OWC Electra 240GB Solid State Drive Review

Another mainstream SandForce SF-2281 powered drive passes through the TT labs for testing. Today Chris takes a look at the new Electra series drives from Other World Computing.

@ChrisRamseyer
Published Sun, Jul 31 2011 11:01 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 88%Manufacturer: Other World Computing

Introduction

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We are starting to get overloaded with these new mainstream drives that use SandForce SF-2281 controllers paired with asynchronous flash. These products are just coming in from every angle and I'm starting to get the feeling they'll outnumber the faster synchronous drives in terms of total SKUs offered in total by the Team SandForce manufacturers. This is good news for the mainstream market looking for good, actually, above average SSD performance, but not so good for those looking for the ultimate performance found with synchronous flash SandForce drives.

If you've been following my latest reviews then you know I'm a bit twisted on these new mainstream SandForce drives. Don't get me wrong, I do understand they are not made for the enthusiast crowd looking for bleeding edge performance, but in many cases the price difference between the good async drives and the exceptional sync drives isn't that great.

Today we're looking at the OWC Electra 240GB which sells at OWC (macsales.com) for 459.99 USD, a full 100 USD less than the enthusiast class Mercury Extreme Pro 6G. Both drives use the same SandForce SF-2281 controller, but differ on the type of flash used and the difference in flash has a large impact in the level of performance possible in real world tests and when working with incompressible data.

Today we'll look at both of these drives since we now have a retail OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 6G and a matching capacity Electra 240GB.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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Other World Computing does a really good job publishing their product specifications and gives us a lot of information. Under ideal circumstances the OWC Electra is capable of delivering 556MB/s read speed and 523MB/s write speed. In being able to run your drive at this level of performance, you'll need a motherboard with native SATA III capability. We suggest an Intel P67 or Z68 chipset.

OWC also lists the speed in which you can expect when working with incompressible data, a specification that we don't see advertised too often. The Electra is able to read 208MB/s and write 235MB/s when working with incompressible data, but the Mercury Extreme Pro 6G goes up to 479MB/s read and 282MB/s write.

The differences don't stop there between these two OWC drives. The Electra that we are reviewing today is blessed with a three year warranty, but the Mercury Extreme Pro 6G has the longest warranty on the market at a full five years. Neither drive ships with a desktop adapter bracket which is a bit of a bummer for PC desktop users.

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Most OWC drives are sold on their own website, macsales.com. This makes it easy for us to get pricing information, but we don't get the same e-tail competition price reductions like we see with other manufactures. A good example is the current Tiger Direct vs. Newegg price war going on with SSDs as each company tries to out do the other.

The Packaging

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OWC uses the same packaging for all of their SSD offerings. The package does a good job protecting the drive, but doesn't give us a lot of information.

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Since we can see through the package, we can see the model number and capacity information on the drive itself.

The OWC Electra 240GB

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Here we get our first look at the drive itself. OWC is the only company that I know of who makes a blue SSD. The front sticker of the drive tells us this is the Electra model and that it is SATA 6G. OWC drives are designed and built in the USA.

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The back label gives us the model name, serial number and capacity size. Here you can also see the four mounting locations so you can install the drive in any off the shelf desktop adapter bracket.

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The side mounting points are also where they should be, so you can install the drive in your notebook bracket as well.

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The SATA power and data connectors are offset to the proper location. Also, the drive has a beveled edge that goes around the top of the drive which gives the drive a nice appearance.

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On the inside we found the SandForce SF-2281 controller and sixteen Intel 25nm flash chips.

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There are eight flash chips on each side of the custom OWC PCB.

Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance

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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.

In order to get the most out of the OWC Electra, you'll need a motherboard with native SATA III capabilities. At this time your best performance will come from the Intel P67 and Z68 Series of products.

For this article we are including two sets of benchmarks from OWC products, the Mercury Extreme Pro 6G and the Electra 6G. Our first review of the Mercury Extreme Pro 6G was an early sample, but now we have a full retail drive and the performance has increased quite a bit.

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.

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OWC's specification list was spot on with the performance predictions. In ATTO we achieved nearly 558MB/s read and 526MB/s write speeds.

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.

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In many of our synthetic tests we will see the OWC Electra and Mercury Extreme Pro 6G performance at nearly identical levels. Here, in our baseline read across the drive we see that both drives are able to read at an average speed of right around 410MB/s.

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In the write test we see nearly identical maximum write speeds, but the Electra with async flash has a much lower average and minimum speed.

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.

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The access time is where things get a little interesting. Since most users don't transfer large, incompressible files often, they could really care less about spending more money on a drive that has features that are rarely used. Here we see that both the async and sync OWC drives give nearly the same read access times, the biggest performance increase over a traditional platter drive.

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The write access time between these two drives is also nearly identical.

Benchmarks - CrystalDiskMark

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.

Key Features:-

* 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.

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Still, there are those of us who work with MP3s, pictures and other data that is compressed and in this series of tests we see how compressed data performance differs on these two drives. Normally we use CDM to look at 4k and 4k NCQ, but today we are looking at the sequential and 512k performance. The synchronous flash Mercury Extreme Pro 6G is around twice as fast as the asynchronous flash Electra.

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Obviously there are two distinct classes of SandForce SF-2281 drives that differ by the flash type, but are there actually three different classes with two separate asynchronous? If you look back to the Corsair Force 3 review you'll see that the Force 3 hits a brick wall at around 140MB/s in all of these tests. Since I reviewed the Force 3 I've also discovered this 140MB/s wall in some other asynchronous flash drives. The OWC Electra has no such 140MB/s write limit and is able to write data at over 250MB/s.

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 a clean state without data on the drive the Electra and Mercury Extreme Pro 6G perform at nearly identical levels, but that changes when data is added on the drive, as you're about to see.

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.

Brief Methodology

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.

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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

Right here, this is the spot that gets me all worked up about these asynchronous flash drives. When data is added to SSDs, they get slower. That is just the way it is with nearly all SSDs, but some drives are affected more than others. The asynchronous flash drives take a very big hit, massive actually, when compared to the synchronous flash drives.

If you conclude that most users keep their SSDs filled at about 50%, then these new low cost asynchronous drives are not the best bang for the buck. Looking at the chart, at a 50% fill rate the Corsair Performance 3 and Crucial m4 are both faster when filled at a 50% rate. You are not going to get bleeding edge benchmark runs from these drives, but when your drive is filling up these products give you better real world performance...and they cost about the same.

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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AS SSD is another incompressible data test and once again we see that asynchronous flash Electra getting handed its behind by the Mercury Extreme Pro 6G.

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 enterprise drives use Toshiba Toggle flash which is quite a bit different than the IMFT drives we have on our chart today. It's still fun to look at the data and see where each drive stands.

Final Thoughts

Update: OWC has confirmed with us that by the end of August the OWC Electra and Mercury Extreme Pro 6G will ship with a 2.5" to 3.5" Desktop Adapter Plate. Also, a price reduction is in the works. Those combined with industry leading warranty and 24/7 telephone support make the OWC SSDs a better value, one of the best in the industry in fact.

For what it's worth, the OWC Electra 6G is the fastest asynchronous flash / SandForce SF-2281 controlled drive we've tested. With a price of just 207.99 USD for the 120GB model, the price is right at that capacity size as well, but things don't look as pretty for the 240GB drive we looked at today. The 240GB Electra 6G us currently listed at 459.99 USD, just $10 cheaper than the OCZ Vertex III 240GB with synchronous flash at Newegg after a mail in rebate at the time of writing. The Vertex III also comes with a desktop adapter bracket, that low cost add-on that makes a big difference when installing a 2.5" drive in your desktop designed for 3.5" drives. On the surface a low cost bracket doesn't sound like a game changer, but when you are the one building a system, things change. With so few notebooks shipping with SATA III, many of these drives are desktop bound until 2012 when SATA III enabled notebooks become more common.

So that leaves the OWC Electra in a sort of limbo land where it is fast, but not fast enough to justify the cost when compared to some of the other products on the market. In 2010 OWC entered the price war with the other Team SandForce manufacturers, but weren't as aggressive with the rate of price decline. We saw large price drops at set intervals, but not the micro price drops every couple of weeks. That means timing, when you are shopping for a new SSD comes into play more with the OWC products than some of the other Team SandForce products.

In conclusion, the OWC Electra is a fast drive when the price is set at a low level, but not as fast as the superior synchronous flash drives. It doesn't really matter if you are an enthusiast or mainstream user, price vs. performance and bang for your buck is the same for both user types and your best bet is to find a low cost synchronous flash / SF-2281 combination drive that will retain more performance as the drive fills with data. If you only have a small amount to budget for an SSD, then things change a bit because you do still get the ultra-low access times, but not the full benefits of a true next gen, totally amazing SandForce drive.

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