Going into this article, I knew that the Crucial RealSSD C300 in 128GB capacity had a write disadvantage when compared to the 256GB drive that we tested on launch day. The important thing to understand is that Crucial knew that as well and even though this is the first review I have seen on the 128GB drive, Crucial didn't give us a hard time when we asked for the 128GB model for testing and to use it to compare against all of the SandForce SF-1200 100GB drives that we have been receiving. This kind of honesty runs deep through Crucial and everyone I know that has either worked there previously, works there now or has been there since I started reviewing hardware, has always allowed us apples to apples tech nerds that do this sort of thing to run our course and do these sorts of tests regardless of the outcome. I remember back when I tested DDR2 at three or four different speeds to see if purchasing a memory kit that cost 2x what the basics did equated to any real world user performance at all. I contacted several companies, but Crucial was the only one who stood up knowing that they were about ready to take it on the chin when the article came out.
As it is right now, Crucial is in the middle of a bit of a FUBAR with their firmware. They are not the only company to stumble with SSD firmware since Intel, Indilinx and even SandForce have tripped a bit along the way. Even though the issue is not 100% resolved, it is Crucial's character that makes me believe that any outstanding issues will be resolved quickly and with transparency. Of course, having three Crucial RealSSD C300 drives with the updated firmware that fixes the TRIM issue makes it easier to make a statement like that. Even if I hadn't previously tested firmware 002 I would make the same claim. Having read the Crucial Forums, I know there are some C300 owners out there that are a bit upset about the firmware and new update tool issues, but in the lifespan of your product this extra few weeks isn't going to be that bad. I have many products here waiting for fixes that will most likely never come, but I can say that the C300 isn't one of them.
So, that aside, we did test the Crucial C300 128GB model with the new 002 firmware and completely ripped it up with random writes over night. After that the drive was given a rest so TRIM could do its thing and the performance went back to a new or nearly new state. FW 002 does fix the TRIM issue; birds are singing and all is almost perfect in the C300 world. We never tested a 128GB C300 with FW 001 so I can't say if there was a drop in performance between the two, but the 256GB drives that we have been testing did not show a performance decrease. In a couple of days the HighPoint Technologies RocketRAID 600 Series review will be available at TweakTown where we will show performance between 001 and 002 in single and RAID 0 configurations. Please keep an eye out for it since we will break some news regarding SSDs, RAID and TRIM.
The question on everyone's mind right now is 'what should I spend this stack of money in my wallet on, a Crucial RealSSD C300 or a SandForce SF-1200 controlled drive?'. It looks like a simple question, but the answer is a bit complicated and the answer is really going to rely on how much loot do you have in your wallet.
In a couple of days Team SandForce, that is every company that sells products based on the SF-1200 (and there are a lot of them), will offer drives with a new firmware called MP2. I don't have all of the details, but MP2 will allow some companies to offer 120GB and 240GB capacity sizes. This will close the capacity gap between Team SandForce and Crucial and put the two on nearly even playing fields. I really can't comment on the performance of these next generation SF drives because mine will not arrive until you are actually reading this article or a day after. Let's assume the best and say that capacity will go up and performance will stay the same or decrease slightly just to take capacity out of the equation. Mushkin has already announced their Callisto product line with the new drive capacities and I just saw that OWC has a preorder now as well.
Next, let's look at pricing. This is a very important area and one that often determines what a consumer is going to purchase. Team SandForce with their large number of manufacturers making nearly identical drives has a bit of an advantage here for the consumer, since all of these manufacturers are in a bit of a price war which drives consumer costs down.
Crucial as far as we know is the only consumer product company making drives with the new SATA 6G Marvell controller. The OEM unit of the company is as well, but for you and me Crucial is it. Even though Crucial is sitting as a one man army, they have been very competitive with their pricing and are really mixing it up with Team SandForce.
In the 100 / 120 /128GB market the prices at the time of writing come down to this. The Crucial C300 at My Digital Discount is 369.90, in stock and ready to rock. Mushkin has their 120GB SF-1200 listed on their website at 369.99, but we are not sure about availability at this time. OWC is showing their new 120GB Mercury at 379.99 with a preorder status. A quick scan of Newegg shows us that in 100GB capacity the OCZ Vertex Limited Edition is still hanging around, but after the mail in rebate is being given away at 299.99. I feel more curse words trying to escape, but since we know this drive was made in limited numbers, the deal couldn't last much longer.
In the 200 / 240 / 256GB capacity range the prices are also competitive. MyDigitalDiscount once again leads the charge for the C300 and you can walk away with 256GB of Crucial C300 SATA 6G for 636.90. At launch the C300 in 256GB was 799, so we once again see that Crucial and their e-tail partners are in the ring ready to fight. Mushkin is showing 666.49 for the new SF 240GB drive. Once again we are unsure of the availability, but Newegg is also showing the new Mushkin 240GB drive for 629.99 with stock available. The sweetheart deals on the 200GB OCZ Vertex LE have already ran out.
With pricing out of the way, we can talk about the performance and this area is not as clean cut. In the 100 / 120 / 128GB range I think the Crucial RealSSD C300 takes too big of a hit in the write speed tests and favor Team SandForce in this capacity range. Couple performance with very competitive pricing and SF-1200 is hard to beat as long as you are not paying MSRP for a drive. That said, I really don't think most users are going to feel that much difference in nearly all day to day usage, but looking at the numbers we can see that SF-1200 owns the 100 / 120 / 128GB market as long as the MP2 drives perform the same as what we have already looked at.
In the 200 / 240 / 256GB range things get interesting. The most obvious has to do with the 50GB capacity difference between SF MP1 drives and the Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB. 50GB is like what, 5 game installs these days, a huge chuck of music or 10 ripped DVDs. The difference is significant. Two days ago we didn't know about MP2 and Team SandForce's change to 240GB capacity. Nearly 20GB is still a wide margin, but not as much as nearly 60GB.
Here is where the rub lies. Even though Team SandForce is able to outperform the Crucial C300 in 256GB, in many real world tests users with 256GB of capacity are going to be keeping more files on their PC, notebook or God help us .Mac. The Crucial RealSSD C300 is able to transfer files faster than the SandForce SF-1200 right now and even though I can't confirm it now, I think the new higher capacity MP2 drives will be even slower at this task. Speculation is kind of a pain when talking to 2 million people worldwide, so let's just stick with the fact that C300 has an advantage now.
With this much free space a consumer uses his computer drives a bit differently and stores more on the drive. Most of this "stores more" data is compressed like MP3s, JPEG images, RAR and ZIP files. We already know that SandForce drives have a built in compression algorithm and when a file is already compressed the SandForce drives lose a bit of speed.
In The State of Solid State we will be testing to see just how much speed is scrubbed off, but the data has not been gathered to sufficient levels just yet. Early testing results lead me to believe that when it comes to 200 / 240 /256GB capacity range, the Crucial RealSSD C300 is the drive to go with and if you already have SATA 6G capability on your motherboard the C300 gets an even bigger endorsement in this capacity / price range.
We have covered a lot today and I finally feel that the final piece of the puzzle has been revealed, but with new firmware from SandForce we just opened another empty chamber and need to gather more pieces to make a complete picture.
Update: Crucial has now re-released its update tool giving the ability to flash to firmware 0002. It is confirmed to give 100% working TRIM support. For further details, click here.