I was raised in Kokomo, Indiana. It's not the technology hot bed you might have imagined. As Indiana's 12th largest city I still remember when Wal-Mart came to town. The town was buzzing because larger cities already had Wal-Mart. People would drive from Kokomo to other cities to shop at Wal-Mart since Wal-Mart offered products below retail pricing. Before Wal-Mart and other megastores, retail shopping was just a way of life. Sure, stores still had sales, clearance items and such, but across the shelves, discount pricing was fairly rare.
Then the internet arrived in all of its greatness. The largest store in the world is now the internet and it's accessible in the smallest village in Africa to the largest city in the USA. If you sell a product, chances are you offer it for sale on the internet and if you don't, someone else sells that product on the internet. Global competition and even regional competition has changed the way we shop for products and the old retail, MSRP model has been eliminated for nearly every product SKU in the world.
Today we are looking at a product that is a throwback to the old retail, MSRP model. I say that because the company selling the Racer Series 1 SSD is an established company dating back to the old retail, MSRP days. VisionTek is one of the oldest video card companies still in existence today, at least in the United States. I remember buying VisionTek products at CompUSA, a retail establishment that eventually was swallowed up by an internet giant. When retail was a viable model for technology, VisionTek was in all of the gaming and technology stores - EB Games, CompUSA and so on. VisionTek is still in Best Buy, but according to market analysts, Best Buy is in bad shape now too.
The Racer Series is VisionTek's first entry into the SSD market and a product that allows them to test the waters. Over the last couple of weeks we've spoken at length with the company about their solid-state drive strategy, what it was, what it is and where it's going. VisionTek will be the first to tell you they stumbled out of the gate. This product has a high MSRP, mainly because their initial strategy was flawed. The Racer Series 1, in its current form, as it is selling now at a price that is not sustainable in a market dominated by low cost, high performing SSDs. VisionTek is working on changing that rapidly and hopes to be ready with new pricing as quickly as they possibly can.
Price aside, the VisionTek Racer Series hits all of the right technology queues. By pairing a LSI SandForce SF-2281 controller with premium Toshiba 24nm Toggle Mode flash, VisionTek has one of the finest quality SSDs on the market.
As you know, we've held a large number of SandForce based SSD reviews due to an issue with TRIM that hurt its performance in our benchmark charts. VisionTek is now working on getting firmware ready for the public. We expect the new TRIM fixing firmware from VisionTek soon for public release. We have a beta firmware on hand and can now publish our review. Let's get into the product details and then hit the benchmarks.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
The VisionTek Racer Series 1 currently ships in three capacity sizes - 120GB, 240GB and 480GB. A LSI SandForce SF-2281 controller steers the drive and communicates through a SATA III port, passing information to Toshiba Toggle Mode flash built on a 24nm process. There isn't really anything ground breaking about that, we see this all of the time.
VisionTek does configure the Racer in an optimal manner that balances performance and power draw. Our 120GB sample arrived with eight Toggle Mode flash chips. We've seen 120GB drives ship with 16 NAND flash chips, a configuration that increases performance, but also the amount of power needed. We've also seen 120GB drives ship with just 4 NAND flash chips to reduce power, but this configuration also reduces performance. The Racer is balanced for both desktop and notebook environments so as the drive ages and you move to a new drive your Racer will fit right in with your secondary computer be it a desktop or notebook.
Performance on drives like the VisionTek Racer change with advances in firmware, this is commonplace with all SSDs. Today we are testing the drive with a very special firmware. VisionTek released the drive with firmware 5.0.2, a release that didn't pass the TRIM command to the NAND properly. Despite the inclusion of TRIM Support (O/S Dependent) appearing on the specification sheet, TRIM wasn't and still isn't there now. This wasn't VisionTek's fault, but it is what it is, a pain in the butt for end-users. We have a beta firmware that fixes the TRIM issue and loaded it on our sample 120GB drive. Kingston just released firmware 5.0.3, the TRIM fix firmware that has passed validation and VisionTek isn't far behind.
That really isn't going to matter too much for our readers or for your customers because the Racer 120GB costs $176. That was the lowest we found the drive using Google Shopping. The 240GB is at $312 and the large 480GB is at $676. Ouch! To put this into perspective, the Mushkin Chronos Deluxe 120GB with an identical configuration, SF-2281 / 8 Toshiba 24nm Toggle Mode NAND flash chips currently costs $109.99 at Newegg.
With that high price you might think VisionTek is cramming the package full of every accessory and add-on you've ever seen for an SSD. You do get a desktop adapter bracket, which is a good start, but fairly common. Oh, you get screws too, very good. The last thing you get is paper! On the paper you get a catchy 25% off coupon code for the nice, but somewhat redundant accessory kit you see above. For $20 ($15 after the coupon code) you get a second desktop adapter bracket, a nice USB 2.0 to SATA adapter (these are actually very nice, I have one and use it all of the time) and a software disk with drive cloning software. As we said before, there were holes in VisionTek's strategy and expecting an end-user to buy and then wait for an accessory package is like Swiss cheese... the good kind you get in Europe. You do get a three year warranty which is average for a drive shipping with 3K P/E cycle NAND flash.
The VisionTek Racer package is not as retail friendly as I expected. What you see is what you get... and that is about it.
We didn't find any product specifications, features or performance data on the package anywhere.
At least VisionTek isn't trying to hide their tech support number, but this small label isn't the first place I'd look for a support number.
The inner packaging is pretty good. The drive has its own compartment and the accessories are on the other side in a separate pouch.
Inside that pouch we found a desktop adapter bracket (but one that does not offset the drive), screws for using the bracket and the coupon card.
I do want to point out the coupon code because the code is very creative, HDDNA... as in hard drive not applicable. If you do not own this drive you can't order the additional accessory package, you have to register your drive first. I'm not telling you the code so you can cheat; it just happens to be very creative and is a bright point in a product that doesn't reflect a lot of light.
VisionTek Racer Series 120GB SSD
The VisionTek Racer uses a nice, solid, aluminum case that is a throwback to when SSDs were made like lumberjacks. Over the last few months we've seen a lot of plastic and wimpy cases for next-gen SSDs, this isn't a sissy case.
On the back we found the part and serial number as well as a warning not to open the drive.
The bottom and side mounting points are where they should be.
The SATA power and data connectors are where they should be as well, but the desktop adapter bracket does not offset the drive to the left. This can make cable installation difficult when you have 3.5" form factor drives next to center mounted SSDs and stiff cables, specifically the SATA power cable.
Where did the flash go?! Admittedly we've not found a lot to like about the VisionTek Racer so far, but this is where VisionTek really did an exceptional job. Wait...
Okay, this is where VisionTek did an exceptional job. Eight NAND flash chips use all 8-channels on the SF-2281 controller so you get very good SandForce performance. We've seen 120GB drives ship with just four chips, a lower power configuration, but one that produces less than optimal results in our Data on Disk tests.
We've seen 120GB drives with sixteen IMFT flash chips which can give a little extra performance in some tests, but draws more power. In my opinion the SF-2281 / eight NAND flash design is the best balancing point between performance and power.
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.
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.
The VisionTek Racer 120GB performance is very good. We recorded a maximum read speed of nearly 560MB/s and a write speed just over 523MB/s. You really can't complain about that and with the new, soon to be released firmware your performance will stay very high as well.
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've spent quite a bit of time with the new beta firmware that fixes TRIM and are even using it in a production environment now in a daily use computer. We've yet to have a BSOD or run into any other issue. Since Kingston has now released 5.0.3 for their SandForce drives, and they have a much larger validation lab than I do, I'd say we're really close to mass availability from VisionTek as well.
The VisionTek Racer delivers nearly 413MB/s in our sequential read test ran across the drive with compressible data.
The write performance was even faster in this test, nearly 415MB/s. This makes the VisionTek SSD a leader on our HD Tune Pro benchmark chart filled with some of the best SSDs in the world.
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.
VisionTek has a mainstream brand and that doesn't mean enthusiasts per se, the market that already adapted SSDs with open arms. I know a lot of users who have VisionTek products and they are not balls to the wall overclockers or even gamers. I'm bringing this up because most of the marketing for SSDs is based around massive sequential performance. 500MB/s sounds amazing, but rarely do mainstream users get anywhere near that performance because they are not heavy multi-taskers.
Access times on the other hand affect performance across the board. It doesn't matter if you are just surfing FaceTwit posts, turning on your computer or loading Battlefield 3. Access times are what make SSDs feel fast and at the bottom of the page we see the read access times for a very fast, prosumer grade HDD with 10K RPM platters. The difference in performance is massive and this is performance you feel when doing everything on your computer.
Here we see the difference in write access times between the VisionTek Racer and the same prosumer HDD with 10K platters. SSDs are displacing HDDs, even very fast HDDs, as boot drives and VisionTek is targeting mainstream users whom may not be hip to solid-state drives, or why they are the very best upgrade you can slide into your computer today.
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.
We've seen a lot of really good SSDs and for the most part SandForce controllers have lead the pack. In the 120GB capacity size though some of the newer products based on Marvell technology have started to outperform SandForce at their own game. In this test we see the 4K performance and the VisionTek Racer has a hard time keeping up with the 4K performance from newer Marvell based drives.
If you are shopping for a 240/256GB model, the VisionTek Racer fairs much better in the 4K tests when compared to the Marvell drives.
The 4K write test with incompressible data is a little tricky for those not familiar with SSDs. I expect to have a lot of mainstream type users read this article so I'll do my best to take off my enthusiast hat.
SandForce controllers are very complicated, they manipulate data to keep performance high and reduce the amount of data being written to the flash. This increases flash life so your SSD will last for many, many years. One method SandForce employs is data compression. If you have a file that can be compressed, the controller reduces the size of the file in real-time and writes less data to the flash than what goes in. Think of it as deflating a beach ball so you can store it in the closet. When you need the beach ball again it passes through this magical machine that inflates the ball at the exact same time you cross the closet door plane.
Incompressible data or data that is already compressed is like a bowling ball. It takes up much more space in the closet and if you crush it you no longer have a bowling ball. SandForce controllers can't crush bowling balls and reconstruct them... not even with super glue.
So, with that explained, let's look at the chart. There are several bars for each product, but most consumers and mainstream users can disregard the top bar because it is at a high queue depth, an enterprise load that you will never use surfing the web or even light to medium multi-tasking. The green bar in the middle of each group is your important 4K write performance, but this is less important because it uses 4K incompressible data. You operating system and programs write a lot of 4K data, but much of it is incompressible.
The two orange bars are where your incompressible data, pictures, music and such are often found. These files are large and are written sequentially. The larger the file, the longer it takes to be written and with SandForce based drives at this capacity size, newer Marvell controllers tend to transfer much faster.
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
For most mainstream users these tests are giving you a very good idea of what to expect performance wise. The VisionTek Racer 120GB delivers a well-rounded experience that is very fast, but not the fastest available in this capacity size.
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
We like to look at SSDs a little differently, though. In these tests we still use PCMark Vantage, a true mainstream user test, but we add another dimension - data added to the drive. SSDs slow as they become populated with data and in this area SandForce has typically dominated since they populate less of the flash. The Intel 520 Series leads this category now in this capacity size and when 50% full (user data, not data on flash), but the VisionTek Racer 120GB isn't far behind.
In this series of tests we can also show TRIM working under real-world conditions. There are several ways to test TRIM, but we prefer to use methods that are 'real-world' and not performed in tests with unrealistic scenarios. TRIM is working with our beta firmware, the top and bottom number are very near each other and very close to fresh out of box performance (FOB).
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
Transferring files from one area of the drive to another is a task used by all users. The VisionTek Racer 120GB performs very well in these tests. You really can't complain about just 242MB/s even when something else can do 326MB/s. You would have to be moving a massive file to see a difference.
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.
0-Fill Compressible Data
In these two screen shots we see relevant data from two file types, compressible data first and incompressible data in the second.
Normally I don't add commentary in the random read and random write IOPS at a queue depth of 32 since these are enterprise metrics, but the new TRIM fixing firmware reduces performance in this area.
This anomaly is exclusive to the 120GB capacity size, at least from the data we've gathered thus far. Older firmware revisions scored 40K+ IOPS, but the new firmware reduces the high queue depth IOPS performance to just over 32K IOPS.
The high queue depth random write IOPS are not affected. 92K is amazingly high for a consumer SSD.
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 Passmark Advanced Disk Tests are based on enterprise tasks so they aren't relevant for VisionTek's targeted market. We still like to run these test for those looking to build a light workload server.
At this time the price of the VisionTek Racer 120GB is like a cloud blocking the sun to a solar array. It doesn't matter how big your solar array or how efficient, the sun's rays are not making it to their destination to make the magic happen.
The current price kills this product. That was under VisionTek's old strategy though, but unfortunately the new strategy hasn't blossomed yet. After seeking some advice from an industry insider, VisionTek is working on turning their position around. By the time we review the 240GB and 480GB Racer Series drives, VisionTek should have new pricing and a better understanding of the marketplace.
Pricing aside, the VisionTek Racer 120GB offers a very good balance for mainstream users and even enthusiasts. Power usage and performance, included accessories that can be expanded (for an addition charge), TRIM to reduce maintenance, warranty and price... well, not so much that last one.
The point is, the SSD market is now very refined. Just one, two or even three good points doesn't cut it anymore. Now that we are moving beyond the Wal-Mart Discount Age and into global transactions with razor thin margins, price, much more so than performance, warranty, support or accessory package is the number one topic still discussed as holding back SSD adaption. VisionTek has identified this as being an issue and are actively working on it. Until the Racer comes down in cost, we can't recommend it.
It will publicly support TRIM really soon and we are very happy about that!
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