Corsair Force 3 GT and possibly the OCZ Vertex 3 are the top performers in the 120 GB drive performance. The Wildfire uses 32 NM Toshiba toggle flash memory which is the best. The Force 3 GT uses 25 NM memory but somehow manages to keep up with the Wildfire. Note this is not the Corsair Force 3 listed in this review, it is the Corsair Force 3 GT - emphasize the GT. The GT and the wildfire are the two fastest 120 GB drives available right now based on real-world performance benchmarks.

    The real important benchmarks to watch for are the real-world benchmarks at the end of each review. These really are the only ones that count. The other benchmarks are synthetic and they are not very accurate. The OCZ drives win all of the synthetic benchmarks but their real-world performance falls behind the Force GT and the Wildfire.

    Another critical factor is that "fill-rate" performance of the drives. This is the performance of the drives as they fill. Again, the Wildfire and the Force GT rise to the top with the Vertex 3 coming in third place.

    This review lists the Mushkin as a top performer, but it is not listed in many reviews (none that I have read) and so I have not included it in my comments. It is possible that this is a top performer also but I would like to read other reviews about it to confirm.
    Reply
  • Same thing with OCZ, to be honest. They got an error rate of 33% over at Newegg. Honestly I won't buy a single drive from them, no matter how fast, until they've fixed their issues that have lasted for two bloody generations.

    Crucial m4 for performance and Intel 320 for value is the best.
    Reply
  • compton
    HellboundThis article mentions installing the OS and applications to SSD, and the rest (movies, music) to conventional hdd's. But I'm not sure how to do that. I've google'd it and there are many suggestions how to do it. I would like to know the best way to go about this.
    Besides just manually managing your files on the HDD, there is another method you can use. It's more complicated to set up, but if you can google and follow directions, you'll find it may be easier.

    With Windows 7 you can basically take your "My Documents" folder (the \Users\ stuff) and symbolically link the folders to the mechanical HDD. Everytime an application wants to save to one of your document folders, which would otherwise be on your system drive (in this case a SSD) will just end up on the HDD. From a file management perspective, you may find it easier.

    I do it manually -- just install Windows, Office Pro 2010, Pantone, Google Chrome, iTunes, ect. to the SSD. All of my music, movies, backups of my SSD (I'm only using about 22GB of my Intel 510's 111GB) end up on the HDD. My Steam folder is about 200GB as well, so it goes on the HDD.

    You just have to do stuff like change iTunes folder in advanced options to the folder on the HDD. It's really easy to do. That way, when I want to use another SSD, I have all the Steam games and media on the HDD. Fresh installs are really easy this way.

    I tried installing some of my games on a few of the SSDs I own. Some games can really benefit, but mostly the increase in speed over a fast HDD isn't worth it.

    I bought an original WD Raptor 36GB drive in 2003 that I used for many years, so I was completely comfortable trying to manage the stuff that ends up on my HDD. I ended up moving from a 60GB SSD to a 120GB SSD that is faster but I just can't bring myself to put much on it.
    Reply