SanDisk Ultra 120GB SF-1200 Solid State Drive Review

SanDisk uses force powers and releases a SSD for legacy users and those on a budget.
@ChrisRamseyer
Published Mon, Nov 7 2011 11:14 PM CST   |   Updated Fri, Sep 18 2020 10:50 PM CDT
Rating: 88%Manufacturer: SanDisk

Introduction

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At the start of the year when SandForce was just rolling out their SF-2200 Series SATA III product, I proclaimed that the SF-1200 controller wasn't just going to dry up and go away. There was a brief time when I was starting to worry my prediction wasn't going to hold true, but SanDisk came along to fulfill my prophecy.

SanDisk, creator of many things consumer has produced a very consumer friendly SSD based on mature technology from yesteryear. By giving the SF-1200 controller time to mature, SanDisk and their customers will forego all of the little issues we had on the very first SandForce controlled products. This strategy should be very good for a company whose primary market is your mainstream computing mom and dad, not the 'cost is no object - speed is all that matters' crowd that gathers here.

Just because the new SanDisk Ultra isn't an enthusiast part, it doesn't get a pass on going through our ringer. We're actually very excited to see what SanDisk bring to the table because this drive isn't a cookie cutter Team SandForce product by any means. SanDisk, also a NAND flash producer has chosen their own 3Xnm flash to pair with the SF-1200, a combination we've yet to see to date. The old flash die size means the Ultra has the same user capacity as the first SF-1200 drives we reviewed from the Team SandForce makers and also, at least on paper, the same snappy performance that made SandForce what it is today.

As much as we like to talk about SandForce, this review is all about SanDisk and their ability to turn last year's expensive mainstream product into this year's mainstream darling.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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If we were talking about a SSD from OCZ Technology or one of the many other early run Team SandForce members, we'd say this product was late to the party, but this is not just another product from a SandForce Driven company. SanDisk's strategy was to wait until the SF-1200 could easily be considered a completely reliable part with all of the bugs and minor issues worked out. Mainstream users don't want to fiddle with a lot of firmware updates; hell, most don't even know what a firmware is. So instead of selling mainstream users who shop at places like Wal-Mart and Target for their computer hardware, SanDisk delivered a product that fits with the mainstream end user experience.

The Ultra is available in three capacity sizes; 60GB, 120GB and 240GB. The same familiar SF-1200 controller speeds are quoted - 280MB/s read and 270MB/s write speeds. That's pretty much the maximum possible with SATA II. SanDisk does give us an endurance rating, something we rarely see from the enthusiast companies. The 120GB model that we are looking at today has a minimum write to disk capacity of 80TB. This can be claimed by SanDisk since they made the flash used on the Ultra and SandForce has a very good system, Durawrite, for keeping write amplification to a minimum.

SanDisk is targeting the Ultra SSD at notebook users and because of that a desktop adapter bracket isn't included in the package. A well thought out user manual is included and fits in well with the mainstream end users SanDisk is targeting. A three year warranty is also included, but that rounds out the value added features.

When it comes to the cost, we found the 120GB Ultra that we are looking at today listed at Newegg for right around 160 Dollars. This is a good mainstream value, but it's also the same price we were able to find the new SF-2200 controlled MemoRight drive for in the same capacity. The SanDisk Ultra 240GB is the best value of the two and is sold at Newegg for 325 Dollars, around 125 less than the MemoRight 240GB SATA III drive.

The Packaging

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SanDisk put together an attractive package for the Ultra and the box would fit in nicely on the shelves of retail stores. On the front of the package we found the capacity of the drive and some feature points that are of interest to mainstream users.

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On the back we found some more general information about the Ultra, but nothing that would easily confuse retail shoppers.

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The minimal approach was carried over to the inner packaging as well. Here we see the drive encased in a plastic shell and the paper install manual that ships with the Ultra.

The SanDisk Ultra

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Here we get our first look at the SanDisk Ultra. We've seen this aluminum case design before with the raised area for the logo on a few other drives. There really isn't much to see on this side other than the product logo.

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On the back we found the model and serial number. SanDisk also includes a build date on the back label which is nice. The four mounting points on the bottom are located where they should be.

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On the side we also found the proper location for the mounting points, so you won't have any problems installing the Ultra in your notebook or desktop adapter bracket (that must be purchased separately).

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The SATA power and data ports are also where they should be.

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This is where things get interesting. SanDisk used eight 16GB flash chips for a total of 128GB of capacity. On this side of the drive we only found the SandForce SF-1200 controller.

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All of the flash is kept on this side of the PCB. Here we get our first look at SanDisk's own 3Xnm flash.

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.

The SanDisk Ultra is a SATA II product, so it runs at 3Gbps or right around 280MB/s read and 270MB/s write speed.

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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In ATTO we recorded numbers just slightly better than SanDisk's performance claims. Here we hit 281MB/s read and 271MB/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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Our chart has pretty much moved on from being filled with SATA III products, but we still list the OCZ Vertex 2, another SF-2281 controlled drive. This Vertex 2 was one of the first off the line so it still has 3Xnm flash. In our testing the SanDisk Ultra isn't as fast while reading data across the drive as the early Vertex 2 drives with the same amount of over provisioning. This is something we will keep an eye on while working through the benchmarks.

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We found the same true on the write test across the disk. The Vertex 2 120GB drive managed an average speed of just over 212MB/s, but the Ultra only mustered an average score of 160MB/s.

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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Most users, especially mainstream users find that extremely fast file transfers are only a small part of the SSD story. It's not every day that someone wants to move a collection of MP3s from one folder to another, but booting your computer is often an everyday occurrence. This is where the low access times come into play and the one area that makes an SSD a must have item in your machine.

In this test we see the access times have risen a bit when compared to the old Vertex 2. Still, the numbers are in line with the new controllers.

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The write access times are what have me scratching my head. Here we see the Ultra a .1ms higher than the Vertex 2 and new Vertex 3. Both the read and write access times are much lower than a mechanical platter drive and you will feel this in your day to day activities.

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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CDM gave us some surprises as well. Here we are looking at 4k and native command queuing performance and the SanDisk Ultra disappointed us again. In the read tests we see the Ultra delivering half of the 4K read speed as the Vertex 2 and the NCQ performance was off as well.

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Things were different in the write tests. The 4K single command result was actually faster than the Vertex 2 120GB drive, but the depth tests were still a little slower.

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

The synthetic tests really didn't leave us all that excited about the level of performance offered by the SanDisk Ultra, but that changed as soon as we started in with the real world tests. Here we see the SanDisk Ultra performing very close to the original 120GB Vertex 2. The Vertex 2 is still a little faster, but it isn't the blow out we found in the synthetic tests.

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

We actually prefer our custom version of Vantage much better since it tests drives with data present like how it would be in your system. Here we see the performance of the Ultra dipping down to around 30,000 Marks when filled half full. The empty drive test scored just over 40,000, so in the real world you will lose performance as the drive fills.

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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The file transfer performance of the SanDisk Ultra is nearly identical to that of the Vertex 2.

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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Even though the SanDisk Ultra is being sold as a mainstream consumer part, it's difficult to deny its heritage. The SF-1200 controller used in the Ultra is a close cousin to the SF-1500 controller found on several enterprise SSDs. Still, the overprovisioning amount of the flash is much different and this one should just stick to the client sector.

Final Thoughts

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The plan for SanDisk was to offer a mature solid state drive to be introduced to mainstream users who aren't looking for the hassles associated with using cutting edge products. As far as that part of the plan went, SanDisk succeeded. The SanDisk Ultra is a good solid mainstream product that has already gone through the trial and error process and delivers good access times. We really can't call the Ultra slow by mainstream standards either. SanDisk also managed to improve upon the many other SF-1200 products on the market today by using 3Xnm flash with a longer lifespan and better performance than the current 25nm IMFT flash used by nearly everyone else. As far as all of that goes, SanDisk has done a really good job.

SanDisk is new to SSDs, at least SandForce based SSDs and I don't think they jumped in with a good understanding of one aspect of the market. With so many team SandForce players pushing out drives as fast as they can, the prices rapidly decrease, every company wants their drive to be in your computer and offering a drive at a lower price point is one way to stand out in the crowd. Right now the lowest priced 120GB SF-2200 consumer drive costs 160 Dollars, the same price SanDisk has their 120GB Ultra. It's a dog eat dog world out there and unfortunately SanDisk chose to use a SATA II part in a brave new SATA III world. I think for most of you reading this, spending the same money on an older part isn't going to fly.

I chose my words very carefully there because it is a brave new SATA III world. Those that were brave and took on SATA III in its infancy were fighters and I understand the struggles they've had to endure. It was only recently that SandForce released a firmware update that addressed a bug that for some users meant a miserable experience. The issue has now been addressed and the reports I'm reading lead me to believe it's time for SandForce SATA III to move into the mainstream market. The current prices are already taking it there.

That said, SanDisk did the right thing for their audience and released a product that was completely stable and absolutely perfect when it was launched. The only problem I see is that window is closing and end users, even mainstream end users can have something faster today. Hopefully SanDisk is able to flow with the dynamic pricing that happens in this market and move their Ultra SSD into a more appropriate price point.

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Chris Ramseyer started his career as a LAN Party organizer in Midwest USA. After working with several computer companies he was asked to join the team at The Adrenaline Vault by fellow Midwest LAN Party legend Sean Aikins. After a series of shake ups at AVault, Chris eventually took over as Editor-in-Chief before leaving to start Real World Entertainment. Look for Chris to bring his unique methods of testing Hard Disk Drives, Solid State Drives as well as RAID controller and NAS boxes to TweakTown as he looks to provide an accurate test bed to make your purchasing decisions easier.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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