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Mushkin Atlas 480GB mSATA SSD Review

Mushkin breaks the mold with brilliant engineering and doubles the highest capacity ever offered on an mSATA form factor SSD.

@ChrisRamseyer
Published Wed, Dec 5 2012 12:05 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: Mushkin

Introduction

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At CES 2012 we told you to watch for Mushkin in the new year because the company was on the fast track with a cash injection and new talented engineers. For most of 2012, Mushkin did exactly what we predicted and the company's SSDs were routinely the lowest priced solid state drives at Newegg when comparing equal categories.

A good example is the Chronos Deluxe 480GB with synchronous flash. For most of 2012, the Deluxe 480GB cost between $80-$100 less than any other 480GB SSD with the same NAND flash. On many occasions the drive cost less than products with asynchronous flash, too.

Heading into 2013, Mushkin decided it was time to start showing off its engineering skills. The Mushkin Atlas mSATA product line is a good place to start. mSATA has gained a high adaption rate with the interface in most ultrabooks, many notebooks and even many desktop motherboards.

Until just a few days ago, the highest density mSATA SSD was 256GB capacity. mSATA PCBs are small and don't offer a lot of surface area to mount the controller, NAND flash and DRAM chips. Notebooks and ultrabooks usually place the connector under keyboards so any vertical increase needs to be very small. To do things small you need engineers who specialize in very efficient layouts and Mushkin just so happens to have engineers with the skill needed to pull off the world's first 480GB mSATA SSD.

We bring you the world's first review of a 480GB mSATA solid state drive - let's get started then, shall we?

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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The Mushkin Atlas 480GB SSD isn't listed on Mushkin's website yet, but the 60GB, 120GB and 240GB are already listed. Newegg shows a new 30GB model for sale and takes the product line a step further and divides it into DX and V product names. The DX models use synchronous NAND flash and the V (assumedly for value) uses asynchronous NAND flash.

Our MKNSSDAT480GB sample is of the value variety with 512GB of L74A, 25nm Micron asynchronous NAND flash. Obviously we would have preferred to review the DX variety since we strongly feel that anyone reading TweakTown should pony up the extra money for full SATA III performance with all data types and improved performance when the drive has data on it. That's okay though because the Atlas we're looking at today is big, it's bad and it uses all 8-channels of the LSI SandForce SF-2281 controllers, a feature not seen on an mSATA drive before. Also, since it uses the SF-2281 controller, the Atlas 480GB is SATA III, and not SATA II based like we see with quite a few mSATA drives.

We haven't heard anything about pricing yet, but Mushkin leaves that to the e-tailers. The 240GB DX Atlas sells for just over $1 per GB at Newegg for $249.99. Newegg didn't have the V 240GB model in stock, but the 120GB asynchronous version shows a price of $99.99. Since the 480GB Atlas adds an additional PCB and connectors to the build of materials list (BOM), we expect a price of at least $1 per GB when these hit Newegg and the DX 480GB with synchronous flash will be a bit higher. Mushkin has the only game in town when it comes to these ultra large capacity mSATA drives so they can charge any premium they want and we'll still fork over our money with a bit of drool at the edge of our mouths.

Looking at the existing products at Newegg both the standard and Deluxe Atlas products ship with a standard three year warranty.

Mushkin Atlas 480GB mSATA SSD

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The 480GB capacity size fits in the same packaging as the standard Atlas drives.

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Mushkin ships these in plastic, retail friendly packages so we may see them on store shelves at some point.

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Here we get our first look at the actual mSATA drive. From this angle it's difficult to tell the dual PCB design. Mushkin did a very good job of keeping the overall size down.

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There are eight NAND chips spread across two PCBs.

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A single LSI SandForce SF-2281 controller keeps the data flowing.

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Three connectors pass data and power to the daughter board.

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This is the first time we've seen anyone even attempt a dual PCB design for mSATA.

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In our Lenovo W530 the Mushkin Atlas 480GB fit perfectly. The metal inner structure even kept the keyboard from coming in direct contact with the mSATA drive. I'm not going to go as far as to say this design will fit in every notebook or ultrabook, but we had room to spare in our Lenovo W530 test laptop.

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Here we see the 480GB Atlas with two PCBs next to a standard LSI SandForce based mSATA drive.

A few weeks back I 'cleaned' my garage. I wanted to whip out the digital calipers to give an exact height of the stacked Atlas, but like every other time I've cleaned my garage, it'll take a year to figure out where I put the tools I rarely use.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance

Desktop Test System

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Lenovo W530 - Mobile Workstation

We use two systems for SSD testing. The desktop runs a majority of the tests and the Lenovo W530 runs the notebook power tests as well as the real-world file transfer benchmark.

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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The Atlas 480GB wasn't listed on Mushkin's website at the time of writing so we don't have their specifications to use as a reference. Mushkin uses ATTO to rate its SSDs, but they use a queue depth of 10, we always use QD4 - the default for this test.

With our slightly slower QD4 test, we measured read performance at just over 547MB/s. The write speed topped 525MB/s.

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

Temperature display

HD Tune Pro gives us accurate read, write and access time results and for the last couple of years has gained popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.

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Today we're using two sets of charts. For the first portion of the review, we'll compare the Mushkin Atlas to other mSATA drives we've tested previously. We haven't ran any of the older mSATA drives through Data on Disk Testing or the new power tests so we'll compare the Mushkin Atlas to our collection of 480/512GB 2.5" desktop drives at the end of the review.

Our Mushkin Atlas 480GB sample arrived with LSI SandForce firmware 5.0.4 so we expected big sequential performance when the drive was empty. That's exactly what we received in our initial testing as well. The average sequential read was 417MB/s.

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We measured the sequential write speed at just over 406MB/s when using compressible data.

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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The read latency was a little higher than expected, but in line with the MemoRight MS 701, another LSI SandForce 2281 based mSATA SSD.

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Mushkin tamed the write latency even with the asynchronous flash. A DX model would shave another .02ms off on average and bring the Atlas with async flash in line with the other 2281 drives.

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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Here is our first set of tests using incompressible data and as expected the asynchronous IMFT flash kills performance with this data type. The 4K performance was good at 25MB/s and scaled well as the queue depth increased. The sequential performance was down quite a bit though compared to our test with compressible data.

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The 4K write speed with incompressible data dropped to just below 15MB/s. That's less than the SF-1200 controlled Renice K3VLAR and the drives with Phison controllers. We'll cover this in depth at the end of the article.

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

With the drives empty the Mushkin Atlas 480GB does really well in our real-world applications test.

The new 5.0.4 firmware even allowed the drive to keep pace with the MyDigitalSSD SMART (ADATA SX300) 256GB. The sweet spot for SF-2281 performance is the 240/256GB capacity size so it was a real challenge for Mushkin to deliver a really good performing 480GB mSATA drive. SandForce doesn't use a DRAM buffer so page data has to be read from the flash and the much smaller internal buffers. That's why the SF-2281 drives slow down 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.

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Now we're switching over and forcing the Mushkin Atlas to run against desktop drives since we haven't run these tests on our mSATA collection. To keep things relevant we pulled out the big drives with 512GB of total NAND flash.

Fill testing was going to be an issue on the base Atlas to begin with since the asynchronous flash loses a lot of performance with data in the cells. The DX model will perform much better in these tests. Given how well firmware 5.0.4 performs an Atlas DX model might even take the top performance spot when filled to the 50% line. It would certainly run very close to the SanDisk Extreme and OCZ Vertex 3 480GB.

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

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Incompressible Data

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The LSI SandForce architecture loses performance when paired with MLC flash already, but the performance loss is significantly higher with asynchronous flash. Here we see a direct comparison between the two data types in several tests.

QD32 Random Read

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Our random read performance at 4K and a queue depth of 32 was 47K IOPS.

QD32 Random Write

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Our random write IOPS test under the same perimeters recorded just 31K 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.

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Booting into Windows 7 Ultimate took just over 16 seconds in both of our tests. The Atlas didn't lose a lot of performance when going from 25% of the capacity full to 75% in our Data on Disk testing so the results line up well between these two tests.

Benchmarks - DiskBench

DiskBench - Directory Copy

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.6.2.0

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 and is a mix of compressible and incompressible data.

Directory Copy

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When copying mixed mode data to the Mushkin Atlas 480GB we managed to write at 184MB/s. The same data read from the Atlas at 196MB/s. This test takes place when 25GB of user space is already used by the operating system and a handful of applications already installed on the drive.

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.

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Our battery life test ended at nearly the exact same point the SanDisk Extreme 480GB did. Mushkin uses 25nm Micron flash and the SanDisk uses SanDisk/Toshiba Toggle Mode flash that generally does a little better than the IMFT flash.

Were a bit surprised Mushkin didn't roll IMFT 20nm flash into the Atlas. Just a few days ago we tested the Intel 335 Series with 20nm flash and it delivered the best battery life we've recorded on a LSI SandForce controller. The Intel drive uses synchronous flash, but we have another LSI SandForce 2281 drive with 20nm asynchronous flash in house to play with and it does well in the battery life test as well.

PCMark Vantage HDD Tests - Power Draw

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Here we see power use over time in a set of real-world tests from Vantage. The Mushkin Atlas 480GB uses around .2 amps at idle which is a little higher than we expected. Sequential reads go to around .4 amps and random writes peak at just under .6 amps in most cases. We registered one hit over .06 in the entire test.

We prefer this method of power testing since it's rare to pull maximum power in a desktop environment.

Final Thoughts

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We were quite excited going into this review, but I have to admit the async flash blemished what would have been a glowing review of the Atlas 480GB. Making matters far worse, Mushkin's website doesn't even list the non-Deluxe Atlas at all. Personally, I think this will lead to some confusion for potential shoppers trying to research mSATA upgrades. The mSATA standard isn't new to SSD enthusiasts, but for the average ultrabook owner, both products look the same, and why spend the extra money when you're uninformed. We always recommend Toshiba Toggle or IMFT synchronous over asynchronous flash.

Given our strong yet highly accurate feelings on asynchronous NAND, let's focus on the reason why we have this drive in the first place. The Atlas 480GB is an engineering marvel. Mushkin managed to fit eight NAND flash chips and a controller on a card with less outside surface area than a Zippo lighter. A number of ultrabooks are shipping with only mSATA, no 2.5" SATA, so there is a real need for this drive in the market.

Who really wants to spend a grand on a sleek looking ultrabook and be limited to 256GB or less? Most new notebooks and even a high number of desktops ship with mSATA slots just waiting to be populated, making the Atlas more than just an ultrabook specific drive.

At the time of writing we didn't have an update on pricing, but these should hit Newegg fairly soon. We're going to see if Mushkin will swap our V model for a DX and see how the performance fairs against our other high performance mSATA drives. Hopefully by the time we make the exchange for the Deluxe review, Newegg has stock and we can publish pricing information.

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