G.Skill's first SandForce controlled SSD hit our lab prior to Computex and SandForce's MP2 update. With MP2 and Computex a couple of things happened. More companies were given the opportunity to use the high IOPS programming and consumer class over provisioning became mainstream.
The first SandForce SSD we tested, the Corsair Force, shipped to us with the 4K High IOPS programming and several other drives have come in since then. Some companies have made claims with the High IOPS programming while others simply use it as a box to check on their specifications list. For the most part, all have shared the same performance graphs but other than a couple of synthetic benchmarks we haven't found any real world performance increases from this special programming. With that in mind we aren't all that impressed with check boxes that don't equate to real world results.
The other major change that hit with MP2 was something that we could all use: more capacity available to the user. This was the feature that we were all excited about. Since SandForce designed their controller all of the available space for background tasks making the space available didn't impact performance unless the drive is nearly full. Even then, the drive is very fast but now users have the opportunity to fill that space with data.
G.Skill, building on the foundation of the Phoenix, now has their second revision available: the Phoenix Pro. There have been quite a few changes made to the Phoenix Pro; some of which we really like and others we didn't like with the first Phoenix.
Let's take a look at the changes that make the Phoenix Pro superior to the Phoenix and see what kind of performance we were able to get out of our sample.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
With the first Phoenix we found some issues that didn't go over too well in our testing. The first was the use of Samsung's older M-Die flash that caused the drive to pull more power than SSDs using IMDF flash. The Phoenix Pro takes care of the power issue and now uses IMDF flash that costs less and lowers the power draw.
At first we expected G.Skill to discontinue the Phoenix, but instead G.Skill has revised the Phoenix and supplemented it with the higher capacity. Now there is the Phoenix and Phoenix Pro with the only difference being the High IOPS programming and price.
The price is where things get interesting. G.Skill is now in the position that we like to see them at. The original Phoenix, now with extended capacity programming, at 120GB costs 299.00 and is the lowest priced SandForce SSD in this capacity at Newegg. The 120GB capacity Phoenix Pro that we are reviewing today has a small price premium, but is still at a very low 289.99. At 289.99 the Phoenix Pro shares some competition, but many of those competing products don't share the same High IOPS programming and have the "base" SandForce programming configuration. This means G.Skill is the current price leader in two categories; base and high performance.
In addition to being the low cost solution, G.Skill is now including a 2.5" to 3.5" adapter bracket with the Phoenix Pro. This adds additional value to the Pro Package.
The Phoenix Pro uses a similar package as the Phoenix. On the front we see the SandForce Driven logo but other than that not a lot of information is given.
The back of the package has all of the pieces to the puzzle one would need to make an informed buying decision on the retail floor. Here we see the Phoenix Pro's rated speed, shock tolerances, and capacity size.
Here we see the inner package of the Phoenix Pro. G.Skill now includes a bracket and it helps to hold the drive in the package. Everything is packed tightly in the close cell foam package and the drive will have little problem surviving a drop or mishap during shipping.
The G.Skill Phoenix Pro 120GB SSD
Here we get our first look at the G.Skill Phoenix Pro. On the front, we see that G.Skill has listed the capacity.
Most of the real information is listed on the back of the drive. Here we see the actual model number as well as some performance claims.
On the side of the drive we see that G.Skill has kept the standard mounting locations.
The power and data connections are also in the standard locations. There is one issue with this, but it really doesn't have anything to do with the drive. The mounting bracket mounts the drive in the middle.
That leaves the power and data connections in the wrong spot when the drive is mounted in the bracket. It won't be an issue for most users, but if you are mounting the bracket in some type of enclosure the drive will not line up right.
Here we get our first look at the internals of the Phoenix Pro.
There are sixteen total Intel flash chips combined on both sides.
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.
We changed up our SSD performance charts in one of the articles last week at the request of the article sponsor. I like the changes so we are keeping them for a little while. Now, instead of just listing the last ten to twelve drives reviewed, we have chosen some of the more popular drives and controllers.
Represented in the performance charts will be the G.Skill Falcon Pro, Intel X25-M (G2), Indilinx Barefoot via the Corsair Nova, Marvell SATA 6Gbps via the 128 and 256GB Crucial RealSSD C300, SandForce SF-1200 via the 120 and 240GB OCZ Vertex 2, and finally the Western Digital VelociRaptor which is the fastest consumer platter drive.
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 are able to verify the manufacturers transfer speed claims. As you can see, G.Skill's claims of 285MB/s read and 275MB/s write are accurate.
In ATTO we can also see that our sample has the high IOPS 4K firmware. The 4K test in ATTO shows just under 170MB/s write speeds; standard SF-1200 drives without this feature only produce results in the 130 to 140MB/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.
The Phoenix Pro arrived in a used state so it had already lost its new drive shine before we even got started. Normally we use our testing to remove that luster. When compared to the Vertex 2 E 120GB drive we see the Phoenix Pro losing around 20MB/s of average speed. This is in line with what we see in our post review testing after the drive has been used.
In the STR write test we see the Phoenix Pro running at the same maximum speeds of the other SandForce drives, but the average and minimum are down a bit. This is also part of the used drive state. By the time we get to the real world tests all of the drives will be in the same condition.
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.
In the read access time chart we get a chance to see the true benefit of SSDs. At the top we see the Phoenix Pro and at the bottom the latest 10,000 RPM Western Digital VelociRaptor. It is the access time that makes the drive feel so fast and responsive in your system.
The write access time of the Phoenix Pro is spot on to what we see regularly with SandForce drives.
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.
In CDM we see that the 4K read of the Phoenix Pro is better than both of the Vertex 2 E drives we tested. This is due to the new firmware that ships with the Phoenix Pro. Once we get to the queue depth tests things start to level out between the three SandForce drives.
The 4K write speeds of the Phoenix Pro are some of the fastest we have tested and the drive holds its own against the Vertex 2 drives on the chart.
That concludes our synthetic benchmarks; let's take a look at the real world tests and see if what we learned from the synthetics carries over to the real world.
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
There are quite a few points to look at in this set of results that show how a drive will perform with Windows 7 as a boot drive. The important comparison here is between the Phoenix Pro 120GB drive and the Crucial RealSSD C300 128GB. Both drives are high on the list of consumers looking for a next generation SSD, but here we see that the Phoenix Pro has a significant real world performance advantage when compared to the 128GB C300.
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
Transferring data from one partition to the other is very fast with the Phoenix Pro, but compressed data has always been a bit of an issue with the SandForce controller when compared with the Crucial RealSSD C300. Here we see the 128GB C300 with a lower write speed when compared to the 256GB C300, but still performing faster than the Phoenix Pro in these tests.
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 controller used in the G.Skill Phoenix Pro was based on an enterprise controller and performs very well in server environments. Here we see a bit of the High IOPS programming coming into play and the Phoenix Pro is able to outperform the C300s in the tests where the SATA 6Gbps doesn't come into play.
I have to admit that it is getting difficult to write these final SandForce drive reviews. We have tested several; more than anyone else and even more than I thought would ever be released. At this point we are calling it a numbers game for consumers. Which number is higher when it comes to performance is almost irrelevant. Which company is able to offer the best warranty and offer the best price is the number that consumers need to look at since the SandForce market is now a true buyers market.
That said, G.Skill has positioned the Phoenix Pro to be a real contender in this buyers market. The Phoenix Pro costs 10 dollars more than the Phoenix but is still cheaper than many of the other high IOPS programming drives. At 289.99, the Phoenix Pro is one of the lowest costing 120GB SandForce SSDs and it also comes with the special programming.
The other important number to look at is the length of the warranty. G.Skill recently raised their warranty terms from two years to three years. Other manufacturers have announced similar terms but they are also rarely at the bottom end of the pricing scale. This is an area that G.Skill seems to occupy frequently.
With the important numbers discussed it is a prime time to look at the numbers that everyone really cares about: performance numbers. When it comes to the 100, 120, and 128GB capacity sizes there are two groups to look at: SandForce and Crucial. The Crucial RealSSD C300 in this capacity range has a disadvantage since it has limited write speeds. We routinely say that the SandForce drives at the lower capacities are the way to go and when it comes to the Phoenix Pro we are still holding our recommendation.