Today's review is going to have so many talking points in it that we might as well call it an editorial. By the time I finish writing it my Monster Energy Irish Cream will have worn off and I will have caffeine withdraw.
Let's start out with the positive news that will change the way you shop for SSDs. Around two months ago SandForce released code to manufactures that gave them the option to change the overprovisioning of the drives. If you recall, the very first SandForce based drives to hit the market reserved 28% of the flash capacity for background activities (128GB of flash, 100GB available). That was later reduced to 7% on consumer drives (128GB of flash, 120GB available). Now, SandForce has released a new 0 provision that doesn't reserve any flash for background work. This may sound like a bad thing, but it's actually not.
To tell the truth it really doesn't matter at all. The reason why is because if you are not using the space, the SandForce architecture is going to use it anyway for background tasks. So, unless you have your SSD filled to the limit, your 0-provision SSD is going to perform pretty much the same as a 7% drive. If you do happen to fill the drive up then you can expect your drive to slow down. As we've shown in every SSD review going back to April 1st 2011, your SSD is going to slow when you add data to it anyhow.
What is going to change is the way you shop for an SSD. Previously, if you were shopping for a 256GB / 240GB class SSD you knew that every drive listed at Newegg as a 240GB model was based on SandForce and just about every drive with 256GB was Marvell, Samsung, Toshiba or Jmicron controlled. Most of you took my advice and bought a 240GB model and have been all smiles since.
Those of you who were not all smiles, even with a 120GB, 240GB or 480GB drive have pointed their finger at SandForce (maybe pointed at the sky, but directed at SandForce) for firmware issues. Let me first say that not all of the issues that are placed on the back of SandForce are actually SandForce issues. SandForce makes a product, gives manufactures the programming and firmware and from time to time the manufactures create some issues of their own.
When it comes to all of the SandForce drives on the market today the firmware issues that were widely reported have been resolved with firmware 3.2. SandForce also has firmware 3.3.2 and 3.3.4 that we've seen on some of the newer drives. We've not run into an issue with 3.2 up to 3.3.4, they are very good releases, problem free, very fast and as satisfying as a cold beer after working in the yard all day.
Over the last few weeks we've seen new SSDs hit the market based on the SandForce SF-2281/2 controller, the first being the SanDisk Extreme SSD. The SanDisk Extreme SSD is the fastest 240GB SSD on the market today right out of the box. I've spent the last two months examining this drive, testing, confirming and testing some more. The SanDisk Extreme SSD in its current form has an issue with TRIM, though. The drive will NOT regain performance when data is deleted like it should.
At first I assumed the issue had to do with the SanDisk 24nm Toggle Mode Flash, this is the first drive to pair 24nm Toggle Mode with a SandForce controller. I also associated the amazing performance to the flash. I was wrong in both cases. The TRIM issue and the leading performance are due to a new firmware, version 5 we believe. SandForce went from 3.3.4, at least publicly to version 5. Several manufactures report their firmware version differently for whatever reason they see fit. Because of this drawling these lines has taken all of two months to figure out! The SanDisk firmware is reported at R112. Big help there - thanks! The coffee is now wearing off, or I'm just getting angry about the two months I've spent tracking this down.
The next drive to hit our lab that indicated an issue with TRIM was the Biwin Elite Series S836. This is another SandForce SF-2281 drive, this time a 120GB model. This drive reports firmware 502ABBF0. This started us down the version 5 path so we started asking questions about just what the hell was going on with the new drives. No one has come out and stated that the "new" crop of SandForce SSDs use a version 5 firmware, but we believe that is exactly what is going on. The SanDisk Extreme 120GB and 240GB drives achieve a PC Mark Vantage HDD score of around 85K Marks. The Biwin is the same, but the Biwin is using 25nm synchronous flash and not 24nm Toshiba/SanDisk Toggle Model flash.
Today we are looking at the ADATA SP900, another drive with TRIM issues and another drive with IMFT 25nm flash. The SP900 also achieves a Vantage score in the 85K range when fresh. At least the first half of this paragraph is good, right? Let's move onto the next page and tackle some other issues that are making our heads spin.