Back in May, we looked at the 2013 version of the Corsair Neutron in both 128GB and 256GB capacity sizes. The original Neutron when released around this time a year ago shipped with 25nm ONFi flash from IMFT. For the most part, 25nm flash is now extinct and Corsair was forced to move production to a new process. With IMFT 20nm in short supply, Corsair moved to new 22nm SK Hynix flash. The move proved to be a good one; the 2013 edition is considerably faster than the original Neutron.
In similar fashion, 24nm Toggle flash from Toshiba / SanDisk is long gone as well - they are now at 19nm Toggle and even multiple generations in. Corsair's flagship SSD, Neutron GTX originally started out with 24nm, but as of a couple months ago started shipping with new 19nm Toggle. Unlike IMFT's 25nm to 20nm shrink, the Flash Forward process shrink had little or no ill effects on performance. The new 19nm flash appears to be just as fast in most final product capacity sizes.
Today we're looking at Neutron GTX in all three-capacity sizes - 120GB, 240GB and 480GB. The new drives use the same overprovisioning unlike the base Neutron's, so spotting the new revision is more difficult. We did find an easy way without voiding the warranty and will show you how today as well.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Corsair's specifications sheet doesn't show a large variance in performance between the three capacity sizes. Neutron GTX is Corsair's current flagship product and without any SSD announcements at Computex 2013, we expect it to remain at the top of the pile until at least Q3.
All three-capacity sizes list a maximum sequential read of right around 540MB/s and 550MB/s. Maximum sequential write performance is only listed on the 240GB capacity size and it's 470MB/s. The maximum random write performance is 84K and 85K depending on the capacity size. Neutron and Neutron GTX are 7mm z-height SSDs so they work in many new ultrabooks, and nearly all notebooks and desktops.
Neutron GTX uses the Link_A_Media Devices controller introduced one year ago. Over the past year the controller has shown strong performance, but it does produce more heat than some of the other controllers on the market.
Just weeks ago Corsair introduced a new feature for their SSD products, one that puts Corsair in a very small group that includes Intel, Samsung and Kingston. The Corsair SSD Toolbox bridges software features for Corsair SSD hardware. The Corsair Toolbox is a free add-on that Corsair SSD owners download from the Corsair website. The software allows users to install firmware updates, secure erase drives, set new overprovision targets and optimize Windows quickly.
Neutron GTX drives sell for a premium over baseline Neutron drives - current Newegg pricing above. All three capacity sizes have a standard five year warranty and ship with a desktop adapter bracket, mounting screws and a paper manual.
Corsair Neutron GTX 2013 Edition Drives
Since this is more of a retake, we're just going to skim the surface of the Neutron GTX packaging and bundle.
This has been Corsair's main SSD package design for a while now and it gives us quite a bit of information all around the package.
The inner packaging looks good. The desktop adapter bracket is separated from the drive so nothing can get scratched during shipping. You get a set of mounting screws and a paper warranty manual.
Diving straight into the case, from left to right, we have the 120GB, 240GB and 480GB. The two smaller capacity sizes use Samsung DRAM and the 480GB uses Micron. The DRAM capacity scales with the drive capacity.
The Link_A_Media Devices controller is the same for all three drives, LM87800AA.
Most of the time when we run across Toshiba NAND it's BGA, but Corsair chose to use TSOP packaging on the Neutron GTX. This is 19nm Toggle Mode flash, the good stuff.
All three capacity sizes use two-DRAM buffers for caching table data.
We're starting to see more Samsung DRAM used in SSDs.
All three capacity sizes have 16 NAND flash chips, eight on each side. This is important, especially on the 120GB model because of interleaving, a method of increasing performance.
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.
ATTO shows that all three capacity sizes are nearly identical when reading sequential data.
The two largest capacity sizes, 480GB and 240GB are also nearly identical when writing sequential data. The 120GB Neutron GTX levels off sooner, around 315MB/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
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.
Given what we saw on the previous page, it shouldn't surprise anyone to see all three capacity sizes reading sequential data at the same rate in HD Tune Pro.
The two largest Neutron GTX drives peak at nearly 400MB/s sequential and the 120GB model peaks at just over 300MB/s.
HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes
In this screenshot, we see the 240GB GTX reading and writing sequential data after some consumer load random reads and writes. The write performance actually drops below 50MB/s at one spot in the test, and as you can see, the levels are all over the place.
There is a growing trend of measuring 'write consistency' that blossomed from our Toshiba MK01GRRB/R review last October. The test has been copied by several review sites for both enterprise and consumer storage. It's a valid test for enterprise, but not for consumer SSDs. The reason why is because you will never write a constant stream of data to a consumer SSD that is larger than the capacity size of the drive, not in a consumer environment anyway. On the consumer side, you have small writes followed by garbage collection, wear leveling and TRIM. The performance we show is more representative of actual consumer degradation, than just writing massive amounts of data without giving the SSD time to recover.
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 access times decrease as the capacity increases. This is due to increased interleaving with the higher density flash.
The write latency is the same for the higher capacity Neutron GTX drives. The write latency on the 120GB model is a little erratic since the smaller capacity size has more aggressive background activity. The Samsung 840 120GB and 840 Pro 128GB drives have the same issue.
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
Neutron GTX works compressible and incompressible data at the same rate.
Read IOPS through Queue Depth Scale
The Corsair Neutron GTX is a year old now. When released, the LAMD controller was a top performer, but since then, other controllers and even existing controllers have updated their firmware to get higher IOPS performance at low queue depths.
Scaling Write IOPS through Queue Scale
One area where the Neutron GTX does really well is low queue depth writes.
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 highest 4K QD1 read we've tested on this test system was 41MB/s. The Neutron GTX performs the same test at right around 30MB/s. Neutron GTX scales well though as the requests stack.
4K write performance scales well with additional depth. The single depth 4K-write speeds are right around 118MB/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/
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
When first introduced, the Neutron GTX series was very exciting. The series was one of the first to break into the 80K Mark range with all capacity sizes. Others are now slipping into the 90K range, but the GTX still holds its own, right on the heels of the top hyper-performing SSDs on the market.
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.
The only real weakness that we've found with LAMD controllers has to do with the performance drop off when data is on the flash. There are several reasons for performance degradation and drives that start with very high performance have farther to drop.
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.
Our Lenovo W530 isn't the fastest booting notebook on the market. New UEFI systems can initialize all components at once and boot much faster. We're just about ready to switch over to a Haswell based notebook for the reboot and battery life tests.
Benchmarks - DiskBench
DiskBench - Directory Copy
Version and / or Patch Used: 18.104.22.168
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.
LAMD controllers are amount a very small list that manage to write directory data faster than it reads it in some capacity sizes. The 120GB Neutron GTX is the exception, since it has lower write performance. It does read data a bit faster though when transferring a folder from one SSD to another.
Benchmarks - Power and Thermal 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.
All three Neutron GTX 19nm drives deliver around the same battery life in our Lenovo W530 with a six-cell battery, 263 to 265 minutes. This is on the low side since we've achieved 302 and 305 minutes on the same system with Phison and LSI SandForce B02 controller based drives.
PCMark Vantage HDD Test - Power Draw
In the power trace we see where all that power is going. The Neutron GTX drives take a long time (relative to other SSDs) to get back to an idle power state. At the very start of the test we see ten seconds of idle and the Neutron GTX drives are actually lower than anything else on the chart. The problem is they never get back to the idle state during the test.
Thermal Testing (BETA)
We're getting ready close to unveiling the new consumer SSD test procedures. I've slid a few of the new tests here and there over the last few months. We took the image above with a Testo 875-1 thermal imaging camera. The method of testing today doesn't reflect the final version coming next month since the ambient temperature in my office is a cool 20C. At this time, we're not willing to give too many details since we expect others to copy our testing. We will say that the test represents a load on a Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB.
That said, the LAMD controller reaches 87.5C under load and heats the surrounding flash. The furthest flash from the controller is 51.2C. Again, the ambient temperature is 20C.
At this time, temperature testing isn't as important as it will be moving forward. Flash endurance decreases with higher temperatures. The Neutron GTX uses 3K P/E Cycle NAND flash, but next-generation MLC flash and TLC flash should see a significant reduction in program erase cycles. If each data write hits your drive with 5x or 10x more wear, your SSD isn't going to survive very long. At the same time, lower endurance NAND will need more error correction from the controller. More load on the controller, more heat output. Future SSDs will need to balance more workload in the future.
New, smaller form factors like m.2 bring another set of issues to the table. The smaller form factors mean less surface area for cooling. At the same time, the flash will need to be even closer to the controller.
One aspect we didn't talk about in the review is the new firmware. When we tested the original Neutron GTX it was with firmware version M206. The new 19nm version moved to a new M3xx series. The 120GB and 240GB use M306 and the 480GB version has M310. We didn't find many of differences between M306 and M310 so we suspect the firmware difference just has to do with the higher density NAND on the 480GB drive. Corsair doesn't list M310 as an update on their website for the 120GB or 240GB models.
When first released, the Corsair Neutron and Neutron GTX brought groundbreaking performance to the Corsair stable. The high IOPS ratings put Corsair in the hyper drive performance class months before Samsung launched the 840 Pro. Even back then, speed and reliability were our greatest concerns. Now, with many SSDs butting up against the upper limits of SATA III, our focus is shifting to new features. Nearly a year ago we added battery life and power testing, an area where the Neutron GTX could use a little help.
We're now looking at other aspects of SSDs outside of performance and power. The LAMD controller used in the Neutron and Neutron GTX get very hot and that heat has to go somewhere. The controller doesn't take advantage of the new encryption technology in Windows 8 or TCG Opal software. None of those means anything to a majority of desktop users, but mobile users should take note.
In a desktop, the Corsair Neutron GTX is a very fast and very good drive. The base Neutron is as well and with the new Hynix flash, the base Neutron is right on the heels of the GTX models we looked at today. I'm not too sure I wouldn't pocket the price difference and just purchase the base Neutron now that these two models are so close in performance. Both have the same accessory package and the same five year warranty. Neutron costs roughly $20 less than Neutron GTX in the 256GB capacity class. The GTX drives will perform better when multitasking thanks to the increase in high queue depth IOPS performance.
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