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Second-Gen SandForce: Seven 120 GB SSDs Rounded Up

A Lot More SandForce

If you're on a limited budget, there are ways to take advantage of the benefits of SSDs without breaking the bank. Platforms like Intel's Z68 Express pave the way for SSD caching. The caveat is that a good SSD delivers incredible read and write performance. Caching only really exposes the solid-state technology's advantage in read speed, though. Because data must be kept synchronized between the SSD and hard drive, writes hover around the disk's best effort instead. That's why we consistently recommend you manage your storage space manually. The ideal setup involves a large-enough SSD for your OS and apps, while a separate hard drive is used to store all of your movies, music, and pictures. But what's a "large-enough" SSD?

A 64-bit copy of Windows 7 consumes nearly 16 GB. With Office 2010, Photoshop CS5, WinRAR, Adobe Acrobat, Crysis 2, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 all installed, you're looking at more than what a 90 GB SSD can handle. If you want to enjoy the performance of an SSD without sweating capacity (and not fall back on caching), you should make 120 GB your target instead. 

Regardless of the vendor from which you buy your drive, today's most popular performance-oriented SSDs are powered by controllers from either Intel, Marvell, or SandForce. The first two sit at the heart of Intel's SSD 320 lineup, the SSD 510 family, and Crucial's m4 portfolio (we have a top-to-bottom exploration of the m4 coming up soon). Everything else seems to be driven by SandForce's logic. The company partners with a number of different vendors that leverage its technology, making it relatively easy to set up a roundup of SSDs based on the newer SF-2200 controller.

Keeping It Real

Now, here's the thing. When we review new SSDs, most vendors want to ship us the fastest model available, which is usually in the 240 GB range, with 256 GB of raw NAND flash. Unfortunately, those drives are also prohibitively expensive for most enthusiasts. They're also not representative of the performance offered by smaller drives. The ones most folks end up buying when they shop for SSDs. 

And so we sent out invitations to all of SandForce's partners, seeking 120 GB models that we knew would be more realistic to power users trying to divide up budget between fast processors and capable graphics subsystems. The seven drives in today's roundup represent a response from almost every single one. Notably missing are Kingston, which isn't quite ready with its drive yet, and OWC, which turned down our request for a 120 GB sample.

The drives that remain fall short of the performance specifications presented in OCZ's Vertex 3: Second-Generation SandForce For The Masses. However, there's no question that these 120 GB versions are still super-fast. How, exactly, do five different companies differentiate drives based on the same controller hardware? It all comes down to NAND technology and firmware. Here's what we're working with today:

BrandAdataCorsairMushkinOCZOCZOCZPatriot
ModelS511Force 3Chronos DeluxeVertex 3Agility 3Solid 3Wildfire
Capacity120 GB
Sequential Write510 MB/s490 MB/s515 MB/s500 MB/s475 MB/s450 MB/s520 MB/s
Sequential Read550 MB/s550 MB/s560 MB/s550 MB/s525 MB/s500 MB/s555 MB/s
4 KB Random Write (Max)80 000 IOPS80 000 IOPS90 000 IOPS85 000 IOPS80 000 IOPS20 000 IOPS85 000 IOPS
Price$240$210$284$240$200$200$300
  • 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