Page 2:Technical Specifications
Page 3:Pricing, Warranty and Accessories
Page 4:A Closer Look
Page 5:Data Type Comparison
Page 6:Sequential Read
Page 7:Sequential Write
Page 8:Random Read
Page 9:Random Write
Page 10:Sequential 80 Percent Read Mixed Workload
Page 11:Random 80 Percent Read Mixed Workload
Page 12:Sequential Steady State
Page 13:Random Write Steady State
Page 14:PCMark 8 Real-World Software Performance
Page 15:Total Storage Bandwidth
Page 16:PCMark 8 Advanced Workload Performance
Page 17:Latency Test
Page 18:Notebook Battery Life
Page 19:Final Thoughts
Transcend's premium SSD offering consists of a custom Silicon Motion controller that enables encryption and DEVSLP, but questionable flash makes it a poor choice.
Transcend makes solid-state drives (SSDs) for both original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and channel customers. The SSD370 overlaps both groups and is the company's premium client SSD product.
The Transcend SSD370 appeared on my radar when I noticed the 512GB model selling for nearly the same price as Mushkin's Reactor SSD. The Reactor was our choice for the best value product in the 1TB capacity size, selling for significantly less than Samsung's 850 EVO until this month. We reached out to Transcend to get a few of the capacity sizes for testing, and the company came through.
The Transcend SSD370 is an odd product that ships in either a black plastic case or a brushed-aluminum case. Transcend doesn't specifically guarantee the flash used in the drive. We will talk about that issue later on in the review. Going into the review, we should focus mainly on the early facts: This is a low-cost SSD that sells with a decent accessory package and is widely available.
Transcend released the SSD370 in six capacity sizes that range from 32GB to 1TB. The two smallest sizes were left off the chart. They are intended for other roles, such as digital signage. We were surprised to see Transcend use the same model number for the smallest-capacity products.
Transcend didn't make it easy to find all of the product specifications. We tracked down a few documents and pieced together the above information. If you research the SSD370 model, you will quickly notice two different designs. Transcend made the SSD370 that we're testing today with a plastic case, but the company also offers a SSD370 model with an aluminum case. To spot the aluminum model while you're shopping, you need to look for the specific model number — TS512GSSD370 refers to the 512GB model we're testing today. Add an "S" on the end — TS512GSSD37S — and you have the silver brushed-aluminum model.
Controlling the drive is a Transcend TS6500 processor based on Silicon Motion's SM2246EN controller. Transcend added DEVSLP, a feature not always found on SSDs using the SM2246EN.
The NAND flash used in it is not as cut and dry. All but one unit shipped for review previously used genuine Micron Grade A flash. One reviewer in Russia received a drive with SpecTek flash, as we did on our 512GB sample. The SpecTek -AL flash is the Micron subsidiary's best NAND flash part, but it's not considered the same 20-nm 128-gigabit Tier 1 Grade A flash that Micron sells to customers or uses in-house. SpecTek sells Micron flash that often doesn't pass full performance or quality-control tests. At one time, OCZ Technology (prior to the Toshiba acquisition) shipped products with SpecTek flash, and other SSD vendors spoke up:
"When we took the cover off of this third, direct from OCZ SSD, we found a 'S' stamped over Micron logo on all the flash devices (see the image to the left). This indicates the device is 'off spec' product because it failed some parameter of Micron's full performance and/or quality specification testing. 'Off spec' memory is typically used in low-level applications such as toys, offering considerable cost savings over Tier 1 level to an SSD manufacturer." - Grant Dahlke, formally of Other World Computing (OWC)
The SpecTek 20-nm 128-gigabit part number we found in our SSD370 512GB sample is SpecTek's highest-grade offering. We still don't like seeing this flash used in products like SSDs where reliability trumps low cost. . Most users will not have an issue with it, but we were told by engineers in the industry that any part using this flash will have higher return merchandise authorization (RMA) rates than parts using Tier 1 Grade A flash. One SSD retailer we spoke with noted an increase in RMAs on products using less than Grade A flash. The difference is 1 in 300 products returned with Tier 1 Grade A flash, compared with 9 in 300 products returned using the lower-grade flash.
Our 256GB SSD370 sample did ship with genuine Micron 20-nm MLC flash. Given that nearly all of the reviewers have received Micron flash but products shipping in the wild are mixed, we can't say what flash you may receive in your retail product. Transcend never discloses which type of flash is guaranteed. This topic has come up with other low-cost SSDs from other manufactures in years past. The backlash from end users has never been positive, even when those users never experienced a single problem.
Pricing, Warranty and Accessories
Using Google Shopping, we managed to find all six capacity sizes at B&H Photo Video online. The company even lists the -S brushed-silver-aluminum parts for the same price as the plastic-case models. The 1TB SSD370 model sells for $359.99. The 512GB and 256GB models we're testing today sell for $175.99 and $89.99, and the 128GB SSD370 comes in at just $57. B&H also shows the 64GB and 32GB drives in stock for $49.99 and $39.99, respectively.
The Transcend SSD370 carries a three-year warranty but is limited by endurance. The company's own SSD toolbox software, called SSD Scope, can measure the wear on the drive. When the indicator reaches zero, the warranty is void, even if it's still within the three-year time period.
Transcend does ship the SSD370 products with a full retail kit that includes a desktop adapter bracket, mounting screws and access to SSD Scope for drive maintenance. The software also allows users to clone existing drive data to the Transcend SSD.
A Closer Look
Our sample drives arrived in a plastic anti-static bag and were not part of the full retail kit. This is possibly how the SSD370 is sold to OEMs or other bulk purchasers. We also received the plastic model with what we assume are brass inserts for securing the drive in place with screws. The aluminum drive should offer greater processor and NAND flash heat dispersion, but many other low-power SSDs have performed perfectly fine with a plastic case.
The SSD370 measures 7 mm in height,so it will fit in Ultrabooks and notebooks that require the thinner design. Most new SSDs use the new, thinner design to ensure the highest level of compatibility. The spec isn't used just in Ultrabooks; we've seen the 7-mm limited space on full-size Lenovo notebooks as well.
Both of our samples used a Transcend-branded SSD controller based on Silicon Motion's SM2246EN. Silicon Motion works with partners to customize firmware, adding or subtracting features as well as adjusting settings to increase compatibility. Transcend paired the custom controller with Samsung LPDDR2 DRAM that caches the table map for the flash translation layer.
On the left, we see the Transcend SSD370 256GB model with Micron 20-nm flash. The PCB is nearly half the length, and has four NAND flash packages on each side.
The SSD370 512GB uses a full-length PCB, with eight NAND flash packages on each side. This configuration uses all of the available Chip Enable (CE) spaces from the controller to deliver the best performance from the selected components.
In the Transcend SSD370, we have an issue with the selected components. Not every Ford Pinto ended in a fireball, but nonetheless, it could have happened to every family driving one on the road. We'll use that analogy for the Transcend SSD370: Not every family will lose their pictures, tax documents or other important data, but it could happen and is more likely to than with SSD370 parts using genuine Micron flash.
Data Type Comparison
We have two new drives on the bench today: the Transcend SSD370 512GB and the Transcend SSD370 256GB version. We're using the 512GB capacity size to compare to other 512GB-class products currently on the market.
We used Anvil's Storage Utilities test to look for differences in performance with data types. The SSD370 is a custom controller but is based on a design that does not use compression, to ease wear on the flash. We can report that incompressible and compressible data pass through the SSD370 at the same rate. Users working with previously compressed data like JPEGs or video files will not see a reduction in performance with those types of data.
To read about our storage tests in-depth, please check out How We Test HDDs And SSDs.
Both of the Transcend SSD370 products come in near the bottom of the sequential read performance charts when we isolate at a queue depth of two. At higher queue depths, the drives match many of the best on the market, but in a desktop or notebook environment, users will never reach high queue depth sequential reads.
It doesn't come as a surprise that the 256GB SSD370 writes sequential data at a lower rate than the other drives in the chart. Transcend's own performance data show a large divide between these two capacity sizes. We were surprised to see the 512GB model trailing some of the other drives, including the two models using 3-bit-per-cell (TLC) flash, SanDisk's Ultra II and Samsung's 850 EVO. The Transcend SSD370 512GB uses all four channels and all available CE lanes of the SM2246EN controller, but it can't muster enough sequential write performance to keep pace with these TLC products.
The 4KB random read performance delivered by the two Transcend SSD370 products run parallel until queue depth eight. That is where we start to see some separation. At the same point, the SSD370 products also start to pull away from the Intel SSD 530 armed with an aging SandForce SF-2281 controller.
At least the SSD370 products managed to outperform the SF-2281 controlled drive in the random write test while using incompressible data — the worst-case scenario for any existing SandForce product. Throughout the queue depth range, both SSD370 products deliver performance at expected rates — roughly in the middle of high performance and value models in queue depths that matter for client workloads.
Sequential 80 Percent Read Mixed Workload
SATA is a half-duplex interface, so when a hard drive or SSD is asked to read and write at the same time, the drive needs to prioritize and schedule the transaction. Some products handle this task better than others. The 80-percent read marker is an industry standard measuring point for client workloads. This test better represents daily use over the isolated test that uses 100-percent read or 100-percent write loads.
The larger-capacity SSD370 delivers higher performance than the 256GB model in the sequential mixed workload test. Again, this doesn't surprise us because the sequential write performance is lower. Compared to other products on the market, the Transcend SSD370 512GB delivers just middle-of-the-road performance and fails to stand out from the crowd and, more importantly, the Samsung 850 EVO 500GB.
Random 80 Percent Read Mixed Workload
Moving over to random mixed workload performance with 80-percent reads, we again observe that the Transcend devices being tested failed to exhibit high enough performance for us to recommend the SSD370 over existing products in the market.
Sequential Steady State
Most professional users are not shopping for SSDs in the Transcend SSD370 price range for heavy use, but we still run the steady-state tests to look for products that stand out. We've been surprised in the past when a low cost model exhibited exemplary performance in workstation tasks.
The Transcend SSD370 512GB isn't that product, but the drive does manage to close the gap on the Crucial MX200, another low-cost SSD that competes with the 850 EVO 500GB for market share.
Random Write Steady State
With client SSDs we measure 4KB random write steady-state performance to gauge performance consistency. Products like the Intel SSD 730 manage to deliver a high level of random performance in this state while keeping the IOPS and latency at a steady rate. The 730 is a very good drive for RAID environments because the deviation between high and low random performance is fairly small. RAID users will have a better user experience because of this trait.
The Transcend SSD370 products are the polar opposite of the Intel 730. The SSD730 drives deliver a very low 4KB random read rate for most of the test but also surge to peak performance that is intermittent and unreliable. The peaks can tax your CPU at seemingly random intervals.
PCMark 8 Real-World Software Performance
The synthetic tests allow us to pick apart a drive's performance to see where it may perform well and where it may falter. Keeping that in mind, we can look at real-world software performance and elaborate on how the synthetic performance carries over to applications.
The Transcend SSD370 didn't knock us off our feet in any of the previous tests, but because this is a budget product, we didn't have very high expectations. The real-world software tests using examples most of us use daily puts the SSD370 into perspective. Found at the bottom of nearly every test result, the SSD370 drives are no match for Samsung's 850 EVO 500GB or Crucial's MX200 500GB, each of which costs about the same as our Transcend examples.
Total Storage Bandwidth
In the combined results, shown measured in throughput, we get a clearer picture of the performance standings. The push to make SSDs cheaper by using four-channel controllers and flash manufactured using smaller lithography isn't paying off in the performance department.
PCMark 8 Advanced Workload Performance
Here, we look at more strenuous workloads with heavy preconditioning and a controlled descent out of steady state. The two Transcend SSD370 products manage to keep performance pace with SanDisk's Ultra II 480GB SSD with SanDisk A19nm TLC flash for most of the test. In the moderate workload section, even the Ultra II TLC drive with an SLC buffer regains composure a bit better and separates itself away from the SSD370 drives.
The service time tests really bring it all into perspective and show the SSD370 products for what they are. Under heavy workloads, the two SSD370 products need a lot more time to complete the tasks. These are not competitive products for any type of heavy write environment or for professional users who require consistent latency. Even under moderate use, the SSD370 products failed to impress us.
Notebook Battery Life
Transcend advertises DevSlp support, but we found that some other power-saving capabilities are not active in this drive. Many Silicon Motion-controlled products we've tested produce some of the best notebook battery life numbers. But Transcend's SSD370 drives fall back into the pack. This is a corner-case test that many users ignore. However, when you need long battery life in your notebook, it may be the most important metric of all.
The Transcend SSD370 512GB and 256GB perform well in reduced-power environments.
Transcend uses the word "premium" next to the SSD370 product name in a number of places on the company's website. We really have to question that claim in all aspects of this product, starting with the controller. The SiliconMotion SM2246EN was designed as an entry-level to mainstream component, at best. Every other company using the four-channel SM2246EN controller in a product places it at the lowest client SSD tier. Some companies even use the controller in embedded applications like digital signage, machinery storage and so on. The SM2246EN is a solid, reliable controller, but calling it a "premium" component is a stretch.
Now let's move on to the flash, where premium could only mean Tier 1 Grade A NAND from reputable SSD manufacturers. The 256GB drive we received did arrive with genuine Micron flash, but the 512GB model contained less-desirable SpecTek flash. This is the first time a company sent a client SSD to me with this flash for review, but we do know that other companies have shipped it in other retail drives. It's funny how that works: Reviewers get the good stuff, but customers get whatever is obtainable at the time.
It has become common for companies to change the build of materials on NAND flash, and even do a complete controller swap. I've broken several stories about it in the past, from synchronous to asynchronous flash and SiliconMotion controllers to older SandForce controllers. Every time, we've heard the same excuse: The build of materials is not guaranteed, and end users will not notice the difference. If that is the case, then why do reviewers get the premium parts 99 percent of the time, and end users get the slower or less-reliable parts?
Our sample drives were shipped well after the initial launch, and in OEM-style packaging. We're confident this represents what Transcend is shipping at this time. Like other nonfab companies that buy NAND on the spot market, whatever is available and within budget is used to make the products.
Fab companies like Samsung, Intel, Micron, SanDisk and Toshiba are always reminding reviewers that they make the flash and always have access to the best flash coming from the factories. Sometimes, it's easy to forget how important that is, since we are almost always given sample drives with premium NAND, DRAM and other components. With SSD prices getting lower and lower, the only way to ensure you get Grade A components in your low-cost SSD is to buy from a NAND-flash manufacturer like Samsung or Crucial.
That doesn't mean the SpecTek flash isn't SSD grade. The -AL in the model number correlates to SpecTek's highest-quality flash, per a document we found on the company's website. We reached out to a few SSD product managers and engineers without telling them the circumstances of our questioning. None said they would use any SpecTek flash in a retail product designed for client use. One engineer even said he would never use it in his own computer system. I pressed further to ask if this flash would be viable for other uses, like digital signage, where most of the data is read and very little write activities take place. All of the people I spoke with said digital signage was an appropriate application.
The Transcend SSD370 scales a wide range of capacity sizes, from 32GB to 1TB. Given the price and limited use, we couldn't recommend the two smallest capacities for anything remotely like what our readers use storage for. The smaller products should be limited to embedded use. Given the questionable flash used in the larger models and no guarantee of getting genuine Micron flash, the others can stay there as well.
Before I conclude, I would like to make a note about the different models. One drive is brushed aluminum, and the other is black plastic. If I hadn't spotted the small difference in the part number on a reseller's site, we wouldn't even know about the difference. Transcend uses the same product page for both models and doesn't do much to educate customers (or reviewers) about the differences. The situation is hokey, at best, to put it nicely.