A few months ago we told you about solid state drive manufacturers playing with the number of channels and flash modules on SandForce SF-1200 controllers to achieve new capacity variations. The first round of products with the new configurations were 40GB drives. Corsair has a new configuration that increases the capacity to 90GB and also retains the high IOPS programming that keeps transactions rates high.
More importantly for users shopping by budget, the new Corsair F90 ducks under the 200 USD barrier. This is an important place to have a product since the 40GB model is too small for most users, even those looking for a high speed SSD on a budget, and the 100GB drive is still over 200 USD. I'll let you decide your budget, but getting a large amount of premium SandForce storage for less than 200 Dollars looks like a sweet spot to me.
Let's move on and take a look at the specifications and then get to the real action and test the new Corsair F90.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Corsair has a new and improved website and that is where we snagged this image of the Force 90GB specifications at. For nearly the last year we've recommended SSDs with SandForce controllers for every capacity size other than 256GB. When we started out recommending these drives there were just the 100, 120 and 60GB, but now Corsair and SandForce have added numerous capacity sizes. All of the drives share the same features, though; they are all very fast and very resilient to "SSD Fragmentation", meaning they don't slow down over time.
When it comes to pricing, our favorite shop Newegg has stock available. The Corsair F90 at the time of writing was available for 189.99 USD. At that price the Corsair F90 is right on par with the OCZ Agility 2 and Vertex 2 90GB units. The Corsair drive also comes with a desktop 3.5" form factor adapter bracket and a standard 3 year warranty, so you are covered from any type of manufacturers defects for a few years.
For a time we had our fingers crossed and hoped to see the 120GB drives break the 200 USD price point in the US and prices were starting to go that way until recently. The 120GB drives are now back up to 240+ Dollars and I don't expect to see them fall to below 200 USD anytime soon. There is a chance of it happening once SandForce releases their next generation consumer model, but that will be at least March 2011 if not deeper into Q2. That leaves the 90GB Corsair Force as the prime contender for keeping under 200 Dollars.
Corsair hasn't changed the packaging for the Force Series since launch. Here we see the standard packaging. On the bottom the capacity of the drive is listed.
The back of the package lists some general benefits of SSDs and a few features of the Force Series products.
The inner packaging is setup very well with a dividing wall between the 3.5" desktop bracket and the drive itself. The SSD is enclosed in its own form fitting plastic shell as well.
The Corsair Force F90 SSD
Here we get our first look at the Corsair F90. We will publish a Force RAID article in a couple of days and then the drive will make their way into both of our storage product test systems.
On the front of the drive we found the model and serial numbers. The capacity is also listed on the front of the drives.
The back of the drive is void of labels or additional information, but we did find the standard mounting locations for 2.5" drives. This will allow you to install the drives in several adapters and notebook drive sleds.
The standard side mounting points are also where they should be, making the Force 90GB compliant with all known mounting specs for 2.5" drives.
Things got interesting when we popped the top of the drive. Here we see that the F90 is running five modules on one side.
The other side of the drive is running seven flash modules for a total of 12 all together.
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, Corsair. and Noctua.
You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test productsin this article.
Even though we are now into 2011, we plan to use our awesome 2010 test system well into the year. Look for a few updates in the coming months.
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 found a maximum read speed of just over 280MB/s and a maximum write speed of 272MB/s. The 120GB drive was able to deliver 285MB/s read and 275MB/s write speeds, but I would have to say the results are close enough.
We will have to look a little deeper in the real world tests to see if the new flash arrangement has an effect on real world performance.
Benchmarks - HD Tune Pro
HD Tune Pro
Version and / or Patch Used:4.00
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
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.
Most SSDs controllers are a little unpredictable when you start playing around with the flash configuration, but the SandForce controller has been a very good performer no matter how it's configured. Here we see the same high level of performance from the F90 as we did with the 120GB drives.
That statement also carries over to the write performance as well. In HD Tune we see that the write speed is still over 200MB/s average, down just a hair from the 120GB drives.
Benchmarks - Everest Random Access Time
Everest Random Access Time
Version and / or Patch Used:4.60
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 new SandForce firmware has added a little bit of latency to the drives, but as you can see we are still measuring in microseconds (1 thousandths of a second). This is what gives SSDs their snappy feeling when used for an operating system.
The write latancy grew by a small amount as well with the last SandForce firmware update, but as you can see, the growth was very low. SandForce SSDs still have some of the lowest read and write latency on the market.
Benchmarks - Crystal Disk Mark
Version and / or Patch Used:3.0 Technical Preview
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 get to look at the 4K and queue depth performance. These tests gave us the largest differences in performance when comparing the 90GB to the 120GB drives. The Corsair Force 90GB is still very fast when it comes to 4K performance, but here we see that the 120GB drives are quite a bit faster and that difference amplifies at queue depth.
The 4K write speeds are nearly the same as the larger drives and there wasn't much of a performance difference.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests
PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests
Version and / or Patch Used:1.0.0
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
The real world tests gave us a nice full performance graph from the F90. Here we see that the drive pretty much operates at the limits of SATA II all the way around. These tests are based on tasks most Windows users run daily.
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
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 files from one area of the drive to another wasn't an issue with the F90. Here we see that the new flash configuration didn't have any effect on performance.
Benchmarks - Passmark
Passmark Advanced Multi-User Tests
Version and / or Patch Used:6.1
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.
SandForce's roots are in the enterprise pot and even though they hate it when I say it, their consumer drives can also make really good parts for servers. Here we see very high file and web server performance. The database performance is also exceptional. Looking at the Western Digital VelociRaptor at the bottom of the chart, we get to see exactly what the High IOPS Corsair F90 is all about.
The biggest complaint about SSDs I read about in forums is their price. Every time I see someone pitching a fit about SSD prices and saying things like, "They are not worth it yet", I know I'm reading a post by someone who has never installed an SSD in their system, ever. A SandForce SSD over 100GB is worth 400 USD in my opinion because you will save 400 Dollars worth of your time every month simply by installing it in your system. I easily save 100 Dollars a week in time just from booting my computer with a solid state drive. The picture editing time is worth even more than that! Luckily for those that talk out of the same end they sit on, Corsair Force prices are nowhere near 400 USD per 100GB these days. With the new F90, Corsair was actually able to get the prices down to less than 200 USD for the new 90GB model, and with it more people can take the plunge and see what all of the fuss is about.
When it comes to performance, the new 90GB Force runs at nearly the same speed as the 120GB drive that we recommend quite often. There were a few places where we could see a difference in the benchmarks, but in real world situations you wouldn't be able to tell one from another. When it comes to the capacity, 30GB might not seem like a lot these days, but when you are starting out with only 120GB of space to begin with things take on a different vantage point. If you are considering a 90GB SSD for your notebook I would suggest you take a look at how much space you are using already and determine if a 90GB SSD would work for you.
Desktop users will be fine with a 90GB SSD boot drive since they have the option of installing other HDDs to compliment their ultra fast boot drive. I'm actually installing the two Corsair F90's in my two identical test systems this week. Both systems have around 40GB of data on them and since I store the test results on a NAS server, their capacity needs rarely ever change. Many people use their computer this same way and don't install or store a lot of extra data on their PC, so a small, very fast boot drive is perfect for their needs.
The biggest news for the new Corsair F90 is still the price. Newegg currently lists the F90 at 189.99 USD. With new SATA 6G drives coming in the next few months the price is only going to go lower, but for now this is your best bet at getting a quality SandForce drive for less than 200 USD.
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