There is no doubt that the hottest solid state drives on the market right now are those that use the new SandForce SF-1200 controller. Back in January we were starting to get our first look at SandForce products and were even lead to believe those products were the real deal, retail ready, but those claims were later retracted. At the time it looked like SandForce SSDs were going to be faster than anything else on the market, but most attention and anticipation rested on a very well marketed controller from Marvell that Crucial later used in their RealSSD C300 line.
Last month SandForce allowed their partners to start sampling products that used their new consumer controller, the SF-1200. Our first look at the controller came from the Corsair Force F100, but at the time we were not able to verify the price and Intel hadn't released their new SSD friendly RST 9.6 driver that significantly improved SSD performance on the Intel SATA II chipset. Within a few days A-DATA had shipped over their SF-1200 powered drive, the S599 and Intel made the RST 9.6 driver available to the public. The new driver was just enough to propel the SandForce SF-1200 controlled drives past the then king Crucial RealSSD C300 and we received the final MSRP from A-DATA to boot.
Out of nowhere the SandForce label went from being associated with a good product that is going to cost an arm and a leg, to a great product that is not only the fastest on the market, but has a reasonable cost, too. When looking at the benchmarks we see that there really isn't a whole lot of difference between testing with the Microsoft and Intel drivers, but it is enough to surpass Crucial's C300 in most real world performance categories. Just like the old saying, second place is the first loser; the SF-1200 controlled products were now holding the top honors and something to get excited about.
As enthusiasts we are often compelled to take the best of the best and double them to achieve higher performance. This week through next week we will see two RAID reports, the first being with the A-DATA S599 today and next week using Crucial's RealSSD C300. Let's recap the A-DATA S599 specifications and then get right into the testing.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
The specs haven't changed since we first reviewed the A-DATA S599 last month and neither has the availability. I have yet to be able to find the drives listed for sale in my home country and this is a big surprise since they were scheduled to hit a week or so after the review went live. Maybe the volcano had something to do with it, or maybe we were all just fed another round of marketing hype. I will let you decide. Without retail availability we can't verify the 380 USD MSRP claim or how retailers have used this suggested price in coming up with a dollar figure to offer the S599 at.
In knowing how well OCZ has been treated by SandForce, I really wouldn't be surprised if there isn't some sort of push to keep additional drives off the market until the Limited Edition OCZ drives sell out or the stock numbers get to a point where there is a glimpse of the bottom of the pallet holding them all. Of course, this is speculation, but with so many companies saying they have retail ready SF-1200 products and Newegg only listing two SKUs, both from OCZ and both limited edition, it is easy to start connecting the dots and start to think conspiracy.
I should go on to add that this is not even a rumor and there are no facts to back such a claim up, but you have to wonder why Newegg only has OCZ SandForce stock when there are a limited number of Corsair Force drives on the market and we were at one time told A-DATA would be all over the place in hardly any time at all.
Anyhow, let's get to testing!
Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: AVADirect, GIGABYTE, Cooler Master, LSI and Noctua.
You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.
Today we will be taking a look at the performance of two matching A-DATA S599 SSDs in RAID 0 to observe their performance. Testing was conducted on a GIGABYTE X58A-UD7 motherboard using the onboard Intel SATA II controller and the latest Intel RST 9.6 driver.
The new RST 9.6 driver is the first from Intel to fully support the TRIM command in RAID 0. To achieve maximum write performance we had to play around with the settings and ended up running around 5 rounds of tests.
ATTO Baseline Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34
ATTO is used by many disk manufacturers to determine the read and write speeds that will be presented to customers.
In ATTO we see the read speeds leaping very quickly to nearly full speed, while the write speeds needed a little more depth to achieve the maximum performance. Both read and write results are smoking fast and with the new RST driver in place will stay that way for a long time.
Benchmarks - HD Tune Pro
HD Tune Pro
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.00
Developer Homepage: http://www.efdsoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.hdtune.com
HD Tune is a Hard Disk utility which has the following functions:
- Benchmark: measures the performance
- Info: shows detailed information
- Health: checks the health status by using SMART
- Error Scan: scans the surface for errors
- Temperature display
HD Tune Pro gives us accurate read, write and access time results and for the last couple of years has been gaining popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.
As you can see, the read speeds truly double in RAID 0 with a pair of A-DATA S599s. Things start out a bit slower, but reach peak and hold fairly steady across the array. This is exactly what we like to see with RAID 0 arrays.
Setting up your array is critical to achieving results like these, but once you get everything dialed in the average write speed of around 525MB/s makes it all worthwhile.
Benchmarks - Everest Random Access Time
Everest Random Access Time
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.60
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Everest Ultimate and Corporate Edition offer several different benchmarks for testing and optimizing your system or network. The Random Access test is one of very few if not only that will measure hard drives random access times in hundredths of milliseconds as oppose to tens of milliseconds.
Drives with only one or two tests displayed in write the write test mean that they have failed the test and their Maximum and possibly their Average Scores were very high after the cached fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron.
The data access time changes little in striped arrays unlike traditional platter drives. Here we see the access time staying very close to what we saw with a single A-DATA S599.
The write access time went up a small amount, but is still much better than platter drives. The access time is what makes your system feel responsive and fast and here we see that with dual A-DATA S599 drives in RAID 0 your system will feel like it came from a Formula One factory.
Benchmarks - Crystal Disk Mark
Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview
Developer Homepage: http://crystalmark.info
Product Homepage: http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskMark/index-e.html
Download here: http://crystaldew.info/category/software/crystaldiskmark
CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software.
* Sequential reads/writes
* Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes
* Text copy
* Change dialog design
* internationalization (i18n)
Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 is not available to the public yet, but the Technical Preview does allow us to test 4K performance at queue depths of 4 and 32 in addition to 1. The current release Crystal Disk Mark only shows us QD 1.
CDM is shown quite early in our articles, but is one of the last tests we run. By the time we get to this test the drives have been beaten up pretty badly and if we are going to see any write speed issues after heavy use, this is where it will show up. In RAID 0 we did see this issue and even though after a little rest for TRIM to clean the drives up, we didn't have the issue at this point when testing with a single drive.
I can only assume that in my efforts to get the highest level of performance with the array I misjudged my alignment and in the final testing did not get the settings correct.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests
PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage/
Buy It Here
PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.
FutureMark has developed a good set of hard disk tests for their PCMark Vantage Suite. Windows users can count on Vantage to show them how a drive will perform in normal day to day usage scenarios. For most users these are the tests that matter since many of the old hat ways to measure performance have become ineffective to measure true Windows performance.
HDD1 - Windows Defender
HDD2 - Gaming
HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery
HDD4 - Vista Startup
HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker
HDD6 - Windows Media Center
HDD7 - Windows Media Player
HDD8 - Application Loading
You may notice that HDD6 is not shown on the chart for the RAID 0 array of A-DATA S599 drives. The drives managed to rip through the test and the results were 2588. It dwarfed the other results in the chart, so I removed it to keep everything tidy.
Here you can see the real world benefits of running RAID 0 and where you will see strong performance improvements in your normal, day-to-day activities. As you can see, there were a couple of cases where performance actually decreased. This is most likely due to the array degrading much faster while testing than a single drive.
Benchmarks - AS SSD
AS SSD Benchmark
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.3577.40358
Developer Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software
Product Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software
Download here: http://www.alex-is.de/PHP/fusion/downloads.php?cat_id=4&download_id=9
AS determines the performance of Solid State Drives (SSD). The tool contains four synthetic as well as three practice tests. The synthetic tests are to determine the sequential and random read and write performance of the SSD. These tests are carried out without the use of the operating system caches.
In all synthetic tests the test file size is 1GB. AS can also determine the access time of the SSD, the access of which the drive is determined to read through the entire capacity of the SSD (Full Stroke). The write access test is only to be met with a 1 GB big test file. At the end of the tests three values for the read and write as well as the overall performance will be issued. In addition to the calculated values which are shown in MB/s, they are also represented in IO per seconds (IOPS).
Note: AS SSD is a great benchmark for many tests, but since Crystal Disk Mark covers a broader range of 4K tests and HD Tune Pro covering sequential speeds, we will only use the Copy Benchmark from AS SSD.
- Copy Benchmark
In the file transfer tests we saw a 20 to 40% improvement over a single drive.
Benchmarks - Passmark
Passmark Advanced Multi-User Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 6.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.passmark.com
Test Homepage: http://www.passmark.com
Many users complain that I/O Meter is too complicated of a benchmark to replicate results so my quest to find an alternative was started. Passmark has added several multi-user tests that measure a hard drives ability to operate in a multi-user environment.
The tests use different settings to mimic basic multi-user operations as they would play out on your server. Variances is read / write percentage as well as random / sequential reads are common in certain applications, Web Servers read nearly 100% of the time while Database Servers write a small amount of data.
The Workstation test is the only single user environment and will be similar to how you use your system at home.
The SandForce SF-1200 wasn't designed for server duties, but we found that it is one of the fastest drives we have ever tested in these tests. To date each time we have ran a RAID array the results for these tests went up quite rapidly and kept going with the addition of more drives, but with the S599 the progression wasn't as high. We can't wait to get in a pair of SF-1500 drives that are designed for these tasks to see how they do.
RAID isn't for everyone, but nearly everyone has the ability to use this as another tool to achieving better system performance. Intel and AMD have been giving this capability away in their chipsets for a few years now and it is even found in many off the shelf systems from the big box builders.
With the speeds that we are now seeing from the fastest SSDs, one may argue if the additional performance justifies the cost. Even hardcore tech guys will have to agree that the performance increase is nice in the benchmarks, but in real world use like the tasks ran in PC Mark Vantage there isn't a lot of benefit to be had in many of these scenarios. That said, there are some real areas where you see significant performance increases, but the biggest may not have anything to do with speed at all.
In many cases it is possible to purchase two smaller SSDs than one larger drive to achieve the same usable capacity. With RAID 0 you get the speed boost and double the capacity of a single drive. Add to that a possible reduction in cost and things start to look a whole lot brighter. There is a bit of a risk versus reward to keep in mind, though. Onboard RAID controllers are not the same as enterprise RAID products and they have been known to break the array in the past. I have yet to run across this issue with the last few rounds of Intel chipsets, but it is something that you will want to keep in mind before keeping sensitive data on the boot drives that are not backed up in regular intervals. A little planning and a solid back up strategy will go a long way to ease many fears of needing to recover from an error.
All things considered, a RAID 0 array with dual A-DATA S599 SSDs provide very good performance that exceeds that of a single drive and gives us twice as much capacity. The downside is that it costs twice as much as a single small drive, but you will be able to divide your purchase by getting the first drive now and later purchase a second drive. With Intel now offering a very fast driver that is able to pass along the TRIM command in RAID 0, taking advantage of RAID with a pair of SSDs is now possible without an enterprise class controller card. With SSD prices falling and most users having Intel RAID in their system all ready, the flood gates are now open for a higher adaption rate.
In the coming days we will have more RAID Reports to share and get to comparing performance between different drives in RAID 0. As it sits now, the A-DATA S599 SandForce SF-1200 SSD is the performance pinnacle in which other arrays will be judged against.
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