G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive

With OCZ holding exclusive rights to the 4K high IOPS firmware, G.Skill tries the brute force approach and pairs the SF-1200 with faster flash memory.

Manufacturer: G.Skill
18 minutes & 33 seconds read time


G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 01

G.Skill has been doing fairly well in the SSD market even though they rarely get such credit. Their previous three generations of products were some of the first to market and all three were cheaper than competing products on the e-tail market at the time of the product launch. The last drive we looked at from G.Skill, the Falcon II was the first to bring Indilinx's Barefoot ECO to consumers and for at least three months was the only ECO drive offered in the US. The ECO allowed G.Skill to use new, lower cost flash memory and this resulted in G.Skill having the lowest priced Barefoot class product on the market. The only problem was that the G.Skill Falcon II had an e-tail cost that was around 30 USD less than other Barefoot class products and was quickly sold out everywhere. When new stock arrived it was quickly sold leaving users to give up on finding a Falcon II and paying more for something else. When it really comes down to it, G.Skill failed to deliver the Falcon II in the quantities needed to satisfy the demand.

Unlike the Falcon and Falcon II, the G.Skill Phoenix is not the first SSD we have received using a common controller from the manufacturers. In this round Indilinx is out and SandForce is in and it is in with everyone. Name any SSD manufacturer and as long as their name isn't Crucial then they have a SandForce SSD coming to market, if not already on the market. There are so many companies making consumer SSDs with the SandForce SF-1200 I needed to come up with a name that encompasses them all. Team SandForce is what I call them and since most of these products are using identical firmware and hardware, grouping them together is fairly accurate. There are of course a few exceptions like the OCZ Vertex with an exclusive firmware that raises the 4K write IOPS to around 50K and the Corsair Force that uses a pre-release firmware that also allows the 4K IOPS to remain at the enterprise level 50K. So far all the rest have been about the same except for the drives we have looked at with pre-release firmware. For the Team SandForce drives the only way to distinguish one product from another has been on price. This price war has led to SandForce SF-1200 drives, currently the fastest 100 to 128GB drives on the market, to dip in price rapidly.

When the G.Skill Phoenix 100GB drive arrived I was a bit surprised by the timing since the Falcon and Falcon II were some of the first Indilinx and Indilinx ECO drives we tested and found for sale. As always, I wanted to take a look at the new drive, but in the back of my mind I was thinking that the Phoenix would be just another run of the mill, Team SandForce product. To back that up I took a look at G.Skill's product page and sure enough, nothing special was listed and the specs sheet gave us the same impression. Even when the drive arrived it had Team SandForce written all over it. That determination was actually not from what was printed on the package, but the lack of any special mentions that clearly stated that the Phoenix was different. The package and the website were wrong and I didn't pick up on it until the PCB was removed.

Let's check out the specifications and get into why the G.Skill Phoenix is not just another Team SandForce product.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 02

The G.Skill Phoenix is currently being offered in 50 and 100GB capacities, but there may be additional drives added to the line-up. As you can see, G.Skill has actually reduced the read and write speeds given by other manufacturers, but in doing so gave the program and version number used to determine how the data was collected. G.Skill is claiming 280MB/s read and 270MB/s write speeds in ATTO, while other manufacturers are claiming 285MB/s read and 275MB/s write speeds without saying how they came up with the numbers. ATTO is the industry standard for these claims and we use it exactly the same way in our reviews. The SandForce SF-1200 is actually limited by the implementation of SATA II on a motherboard with the best boards able to achieve between 285 and 287MB/s read speeds. I think when G.Skill tested their drive for a rating in ATTO they done themselves a disfavor by not using a GIGABYTE X58A-UD7 like we use for all our storage product tests in 2010; our numbers were a bit higher. What is interesting in this section, though, is that G.Skill hasn't announced a 200GB drive and we will get to that in just a minute.

When it comes to the rest of the specifications, everything looks like another Team SandForce product except for the typo that claims Sustained Writes Up To 100MB/s; this should be 200MB/s or someone didn't test the drive right back at the shop. Typo aside, we see plain SandForce SF-1200, at least forsomeone who has nearly a dozen SandForce drives can see plain. But really, there isn't anything plain about the fastest SSD on the market today in this capacity.

For the most part, before any product gets tested in the TweakTown U.S. Lab it gets a photo shoot first. We start out with the package, then the drive and finally crack the top open to check out what is inside. The entire review pretty much follows the flow just like we do in the office. It wasn't until the G.Skill Phoenix's case was cracked open that we learned the Phoenix wasn't just another plain Team SandForce drive.

Upon entry the first thing we look at with a drive is the model number on the controller. The familiar 1222 was present indicating a consumer class SandForce SF-1200 was on the PCB, but things looked different on the memory. Every SandForce drive we have tested or even seen on display to date has used Intel 3xnm NAND flash, but the G.Skill Phoenix has Samsung memory. From previous experience I have retained the knowledge that Samsung makes a few different flash modules and the version called the D Die is the most common. The highly sought after stuff is called Samsung M Die and you can tell the difference by looking for the D or M at the end of the product number string on each module. The G.Skill Phoenix arrived with Samsung M Die, the good stuff!

Admittedly I am not an expert when it comes to flash memory, but from time to time I hear things from manufacturers press releases and check out the DRAM exchange market every couple of weeks to see where pricing is headed. To be completely fair, G.Skill never made any mention of the memory used in the Phoenix and the M Die reputation did not come from them. Others have told me before that Samsung M Die is expensive, in high demand and difficult to obtain in high quantity. RunCore started out using M Die in their Pro IV SSDs, but had to change over to D Die because the cost was too high to be competitive with other manufacturers pricing and a steady supply was too difficult to maintain.

The odd thing is that G.Skill changed the Falcon to the Falcon II because the ECO controller allowed for a wider range of memory to be used with the Barefoot ECO. The Falcon II and every other SandForce drive we tested have used the same Intel 29F64G08CAMDB flash. I have not been able to find a datasheet for the Intel flash to verify the speeds or latency timings, but I was able to find a datasheet for the Samsung M Die. Even with that document there is really no telling what speed or timings G.Skill is using in their Phoenix and for the most part we don't care as long as it produces faster real world performance in our computers. We can point to the exotic memory and wonder if the exotic memory choice is why G.Skill has yet to announce a 200GB product. We should also point out that G.Skill has never made a claim to which flash is used in the Phoenix and at any point can change the Build of Materials (BOM) list.

At this time G.Skill does have a bit of a pricing advantage on some of the other 100GB SandForce SSDs we have previously looked at. Newegg is showing the 100GB Phoenix at 369.00 USD. Just a few weeks ago we were excited to see the A-DATA S599 Team SandForce drive priced at 385.00 and before that we were accepting of the Corsair Force F100 at 400 to 430 USD. Since the CES rumor pricing was 500 to 550 USD for the 100GB Team SandForce drives, it is safe to say that we've come a long way since January. At this time Team SandForce has drives at Newegg in 100GB capacity for 359.99 to 409.00 USD, so the G.Skill Phoenix is on the lower end of the pricing scale and ready to compete for your money. Newegg did not list the 50GB Phoenix at the time of writing. The Phoenix is covered by a two year warranty.

Let's check out the G.Skill Phoenix package, drive and then move on to see if the Samsung M Die flash is able to give consumers what they are after; faster real world performance.

The Packaging

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 03

We really liked the Falcon II's white package and see that the Phoenix brought about a new color change for G.Skill SSDs. Here we see the firey Phoenix logo with distorted flames in the background. Nothing on the front of the package indicates the capacity, speeds or any other precious detail, but as far as I know G.Skill is not in any of the large chain stores in the US (with SSDs), so casual browsing on product shelves isn't a big concern for G.Skill with the Phoenix.

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 04

The back of the package is a lot like G.Skill's previous SSDs and here we see some general information and performance ratings at the lower right hand corner on a product specific sticker that also shows the official FM-25S2S-100GBP1 product code.

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 05

The inner packaging is used by several different companies besides G.Skill and keeps the drive secure inside layers of closed cell foam. G.Skill also includes a general installation manual.

The G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SSD

The Skill Phoenix 100GB SSD

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 06

Here we get our first look at the Phoenix 100GB SandForce controlled SSD. The drives capacity is clearly shown and the branded Phoenix logo is also present.

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 07

The back of the drive is where you will find your model and serial number for the Phoenix.

We rarely go into details on power consumption with SSDs since for the most part they are used for enthusiasts who are not concerned about such things. With the falling prices of these drives they are starting to show up on the radar of mainstream users. We have all taken the reduced power consumption claims about SSDs as gospel without verification, but this is something we will soon change in our reviews after Computex.

On the back of each drive a rating is shown and the Phoenix rating seemed higher than what I remember some of the other drives listing. Since the Phoenix uses older Samsung M Die memory that is produced using the 5xnm process and the current Team SandForce standard is Intel Micron 3xnm, it would be safe to say that the Phoenix draws more power.

After looking at the labels we found that the Phoenix claims .55 AMPS at 5 Volts while OCZ Vertex 2 lists .35 AMPS at 5 Volts. After Computex we will start looking at ways to verify these claims, but for now it should be noted that the G.Skill Phoenix draws more power than some of the other Team SandForce SSDs on the market and this could be something to keep in mind if your new SSD will be used in a notebook that runs on battery power often.

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 08

On the side of the G.Skill Phoenix we found standard mounting locations for a 2.5 inch form factor drive that is 9mm tall.

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 09

Turning the Phoenix around, we also found standard SATA power and data connectors.

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 10

With the PCB out we get a look at the internals. The SandForce SF-1200 is in the middle with eight Samsung M Die flash modules on this side. Nothing really stands out on the PCB and all of the components appear to be put together well.

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 11

On the back we found eight additional Samsung flash modules. SandForce drives do not use an external cache module and none were present.

Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 12

We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: AVADirect, GIGABYTE, Patriot Memory, 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 present the performance data for the G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SSD that uses a SandForce SF-1200 controller with Samsung M Die flash memory. The performance charts show a handful of other products tested under identical conditions using the same supporting hardware needed to perform an accurate performance evaluation.

I am quite excited to see G.Skill thinking outside of the box and trying something different to achieve higher performance. If the Phoenix is able to achieve better performance in our real world tests then the power consumption tax will be a good investment for desktop users.

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.

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 13

In ATTO we are able to verify the manufacturers transfer speed claims and see that the G.Skill Phoenix is rated by G.Skill a bit on the conservative side. Here we see over 285MB/s read and over 275MB/s write speeds.

One interesting note should be made about the 4K write speed. Here we see the Phoenix achieving around 127MB/s which is very fast, but the two SandForce drives we have tested using 'High 4K' firmware were able to achieve performance in the 170MB/s range.

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.

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 14

With the Crucial RealSSD C300 rolling off the charts this week, we are left with only a single 256GB drive and products in the 100 to 128GB category. Amazingly six of the drives listed use SandForce controllers, the two entries for Crucial C300 are from the same drive but with one on SATA 3G and the other on native SATA 6G. The Corsair Nova is the only Indilinx Barefoot and it has the new ECO variant which is now a low cost product. Two value drives using JMicron are shown; the Kingston V Series and Patriot Zephyr and the Western Digital Silicon Edge which really doesn't have a category also uses a JMicron controller.

When it comes to all out read speeds, the SandForce drives are limited by the SATA II interface. We did observe a nice straight line across the graph that told us that the performance was linier across the drive.

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In the write test the G.Skill Phoenix started out a little slow at first, but jumped up to the level it should run at right away. This is something we have observed before with SandForce drives, but the real world performance is not affected by the single low spike.

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.

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 16

Access times are what make SSDs feel so much faster while you are bouncing around between windows and opening files so quickly. The G.Skill Phoenix runs at the same rate as the other SF drives which is not a bad thing.

G.Skill Phoenix 100GB SandForce SF-1200 Solid State Drive 17

I was expecting to see the G.Skill Phoenix make use of the M Die flash in this test, but was left a little disappointed when all of the SF drives gave us similar write access times.

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.

Key Features:-

* 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.

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We use CDM to look at the 4K and 4K Queue Depth performance. Here we see that even the high IOPS firmware drives perform at the same level as the Team SandForce drives. The G.Skill Phoenix sings the same tune until we get to the Queue Depth of 32. Here we see the Phoenix 100GB take a 20MB/s lead on the Vertex 2.

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In the CDM write tests we see that the Phoenix runs nearly identical to the Vertex 2.

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.

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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

In the real world tests it looks like the G.Skill Phoenix 100GB is just as fast as the OCZ Vertex 2 100GB. The real difference between the two can be found in the price. At Newegg the Vertex 2 100GB has a 409 USD cost, while the G.Skill Phoenix 100GB is only 369.

When it comes to the next gen battle, we see that the Phoenix is faster in the all important Application Load test than the Crucial RealSSD C300 128GB. We will get into some of the details about the importance in our conclusion on the last page.

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

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We have made several comments in other reviews about the SandForce compression system and how it slows the performance of transferring compressed data. Here we see that even though the Phoenix is a superior boot drive when compared to the 128GB C300, it does transfer compressed data at a slower rate. We can also see that the two High 4K IOPS drives are able to transfer some data a little faster than the standard 40K IOPS SandForce drives.

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.

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SandForce's first controller was designed for the enterprise sector and that linage carried over into the consumer drives. This fact might have a few other enterprise SSD makers a little worried since the SF-1200 is able to perform so well at these tasks.

Here we see the G.Skill Phoenix running nearly identical numbers as the Vertex 2.

Final Thoughts

Like the Indilinx Barefoot market before it, companies are trying to find that one piece of special something to make their product stand out from other company's offerings. The names are still the same; OCZ, Crucial, Corsair, Patriot, G.Skill; the list goes on and on. There are two types of products in the SSD world; those that stand out because of their excellence and those that were designed off a template and just try to take a piece of the market share on brand recognition alone. Moving a product into the excellence category is a difficult task, but there are a few ways it can be done. The first is simply outperforming all other products on the market. Readers of TweakTown tend to like this one the best, but others may look for the best warranty, customer service or best price. The products that usually win the hearts of consumers combine excellence from all these categories and sprinkle it with a little something extra called luck.

When looking back at what we discussed today, G.Skill tried very hard to wrap everything into one package, but the luck just wasn't there to bring it all together. On paper the Samsung M Die looked like it would provide better performance and propel the Phoenix ahead of the pack. On paper the OCZ Vertex 2 and Corsair Force also looked like they would pull away from the pack in performance, but Lady Luck didn't want it to be. With all of the consumer SandForce drives performing right around the same G.Skill will need to compete in other areas to stand out.

The only problem now is G.Skill caught Lady Luck on a bad day when the M Die gamble didn't pay off. The Samsung M Die didn't equate to superior performance and is now acting like an anchor since it causes the drive to use more power. If you are an enthusiast using a desktop computer it isn't going to matter what kind of power your SSD pulls in next to your 300 watt video card. Notebook users on the other hand aren't going to feel the same way once they learn that their new SSD could be robbing them of precious battery life.

When it comes to price, the G.Skill Phoenix is right in the mix with the OCZ Agility 2 fighting for the lowest cost on Newegg. The two are currently 10 USD apart with the favor going to the Agility 2. Given that G.Skill is usually the lowest price SSD when matching drives by capacity and controller, we have to wonder what this fight would have been like with 3xnm flash in the Phoenix. Surely the BOM cost would have been reduced making the Phoenix cost less to manufacture and thus less at the e-tail level. I would really like to see G.Skill quickly ramp up a Phoenix II with IMFD 3xnm flash, or if it would work the new IMFD 25nm flash that was just announced. Even though the Phoenix is within arm's reach now, many manufacturers are tightening their belts and getting ready for an all out war in the SSD market. I really don't see the Phoenix in this form competing when prices fall to the other side of 350 USD for 100 to 128GB capacity sizes. Given that prices have fallen so quickly already, we predict this to happen in days, not months from now.

It is too bad G.Skill changed the recipe. The last time we had a bird from G.Skill it tasted pretty good, but this time something wasn't quite right. The performance was everything you would want, but only for desktop users who are oblivious to power usage. Notebook users should look elsewhere for their SandForce fix and those shopping for the best deal may find something else about the Phoenix to overcome the current 10 Dollar price gap between it and the Agility 2, like service or warranty terms. We already know that pricing now will not be the pricing in a few days and we question G.Skill's ability to scale their price down as quickly as some others while using exotic flash.

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