If I could sum up all of 2012 in one word I would say: TRIM. For the last six months we fought a TRIM issue on LSI SandForce based drives and from this point going forward TRIM is going to play an even more significant role for enthusiasts. The SanDisk Extreme was the first drive we found the TRIM condition with, but that story that has played over and over again. It's time to move on and with working firmware in house, getting past broken TRIM is much easier.
This week we started writing the next chapter in the 2012 TRIM saga. Under my direction, Jon from RWLabs.com wrote the world's first working TRIM in RAID 0 article. While Jon was proving RAID 0 TRIM works with a complicated mix of RAID Option ROMS and drivers, I was putting PCIe 3.0 RAID to the test and breaking the highest possible score in ATTO. How long before we get RAID TRIM from Areca, LSI or PMC Sierra in advanced RAID array like 5 and 6? I don't know, but that'll be quite an exciting chapter to write. You can bet that any company remotely serious about RAID is taking a very close look at what modifications Intel made to accomplish this significant step forward with RAID 0 TRIM.
Before you can RAID 0 TRIM you first need an SSD with TRIM to start with and that is why we are here today. We've already looked at the SanDisk Extreme 240GB in our first article and then again in the 24nm Toggle Mode Flash Faceoff between the Extreme and the Plextor M3 Pro. Sadly I have to admit my arrow landed off the mark in both of those articles, but we have our facts straight now - sorry about that. I'm not perfect, but I'm here to set the record straight, you don't find that on the web much these days.
Today we're re-testing the SanDisk Extreme 240GB SSD with the new 5.0.3 firmware that fixes TRIM and keeps the drive running at extreme speeds. Like many Team SandForce manufacturers, SanDisk is not releasing 5.0.3 to the general public. A very small issue was found in 5.0.3, but 5.0.4 will fix the issue and we have confirmation that 5.0.4 will be ready for your flashing pleasure in less than a month.
Both firmware revisions deliver the same performance so there is no reason to wait. Let's get this party started.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
SanDisk launched the Extreme SSD in three capacity sizes - 120GB, 240GB and 480GB. We have all three capacity sizes in the lab, but only the 240GB has 5.0.3 on it. We're saving the 120GB and 480GB for 5.0.4. The Extreme was the first LSI SandForce SF-2281 drive to feature 24nm Toggle Mode flash, something SanDisk managed to pull off because they own half of the fab and the flash itself is labeled SanDisk.
As you can imagine, owning your own flash factory has benefits. It's kind of like a farmer, a farmer doesn't really have to worry about the cost of milk, beef, chicken or corn because a he just walks out the back door and takes what he wants when he wants. That isn't always the case, but you get the idea - the ability to just take what you need and give yourself a nice discount at the same time is a nice little perk, especially since flash is the most expensive component on an SSD.
SanDisk didn't just let the opportunity to pluck flash from the production line like chicken eggs in the hen house pass by. At this time, the SanDisk Extreme 240GB with premium 24nm Toggle Mode flash costs less than most 25nm IMFT asynchronous flash drives. During my research I found the 240GB model we're looking at today listed for $179.99 at Newegg and Google Price Search tipped up a low price of just $174.99. Did I mention this is the 240GB model? The 120GB Extreme shows up all over the place at less than $100 and the massive 480GB capacity is at Amazon for $374.31. At these prices rolling two SanDisk Extreme drives in RAID 0 on your Intel 7-Series motherboard with TRIM support isn't just a possibility, it's almost a must.
On the performance side the SanDisk Extreme delivers the 550MB/s sequential read speed that made SF-2281 FPU drives famous. The 240GB model has a claimed sequential write speed of 520MB/s, the highest in this product category from SanDisk. IOPS performance comes in at 39K random read IOPS and 83K 4K aligned random write IOPS.
If there is one area where the SanDisk Extreme SSD takes a hit it's in the accessory package. Inside the box you get the SSD and a paper manual. SanDisk does not include a desktop adapter bracket, but at the current price, we can't really throw a fit about that. Desktop users should take notice though since in many cases you'll need to come up with a way to mount your drive. SanDisk also includes a nice three year warranty should you need it. Of the 29 user reviews at Newegg a staggering 79% (23) rate the Extreme SSD 256GB at five eggs.
Given the price, you might think the SanDisk Extreme SSD ships in a brown bag or white box, but that isn't the case. The packaging is quite colorful, but lacks some of the details we like to find for retail shelves.
On the back SanDisk used the space to talk about GB to GiB conversions, but we don't get any performance information, talk of advanced flash technology or even a SandForce Driven logo.
Inside the package the drive is wrapped in a plastic bag and then placed in a form fitting plastic carrier that keeps the drive from sliding around during shipping.
SanDisk Extreme 240GB SSD
SanDisk Extreme GS 240GB SSD
Here we get our first look at the SanDisk Extreme SSD... again.
This particular drive is special. The firmware revision has been scratched out and the new ES (Engineering Sample) 503 has been written in. We move quick around here and don't have time to wait for labels. The retail drives will not be hand written.
All of the mounting points are located where they should as expected.
The SATA power and data connectors are in place. SanDisk built the Extreme SSD to conform to the 9.5mm Z-Height standard so it will fit in your traditional notebook, but not many of the new ultrabooks that use 7mm height drives.
Inside we found a SF-2281 FPU and eight 24nm SanDisk Toggle Mode flash ships.
There are four flash chips on each side of the PCB.
In our upcoming review format we're adding power testing to a degree that has never been published before. So far in our tests the SanDisk Extreme is one of the lowest power SSDs we've tested.
We'll have a massive article posted in a month and the Extreme will make an appearance - mark your calendars.
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, Z77 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 ports do not deliver the same high levels of performance, so we recommend newer systems when available.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves we need to point out that we're using a beta firmware for this test. The firmware we're using is based on SandForce's 5.0.3 code, the TRIM fixing code. Barring any unforeseen issues, SanDisk should have new firmware based on SandForce's 5.0.4 code before too long. We've been assured that 5.0.3 and 5.0.4 have identical performance. The firmware we're testing with today is stable; I'm actually using it on my daily use notebook right now and have been for over a week, no issues so far.
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 established our baseline performance of nearly 560MB/s read and 535MB/s write speed. These are a little higher than SanDisk's claimed performance. We can't complain about that.
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.
We're not going to see a lot of variation between the two firmware versions in the early test results, but we're not really looking for that today since it was covered in our 5.0.3 fix article. I did include the data for those with the Extreme already, but you have to understand that the performance drops off over time. It is not just an all at once hit.
Anyhow, the SanDisk Extreme reads HD Tune Pro sequential data at an impressive 409.6MB/s and there isn't a lot of variation when starting from a clean drive.
The sequential write speeds are nearly 413MB/s which is a little faster than many LSI SandForce drives circulating these days.
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 cache fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.
I'm a big fan of low access times and it seems like many companies start out with really low access times, but as they progress through FW updates, the latency steadily increases. That's not the case this time with the beta 5.0.3 release, the latency actually decreases, which is a very good thing.
The write latency went down a hair across the span of the drive too, but without a large DRAM write buffer, the SandForce tech is a bit slower than controllers from Marvell, Samsung and so on.
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.
Even in its middle age years (for an SSD controller) the SF-2281 still packs a helluva 4K QD1 read punch, even when working with incompressible data.
Incompressible data slows the SanDisk Extreme SSD, but the difference between the old and new FW is very small.
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
A hand full of people in the industry dismissed the TRIM issue as not being a big deal, but here we see what happens when your drive is reduced to a degraded state compared to a properly maintained Extreme.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing
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 new FW decreased the performance at 50% of the user capacity filled. Later this week we have some face to face time with LSI SandForce and we will stress the importance of performance when the drive has data on it. This is an area where SandForce has dominated the SSD market, but the new FW makes the SanDisk Extreme just average.
I think part of that comes from the eight NAND flash chip configuration, the drives we're testing with 16 NAND flash do not fall back so far at 50% full. You have a choice, go for lower power consumption with less NAND chips or go for more performance with more NAND chips.
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
I think the new firmware with TRIM really speaks for itself when we get into some of these tests performed at the end of our benchmark cycle.
Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities
Anvil Storage Utilities
Version and / or Patch Used: BETA 11
So what is Anvil Storage Utilities? First of all, it's a storage benchmark for SSDs and HDDs where you can check and monitor your performance. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests, you can run a full test or just the read or the write test or you can run a single test, i.e. 4K DQ16.
Anvil Storage Utilities is not officially available yet but we've been playing with the beta for several months now. The author, Anvil on several international forums has been updating the software steadily and is adding new features every couple of months.
The software can be used several different ways and to show different aspects for each drive. We've chosen to use this software to show the performance of a drive with two different data sets. The first is with compressible data and the second data set is incompressible data. Several users have requested this data in our SSD reviews.
Fill Compressible Data
You asked for it and we delivered it, Anvil Storage Utilities benchmarks are now on TweakTown.
Being SandForce architecture the performance difference when moving from compressible to incompressible data is significant especially when working with smaller file sizes and writing data.
4K 32QD Random Read
4K 32QD Random Write
Here we see random reads and writes like only an SSD can provide. These numbers are significantly higher than what SanDisk quotes in their marketing material. The random write is actually 2x more than SanDisk's marketing claim. We'll take it.
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 power user system at home.
On the enterprise side much hasn't changed since these tasks are run in steady state or near steady state anyhow.
Everything we said about the SanDisk Extreme SSD 240GB in the past still rings true today. SanDisk has an advertisement on their site that pulls a quote from my last article, "It's the new price vs. performance king." I feel that statement holds true today, five months after writing it for the first time. In the fast paced, leapfrog world of SSDs anything being constant for five months is rare. SanDisk's fab obviously helps in this area just like Crucial / Micron, who are winning the price game on the Marvell controller side.
At the time of writing SanDisk hadn't committed to releasing 5.0.3 to the public and it sounds like they are holding off for 5.0.4. Either way, we know and have in our hand working proof that the TRIM issue is fixed and just like before, we just have to wait for it to finish validation and go live on SanDisk's support page. Once the SanDisk Extreme gets working TRIM, it will be nearly unstoppable in notebooks at this price.
You may have caught the notebook part in that sentence. The reason why I'm putting that in is because the eight flash chip design is superior for notebook power consumption, but for desktop use where power is less of an issue, we are starting to see some 32 NAND flash chip designs paired with SF-2282 controllers, like the Force GT 240GB that was redesigned after our review last year. The Force GT sucks up more power, but it has better 50% full capacity performance, just something to keep in mind when shopping. We're gathering a bunch of data now for an article next month that will change the way you look at SSDs for notebook use and the SanDisk Extreme so far is kicking butt in our power consumption tests.
Given the many strong points of the SanDisk Extreme SSD, it's tough to put your finger on one thing and say, "this is why it's really good." The performance is really good, but the price coupled with the performance means it is leading the consumer SSD class right now. There are several very good performance SSDs on the market and there are several low cost SSDs on the market, but none of them tie it all together like the SanDisk Extreme.
The 240GB model that we looked at today costs roughly $175 shipped to your door. It is the best value on the market right now and not just in the SandForce side, it's even better than the Crucial m4, which is also another low cost, high performing drive.
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