With OCZ Technology slowing down, or falling off a cliff, depending on who you ask, some say Corsair is next in line to become number one. Number one at what wasn't defined, but it was an interesting conversation with an employee from another manufacturer that clearly had a special place in his heart for Corsair.
At Computex 2012, Corsair had a good showing and appeared like a company that could ride the white horse in the front of the cavalry. Computex brought two new controllers, one from LAMD and one from Novachips, Corsair has an exclusive on the LAMD. This strategy is old hat from SSD manufacturers. We're just used to seeing OCZ Technology wearing the hat, and everyone else waiting for their turn to chime the ME TOO bell.
Prior to the Neutron and Neutron GTX release Corsair sent drives to a few media partners to test even while the firmware was going through the final stages of qualification. This process gave the media an opportunity to really shake the drives down, time to run a lot of tests and more importantly time to really get a feel for the performance and endurance. Corsair came out looking presidential after that.
Today we're looking at the Neutron GTX 480GB, Corsair's current flagship model, in its largest capacity. In the past large capacity drives always came with a catch 22. The large capacity meant lower performance, mainly in the 4K write speed. Today we'll see if the Neutron GTX 480GB manages to keep pace with the 240GB model, and we'll also introduce you to some of our exciting new tests that we've been working on for the last few months.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Neutron GTX currently ships in three capacity sizes, 120GB, 240GB and the 480GB model we're testing today. Unlike the multiple Force Series products, Corsair doesn't change the claimed performance data on the spec sheet for the largest capacity size.
If the performance rating holds true then Neutron and Neutron GTX join OCZ's Vertex 4 in a new high capacity class of SSDs that allow capacity scaling without a performance reduction. One item did change on the spec sheet for the 480GB model; the DRAM buffer was doubled from 128MB (on the Neutron GTX 240GB model) to 256MB.
The claimed sequential read performance for the GTX 480GB is 555MB/s and the claimed sequential write speed is 511MB/s. Corsair only lists the maximum random 4K write speed (85K IOPS), so we'll have to wait till our test to find the maximum 4K read performance.
Corsair ships the Neutron GTX with the regular Corsair SSD bundle. You get a desktop adapter bracket, mounting screws and a small paper pamphlet. The Neutron GTX gets an upgrade in the warranty department, now five years and an increase over the Force Series products that still get a three year warranty.
Then there's the price. Newegg lists the Neutron GTX 480GB at $499 at the time of writing. This is roughly $70 more than the 480GB Force GT and $100 more than the Force GS, both very good products. Let's take a look and see if the Neutron GTX 480GB price is justified.
This is actually the first time we've seen the Neutron GTX package. Our first drive arrived in a brown box before the retail design was finished.
Corsair didn't stray too far from their proven design that dates back several years. One thing we did notice is the inclusion of the random read performance, 90K IOPS, something that isn't on the standard spec sheet.
On the back we found some general statements about the Neutron Series.
The inner package is the same as most other Corsair SSDs. The drive ships in a plastic case and the desktop adapter bracket is outside the plastic case so your drive won't arrive scratched.
Corsair Neutron Series GTX 480GB SSD
Here we get our first look at the 480GB Neutron GTX. The drive uses the new 7mm z-height form factor so it'll fit in a very wide range of devices including several new ultrabooks. The model and serial number are located on the front label.
There's not much on the back other than the four mounting points.
To get to 7mm Corsair uses a new case design that is made of very thin metal. The drive is very light because of it, but it doesn't feel as solid as the older cases used on the Force Series.
The included desktop adapter bracket offsets the drive so your SATA power and data ports are very close to inline with 3.5" form factor drives.
Neutron and Neutron GTX use Link A Media Devices controller LM86800AA. The controller is paired with Toshiba Toggle Mode flash and two 128MB DRAM chips.
One of the DRAM chips is located on the back of the PCB. We think one chip acts as a buffer and the other stores map data.
Corsair uses 24nm Toshiba Toggle Model flash, but we wouldn't be surprised to see 19nm Toshiba used in the future. Maybe for Neutron Series II?
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
Desktop Test System
Lenovo W530 - Mobile Workstation
As we mentioned in the introduction you'll get a taste of some of the new benchmarks we've been working on today. At this point we have everything nailed down, but due to the amount of time needed for the tests, we don't have our entire collection of drives tested yet for the results pages.
We also haven't spent a great deal of time making the benchmark result charts so some of them are a bit rough. We're working on it!
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 to find our peak performance we found Corsair's claimed performance of 555MB/s read and 511MB/s write speeds to be accurate. The 4K write performance was impressive, just over 272MB/s, but as you can see, it takes a while for the read performance to ramp up to peak speeds.
Benchmarks - Sequential Performance
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.
In our early tests we're looking to break the drive in while measuring peak performance. In HD Tune Pro we averaged just over 430MB/s read speed with an average and minimum performance very close to the average read speed.
Writing for the first time across the drive produced an average write speed of 417MB/s. The maximum sequential write speed wasn't much higher, just 423MB/s. The minimum dropped down to 378MB/s and that dip came from a single blip.
We've ran HD Tach for years right after HD Tune Pro, but rarely use the data. For the most part the test aids in pushing the drive into a deeper steady state for our real-world tests. I'm putting HD Tach in the game this time to show a couple of patterns. In the test above we see the performance of the drive after the six HD Tune Pro tests. As you can see the performance is all over the place in both reads and writes. In three places we see write speed dip below 100MB/s.
After writing sequential data to the drive we see the read performance level off at roughly 170MB/s, but the write speed dips all the way down to 50MB/s in some places.
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.
Manufacturers like to talk about their big number sequential performance, but the most noticeable performance increase over a spinner (HDD) is how fast actions happen. Read latency is the measurement used to quantify these actions. The Corsair Neutron GTX scored very well in this test with a solid .05 ms rating.
For desktop and notebook use, the write latency takes a back seat to read latency, but if your write latency increases too high, you experience studdering. The Corsair Neutron Series GTX 480GB keeps write latency down to less than half a millisecond, no studder issue there.
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.
In CDM we're looking at 4K and native command queuing performance. The Neutron GTX 480GB 4K performance is very close to what we recorded on OCZ's Vertex 4 (Indilinx Modified Marvell) and Vertex 3 (SandForce SF-2281). Neutron GTX scales very well when the commands are stacked, up to 122MB/s at QD4 and 369MB/s at QD32.
The LSI SandForce SF-2281/2282 drives in 480GB or 512GB capacity size produce low 4K write numbers. At the bottom of the chart we have the OCZ Vertex 3 480GB and you can see the low 4K write speeds, the lowest on our list of large capacity drives. The Corsair Neutron GTX 480GB with a LAMD controller produces more than 5x the 4K write performance.
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
With the drives empty, Vantage shows fairly even performance for most of the ultra high performance SSDs.
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.
Things change when we start progressively adding data to the drives.
Using the 50% mark as a measuring stick, Neutron GTX 480GB scores well in this read intensive benchmark, but this is where SandForce's data compression technology comes into play and allows their drives to retain more performance when data that's compressible gets compressed to the NAND.
Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities
Anvil Storage Utilities
Version and / or Patch Used: RC5
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 is 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
Were used to seeing performance drop off with incompressible data from the SandForce era, but the Corsair Neutron GTX with LAMD under the hood actually increases performance with incompressible data, but not by much.
QD32 Random Read
The Anvil 4K QD32 random read test ran on the Neutron GTX 480GB delivered nearly 90K IOPS.
QD32 Random Write
The 4K QD32 write performance was just over 82K IOPS.
Benchmarks - BootRacer
BootRacer - System Boot Time
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.0
Developer Homepage: Greatis
Product Homepage: BootRacer
Download here: http://www.greatis.com/bootracer/download.htm
Note: In this test we use the Lenovo W530 Mobile Workstation loaded with an operating system and several program files. The data on the drive at the time of the test is 45GB. The second test, 50GB Free, was run with the drives filled with block data until only 50GB of free capacity remained.
Using BootRacer we found a few interesting things. The first thing we found is that the amount of data on the drive has very little to do with an SSDs boot performance. We could fill drives up to 90% capacity and see very little variation, at least in most cases. What slows an SSD or even an HDD down is dll and other files that get loaded from installed programs.
The boot test with BootRacer is still a work in progress.
Benchmarks - DiskBench
DiskBench - Directory Copy
Version and / or Patch Used: 220.127.116.11
Developer Homepage: Nodesoft
Product Homepage: DiskBench
Download here: http://www.nodesoft.com/diskbench/download
Note: In this test we use the Lenovo W530 Mobile Workstation and a SuperSSpeed S301 SLC 128GB SSD to move a 15GB block of data to and from the target drive. This is part of our real-world test regiment. Roughly 45GB of data resides on the target drive before the '15GB Block' is transfer. The 15GB Block is the same data we built for the Data on Disk Testing.
Any drive that manages to keep pace with the SuperSSpeed S301 SLC 128GB is smoking fast and the Neutron GTX 480GB is right there.
We're still in the process of running our collection of drives through these new tests. So far, we've completed around 15 tests, but the new tests take an additional 10 hours to complete so the data is trickling in.
Benchmarks - Power Testing
Bapco MobileMark 2012 1.5
Version and / or Patch Used: 2012 1.5
Developer Homepage: http://www.bapco.com
Test Homepage: http://www.bapco.com
MobileMark 2012 1.5 is an application-based benchmark that reflects usage patterns of business users in the areas of office productivity, media creation and media consumption. Unlike benchmarks that only measure battery life, MobileMark 2012 measures battery life and performance simultaneously, showing how well a system design addresses the inherent tradeoffs between performance and power management.
We have a couple of versions of this test and a couple different variations on how we'll display the data. As with the other new tests, we're still building a database, but this test will stay.
PCMark Vantage HDD Test - Power Draw
The Corsair Neutron GTX 480GB pulls more power than most of the other SSDs we've tested so far.
Eventually we'll use this test to measure performance per watt with PC Mark's performance data. Futuremark has a new PCMark slated for release later in 2012, so we're at their mercy for an update.
We got off track a bit with the new charts, but they give us a new look at metrics we've ignored for far too long. Once we have more data collected and organized by capacity size we can fill the charts in with relevant comparisons. In total we have ten new tests, but only rolled out four today. We'll have an article detailing the new testing procedures in a couple of days.
So, getting back to the task at hand - the Corsair Neutron GTX 480GB. Despite the low 50% performance in our Data on Disk testing and higher than average power consumption, the Neutron GTX 480GB is a very good SSD. The performance in both compressible and incompressible data is very fast, faster than we even unleashed in our review today. In further testing we learned that in order to get the most out of the Neutron GTX, just disabling all of the performance robbing C-States wasn't enough. The new Intel drivers deliver a higher boost than before when you disable Windows Write-Caching Buffer. With the box checked in Device Manager the Neutron GTX 480GB's performance shot up to 90K in Vantage.
Then we have the price, which is a bit higher than what we expected. At $499 the Neutron GTX 480GB is less than $1 per GB when you add in the spare area. The Neutron actually has 512GB of flash under the lid, the spare area works to keep performance high and increases endurance. The price is higher than the LSI SandForce 480GB drives on the market, but the performance is also higher as well in several areas.
Given the power draw, we feel the Neutron GTX is a better drive for desktops than notebooks working on battery power. The Neutron Series ships with a 7mm z-height though and your choices in that form factor are somewhat limited.
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