There are very few companies capable of making every major component that's tucked away inside a SSD. Toshiba has done it with some of their enterprise models and now Samsung is doing it to. When you control the supply of components, you don't really have to worry about buying in bulk because you control that as well. I suspect that if Samsung wanted they could really shake the SSD world up if they wanted, that is if the new 830 Series was fast enough.
Our Samsung 830 sample has some trick components, kind of like a race version of a street car. There aren't any titanium valves or exhaust, but the 830 does give us our first look at 20nm flash. The flash is of course made by Samsung and doesn't conform to traditional ONFi standards, but it is Toggle Mode and very fast. I suspect it won't be too much longer before we start to see other SSD manufactures taking a closer look at Samsung 20nm flash for their SSD products built on other SSD controllers. The last time we saw a SandForce SSD with Samsung flash was on the G.Skill Phoenix 100GB and that flash was left over from the Indilinx Barefoot era.
Also new for us is the Samsung controller with three ARM cores. The controller connects to your system via SATA III (backwards compatible with SATA I and SATA II) so it's able to break the 285MB/s limits of SATA II when used with a native SATA III chipset. We've seen Samsung controllers in the past, some of the first SSD products we reviewed were based on Samsung controllers and they were very stable and very fast for their day. Since that time Samsung has played a large role in the OEM market providing whole products to all the major players.
Let's start picking at the Samsung 830 and see what peels away.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Samsung is offering the new 830 in a few different configurations. For the consumer market we have the 830 Series, but the OEM market will get PM830. Both products should be identical, but there may be some firmware changes as the products evolve. Four capacity sizes are being offered at this time - 60GB, 120GB, 256GB and a massive 512GB.
The Samsung 830 Series performance varies by capacity. All four models claim a read speed of 520MB/s, but the write speed is dynamic. The two largest models, 512GB and 256GB, write at 400MB/s, the 120GB model we are looking at today has a claimed write speed of 320MB/s and the 60GB model dips down to 160MB/s. So far most of the reviews online have come from larger capacity sizes, but we wanted to start out with a slower model that maximizes the price / performance / capacity ratios.
IOPS performance also varies between capacity sizes. Once again the two largest sizes share the same specifications - 80K IOPS read and 36K IOPS write. The 120GB model rates in with 80K read, but dips down to 30K write. The 60GB takes the biggest hit, though - 75K read with just 16K write IOPS.
In 2012 we're going to see a really big push with the 7mm form factor. OEMs are pushing ultrabooks, very thin notebooks with the full speed notebook parts, but are thinner than many netbooks already on the market. Samsung isn't waiting around though, the 830 Series uses the 7mm design already. We've seen 7mm drives in the past and not had an issue installing them in notebooks or desktops with adapter brackets.
Speaking of adapter brackets, Samsung is delivering three 830 Series configurations. The first is a bare drive where you get the drive, documentation and a limited amount of goodies. There is also a desktop upgrade kit that ships with a desktop adapter bracket and the Notebook upgrade configuration that we are looking at today.
The final area of this section is of course price. Finding all three versions of each capacity proved to be a bit difficult. We managed to find the 512GB Desktop upgrade model for 849.99 at Newegg. The 256GB Desktop upgrade model was also at Newegg for 389.99, they also list the Notebook upgrade model in this capacity size as well, but have it listed incorrectly as a desktop kit, just look at the pictures to get the accessory package you want. The 128GB desktop kit that we are looking at today is listed at Newegg for 209.99 and the 60GB version ships for 129.99, all prices in US Dollars.
Samsung is shipping all of these models with a powerful software suite. Our sample shipped with Batman Arkham City, a limited time promotion. You also get Norton Ghost, an Acronis like software that quickly and easily clones an existing drive's data to your new SSD. An additional disk is also included and it holds manuals and Samsung's Magician Software. This software allows you to configure the spare area reserved for background functions. The drive is shipped with 7% reserved, the same as the GB to GiB conversion, but you can use the software to configure the drive how you like. In the future we'll examine this feature further, but today were testing with the default configuration.
Samsung put together an attractive package for the retail 830 Series products. The box is a bit thick, but that is needed to fit all of the accessories.
The back of the package gives us some general information about the 830 Series and also performance numbers.
The drive is kept in a separate area away from the accessories.
The Notebook upgrade kit we received comes with the software, a paper quick user manual and a SATA to USB adapter that allows you to quickly clone your existing drive.
The Samsung 830 Series 128GB SSD
The Samsung 830 Series 128GB SSD
The Samsung 830 Series ships with an almost all plastic case. On the top you get a brushed aluminum cover, but the aluminum is about as thick as a piece of paper. The appearance is very nice, but you don't get a lot of structural rigidity from the aluminum. The plastic is quite strong though and we've seen more companies going to plastic cases to reduce weight and cost of SSDs.
The back of the case is where you'll find your model number and serial number. Our drive had a part number of MZ7PC128HAFU-0DA00 and a model number of MZ-7PC128. The four standard mounting points were on the bottom of the drive where they should be.
As we stated before this is a 7mm drive, 2mm shy of the standard 9mm height of most SSDs. This form factor will take off in 2012, but since the bottom and side mounting holes are located in the same places as the 9mm drives, the 2mm difference should not be an issue with most installations.
The SATA power and data cables are offset to the left as they should be.
Inside we get our first look at what is a very different design, at least compared to what we are used to seeing. All of the components are on just one side; the back is bare as you'll see in a moment. At the top left you will find the Samsung MCX controller with three cores. Just under it is a Samsung DDR2 256MB DRAM cache used for user data and drive cleanup. The flash is also from Samsung and it uses the new 20nm NAND flash with DDR Toggle. The 128GB model uses just four flash chips.
This side of the drive is bare as you can see from the image. What I did find interesting is the set of holes in the PCB. When the drive is placed in your system this is the top of the side, the one with the aluminum cover. I'm guessing the holes provide addition air volume to the underside where all of the components are located.
Benchmarks - 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.
Here we see the very wide gap in read and write speeds. On the read side we get nearly 550MB/s in our test, but the write speed of the 128GB model barely breaks 330MB/s. This is a little better than Samsung's rated speed and over time I'm sure firmware updated will increase performance by a small amount.
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 read scores were very good and now we see that SandForce, our current performance leader might have something to worry about. In read speed across the drive we see that the Samsung 830 128GB model leads our charts with an average read speed of nearly 440MB/s. With all four 830 Series capacities claiming the same performance we should see this speed across the capacity range.
There are two leading designs in the solid state drive market. SandForce drives do not use cache other than what is built inline with the controller, there isn't a DRAM module. The other design with DRAM cache is used by Marvell, Intel, Indilinx, JMicron, Toshiba and Samsung and it takes a very good design to avoid relying on the cache to make up for inconsistent write speed when using MLC flash.
Here is an image from our actual test ran. This test is the second in our series, only the read test runs before it. For a majority of the test we see a nice solid performance line of around 300MB/s. At the end of the test we dip down rapidly to around 115MB/s.
It looks like the Samsung 830 Series is relying heavily on idle time garbage collection. This may cause some issues later in our tests.
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 read access time came in at a very low .12ms and the line was very stable across the chart. Access time, especially read access time is what you feel while opening windows, internet browsers and programs. It's that instant on, instant action that most users notice.
The write access numbers didn't come out so well. In our chart we see that the minimum write performance is pretty good, just .25ms. Things didn't stay that way for long though.
Here we see the actual results of our initial test with the numbers we scored. As we continued to run the drive (after our standard series of tests) the numbers increased and kept rising. It looks like the Samsung 830 Series not only relies heavily on idle time garbage collection, but that action takes a large toll on the performance.
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 4K performance of the 830 Series 128GB drive is around 10MB/s slower than the Vertex 3 120GB SandForce SF-2281 controlled drive. That changes once we get to the 4 NCQ result, here the 830 Series is around 33MB/s faster and that margin opens up when you get to the 32 command range.
The current crop of 120GB / 128GB drives are not able to scale too well with NCQ. The Samsung 830 Series 128GB drive hits a well right around 120MB/s at 4K.
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
On the surface the Samsung 830 Series appears to deliver SandForce level real world performance. In our initial test we see the drive comparing well to the Vertex 3 120GB drive. Both drives go back and forth with wins in our eight 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.
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 still prefer our own test that measures real world performance with data on the drives exactly like you would in your world. With the Vertex 3 120GB and the 830 Series 128GB drives half full the 830 trails behind the V3 120GB by a couple thousand Marks.
At 75% full both drives perform at nearly the exact same level which is something we haven't seen before.
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
Drives that use a DRAM cache tend to perform very well in file transfer tests. Their high sequential speeds help quite a bit when reading and writing large pieces of data.
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.
Normally we don't pay a lot of attention to these server level tests on consumer drives, but the Samsung 830 isn't exactly what we would call normal. Earlier we told you that the Samsung Magician software allows you to change the amount of spare area on the drive. By changing the spare area to 50% you match some of the other server SSDs on the market like the Intel 710 Series. That increases the drives reliability and endurance. The high idle garbage collection that takes place increases write amplification, but the increase in spare area would help with this.
We are also looking at this drives very high performance in the Web Server test and find it of particular interest. When you mix the two together and factor in the low consumer SSD price the 830 Series could start to look very attractive in some server level scenarios where more reading is performed than writing.
The Samsung 830 Series 128GB SSD has some very strong features going for it. The drive is capable of delivering very good read performance, something you want in a consumer drive. The write performance on the other hand still has some issues that we simply can't overlook.
When we test SSDs we run all of our benchmarks in a particular order. This order doesn't change no matter what results we see. Our first set of tests are ran with HD Tune Pro and there are six of them. The seventh test is HD Tach, the read / write test. In the image above we see the results of that seventh test. You can clearly see that the write performance was already affected by the previous six tests and in several places the drive wrote data at around 50MB/s. This is a very large drop off from the near 350MB/s peak we see when the drive is writing data at a high rate. The average write speed throughout the test drops to 226.4MB/s, but just like when you are playing a video game and measuring frames per second, it's the low points that make the experience less enjoyable.
We've seen a handful of reports on the Samsung 830 Series drives, but nearly all of those have come from larger capacity models. So far no one has really talked about just how fast this drive loses performance while writing data. The larger drives would make the performance loss happen at a slower rate so it might not be as easy to spot. The 60GB drive would lose performance rapidly though and I predict the loss would make the drive feel much like the current crop of controllers from JMicron or Toshiba controllers from last year. Given enough workload in a short period of time the larger drives could suffer from the same issues, rapidly decreased write performance.
For most desktop users this shouldn't become an issue because most users don't write large amounts of data to the drive in rapid succession. Users working with HD video or multi stream audio on the other hand would most likely see issues while working with the data and for a short time after. Once TRIM and the idle garbage collection 'clean' the flash performance would be restored.
The question you really need to ask yourself is if this temporary reduction in performance is acceptable when other products exist that aren't as prone to the issue. There are tradeoffs in all SSD designs; no one has produced a golden product that is free from some form of drawback. Some are bigger than others and some are only valid in certain usage scenarios. This is one of those cases where the number of users affected should be limited.
One way of making the Samsung 830 Series look a bit more attractive is its price. This is also an issue right now with the 128GB model we looked at today. At the time of writing the 830 Series 128GB drive sells at Newegg for 209.99. This is a very good price for a SATA III 128GB drive, in March 2011. Today the OCZ Vertex 3 120GB drives sell at Newegg for 169.99 (after a $20 mail-in-rebate). With that in mind you can start to answer the important question for you. The Samsung 830 Series 128GB SSD is good, but not good enough to pull us away from the several low cost Team SandForce drives already on the market.
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