One of the most unique SSDs to come to market in 2011 was the Corsair Performance 3 Series. The Performance 3 used a modified version of the Marvell SATA III controller to deliver high-speed SATA III speeds, but with a twist. The drive couldn't be slowed down due to a very aggressive garbage collection algorithm. This held true throughout the drive even when the drive was nearly full of data. The down side was the drive wasn't as fast at peak performance when compared to other Marvell based SSDs like the Crucial m4 and Intel 510 Series, but for users who ran their drives with 50% or more capacity the Performance 3 proved to be faster than all competing Marvell products on the market.
Corsair now has a follow up product in the Performance family, the Performance Series Pro. We've had this drive in house for quite a while now to try and determine exactly what it is. The early marketing on this product gave us the impression that it was a faster Performance 3, but our testing proved that wasn't exactly accurate since the Performance Pro does slow down as data is added, just like the m4 and 510 Series Marvell drives.
The Performance Pro isn't exactly like those other Marvell based SSDs either even though the controller shares the same part number. It isn't like the new Plextor M3S either, that part uses new 24nm Toshiba Toggle NAND flash. So, after a considerable amount of time pushing, prodding and weighing the Corsair Performance Pro, we are finally ready to tell you exactly what it is.
On the surface the Performance Series Pro 256GB is fast. Even faster than the Corsair Force GT that is based off of the SandForce SF-2281 controller that dominated benchmarks charts all over the world in 2011. I'm not going to get ahead of myself here though, let's look at the specifications.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
I can tell you that Corsair has been really busy lately. With a new gaming accessory product line, additions to existing product lines and a few surprises set for CES, everyone at the company has been working crazy hours. That doesn't really excuse why the specification sheet for the 256GB Performance Series 3 has errors on it, but we at least know why they haven't been corrected just yet.
On the sheet it lists NO for DRAM cache, that isn't the case as the Performance Pro actually has a massive 512MB of cache divided between two DRAM chips. The only other drive we've seen with this configuration came from OCZ, their new Octane SATA III drive which we heavily suspect uses a modified Marvell SATA III controller instead of a true Indilinx design as advertised. We'll save that for another day, though.
Tracking down the flash type was a particular pain in the butt this time since Toshiba doesn't make it easy to find data sheets on NAND flash. We did finally determine that the Performance Pro uses 3Xnm Toggle Mode NAND flash that is synchronous. 24nm Toshiba Toggle flash is starting to appear in the wild, mainly on a new Plextor part, but it isn't on the Performance Pro. This is actually a good thing though since the 3Xnm flash has a proven track record of delivering reliable and high-speed performance.
The spec sheet lists a maximum read speed of 515MB/s and a maximum write speed of 440MB/s. We don't really use these numbers for anything other than marketing these days and you'll see why in the review. These are impressive numbers though, but shy of the numbers we see on SandForce SF-2281 based SSDs.
Corsair lists two capacity sizes for the Performance Pro, 128GB and the larger 256GB that we are looking at today. Newegg lists both models as available at the time of writing, 219.99 USD for the 128GB and 399.99 for the 256GB. We suspect these prices will slowly decline after CES and become more like SF-2281 controlled drives.
The big draw on this product though is advanced garbage collection. It isn't as advanced as the Performance 3 that we looked at early in 2011, some of that processing power has been redirected to give the drive faster peak performance, but there is still quite a bit of background garbage collection going on, something you won't find in SandForce controlled drives, so the Performance Pro is better suited for RAID arrays and instances where TRIM is not available.
When it comes to the accessory package Corsair didn't veer off course from their norm. A desktop adapter bracket is included as are the screws for securing the drive in your system. A three year warranty is also included, so you have peace of mind in your purchase.
Corsair put together an attractive package for the Performance Pro. You can't really go wrong with black and silver. On the front we see an image of the drive, the capacity and get a taste of a SATA 3 label.
On the back of the package we found some general information about the Performance Pro and can see the model and serial number of the drive inside. There isn't any performance information though, something we like to see listed somewhere on the package.
On the inside the drive is kept in a separate area from the included 2.5" to 3.5" drive adapter bracket. Screws are included with the package so you don't have to fumble around trying to find something that will work.
The Corsair Performance Series Pro 256GB SSD
Here we get our first look at the Corsair Performance Pro with its black label and brushed aluminum case. The drive shows the capacity on the front so you don't have to dig around to find the information if you have both a 128 and 256GB model on your desk.
There isn't anything special about the back of the drive other than the aluminum case. We've seen other manufactures move to plastic designs but not Corsair, at least not yet.
On the side we found the standard mounting holes where they should be. This will make it easy to install the drive in your notebook drive sled or a desktop adapter bracket.
The drive offsets the SATA power and data connectors as it should and the drive sled does the same.
The PCB design is a new one for us. We often see all of the flash positioned on one side of the drive with smaller capacity models, but the 256GB Performance Pro manages to do it as well. The Marvell 88SS9174-BKK2 controller is the only part on this side other than just a small amount of surface mount components.
This is the interesting side of the Performance Pro. Here we found eight Toshiba 3Xnm Toggle Flash chips and two 256MB DRAM chips that are used for cache and data positioning.
We are still not 100% certain that this isn't 24nm Toshiba Toggle Flash, but everything (we were able to find) at this point leads us to believe its 3Xnm flash.
Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.
In order to fully utilize SATA III you need a system with native SATA III support. P67, Z68 and X79 systems are preferred, but AMD has made advances in their newer SATA III systems as well. Older X58 systems with Marvell based SATA III do not deliver the same high levels of performance, so we recommend newer systems when available.
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.
Using ATTO we managed to achieve a read speed over just over 510MB/s read and 442MB/s write speed. The performance is sold and in line with Corsair's claims on the specification sheet. These numbers don't really represent real world performance though but this issue isn't limited to just this product but all SSDs.
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 ATTO numbers were good, but not quite as high as many of the SandForce based products. That changes when reading across the drive; here we found the Performance Pro taking the fight right at SandForce based products. With an average read speed just shy of 430MB/s the Performance Pro shows it can run with the Force GT.
Still, the Marvell designs take a performance hit when writing data and the smaller drives are at a bigger disadvantage. We are looking at the 256GB model today so it doesn't see much of a loss when writing data and compared to the Vertex 3 SF-2281 controlled drive.
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.
We spend so much time looking at SSDs like HDDs and focusing on the data transfer performance when the biggest performance gains come from the access times. This is how long it takes the drive to respond to your request for data. This is also what makes your new SSD 'feel' fast with instant response. In the Read Test we recorded just .03 milliseconds. The OCZ Octane 512GB drive we looked at two months ago set a new bar for read access time, just .06ms, but the new Performance Pro managed to half that result and set a new record.
The write access time was measured almost as fast. At the bottom of the charts you can see the Western Digital VelociRaptor, one of the fastest consumer platter drives ever built in relation to access time. As you can see the Performance Pro is much, much quicker.
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.
The single queue 4K read test gave us a solid 30MB/s, around 5 to 10 shy of the fastest SF-2281 result we've seen. Once the commands stack up though the Performance Pro takes off, the 4 command NCQ score went up to 108MB/s, nearly double that of the Vertex 3 240GB. The 32 command 4K read test was also impressive, here we almost hit 300MB/s.
CDM uses incompressible data and it should be noted that the Performance Pro doesn't worry about what type of data it's reading or writing. The drive delivered really good write numbers in these tests, but the results were much closer to the higher end SandForce drives.
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
So far we've seen the Corsair Performance Pro 256GB rip through the synthetic benchmarks and take the fight right to SandForce. In the introduction I also told you this drive manages to outperform the SandForce SF-2281 controlled drives right out of the box. In this chart you can see that the Corsair Performance Pro hands the Vertex 3 its ass in every single test.
Over the last few months I've been looking for SandForce to release a firmware update that would increase performance in these tests. The magic number is 80,000. We've seen two drives come really close, the Corsair Force GT and the Kingston HyperX. Close just isn't 80K though so you can imagine my surprise when the Corsair Performance 3 hit 85K without any tweaks.
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.
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 SF-2281 will fall from the top spot one day but today is not it. Even though the Corsair Performance Pro delivers class leading performance when empty it fails to keep that level of performance when filled with data. In the 50% fill test the performance drops to around 46K Marks, a very large decline. The SF-2281 controlled Vertex 3 has a pretty big drop of its own, down to 51K when half full, but that isn't as low as the Performance Pro.
We had very high hopes that the Performance Pro would follow the Performance 3's performance envelope, the shape of the graph produced by the product results. If you look at the Performance 3 numbers on the chart you see steady performance in all tests without a major decline in delivered speed. We still feel this is the future of solid state drives, now we just need to convince those actually designing products to do what we want!
Like I stated, we had really high hopes going into this series of tests. If the Performance Pro would have pulled off solid 80K+ numbers in all of the tests we would have jumped for joy but our dreams didn't quite make it into reality this time around.
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
All is not lost and the Performance Pro can't be discounted as just another "almost SandForce" speed drive. There are some real benefits to this drive that is able to deliver solid performance in other areas. The low access time has already been shown, but in these tests we show that the Performance Pro is the fastest drive available at transferring data to and from the drive. This is an area where the SandForce products have narrowed the gap with firmware releases, but the Performance Pro is still able to deliver even better performance.
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 Corsair Performance Pro isn't being marketed as an enterprise product for server use, but we always like to see these numbers. This is one of the few non-SandForce drives that manages to compete with SandForce consumer drives in these tests.
Even though the Corsair Performance Pro 256GB didn't give us the steady solid state performance we were hoping for, it still has some really strong points that make it a comparable drive worthy of our praise. For starters this is really one of the few products on that market that is competitive with the Team SandForce SATA III drives. Obviously I would choose this drive over any of the SF-2281 / asynchronous flash drives offered, that is a given. The higher end models like the Vertex 3, Force GT and HyperX with synchronous flash make the decision a little more difficult. If you work with incompressible data quite a bit then we feel the Performance Pro might be a slightly better option since it doesn't care what type of data is being written to it. There isn't a performance penalty when working with MP3s, JPEGS or other highly compressed data.
For everyone else that still leaves the large number of Team SandForce products at the top of the food chain, but the Performance Pro is right behind them in general computing tasks. After using the Performance Pro 256GB in my daily use notebook for about a month now I can easily say that you wouldn't really notice a difference between the Performance Pro and the Force GT. I do see some speed increases when moving MP3s around with the Performance Pro, something I do quite often while trying to keep my 100GB+ FLAC / MP3 collection under control. With only 256GB of space most people aren't going to keep their music or movie collection on their boot drives and I don't either except for importing them all to get the meta data configured how I like.
In order for the Performance Pro to be a big seller and a drive you want in your system it will need to be priced in line with the top SandForce SF-2281 drives. Those products use lower cost 25nm IMFT flash so it might be difficult for Corsair to make that happen. Those drives have also been on the market for almost a year now too, something that retailers use to justify moving away from the MSRP. At this point I don't think I would pay a premium for the Performance Pro over a Force GT unless capacity was an issue. The SandForce drives reserve more space for background tasks so you get a little more space with the Performance Pro.
All things considered the Performance Pro is right on the heels of the competition. It will be very interesting to see what happens after a couple of firmware updates - we'll keep you posted when that happens. For now though, the Force GT is looking like a stronger product for general use. If you need a drive specifically for incompressible data then the Performance Pro is your choice.