Prices and New Competitors

It's been a while since I've published on the SSD landscape. Not much has changed. SandForce's popularity has skyrocketed, easily making it the target to beat, while we patiently await Intel's 3rd generation SSDs. Once virtually an OCZ-only supplier, nearly everyone has a SandForce based drive these days. Capacities have also changed. While the original drives allocated nearly 30% of their NAND to spare area, newer extended versions have since appeared that drop the % of spare area down to 12 - 22% depending on the SKU (40/80/160GB drives allocate 22% while 60/120/240 drives allocate 12%). The performance impact of the reduced spare area is nonexistent as we've proved in the past.

Indilinx is still around but undesirable at this point. Performance is no longer competitive and write amplification is much higher than what you get from SandForce at the same cost. Crucial's RealSSD C300 is still trucking, however you do pay a premium over SandForce. Whether or not the premium is justified depends on your workload.

SSD Price Comparison - November 11, 2010
SSD NAND Capacity User Capacity Price Cost per GB of NAND
Corsair Force F40 40GB 48GB 37.3GB $124.99 $2.603
Corsair Force F120 120GB 128GB 111.8GB $229.99 $1.797
Corsair Nova V128 128GB 128GB 119.2GB $219.99 $1.719
Crucial RealSSD C300 64GB 64GB 59.6GB $134.99 $2.109
Crucial RealSSD C300 128GB 128GB 119.2GB $269.99 $2.109
Intel X25-M G2 160GB 160GB 149.0GB $409.00 $2.556
Intel X25-V 40GB 40GB 37.3GB $94.99 $2.375
Kingston SSDNow V Series 30GB 30GB 27.9GB $82.99 $2.766
Kingston SSDNow V Series 128GB 128GB 119.2GB $224.99 $1.758
Kingston SSDNow V+ Series 128GB 128GB 119.2GB $277.00 $2.164
Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 128GB 128GB 119.2GB $278.99 $2.180
OCZ Agility 2 120GB 128GB 111.8GB $229.99 $1.797
OCZ Vertex 2 120GB 128GB 111.8GB $234.99 $1.836
Patriot Inferno 60GB 64GB 55.9GB $149.00 $2.328
Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue 128GB 119.2GB $214.99 $1.680

We broke the $2/GB barrier a while ago. Prices continue to fall as NAND manufacturers transistion to 2xnm processes, the existing 3xnm supplies become cheaper as a result. Surprisingly enough, the most affordable drives actually come from companies who don't own NAND foundries. SandForce's partners who have to pay a big chunk of their margins to SandForce as well as the NAND vendor are actually delivering the best value in SSDs. Kingston and Western Digital also deliver a great value. Not Crucial/Micron and not Intel, which is not only disappointing but inexcusable. These companies actually own the fabs where the NAND is made and in the case of Intel, they actually produce the controller itself.

Within the SandForce camp prices seem pretty consistent. I grabbed data from three different SF partners: Corsair, OCZ and Patriot. At 128GB of NAND both Corsair and OCZ are competitive on pricing. As you look at the smaller capacity drives however, cost per GB goes up dramatically. A 40GB Corsair Force will cost you 44.8% more per GB than a 120GB drive. The same is true when you look at the 60GB Patriot Inferno at $2.328 per GB.

If you're trying to keep total cost down, the best bang for your buck from a capacity standpoint is the 64GB Crucial RealSSD C300. It's more expensive per GB than the larger SandForce drives, but at $134.99 it's a cheap way to get into a decent SSD.

The new Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 is actually more expensive than the Crucial drives from a cost-per-GB standpoint. Traditionally the V series has been the value line while the V+ series have been Kingston's more performance oriented SSDs. In the past however, the performance oriented V+ never seemed to have the performance to back up its price. Perhaps the V+ 100 can change that.

The Test

CPU Intel Core i7 965 running at 3.2GHz (Turbo & EIST Disabled)
Motherboard: Intel DX58SO (Intel X58)
Chipset: Intel X58 + Marvell SATA 6Gbps PCIe
Chipset Drivers: Intel + Intel IMSM 8.9
Memory: Qimonda DDR3-1333 4 x 1GB (7-7-7-20)
Video Card: eVGA GeForce GTX 285
Video Drivers: NVIDIA ForceWare 190.38 64-bit
Desktop Resolution: 1920 x 1200
OS: Windows 7 x64
Introduction Random Read/Write Speed
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  • Gonemad - Thursday, November 11, 2010 - link

    Yes, a longevity test. Put it on grind mode until it pops. P51 Mustangs benefited from engines tested that way.

    Now, this one, should it be fully synthetic or more life like? Just place the drive in "write 0, write 1" until failure, record how many times it can be used, or create some random workload scripted in such a manner that it behaves pretty much like real usage, overusing the first few bytes of every 4k sector... if it affects any results. What am I asking is, will it wear only the used bytes, or the entire 4k rewritten sector will be worn evenly, if I am expressing myself correctly here.

    On another comment, I always thought SSD drives were like overpriced undersized Raptors, since they came to be, but damn... I hope fierce competition drive the prices down. Way down. "Neck and neck to mag drives" down.

    And what about defragmenting utilities? Don't they lose their sense of purpose on a SSD? Are they blocked from usage, since the best situation you have on a SSD is actually randomly sprayed data, because there is no "needle" running over it at 7200rpm in a forcibly better sequential read? Should they be renamed to "optimization tools" when concerning SSD's? Should anybody ever consider manually giving permission to a system to run garbage collection, TRIM, whatever, while blocking it until strictly necessary, in order to increase life span?
  • Iketh - Thursday, November 11, 2010 - link

    win7 "automatically disables" their built-in defrag for SSDs, though if you go in and manually tell it to defrag an SSD, it will do it without question

    prefetch and superfetch are supposedly also disabled automatically when the OS is installed on an SSD, though I don't feel comfortable until i change the values myself in the registry
  • cwebersd - Thursday, November 11, 2010 - link

    I have torture-tested a 50 GB Sandforce-based drive (OWC Mercury Extreme Pro RE) with the goal to destroy it. I stopped writing our semi-random data after 21 days because I grew tired.
    16.5 TB/d, 360 disk fills/day, 21 days more or less 24/7 duty cycle (we stopped a few times for an hour or two to make adjustments)
    ~7500 disk fills total, 350 TB written
    The drive still performs as good as new, and SMART parameters look reasonably good - to the extent that current tools can interpret them anyway.

    If I normally write 20 GB/d this drive is going to outlast me. Actually, I expect it to die from "normal" (for electronics) age-related causes, not flash cells becoming unwritable.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, November 11, 2010 - link

    This is something I've been working on for the past few months. Physically wearing down a drive as quickly as possible is one way to go about it (all of the manufacturers do this) but it's basically impossible to do for real world workloads (like the AT Storage Bench). It would take months on the worst drives, and years on the best ones.

    There is another way however. Remember NAND should fail predictably, we just need to fill in some of the variables of the equation...

    I'm still a month or two away from publishing but if you're buying for longevity, SandForce seems to last the longest, followed by Crucial and then Intel. There's a *sharp* fall off after Intel however. The Indilinx and JMicron stuff, depending on workload, could fail within 3 - 5 years. Again it's entirely dependent on workload, if all you're doing is browsing the web even a JMF618 drive can last a decade. If you're running a workload full of 4KB random writes across the entire drive constantly, the 618 will be dead in less than 2 years.

    Take care,
  • Greg512 - Thursday, November 11, 2010 - link

    Wow, I would have expected Intel to last the longest. I am going to purchase an ssd and longevity is one of my main concerns. In fact, longevity is the main reason I have not yet bought a Sandforce drive. Well, I guess that is what happens when you make assumptions. Looking forward to the article!
  • JohnBooty - Saturday, November 13, 2010 - link

    Awesome news. Looking forward to that article.

    A torture test like that is going to sell a LOT of SSDs, Anand. Because right now that's the only thing keeping businesses and a lot of "power users" from adopting them - "but won't they wear out soon?"

    That was the exact question I got when trying to get my boss to buy me one. Though I was eventually able to convince him. :)
  • Out of Box Experience - Thursday, November 11, 2010 - link

    Here's the problem

    Synthetic Benchmarks won't show you how fast the various SSD controllers handle uncompressible data

    Only a copy and paste of several hundred megabytes to and from the same drive under XP will show you what SSD's will do under actual load

    First off, due to Windows 7's caching scheme, ALL drives (Slow or Fast) seem to finish a copy and paste in the same amount of time and cannot be used for this test

    In a worst case scenario, using an ATOM computer with Windows XP and Zero SSD Tweaks, a OCZ VERTEX 2 will copy and paste data at only 3.6 Megabytes per second

    A 5400RPM laptop drive was faster than the Vertex 2 in this test because OCZ drives require massive amounts of Tweaking and highly compressible data to get the numbers they are advertizing

    A 7200RPM desktop drive was A LOT faster than the Vertex 2 in this type of test

    Anyone working with uncompressible data "already on the drive" such as video editors should avoid Sandforce SSD's and stick with the much faster desktop platter drives

    Using a slower ATOM computer for these tests will amplify the difference between slower and faster drives and give you a better idea of the "Relative" speed difference between drives

    You should use this test for ALL SSD's and compare the results to common hard drives so that end users can get a feel for the "Actual" throughput of these drives on uncompressible data

    Remember, Data on the Vertex drive's is already compressed and cannot be compressed again during a copy/paste to show you the actual throughput of the drive under XP

    Worst case scenario testing under XP is the way to go with SSD's to see what they will really do under actual workloads without endless tweaking and without getting bogus results due to Windows 7's caching scheme
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, November 12, 2010 - link

    The issue with Windows XP vs. Windows 7 doesn't have anything to do with actual load, it has to do with alignment.

    Controllers designed with modern OSes in mind (Windows 7, OS X 10.5/10.6) in mind (C300, SandForce) are optimized for 4K aligned transfers. By default, Windows XP isn't 4K aligned and thus performance suffers. See here:

    If you want the best out of box XP performance for incompressible data, Intel's X25-M G2 is likely the best candidate. The G1/G2 controllers are alignment agnostic and will always deliver the same performance regardless of partition alignment. Intel's controller was designed to go after large corporate sales and, at the time it was designed, many of those companies were still on XP.

    Take care,
  • Out of Box Experience - Saturday, November 13, 2010 - link

    Thanks Anand

    Thats good to know

    With so many XP machines out there for the foreseeable future, I would think more SSD manufacturers would target the XP market with alignment agnostic controllers instead of making the consumers jump through all these hoops to get reasonable XP performance from their SSD's

    Last question..

    Would OS agnostic garbage collection like that on the new Kingston SSD work with Sandforce controllers if the manufacturers chose to include it in firmware or is it irrelevant with Duraclass ?

    I still think SSD's should be plug and play on ALL operating Systems

    Personally, I'd rather just use the drives instead of spending all this time tweaking them
  • sheh - Thursday, November 11, 2010 - link

    This seems like a worrying trend, though time will tell how reliable SSDs are long-term. What's the situation with 2Xnm? And where does SLC fit into all that regarding reliability, performance, pricing, market usage trends?

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