Over the last year and a half we've reviewed countless consumer SSDs with LSI SandForce SATA III controllers. I'll admit it really isn't as exciting as it used to be. The reason why most of us turn our lives upside down is for the thrill of being on the cutting edge. Ten years ago when I started reviewing video cards, everything worked on a six month cycle. Every six months either ATI or NVIDIA would kick out a new flagship video card, the fix was always higher and the supplemental lower end cards were enough to get me through to the next big release.
The consumer SSD market moved at an even faster pace at first. Then SandForce had to go and ruin it all with the SF-2281. SandForce uses FPGAs, think of them like your programmable remote control. When you want to add a new Blu-ray player to your home theater, kind of like a feature, you can easily. When SandForce built their silicon, they overbuilt the controller and planned on adding a bunch of features later on. With FPGAs you don't need to know what's coming next, you just put in the overhead to tackle whatever feature might come next. So, because SandForce built a super FPGA that was able to scale a very large range of NAND flash types, we are still talking about it nearly two years after the launch.
The overhead doesn't just come into play when we talk about future flash types. As we've shown in every generation from SandForce, the features are fine tuned to increase performance. LSI SandForce, even two years after launch, still has the dominate controller on the market thanks to increases in performance from the programming and firmware.
Shenzhen New KingFast Storage Technology Co. Ltd. is a new company we are receiving samples from and since they are new to us, they are most likely new to you as well. Based in Shenzhen China, KingFast has the ability to manufacturer around 50,000 SSDs a month and claims to work with a number of first-tier companies. With that amount of production, we suspect KingFast has been quietly hiding behind the scenes building products for some of the companies we see SSDs from routinely.
Let's take a look at the specifications of the new KingFast F3 Plus SSD and see what they've prepared for us to review.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
KingFast has the F3 Plus in all of the major capacity sizes - 60GB, 120GB, 240GB and 480GB. We're focusing on the 240GB model today and it should be the fastest out of the group. KingFast quotes realistic performance data in their specifications sheet, sequential read at 559MB/s and 522MB/s for the write speed. The spec sheet shows 77,515 read IOPS and 82,846 write IOPS, but with firmware 5.0.4 we'll see those change a bit. The write IOPS will go up, but at the same time the read IOPS will decrease.
This is only the second drive we've published based on SandForce's new 5.0.4 firmware. This is the successor to the first 'TRIM fix' 5.0.3 release and it fixes a small issue that OEM customers wanted. 504 is good stuff and we're happy with the release. Very few companies have 5.0.4 and even fewer have done anything with it. KingFast has 5.0.4 and they are just about finished with the validation process.
KingFast has a US distributer, M-Factors, a group we met at Flash Memory Summit. M-Factors don't list the F3 Plus on their site yet so we can't comment on the price at this time. We also found the KingFast F3 Plus on Amazon, but the stock was sold out.
After diving into the KingFast F3 Plus 240GB I think I found out why the drives are sold out. On the outside it's easy to see the 7mm z-height, a form factor in high demand because of the ultrabook market. On the inside, we found Intel 25nm synchronous NAND flash, but not the regular 3K P/E cycle flash we see day in and day out. The KingFast F3 Plus uses premium 5K P/E flash. The 5K flash doesn't add anything to your performance... or does it? A very tiny number of users who write a LOT of data may experience the throttling effects of DuraWrite. The 5K flash changes the throttle curve if everything is programmed correctly, but in order to get anywhere close to the throttle, you'll need to write to the drive right out of the box and keep doing in what we would call an excessive fashion. What you will get out of the 5K flash is a longer life span since your flash can take more erase / write cycles.
As we mentioned the KingFast F3 Plus isn't in the US just yet, but their distributer M-Factors has a few other KingFast products, one of which is the standard F3. The 120GB F3 is available for just $79, the 240GB is just $149. These are very encouraging prices for the F3 Plus.
KingFast backs its F3 Plus with a three year warranty which is two years less than what Intel and Kingston pair its 5K P/E cycle drives with (520 Series and HyperX SSD). Both of those drives have very good accessory packages, but so does the KingFast F3 Plus. KingFast includes a desktop adapter bracket, screws and a SATA cable that is around six inches long.
The KingFast package is nice and colorful. Not a whole lot of information is on the front, but I don't expect to see these at Best Buy either. Since you are only going to order KingFast products off the internet, right now we can overlook the lack of info.
Did I mention that the outside was virtually useless if you wanted to glance over specs and other bits?
We've seen the internal packaging from other companies before, it's virtually a standard.
Included with the package is a desktop adapter bracket, mounting screws and a really cool short length cable.
KingFast F3 Plus SSD
Here we get our first look at the KingFast F3 Plus SSD. By now you are used to seeing SSDs so there isn't anything shocking here. The case is aluminum and doesn't flex like the thin steel and plastic cases we are starting to see more often.
There isn't a label on the back of our sample, but the bottom mounting screws are located where they should be.
Aside from the 5K flash, the biggest feature is the 7mm z-height form factor. This drive will work in your desktop (with the included adapter bracket), your standard notebook and also you shiny new ultrabook that accepts only 7mm drives.
The SATA power and data cables are where they should be, but KingFast didn't use a bracket that offsets the drive. This isn't a big issue unless you have stiff cables. I test a lot of power supplies and some of them have very stiff cables and the offset makes connecting multiple HDDs and SSDs easier since they all line up.
The F3 Plus uses the SF-2281 flash storage processor and pairs it with Intel 25nm synchronous flash. The flash is labeled JCME1 which is the code for 5K P/E.
KingFast only uses eight NAND flash chips which is good news for notebook and ultrabook users. When you lower the flash count, you decrease the power draw. Eight chips mean all eight channels are utilized so KingFast put together an optimal product for its intended market.
The only thing that gets me kind of worked up is that KingFast doesn't advertise 5K flash. It was just tucked in there and I didn't even know about it until I cracked the case open.
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.
In ATTO we achieved a maximum read speed of just under 560MB/s. The write speed was very close to 535MB/s. This is very good baseline performance and with TRIM working the performance will stay high over long term use.
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.
While reading data across the KingFast F3 Plus 240GB we achieved an average speed of 421.5MB/s. The chart plot was very straight, one of the cleanest lines we've seen with FW 5.0.4 so far.
We can't say the same about the sequential write graph because there was a dip around the 70% mark in the run. The dip decreased the average score to 409MB/s but aside from that we were really close to a run with an average write speed in the 430MB/s range.
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.
The F3 Plus delivered very good read access times in our tests. The access times are some of the lowest we've tested on SandForce SSDs paired with MLC flash.
The write access times were also low for SF-2281/MLC. Both the Intel 520 Series and the KingFast F3 Plus use 5K flash and both of these drives give us really good write access times.
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 high speed and the low latency mean high 4K performance. The F3 Plus scores an amazing 43.5MB/s in the single request test and that ramps up well too as the queue depth increases.
The 4K write speed is in line with other SandForce with MLC drives we've seen in the past. These two tests use incompressible data so this is also our first look at incompressible data sequential performance. The F3 Plus delivers just under 325MB/s, this is representative of your media files like music and movies.
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
The KingFast F3 Plus 240GB delivers exceptional daily task performance. The F3 Plus competes with the M3 Pro across the board, but the Plextor drive is still the fastest when the drives are empty.
Benchmarks - 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
In these tests we use Vantage a little different and look at the total score. While performance results are shown for several percentage of user capacity filled, I like to use the 50% mark when discussing results.
At the 50% mark the KingFast F3 is faster than the Plextor M3 Pro, but a little slower than the SanDisk Extreme (with broken TRIM) and the Intel 520 Series, both in 240GB capacity size.
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
The KingFast F3 Plus didn't win any of the individual results, but turned in a very good performance overall when transferring data.
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
As with nearly all SandForce based SSDs compressible data and incompressible data performance varies. In these test we get to see the difference at both ends of the spectrum.
QD32 Random Read IOPS
Firmware 5.0.3 and 5.0.4 has a small issue when ramping up queue depths and reading random data. The next firmware release should increase the IOPS back to 80K+ IOPS.
QD32 Random Write IOPS
The QD32 random write IOPS are above 90K. We can't complain about that.
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 enterprise tests show typical SandForce performance and that is never a bad place to be on the charts. The 5K flash will aid in keeping the performance and the lifespan high.
It's really too bad we couldn't find the KingFast F3 Plus for sale anywhere yet because it's a really good SSD. We don't see 5K flash very often, but when we do, the price of the product is usually quite a bit higher than 3K flash drives. Even more depressing is the fact that KingFast doesn't advertise the superior flash at all. While researching the F3 Plus, we didn't find a mention of the flash on their website or on the specifications lists.
What KingFast is pushing with the F3 Plus is the new 7mm z-height. This spec is required almost exclusively in new ultrabooks. That doesn't mean you can't tuck a 7mm drive in your regular notebook or desktop. It means you can't fit your 9.5mm tall drive in most ultrabooks. As you may know, ultrabooks are amazing, and if you didn't know that, then you really should get out more.
Part of the ultrabook spec dictated by Intel is the use of flash for the storage. So far they've come in three forms, slow, hybrid slow and good for an OEM fair. What we rarely see is an enthusiast quality, i.e. a very high speed SSD in a production ultrabook. There aren't many companies with 7mm aftermarket SSDs so KingFast is in a good position with this product because they don't have to fight it out with the vast numbers of Team SandForce drives on the market.
We've already discussed the price, we don't know it yet, but when this drive does go on sale, M-Factors will carry it. American's are covered and on KingFast's website, they list eight other e-tails that carry its products.
The KingFast F3 Plus is quite nice with its 5K MLC flash, 7mm thin size height and nice accessory package. We'll have to update the price when we get it and because of that we have to cut this review a bit short. If the F3 Plus comes in at a lower price than the Intel 520 Series and Kingston HyperX SSD then we really, really like it.