If you don't follow the SSD market like a hawk you may have missed Mushkin's recent rise to fame. Mushkin was the first SSD maker to announce, release, ship, and sell an extended capacity SandForce SF-1200 based SSD. At the same time I was writing about OCZ's Vertex 2 E, one of only a few in the country, Mushkin already had drives at Newegg and selling them at prices lower than anyone else's pre-MP2 releases.
When it comes to pricing Mushkin has been fighting very hard to keep their Callisto line of SSDs at a price point that is lower than others. That isn't an easy thing to do for a long period of time since companies like G.Skill and OCZ are also looking to position themselves on the same pedestal. The pricing game ends up being a revolving door with everyone trying to be the one standing in the light and Mushkin is starting to get a tan from being in that position quite often.
Mushkin entered the SSD market at the tail end of the Indilinx Barefoot Era. Their entry, called the Io, was a solid performer but gained little attention and market share since it didn't make the review rounds. By the time it was released, some companies were already on their second and third revision of Barefoot controlled drives. With the Io as a beta test for Mushkin's entry to the SSD market they turned their attention to the SandForce line called Callisto.
Like everyone else, Mushkin released the Callisto in the typical 50, 100 and 200GB capacity. At that time, SandForce played a game of favoritism and allowed OCZ run solo with the high IOPS programming. Mushkin held their line and played the waiting game for MP2. Now that MP2 is common stock, Mushkin released their extended capacity Callisto Deluxe drive and tossed in a heavy dose of high IOPS programming.
Today we will be looking at Mushkin's 120GB Callisto Deluxe that should offer, as the product name suggests, performance straight from the stars. It just so happens that Mushkin now has their foot in the revolving door and the Deluxe pricing is putting on sunscreen for its time in the sun.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
At this point I think most of us have the SandForce consumer SF-1200 controllers performance numbers down by heart. They play like a song from high school that when you hear on the radio you sing to: 285MB/s read, 275MB/s write speeds or the absolute limit of the SATA II interface, whichever is lower for your motherboard. I might not be able to make a catchy jingle out of it but when using these drives you will get that same giddy feeling.
As we mentioned in the introduction, Mushkin is currently sitting very pretty with their pricing. Our Callisto Deluxe 120GB sample that we are looking at today is available at Newegg at the time of writing for 299.99. That price makes it one of the lowest cost consumer SandForce SSDs on the market; even the ones that don't uses the high IOPS programming. Not to sound like an infomercial announcer, but if you buy now Mushkin has dropped the price from $344.99 down to just $289.99.
To add more value to the Callisto Deluxe package, Mushkin includes a 3 year warranty, 2.5 to 3.5" desktop mounting adapter and of course the Deluxe model also includes the 4K 50,000 IOPS programming that will add bragging rights to your forum signature.
Let's take a look at the Mushkin Enhanced Callisto Deluxe 120GB SSD.
There isn't a lot happening on the front of the Callisto Deluxe package. Mushkin came up with a sticker that distinguishes the Deluxe from the standard non-Deluxe model.
Our sample was fresh off the presses so I don't think it included all of the retail labeling that you may receive. Here we see an area that appears to be setup for a label; hopefully with the information we like to see like read and write performance numbers.
Mushkin's inner packaging is some of the best we have seen and it really goes above and beyond the level of protection needed for a solid state drive.
The Mushkin Enhanced Callisto Deluxe 120GB SSD
The Callisto drive itself looks a lot like the packaging. There isn't much of anything going on with the top cover.
The back cover has all of the information that we expected to find. Here you will find the actual model number and serial number. I found it interesting that Mushkin also included the firmware revision for the drive as it shipped.
The Callisto Deluxe has all of the standard mounting locations that make installing the drive very easy in your notebook or 2.5" drive adapter.
Things aren't so well thought out when we get to the rear of the total package. The SATA power and data connectors are where they should be on the actual drive but the adapter leaves everything out of place. If you ever wonder why we even take this little stroll around each sample hard drive we test this is why. The first time I can recall an issue like this was with the first 2.5" Western Digital VelociRaptor and it caused a few headaches for users looking to install the 2.5" drive that also included a drive adapter.
If you take a look at any regular 3.5" HDD you will see that the SATA power and data connectors are offset to the side of the drive and not in the middle. This is because there is a standard for these things and if you want to install the Mushkin Callisto into a NAS, external enclosure or anything that requires the drive to be within spec for spacing you may run into an issue.
Looking at the inside of the drive we found the PCB that I've been calling the 2+2. Nearly everything is standard here with an SF-1222TA3 controller and sixteen Intel flash modules.
The back of the drive is also fairly standard, but we did notice something when installing the drive.
When installing the Mushkin Callisto Deluxe the SATA power and data connector felt very loose and at one point I started to fear I had broken the drive. After testing I took the drive apart to see why the connector had a bit of a wiggle. Here we see why; the connector isn't held in place with glue to the PCB.
It is basically held in place with the solder. If you move the drive around from one system to another often enough, this could eventually cause an issue with if you break a solder point. If you fear this happening just put a very, very small drop of glue at each of the ends to keep the connector secure and butted up against the PCB.
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.
The Mushkin Callisto Deluxe 120GB is one of the first retail MP2 firmware drives that we have seen. We've tested a handful of drives with RC MP2 firmware but this is our first go around with the real deal. It will be interesting to see what happens to performance.
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 can see the high IOPS programming come into play in the 4K write portion of the test. Standard drives are only able to achieve around 120 to 130MB/s but the High IOPS drives hit 160MB/s or more.
Mushkin's performance claims of 285MB/s read and 275MB/s write appear to be spot on. We were able to pull just a little more speed but it will really come down to what motherboard you are using since the Callisto Deluxe will max your SATA II point to point connection.
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.
This is the first article we have published of a drive with MP2 but I also have two other drives in for testing. All three drives appear to lose some read speed to the Vertex 2 MP(1) drives in this synthetic test.
Some of the synthetic tests also show a reduction in write speeds with MP2 and the performance loss is visible in HD Tune.
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 access time patterns have also changed with the MP2 firmware release and here we see the Mushkin Callisto Deluxe gaining around .04 ms over the 120GB Vertex 2 E. This is really like splitting hairs at this point since the Callisto has such a large advantage over the platter drives. Here we see Mushkin's SSD really beating up the Western Digital VelociRaptor at its own game.
The write access times were a little higher as well with MP2 but not by an amount that we would call troubling. Looking at the write access time of the Mushkin Callisto Deluxe next to the VelociRaptor we see that there is very little latency involved with write transactions.
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.
The 4K read performance of the Mushkin Callisto Deluxe appears to be in line with some of the other SandForce SF-1200 based drives we have looked at so far. There also appears to be a slight increase in the 4K QD32 range.
The 4K write speeds are in line with what we were expecting to see.
That concludes our synthetic benchmarks, so 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
Since most readers are looking to purchase a SSD for their operating system strong emphasis is paid to these tests that show how a drive will perform in Windows. Here we see very strong performance from the Callisto Deluxe but the new firmware appears to hold the drive up in a few places.
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
The copy tests show that the MP2 firmware that shipped on the Callisto Deluxe has further reduced the file copy speeds and the drive is now copying data a little slower than the Intel X25-M.
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.
Mushkin's Callisto Deluxe was derived from an enterprise SSD and as such performs well in many enterprise tasks. The new MP2 firmware does appear to once again slow the drive down; this time in the Workstation test. The other three tests remained the same.
The performance of the new MP2 firmware wasn't anything like what we expected to see. In many cases, performance was actually reduced so this is something that we will need to explore in more detail at a later date. For the most part the MP2 performance was the same as what we saw with MP1 and the RC release drives but there were a few places where we had a surprise. The main category was the file copy test where the Intel X25-M was able to outperform the Callisto Deluxe with MP2. Since this is an area where SandForce drives struggle anyhow, we really wanted to see a performance increase here.
As we mentioned in the intro, Mushkin has been working very hard to get their solid state drives positioned at the top of the price search websites. For the most part, the Callisto and Callisto Deluxe have been able to hold their ground. Our 120GB Callisto Deluxe is currently one of the lowest priced SandForce SF-1200 based drives with High IOPS programming and that makes it a strong contender for anyone looking to buy a new SSD for their notebook or desktop. Newegg currently lists the drive for 289.99.
Desktop users will be happy to know that the Callisto Deluxe ships with a desktop adapter so you can install the drive very easily. If you are using a slide in drive bay with a backplane that requires the drive to be offset like a standard 3.5" form factor drive you will need to purchase a different bracket.
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