We knew going into last week that the first SandForce controlled drive for the consumer market would be in our hands before the weekend. Things got a little sketchy when the drive we were counting on arriving ended up being shipped from Taiwan with a three day service instead of the next day option that a situation like this deserves. How could such a thing happen when no one has performance numbers of the SandForce SF-1200 online and retail products are on the way to e-tail locations as I type? Just when all hope had faded, a lonely delivery driver came knocking to the door like Superman coming to the rescue of Lois Lane. Superman this time was wearing a brown uniform and was empowered by Corsair, not the sun.
We have all known that Corsair was planning a flagship product around the SandForce SF-1200 for a few weeks now. The press release has already been issued and the buzz already started. What we haven't known is how the consumer controller was going to perform or if it was even comparable to the enterprise SF-1500 products we have already seen. At the time of writing no one has really commented on the performance of the new upper to high end consumer drive that when merged with existing product lines will force the Indilinx Barefoot products into budget to mainstream SSD category. The SF-1200 was designed to displace the Barefoot from its price category and at a time when Indilinx made it possible to produce lower cost drives.
We can talk more about price comparisons after we see some performance numbers, that way we can better gauge the situation and available options for consumers. Let's take a look at the specifications and see what the Corsair Force Series is all about.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
I have to admit that I am a little surprised to see such a high reported read and write speed for the Corsair Force Series of products and the SF-1200 controller. With a rated read speed of 285 and a write speed of 275 it is safe to say that your motherboards implementation of SATA 3G will be the limiting factor, just as it was with the SandForce SF-1500 enterprise/prosumer drivers we have already looked at. Could the consumer version of the controller perform just as well as the enterprise unit in a desktop environment?
Corsair is offering the Force Series in 100 and 200GB capacity sizes at the time of writings. We do know that the SF-1200 is capable of scaling all the way to 512GB (raw flash memory) from documentation found on SandForce's website so there is a chance we may even see Corsair launch a 400GB version when the market is right. If you like digging into all of the fine details of new technology, that document is a good place to start as well. Now that we have all of the facts about the new SF-1200 controller down, we will be publishing an editorial in a few days covering both the SF-1500 and SF-1200 products.
At the time of writing e-tailers have been notified of when to expect supply, but have yet to publicly announce pricing. Solidata, a supplier of industrial SSDs already has SF-1200 products showing up at obscure locations and the prices show the 100GB drive coming in at around 440 and the 200GB drive hanging around 700 USD. It has been my experience that Solidata products tend to run on the upper extreme for their categories and if that is the case this time, the 100GB Corsair Force may just show up at Newegg for 400 USD or less. That is a very encouraging number since we have already gotten accustom to seeing 128GB Barefoot controlled drives for 400 USD. Then again, at CES we were quoted numbers at the upper 400 USD range for the 100GB drive, so in reality we are really going to have to just wait and see what they launch at. Maybe Crucial's RealSSD C300 changed the SandForce pricing structure a bit and moved them into the lower 400s instead of the upper 400's. We will know for sure in a few days.
Corsair has a new packaging for the Force Series, but it is very similar to the Nova Series package that we just finished testing. At the bottom of the package we see the product series label and the capacity.
The back of the package has a very general description of Corsair's solid state drives and omits all performance details. We would really like to see something here that shows retail consumers the drives performance.
The inner package holds the drive secure and there is little room left for your drive to flop around during shipping.
Our media sample did not come with the 3.5 inch adapter for easy installation in desktops, but the retail units will. Here we see the adapter that came with the Corsair Nova, it should be the same as what will ship with the Force Series.
The Corsair Force 100GB SSD
Here we take our first look at the actual Force Series SSD. All of the information you are going to find on the drive is shown here in the top label.
The back of the drive is standard all the way around. Here we see the mounting holes for quick installation in some notebooks and drive carriers.
The Force Series is a standard 9mm height and has the standard mounting locations on the side as well. The 9mm drive height has long been the choice for notebook manufacturers, so nearly all notebooks will be able to use the Force without issue.
On the rear we see that the power and data connections are located where they should be. We can call it standard all the way around just as it should be and move on.
The SandForce SF-1200 controller is located in the middle of eight Micron flash chips on this side. Current SandForce controllers do not use DRAM memory for cache and this allows manufacturers to produce drives at a lower cost.
The underside of the PCB also has eight Micron MLC flash modules. It would appear that Corsair has used the standard SandForce PCB layout. This early on I don't suspect anyone will have a custom PCB and as long as everything works well there is not really a need for anyone to spend R&D time to develop a new board.
Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
Motherboard: ASUS P6T7 WS SuperComputer (Supplied by ASUS)
Processors: Intel 975 EE (Supplied by AVADirect)
Memory: Corsair Dominator 1600 MHz Triple Channel Kit
Graphics Card: Leadtek Quadro FX1700 (Supplied by Leadtek)
Enclosure: Lian Li V2000
Cooling: Noctua NH-U12P SE2 (Supplied by Noctua)
SAS Controller: LSI MegaRAID SAS 9260-8i (Supplied by LSI)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate X64
You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.
Today we are looking at the Corsair Force F100 100GB SSD. This is the first product we have tested that uses the consumer focused SF-1200 controller from SandForce. We will be testing Corsair's all new SF100 flagship drive against other competing products currently on the market including some of the other "next generation" products recently released.
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 actually received higher write scores than what Corsair advertises in their marketing literature. The read speeds were very close to the claimed 285MB/s, but our system has yet to break 284MB/s on any SATA 3G products, so that last 1MB is not obtainable with this configuration.
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.
The read performance across the drive looks very good and is comparable to the two SandForce 1500 drives we have tested so far. The Crucial RealSSD C300 still takes the crown here, but only because it uses the new SATA 6G standard.
The write speed numbers are equally as impressive and produced a nice flat response all the way across the drive once a small hiccup passed in the first 30MB of the test. The dip didn't break below 190 MB/s. The Crucial C300 couldn't keep up with the write speeds of the Corsair Force.
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.
We have become used to seeing a little higher access time from the SandForce products, but when you are counting thousands of seconds it is really like splitting hairs. The numbers were very good and compared to that old, tired clunker of a platter drive you are using now, .17ms would be like taking the USS enterprise out for a quick spin at warp factor 9 after driving a gold cart for a few miles. With no moving parts, solid state drives dominate the access times.
Not surprisingly, the write access time is similar to the read numbers. Here we see the Corsair F100 showing just how consistent the drives are.
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.
Here we see impressive 4K numbers coming from the Corsair Force 100GB drive. When compared to the Indilinx drives that the SF-1200 is replacing (bottom of the chart), we see that the SF-1200 is quite a bit faster.
The 4K write speed on the Corsair Force 100GB is very fast, almost as fast as the SF-1500 part we have in the chart and a lot faster than the Indilinx Barefoot drives.
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. These tests are based on real world applications that many of us use daily.
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
These are the tests that show how a drive will perform in Windows and I was really surprised at the performance the Corsair Force 100GB has to offer. Here we see the drive running with the OCZ Vertex II Pro, an SF-1500 controlled drive. The Force also outperforms the Intel X25-M G2. When it comes to the Indilinx Barefoot, we see the Force pounding the competition.
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
File transfer performance is quite high with the Corsair Force. Here we see higher numbers from some of the other next generation drives, but when compared to the G2 and Indilinx drives, the Force dominates.
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.
In previous testing we learned that the SF-1500 was really fast at the server tests, but here we see that the SF-1200 is equally as impressive. Even the C300 takes a back seat to the Force in the Database and Workstation tests.
Are you just as surprised as me to see the SF-1200 perform just as well as the enterprise SF-1500 when both are running MLC flash? SandForce and their partners have been pretty quiet about how the consumer drive performs. Generally when a company has a very fast product we hear about it way before we start to see retail availability. We do know that the first release firmware was finished just days ago so the partners may have been waiting to let the cat out of the bag for the firmware update. Either way, we have the performance numbers now and they look great!
When it comes to the cost, we have yet to see the Corsair Force on retail or e-tail shelves, but we know that the product is on the way. We are expecting to see 100GB drives sell in the range of where the Indilinx Barefoot drives were just a month ago, right around the 400 USD to 450 USD mark. Corsair has already made the move to produce and sell lower cost Indilinx Barefoot drives and we can see their cost already. The Corsair Nova 128GB Indilinx Barefoot controlled drive costs around 330 USD, an all time low for an Indilinx Barefoot controlled drive. This makes room in the Corsair Force at the same 400 Dollar range that we are expecting to see these drives occupy. The complete breakdown ends up with Barefoot in the 300 USD, SF-1200 around 400 USD and the SF-1500/MLC and Marvel SATA 6G drives at the 500 USD price point.
Performance wise, we saw today that the Corsair Force with the SF-1200 controller is able to easily outperform the Indilinx Barefoot products and even compete with the higher priced Marvell SATA 6G Crucial RealSSD C300 in many benchmarks. When compared to the only SandForce SF-1500 / MLC sample we have looked at, the Corsair Force with a SF-1200 is able to run with the enterprise controller, but does give up around 10 MB/s in so in some of the tests. That said, in other tests, mainly Windows specific tasks, the SF-1200 appears to be able to outperform the SF-1500, but we have yet to test the SF-1500 drives with the latest firmware, but that day will come soon enough.
As it sits right now, the SF-1200 is one of the fastest drives we have ever tested, offers more speed than the Intel X25-M G2 and also offers 20GB more capacity than the X25-M. One of the big selling points for the Corsair Force F100 is that you do not need a SATA 6G port or adapter card to get the most out of the drive. Most users still have SATA II for their main interface and the F100 is ready to work in your system right out of the box.
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