Have you ever been to a kid's baseball game where the game was delayed? This usually happens during summer vacation; two of the kids are on vacation and another one is late. Little Jimmy's mom called and said Jimmy would be there 15 minutes late. All of the kids are on the field tossing the ball around, except Jimmy, and the crowd of parents are anxiously wondering what the hell the holdup is because they want to get home to cook dinner and finish some work. Then all of a sudden Little Jimmy comes running on the field and the ref yells "PLAY BALL!"
Little Jimmy is now here and Team SandForce can start the game. This game is played on websites, e-tail and retail outlets all over the country. For me, SSDball is more exciting than any sport I watch on TV because I've got front row seats on the first base line. All of the action happens right in front of me and this season is going to be exciting.
So far we've seen products with the SandForce SF-2281 controller from OCZ Technology and Other World Computing. All of those products were really good and priced very well, but their reign is about to come to an end. SandForce partners like Patriot, G.Skill, Kingston and many others are now getting ready to hit the market and with the flood of new products comes competition. This competition will push the performance, price, availability and accessory envelope to new levels. 2011 is going to be the year where everyone can and should have an SSD in their computer and notebook.
Patriot Memory might not get the press that OCZ and a few others get, but they deliver solid products early in the season and manage to fight for the best online price throughout the year. Last year's Inferno product based on the SF-1200 was impressive with its blood red case and attractive price point. Patriot is one of the companies that push the price of consumer SSDs down to make their products more accessible to mainstream users. This in turn forces other companies to lower their price and the revolving price war cycles again.
Having the lowest priced drive on Newegg is going to be a little more complicated this year. There will be several drives based on the SF-2281; if we only had different controllers fighting it out, everything would be easy like last year. This year SSD manufacturers are taking their products to the next level of complexity and getting creative with the flash used. So far we've seen three flash types used with the SF-2281; 25nm async, 25nm sync and Toshiba Toggle flash. Even though we've only seen three so far, it doesn't mean that's all we'll see.
The Patriot Wildfire we're looking at today uses Toshiba Toggle flash. The OCZ Technology Vertex 3 Max IOPS, OCZ's flagship SSD also uses Toshiba Toggle flash, but these two drives are a little different. The Vertex 3 Max IOPS 120GB drive has four chips at twice the density of the eight Toshiba Toggle flash chips used on the Patriot Wildfire.
Before I lose you in technical jargon, let's take a look at the Patriot Wildfire's specifications and get this sorted out.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Patriot's specification sheet has a lot of technical talk about SandForce technology that is built into the SF-2281 controller. If you want more details about the buzzwords, please check out our SF-2000 Client Controller Article.
Patriot will release the Wildfire in four user available capacity sizes; 60GB, 120GB, 240GB and 480GB. Today we're looking at the 120GB model, the one I feel appeals to the largest audience due to its cost vs. available capacity. Patriot claims the Wildfire is capable of delivering up to 555MB/s read and 520MB/s sequential transfer speeds. This is in line with other manufacturers claims and well within the maximum performance offered by the SF-2281 controller.
In being able to achieve performance at this level, you'll need a motherboard with a native SATA 6Gb port or an add-on card. SATA 3G will get you to around 285MB/s read and 275MB/s write.
Patriot also claims random write IOPS of up to 85,000. I'll be honest, I didn't believe it when I read it, but after a quick run with IOMeter I achieved 88,000 IOPS, I was impressed. Not that I'll ever be able to use that much in my day to day activities but the claim has been verified and is awesome to say the least. Remember, we are talking about a single 2.5" drive here that will work in your Dell notebook, not some PCIe thing that costs more than a used car.
Then there is cost. This is where feathers will be ruffled for those not in the know. The 120GB Patriot Wildfire that we are looking at today has an MSRP of 299.99 and will be available in just a few days. I'm not going to insult you and tell you it's cheap. It is an MSRP, though, so expect Newegg to raise the price to 330 at launch and in a week the price will go to MSRP, but after that it's Take Me Out to the Ballgame time.
Patriot's biggest (and for that matter any SSD manufacturer this year's) biggest competitor is OCZ Technology. The Wildfire is on the same level as OCZ's flagship Vertex 3 Max IOPS product. Both use top shelf Toshiba Toggle flash. There is a difference, though; the Max IOPS 120GB uses eight chips at 2x the die density and the Wildfire uses sixteen chips. So far I've only tested the 240GB Vertex 3 Max IOPS drive with sixteen chips, so I won't be able to give you a direct comparison between the two today. I have asked OCZ for a 120GB Max IOPS sample - stay tuned for a direct comparison.
Patriot includes a desktop adapter bracket with the Wildfire, a needed add-on for desktop users and one not provided with the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 6G or OCZ Agility 3. The Wildfire also has a three year warranty and support forum for quick questions and advice.
In order to get better pictures, I took the shrink wrap off the Patriot Wildfire package. The front of the box doesn't give us a lot of information, but we do get capacity and the product name.
On the back of the package Patriot gives us some general information about Wildfire, warranty length and such, but no detailed information on performance.
Here is where things get interesting. In order to open the top flap you must first break the shrink wrap seal. On the inner portion of the flap I found all sorts of useful information like performance claims, full specifications and even a CAD style drawing of the drives dimensions.
I have to wonder if the dimensions were put there for my own amusement after finding that the OCZ Technology casing was too large for many notebooks (problem solved at a later date). Still, this is great information for the guy or gal shopping at Microcenter and would help them make a purchasing decision if they could get to the information before buying the product.
The inner packaging follows Patriot's other successful drives and keeps the desktop adapter bracket in a separate container. The drive is housed in its own plastic housing.
The Patriot Wildfire 120GB
Here we get our first look at the drive itself. The drive looks a lot like the retail package and the capacity information is right on the front.
The back of the drive lists the full model number, serial number, capacity and firmware of the drive when it shipped.
The case of the drive is aluminum and of the same construction as the OWC drives we've already received. I am a bit disappointed that Patriot didn't choose to use a red case this round, as I grew quite fond of the Inferno color.
The Wildfire case is proven in the field and will fit your notebook without issue. On the side we see the standard mounting points.
The SATA power and data connectors are also where they should be on the drive. The desktop adapter bracket is also offset so when using the drive in an enclosure the SATA connectors line up as they should.
Inside we found a SandForce SF-2281 controller just as we expected and sixteen Toshiba flash chips, eight on each side.
The other side of the PCB has more surface mount components and the remaining eight Toshiba chips that use BGA connectors.
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 products in this article.
Our experience so far with Toshiba 32nm Toggle flash paired with a SF-2281 is a bit troubling on the surface. The OCZ Technology Max IOPS 240GB drive was not as fast as the baseline Vertex 3 with IMFT 25nm sync flash in day to day, real world tasks. Once you really pressed the issue and starting abusing the drive with heavy multitasking, the Max IOPS was able to perform better than the baseline drive. What does that say about the Patriot Wildfire? Well, nothing really. Let's let the Wildfire write its own story and then decide.
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.
Patriot's 555MB/s was a little conservative. I was able to knock of the door of 560MB/s when reading from the drive. I did only manage 496MB/s while writing and this was down a bit from Patriot's claimed 520MB/s. I have noticed more manufacturers claiming ATTO performance at a queue depth of 10 rather than the standard 4.
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
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 Patriot Wildfire 120GB is starting off strong with nearly 380MB/s average read across the drive. Our baseline Vertex 3 was a hair faster, so the results are in line with what we experienced with the Max IOPS drive we tested a couple of weeks ago.
The write test comparison went a bit better between our SandForce SF-2281 controlled drives. Taking the Vertex 3 drives out of the equation, look at how much faster the Patriot Wildfire is compared to other next generation drives available on the market.
Benchmarks - AIDA64 Random Access Time
AIDA64 Random Access Time
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.60
Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com
Product Homepage: http://www.aida64.com
AIDA64 offers 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 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 and Toshiba.
The deeper I get into my real world testing of all these new SATA 6G drives, the more convinced I am that we've reached the peak of day to day user experience with this batch. Every command, no matter how over the top, the Wildfire reacts and is then ready to react again and again. Just keep clicking all those icons on your desktop and they keep opening before you can take your finger off the mouse button.
Write latency isn't as important for day to day user experience, but when you're installing programs or transferring data around, the low write latency certainly makes things more enjoyable.
Benchmarks - CrystalDiskMark
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 that allows us to benchmark 4K and 4K queue depths with accuracy.
* Sequential reads/writes
* Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes
* Text copy
* Change dialog design
* internationalization (i18n)
Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 Technical Preview was used for these tests since it offers the ability to measure native command queuing at 4 and 32.
Here we are looking at 4K and 4K with command depth with native command queuing. This is where the Patriot Wildfire with Toshiba Toggle flash should tear the 25nm IMFT flash drives apart. The Wildfire did just that but at a queue depth of 32. The single command and 4 command tests were pretty much equal, so if want to find the difference between the two, you really need to multitask.
The 4K writes on the 120GB Vertex 3 hit a brick wall at 167MB/s, but the Wildfire 120GB managed to achieve 221.7MB/s. I can't wait to get the 240GB model in the lab to see what it's capable of.
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/
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
Here we go, the real world tests; the place where all of these little numbers actually mean something to people who just want to buy a modern SSD, install it and feel like they got their money's worth.
Looking at the two 120GB drives with a SandForce SF-2281, the numbers are pretty close, but the Vertex 3 manages to take all of the wins. Of course, that is when both drives are empty, void of data and not like your drive will be.
PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing
For a complete breakdown on the Drives with Data Testing please read this article. You will be able to perform this test at home with the files provided in the article - full instructions are included.
SSDs perform differently when used for a period of time and when data is already present on the drive. The purpose of the Drives with Data testing is to show how a drive performs in these 'dirty' states. SSDs also need time to recover, either with TRIM or onboard garbage collection methods.
Drives with Data Testing - 25%, 50%, 75% Full States and Dirty / Empty Test
Files needed for 60 (64GB), 120 (128GB), 240 (256GB)
60GB Fill - 15GB, 30GB, 45GB
120GB Fill - 30GB, 60GB, 90GB
240GB Fill - 60GB, 120GB, 160GB
Empty but Dirty - a test run just after the fill tests and shows if a drive needs time to recover or if performance is instantly restored.
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
Once we start putting data on the drives things change a bit. When the 120GB Vertex 3 and Wildfire have 50% of their capacity taken up by data, the two perform equally. When we filled these two drives up to 75% of user capacity, the Wildfire retained more of its speed making it faster than the Vertex 3 120GB at that fill point.
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
We all transfer data around and the more we consume from the web the more there is to deal with. The Patriot Wildfire 120GB handles these transfers very well and we are able to move data faster with it than we could with the Vertex 3 120GB.
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 first time we heard about Toshiba Toggle flash being paired with a SandForce controller, it was on the Vertex 3 Pro, the enterprise drive that is used in situations where IOPS can be the bottleneck for performance. The Patriot Wildfire uses the same Toggle flash and it allows the 120GB Wildfire to run very close to the performance of the 240GB Vertex 3.
In 2010 we didn't have a lot of variation in the actual drives shipping from manufacturers. The only company that didn't use IMFT flash on a SandForce SF-1200 was G.Skill and that was only on the original Phoenix. Everyone else ran 3xnm IMFT flash and performance pretty much varied on the firmware / programming shipped on the drive. This left consumers basing their product purchasing decision down to price and the accessory package offered with the drive. This year we're going to see a lot more variation and even more tiered products from the same manufacturers. You're really going to have to do your homework before jumping in and buying a SF-2281 drive.
Today we looked at the Patriot Wildfire 120GB with the SandForce SF-2281 controller paired with 16 Toshiba 32nm Toggle flash. At this point in time I can't tell you if running 16 flash chips is better than 8 with this new Toshiba flash. What I can tell you is that the Patriot Wildfire is really, really fast, enhances the user experience when coming from a mechanical drive or even a two year old SSD.
In order to get the most out of the Wildfire, you need a high quality SATA III port like those found on Z68 motherboards. Most native SATA III motherboards from Intel do very well, but those with X58 and a Marvell SATA III port are not able to take full advantage of the speed offered by Wildfire. You can of course use this combination until your motherboard upgrade; if it were me with an X58 motherboard I'd wait until X79 in December or January. At that point you can take your Patriot Wildfire with you into the new build.
There is no doubt that the Wildfire is fast, but it also comes with all of the accessories you need as well. The 2.5" to 3.5" desktop adapter bracket makes installing the drive in your desktop so much easier and you also get a three year warranty.
When shopping around, you're going to see all kinds of prices for these new SandForce SF-2281 controlled drives. Over the weekend Newegg listed the Agility 3 for just less than 200 USD with a mail in rebate. Don't buy a slower SSD based on price without knowing its limitations, you will not be satisfied in the end. The Patriot Wildfire 120GB that we looked at today has a MSRP of 299.99. Right out of the gate Patriot released a flagship drive with the highest specification rating available. The SF-2281 + Toshiba Toggle flash is a hair slower in real world performance, but offers a longer life span when compared to the 25nm IMFT drives and gives you a little higher maximum IOPS when you can use it.
The Wildfire also costs a little less than the Vertex 3 Max IOPS, its direct price / performance competition. Patriot has always been really aggressive with e-tail pricing and we look to see Wildfire mixing it up when the rest of Team SandForce gets in the game.