Choosing the Best SSD for Your Needs
We have reviewed a lot of solid state drives over the last two years and more are already on the way for 2010. In this section we are going to talk about some of the specific controllers that are found in modern SSDs and a few that will be ready in the near future. There are a couple of buzz words that you should become familiar with before we get started on the controllers.
TRIM Command: Windows 7 is the first mainstream operating system that supports TRIM. TRIM allows the OS to pass this deleted file information down to the SSD controller, which otherwise would not know it could trash those blocks. At this time RAID controllers are not able to pass the TRIM command down to individual drives.
Garbage Collection: GC refers to automatically reclaiming space left occupied by deleted files. Unlike TRIM, GC is run on the solid state drive and doesn't need special commands from the operating system. When using drives in RAID arrays, you will need automatic garbage collection to keep your drives performance from becoming smothered.
The Controller Breakdown
Intel X25-M - Intel's mainstream solid state drive is considered the fastest on the market at this time. The second generation product usually referred to as Gen 2 or "The Silver One", added support for Window 7's TRIM command in single disk configurations.
The down side to Intel's current SSD lineup is their capacity. At this time you can only purchase second generation drives in either 80 or 160GB capacities. The 80GB model can be easily found for 280 USD or less, but many notebook users are not comfortable only having 80GB of space. This isn't much of an issue with desktops since multiple drives are possible. The 160GB drive costs around 530 USD and is out of the reach of most enthusiasts.
Indilinx Barefoot - Every manufacturer of Barefoot controlled drives has released TRIM enabled firmware. A few of the models were sold with firmware that made updating on the drives impossible without sending them back to the manufacturer, but those drives should already be off of the shelves. Updating firmware on newer models is similar to flashing the firmware on a motherboard and Indilinx as well as their partners manufacturing the drives have done a fairly good job of keeping end users in the loop as to what is in development and getting the new updates in users hands.
Barefoot controlled drives are best used in single drive form, but we are starting to see GC enabled on more products other than those from OCZ. These drives offer a great price vs. performance vs. capacity ratio. The majority of the consumer class drives released today use Indilinx Barefoot controllers.
Indilinx Barefoot ECO - To date only G.Skill has released a drive that uses the new ECO revision of the Barefoot controller, the Falcon II. The ECO is able to use new, smaller 3Xnm flash memory that is cheaper to manufacturer. Since the cost to build is lower, the G.Skill Falcon II costs less than most other Barefoot drives when you can find them in stock. These drives are in high demand due to their lower cost and finding one is a bit of a challenge.
Indilinx Jetstream - Indlinx's upcoming SATA 6G controllers are currently set to be released late Q1 or early Q2 2010. Jetstream will offer SATA 6G capability, but other than that we don't have many details.
SandForce 1200 / 1500 - SandForce will have a pair of new controllers on the market as early as February 2010. We have already tested two 1500 enterprise models, the RunCore Pro IV and OCZ Vertex 2 Pro. Both drives are amazingly fast, but they will also be expensive due to their 16 channel controller. The SandForce 1200 uses an 8 channel controller, four more than Indilinx's Barefoot and should be very fast also. Both the 1200 and 1500 are based on SATA 3G technologies, but the controller is fast enough to "fill" in the difference. Please read the SandForce article we'll be publishing within the next few days that covers all aspects of the 1200 and 1500.
Marvell - Another upcoming controller comes from Marvell. We have already saw benchmarks that leaked when SATA 6G motherboards were launched. No word on pricing or how well it competes with other drives since the only benchmarks leaked were synthetic. Still, 300+ MB/s HD Tach screenshots on a 30GB drive puts out a powerful message. To even get to those kind of numbers, you first much have SATA 6G. The Crucial RealSSD C300 is set to release in March and uses the Marvell SATA 6G controller.