It's been quite a while since we wrote about Corsair's Neutron Series, Link_A_Media Devices (LAMD) or SK Hynix Memory solutions. That's going to change this week because we went out and purchased a handful of Neutron and Neutron GTX drives. Before we start down that road, let's take a look at the LAMD and SK Hynix relationship.
LAMD is a specialty SoC builder with a handful of products. Although founded in 2004, the first time we noticed LAMD came when testing the Seagate Pulsar.2 enterprise SSD. Fast forward a year and a half later and LAMD tipped up again in Corsair's flagship Neutron GTX consumer SSD.
A few months after Corsair publicly launched the then new Neutron Series, SK Hynix, a South Korean DRAM, NAND and CIS manufacturer, purchased Link_A_Media Devices. Not including portable flash devices like thumb drives, we rarely run across SK Hynix flash in consumer SSDs. The most recent was a SSD built by SK Hynix that used a LSI SandForce controller paired with the company's own flash.
The SK Hynix NAND paired with a LSI SF-2281 controller produced some very interesting results. The read performance was down a little compared to other 2281 drives on the market with IMFT 25nm flash, but write performance increased. As we move forward to smaller packages, write performance will become a larger issue, because the performance is decreasing. This is a bigger issue with smaller capacity SSDs and one that you can see for yourself by the performance numbers released in marketing docs for the Crucial M500 and OCZ Vertex 3.20, both with new IMFT 20nm flash.
The first and only time we reviewed the Corsair Neutron was just after Computex 2012 one year ago, and it was the 240GB model. The base Neutron shipped with IMFT 25nm flash. Around the same time, we reviewed the Neutron GTX 240GB with 24nm Toshiba Toggle Mode flash. That was then and this is now. The Neutron shipping today has changed. The flash comes from SK Hynix now on the base Neutron and the full 256GB of capacity is now in the user's hands thus the new 256GB capacity size in the new marketing material. The Neutron GTX has a smaller change, now with 19nm Toshiba Toggle flash, but we'll talk about that in a couple of days with a special follow up review.
When we discovered the changes, the Corsair Neutron 256GB was at Newegg for right around $169. Not only did we notice the great price, but also the new capacity size. We reached out to Corsair for a sample, but almost right away, the request was shot down. As you can imagine, Corsair wanted to send us a sample for review, the problem was with allocation. The marketing team can't get their hands on them because the new low price means they are selling like crazy. So, we waited in line like everyone else and ordered a handful of new Corsair Neutron and Neutron GTX drives from Newegg.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Today we're looking at two of the three Neutron drives offered by Corsair. The company also has a 64GB model in the base Neutron, a capacity size not offered in the flagship Neutron GTX. Here we see spec sheet for the two Neutron products we're testing today. The 128GB is on the left and the 256GB on the right.
Let's roll through the 128GB model first. The 128GB capacity size reads sequential data at 540MB/s and writes sequential data at 211MB/s. We didn't test the original Neutron 120GB drive so this is our first look at the 128GB class product. 4K random write I/OPS comes in at 51K I/OPS, Corsair doesn't list read I/OPS, but Newegg lists 51K I/OPS.
The 256GB class Neutron will be the main focus of today's article, but we're rolling the 128GB performance numbers in as well. We reviewed the 240GB model with IMFT less than a year ago. The specs have changed and for the better with this capacity size.
Starting with the big change, sequential write performance is now at 450MB/s, up from 370MB/s on the 240GB original drive. This falls in line with the write performance increase we observed on the SK Hynix branded, SandForce controlled product we tested several months ago. Hynix flash, we don't see it often, but so far the results have been positive.
In the time between our purchase and writing this article, the Neutron prices have increased at Newegg. We paid right around $170 for the Neutron 256GB and the price was $199 at the time of writing. Newegg does have Neutron 240GB drives in stock at $169 and I'd suspect the new model price was increased to clear out the older 240GB drives.
The Neutron 128GB is also at Newegg for $119 at the time of writing. This is only five dollars less than the Neutron GTX 120GB. We'll put these two drives head to head soon in the new Neutron GTX 120GB, 240GB and 480GB article.
Corsair ships Neutron with a desktop adapter bracket, screws and a paper manual. Neutron is the only mainstream SSD in a two tier system that ships with a five year warranty.
Here we see our two Neutron packages side-by-side.
Since we've seen this package design a few times before, we're just glossing over it today.
The inner package is the same as many other Corsair SSDs and it keeps the drive separated from the accessories other than the mounting screws.
Corsair Neutron SSDs
Neutron is also one of the few mainstream class SSDs on the market with a 7mm z-height. Companies are quickly jumping to the new 7mm height that's designed for new ultrabooks. The ultrabook market had a slow early adaption thanks to higher than expected prices and a miserable operating experience. I'm sure the global economy played a role, but with Haswell, Intel's fourth generation Core processor on the horizon, sales are expected to skyrocket.
With that in mind, I don't see a reason to purchase a 9.5mm, standard notebook height SSD from this point forward.
Here we see the two drives undressed, the 128GB Neutron on the left and the 256GB Neutron on the right.
Both capacity sizes share the same LAMD LM87800AA controller, the same found on the Neutron GTX as well.
We expected to find Hynix DRAM in the new Neutron since the controller and DRAM came from the same entity, but Samsung DRAM is what we found.
As we've mentioned, the new Neutron uses Hynix NAND. The only difference between the 128GB and the 256GB was the NAND density - both capacity sizes use eight NAND flash chips.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
Desktop Test System
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.
Before we get into the full benchmark rundown with the new Neutron compared to the latest high profile SSDs on the market, let's look at the new verses old Neutron in the 256GB class.
The new Neutron 256GB is on the left and the older 240GB is on the right. We can see that the new 256GB capacity size has much higher write performance (nearly 453MB/s), compared to the older 240GB model (nearly 375MB/s). The write performance increase means the 256GB Neutron is a better-rounded product with write speeds closer to read speeds.
Unfortunately, just like with the SK Hynix branded Team SandForce drive, the read performance decreased. We observed a decrease in read performance of around 15MB/s. That's not enough to really notice in the real-world, since we're measuring peak performance with ATTO, but it's enough to point out to you.
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 gained popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.
The new generation of Neutron uses firmware M306, the older models shipped with M206. When it comes to reading sequential data across the drive, Neutron runs very close to the leader in this test, the Samsung 840 Pro.
Writing data across the Neutron shows inconsistent write performance when working across the entire span of the drive. The previous version used the additional over provisioned space to increase consistency, but without the spare reserved area, the test shows how writing large amounts of data at once can slow the drive.
HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes
We ran HD Tach after the four random access tests in HD Tune Pro. The results show how the sequential write performance is affected after a number of random writes to the drive. This screenshot is of the 256GB model.
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.
The read latency with both of our new Neutron drives was very consistent.
Surprisingly, the write latency was consistent as well. We expected the background tasks would hurt the write access times, without the increased over provision area.
Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities
Anvil Storage Utilities
Version and / or Patch Used: RC6
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.
0-Fill Compressible Data
Performance doesn't change when moving from compressible to incompressible data. We used the 256GB Neutron for this test, but the effect is the same on both capacity sizes.
Read I/OPS through Queue Depth Scale
Most companies like to talk about their high I/OPS performance at high queue depths, but what most of us require on our PC is low queue depth I/OPS performance.
Both Neutron's on the chart show similar read I/OPS performance. Compared to other 256GB class SSDs, the high I/OPS performance is comparable, but Neutron is one of the slower QD1 and QD4 drives on the chart.
Scaling Write I/OPS through Queue Scale
As expected, the 256GB Neutron delivers higher peak write I/OPS. The NAND has more interleaving with the higher density flash.
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.
As with the previous I/OPS test, the 4K read performance is nearly identical between the two Neutron drives.
The 4K write performance increase on the 256GB Neutron comes at higher queue depths. Sequential write performance on the other hand is much higher, a good reason to purchase the 256GB capacity model over the smaller 128GB size.
This test uses incompressible data. Just before the Neutron 256GB is the OCZ Vertex 3.20 240GB, a LSI SandForce based drive. You can see clearly see how the incompressible data gives the 3.20 240GB issues when trying to get going in the sequential test.
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
Of the drives on the chart, the Neutron 256GB, Vertex 3.20 240GB, 840 non-Pro 250GB and Ultra Plus 256GB are the value products. Of these products, the Neutron 240GB has a performance advantage 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.
Once we get data on the drives, the performance changes. The Neutron 128GB does really well with 50% of the capacity full, something we've noticed on many 128GB class SSDs, like the Intel 520 Series.
On the 256GB class models on the chart, the Neutron is below all of the budget offers listed on the previous page other than the SanDisk Ultra Plus.
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 ran with the drives filled with block data until only 50GB of free capacity remained.
Rebooting Windows 7 Ultimate on our Lenovo W530 times are nearly identical across the board. When we started this test we hoped for more variation, but that just wasn't the case.
SSDs are limited by Windows and hardware start sequences more than SSD performance. Mechanical drives, or spinners as I call them, increase boot times significantly.
Benchmarks - DiskBench
DiskBench - Directory Copy
Version and / or Patch Used: 184.108.40.206
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.
The Neutron 256GB shares an interesting stat in this test with the 240GB version. They are very few drives that manage to write directory data faster than they read it.
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.
Our power chart is filling up again so it's just about time to purge some drives. On the chart the Neutron 256GB is the black line and the 128GB is the pink line. The drives come in the middle of the other all power life, but if you remove the Samsung 840 Pro, Neutron is at the back of the pack.
PCMark Vantage HDD Test - Power Consumption
The same color scheme for Neutron on this chart as well.
Neutron has a very odd power profile. At the very start of the test, there is a glimpse of idle power consumption, but the drive never drops back to that level, even though the eight tests finish before the power log ends.
That means Neutron performs background tasks sooner rather than later. This brings up the write amplification issue. Some SSDs wait to let blocks build, before cleaning the flash. At this stage with 3K and 5K flash it isn't a big issue, but next-generation 1Xnm flash, it might make aggressive garbage collection difficult.
Since we've already spent some time with SK Hynix's 20nm NAND flash we had an idea of what to expect from the new, incremental updated Corsair Neutron. With companies being forced to 20nm IMFT flash, 25nm is increasingly difficult to obtain, we expect to see more Hynix flash used in consumer SSDs. 20nm is the start of what could be a significant fall for multi-level cell (MLC) flash. The NAND experts warned about this coming, yet outside of engineers or those directly involved, the warnings fell on deaf ears. New technologies will emerge to replace consumer MLC, but we may go through a period of regressed performance, at least when writing data. New PCIe based technologies are coming and they'll increase the ceiling for read performance, but write performance may decline due to a technology gap. I certainly hope not.
Right now, we're in this odd little time where Toshiba has already moved to 19nm and not suffered performance losses, at least not on the consumer SSDs we've tested. Intel / Micron on the other hand struggled a bit at 20nm, an issue we first sported nearly one year ago. IMFT left the crack in the door open a little too far and Hynix is coming through with 20nm. With Hynix owning LAMD now, Corsair made the right choice to move Neutron to Hynix flash, and the results are better performance, than what 25nm IMFT flash offered. This drive on 20nm IMFT in the low capacity sizes with the Neutron would have been bad for Corsair.
Today we skimmed over the Neutron 128GB, but didn't talk much about it. The mid-size Neutron will get more coverage in an updated look at Neutron GTX. We purchased GTX in 120GB, 240GB and 480GB capacity sizes since it had a minor change to the flash as well. GTX moved from 24nm Toshiba Toggle flash to 19nm Toggle flash. Going into that review we expected it to be really exciting, but the truth is the performance is nearly identical in two of the three capacity sizes. To spice it up we're compare the Neutron 128GB to the GTX 120GB.
When it comes to Neutron 256GB, the price when we purchased it was amazing, just $170. The price went up a bit since then, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it dip back down again soon. At that price point, it's the lowest priced 256GB class SSD with a five year warranty and the new flash increases performance in an era where performance is on the decline. Corsair made the right move and delivered the best value in the 256GB price class. The included accessory package really puts this drive over the top. Other companies are trying to give less, while reducing performance, but Corsair has taken a stand to not follow others down the same path.