Performance Is Defined By Flash
SandForce's impact on the SSD landscape is undeniably significant. In focusing its efforts on the most influential component of solid-state storage performance and reliability, the company makes involvement in this growing segment more accessible to a number of vendors able to combine the controller and their own sourced NAND into a fairly reference-like package.
The firmware is, for the most part, completely furnished. And while some vendors claim exclusive optimizations, it's pretty clear that the performance impact of those tweaks is minimal. As a result, though, we're enjoying a lot more competition than if SandForce had never come along. Prices are consequently driven down, and enthusiasts win.
With all ten of these SSDs leveraging the same controller hardware, flash memory becomes the key element in defining a given drive's performance. That's not to say all of these drives sport similar reliability. Taking shortcuts by using cheaper power components, for instance, can negatively affect one brand's models more so than a competing vendor leveraging higher-quality parts. But when it comes to the performance data, synchronous NAND, for example, means OCZ's Vertex 3 behaves an awful lot like Corsair's Force GT.
And although vendors are free to make their own firmware optimizations where they make sense, any tweaks that are being made are outweighed by the firmware elements these drives share in common. According to SandForce, it doesn’t matter if you own a PC or Mac. The relationship between hardware and firmware (and how it affects features like TRIM and garbage collection) functions identically from one drive to the next.
Lacking any other way to really quantify the differences between second-gen SandForce drives at 60 GB, we're left to consider variables like NAND quality. Right now, Intel is the only vendor making noise about the fact that it skims the very best flash die from IMFT for use in its SSD 520, and apparently that's enough to warrant the highest price per gigabyte in our round-up. Can you really put a price on the integrity of your data, though? Intel backs its claim with the only five-year warranty, so perhaps it's onto something. Using reliability as a differentiator, the company shows us that maybe we shouldn't always be looking for the cheapest SSD, but rather the most trustworthy one.
|NAND Interface||Market Price||Price per GB||Warranty|
|Adata S511 60 GB||Synchronous||$110||$1.83||3 years|
|Corsair Force 3 60 GB||Asynchronous||$95||$1.58||3 years|
|Corsair Force GT 60 GB||Synchronous||$107||$1.78||3 years|
|Intel SSD 520 60 GB||Synchronous||$135||$2.25||5 years|
|Kingston SSDNow 200+ 60 GB||Asynchronous||$110||$1.83||3 years|
|OCZ Agility 3 60 GB||Asynchronous||$90||$1.50||3 years|
|OCZ Vertex 3 60 GB||Synchronous||$98||$1.63||3 years|
|OWC Mercury Electra 6G 60 GB||Asynchronous||$120||$2.00||3 years|
|Patriot Pyro SE 60 GB||Synchronous||$113||$1.88||3 years|
|RunCore Pro V 60 GB||Synchronous||$123||$2.05||3 years|
Should you necessarily fear a SandForce-based SSD that leverages cheaper NAND, then? Not at all, actually. Drives based on the company's controller are some of the most affordable performance-oriented solutions specifically because SandForce designed its controller to utilize lower-quality NAND dies without compromising reliability, even in the face of less endurance.
So, what's our lesson at the end of the day? When it comes to picking a 60 GB SandForce-based boot drive, NAND type is the biggest determinant of performance (although these drives are all significantly faster than anything with magnetic disks). And if you're worried about reliability, that difficult-to-quantify X factor, a vendor is only as good as its reputation. Some brands do better than others when it comes to supporting their products, so perhaps an exploration of rebate fulfillment, phone support, and RMA processing is in order next?