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Zalman F1 120GB SSD Review

We went to the other side of the planet Earth to bring this review of the Zalman F1 to you today. Unlike many of the other SandForce based SSDs on the market today, the Zalman F1 still uses 3.3.2 firmware and is an impressive performer.
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Published Tue, Sep 11 2012 10:07 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:31 PM CDT
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: Zalman

Introduction

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VIEW GALLERY - 29 IMAGES

My goal for Computex Taipei this year was to search out new SSDs and new markets - to boldly go where no man has.... you get the idea. We had a lot of success and came home with many new products sold in countries we rarely visit, but have many readers. In our exploration we learned many things. One of the things we learned was this, no matter where you are in the world, if you want a quality SSD, they are available.

Zalman, a company that does have a strong US presence, has a growing line of solid-state drives. Their previous generation products made it to the States and even made an appearance on Newegg. Their new SandForce SF-2281 based consumer SSDs though are absent in the US other than a few tipping up on EBay from resellers. The F1 drives are available in Asia where Zalman has a significant presence and is gaining market share.

The Zalman F1 Series uses SF-2281 controllers and in standard LSI SandForce capacity sizes. Paired with the controller is Intel 25nm synchronous flash. When we picked our two Zalman F1 samples up at Computex we assumed they had 5.0.1 or 5.0.2 firmware on them like everything else we brought back. Two nights ago I needed to retest a 501/502 firmware 120GB drive and discovered our Zalman F1 120GB actually arrived with 3.3.2. The 3.3.2 firmware fixed all of the power state change issues, but still had working TRIM, unlike 5.0.1 and 5.0.2.

Now that we know the Zalman F1 is still "one of the good ones", let's get it tested and take a look at the performance.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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Zalman doesn't give us a lot of details on their specification sheet, but all of the bases are covered on their website product page. At this time three capacity sizes are covered, 60GB, 120GB and 240GB, the three most commonly purchased by consumers at this time.

The performance differs between capacity sizes, but as we've seen over the last few weeks, performance also changes between firmware updates. Our Zalman F1 120GB when handed to us had 3.3.2 firmware on it. This is a working TRIM release, but a firmware we rarely see these days.

Zalman includes a nice accessory package that includes a desktop adapter bracket, mounting screws, paper user manual and finally downloadable software for easy data migration. The software key is on the back of the drive so you won't have trouble finding the key when you need it again.

When looking around we found several resellers selling the Zalman F1 Series of drives, in all available capacities. Using Google and targeting specific markets we found that Zalman drives are priced well when compared to other SSDs on the market but they are far from the lowest priced.

Zalman does include a three year warranty and a nice accessory package, something we rarely see with the low priced SSDs.

Packaging

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Zalman's F Series packaging is a lot like the previous two generations of products.

The front of the package gives us a lot of detail. I really like seeing performance data right on the front of the box especially for products that sell in brick and mortar stores.

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On the back we see how Zalman has positioned the F1 as a global product. There is a general description on the back of the box that is repeated in six different languages.

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Inside the package we found the Zalman F1 separated from the desktop adapter and the accessory screws.

Zalman F1 120GB SSD

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The Zalman F Series SSD uses a light aluminum case to house the actual SSD that is inside.

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The serial number and the Data Migration Utility key are on the back of the drive.

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The F1 uses a 9.5mm z-height case so it's not going to work in many of the new ultrabooks, but it will work in the millions of existing notebooks and any desktop when using the included desktop adapter bracket.

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The SATA power and data connectors are offset on the drive like they should be. The included adapter bracket also offsets the drive so the cables plug in more like those on 3.5" form factor drives. This helps when you have use SATA power cables that are tight and without a lot of flex.

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Inside we found a SandForce SF-2281, exactly what we expected. Zalman paired the controller with Intel 25nm synchronous flash. This is the newer third generation 25nm flash too.

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There are sixteen NAND flash chips, eight on each side and a lot of surface mount components on each side.

Benchmarks - 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, 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.

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.

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It's been a long time since we looked at a drive with 3.3.2 firmware, but given the troubles in the past six months, this is a welcome treat.

In ATTO we observed a maximum read speed of 560MB/s, a number we'd all but forgotten with some of the newer releases. The Zalman F1 120GB writes data in ATTO at 521MB/s.

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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The Zalman F1 is quite the little firecracker. When reading sequential data across the drive in FOB state we scored 432MB/s average with a maximum of nearly 440MB/s.

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The sequential writes with compressible data are not bad either. Our maximum write burst was nearly 440MB/s, but the average dropped down to 407MB/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 cache fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.

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We hear a lot about the sequential performance of SSDs and very little about the latency. The read access times add that third dimension that just doesn't pass through in our 2D charts. Read access time is how fast your request takes place. With drives like the Zalman F1, your window opens before your finger has decompressed the left mouse button on a double click.

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The Zalman F1 120GB doesn't use a DRAM buffer to write data fast to the flash like the drives with Marvell controllers. Because of that the write latency appears higher on the charts, but writes even out when the buffers are full.

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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In CDM we get our first look at the 4K read performance. The Zalman F1 reads 4K data at nearly 40MB/s, the highest we have recorded on the chart today. The Intel flash doesn't scale as well as the Toshiba Toggle Mode flash on the VisionTek Racer, but the higher the queue depth the less often you will use it.

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The Zalman F1 120GB suffers from the same incompressible data brick wall that we observe with all of the SF-2281 drives. The F1 makes it to 171MB/s sequential writes with incompressible data. The 4K writes in this test are nearly 135MB/s.

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

This test has a bit more significance with the VisionTek Racer just under the F Series. These two drives have working TRIM, but the F1 is the old version before it was broken and the Racer has 5.0.3, the first new working TRIM firmware. After looking at the numbers side by side, it looks like SandForce actually went backwards in real-world tests.

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.

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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 50% capacity point where both of these SandForce with working TRIM drives are again side by side we see that the older firmware is actually faster than the new 5.0.3.

This surprises me quite a bit because throughout the history of SandForce, they have never gone backwards.

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 Zalman F1 120GB does a very good job in the AS SSD file copy test where it keeps pace with the OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 120GB.

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

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Incompressible Data

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As with nearly all SSDs based on SandForce architecture the Zalman F1 loses performance when working with incompressible data.

Random

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Not that it matters much for 99% of the users of consumer SSDs, the 4K random read speed at a queue depth of 32 is much better on the older firmware. We recorded around 13K more IOPS in this test than we have with any of the 120GB FW 5.0.3 drives.

Incompressible Data

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The older firmware is a little slower at QD32 randon write IOPS. This is a very small difference, less than 2K IOPS.

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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Zalman is mainly in case, cooling and peripherals so they are not looking to take the F Series to the enterprise market. We still like running these tests for those who want to build a light use server on 3K MLC flash.

Final Thoughts

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Zalman put together a really good package for the F Series and managed to stay clear of the trim issues that many other companies found themselves in. We're not really sure if this was planned or if this was just by luck. It really doesn't matter because if you can find a Zalman F1 the chances of it having firmware 3.3.2 on it are very good. Since the newer drives from other companies all ship with newer, somewhat slower firmware the Zalman F1 is a really good find.

As we mentioned in the introduction, Zalman didn't officially bring the F Series SSDs to the United States, but a few are listed on EBay. In our search before writing this story we found F Series drives scattered all across the world with a majority of them in Asia.

When it comes to the prices the EBay drives are much higher than what a SandForce SSD costs, but the drives spread across the rest of the world are in line with what we expect to find.

The accessory package is on the upper end of the scale thanks to the Data Migration Utility that elevates it. You get a desktop adapter bracket which we feel is a must have item and the screws for mounting your drive. The Zalman F1 also has a three year warranty which is nice, but common for SSDs these days.

There are many good SSDs in the world and they all don't make it to my home country. We can't complain about Zalman not pushing this drive in the US, but Zalman has a really good name no matter what country you say it in.

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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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