The first images of the ASUS ROG RAIDR Express tipped up at CES, but very few details were available. ASUS set the drive free for the media to talk about with official specifications and information at Computex, six months later. Since then, ASUS has been quiet about the drive other than a single, scathing review.
We've dished out our own scathing reviews over the years with SSDs. Most of them revolved around TRIM, or other concerns issues with TRIMs use. The ASUS ROG RAIDR Express doesn't have a TRIM issue. The RAIDR uses a new Marvell RAID controller that's able to pass the TRIM command to the two SSDs in RAID. This is only the second RAID TRIM product we've used, the first being the Intel chipset RAID that works quite well.
TRIM plays a vital role for consumer SSDs. When data is deleted from operating system, a signal is sent to the drive telling it to clear the data when possible. Eventually, the SSD moves in to clean the data, but other data in the same area needs to move to a new location. This takes time, but with TRIM it can happen in the background, and doesn't need to happen in real-time. Doing a read, erase, write cycle in real-time slows the SSD, so you want TRIM working to keep areas of the drive clean.
In the image above, we see a Mushkin Scorpion Deluxe, another RAID / SATA SSD combo drive like the ASUS RAIDR, but without the ability to pass TRIM to the SSDs. The drive's advertisement material states up to 2,000 MB/s and one review gave the drive a glowing award, calling it great and so on. Is this the level of performance you think deserves an award? We didn't even think it was worthy of an exclusive review.
There is no shortage of companies rushing these products to market. The truth is, everyone wants to jump on the PCIe bandwagon, and it started several years ago when Fusion-io launched the io-Drive. Most of these products are half-baked after you've written to all of the LBAs. The only way to keep the drive's performance up is with TRIM, and most don't have it.
As mentioned, the ASUS RAIDR does have working TRIM thanks to a Marvell RAID controller. That doesn't mean this product is without issues though. Many new Intel based motherboards support RAID, and with it, RAID TRIM. The Intel PCH RAID controller is a lot faster than every Marvell controller we've ever tested. If your computer comes from the X58 era, or before, then you don't have Intel RAID with TRIM, and that's where the ASUS RAIDR becomes a step-up over what you can build with your existing hardware, and a pair of lower priced SSDs.
There is another group of people who will love that the ASUS ROG RAIDR Express comes from the fashion scene: label whores. If you have an ASUS ROG motherboard, an ASUS ROG video card, matching DRAM painted case, and the matching tattoo, then this product is right up your alley. If that touches home, then it doesn't matter what I say in this review. For the rest of us: read on.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
ASUS ships two models under the RAIDR name, a 120GB model, and a 240GB model. Today we're testing the 240GB model, and it uses two 120GB SSDs in RAID 0 to reach the 240GB capacity mark. Personally, I think ASUS made a mistake by not building a 480GB model, since LSI SandForce SSDs perform best with 256GB of flash.
The glue holding the RAID 0 array together is a Marvell 88SE9230 controller. The 9230 is capable of running RAID 0, RAID 1, and RAID 10, but in this product, you can only run RAID 0, or RAID 1, since you need four drives to run RAID 10. From the factory, the RAIDR is configured in RAID 0.
The ASUS ROG RAIDR Express is more complicated than just a simple SSD. First off, the RAIDR can operate in UEFI mode in motherboards with UEFI BIOS. We've all heard of UEFI, but aside from the graphic interface you can use a mouse and keyboard on, most of us don't know much about it.
One issue UEFI tackles is boot time. To decrease boot time, the UEFI BIOS can talk to peripheral devices at the same time. The process can take a couple of second for each device, so the more devices the host system can talk to at once, the faster your system boots.
The RAIDR can also act as a cache SSD for a traditional HDD. This increases system performance, but still gives a large volume for storing data. At 240GB, the ROG RAIDR could be the largest consumer SSD hybrid cache on the market.
ASUS also includes a nice software library. A secure erase utility allows you to clean your drive, and all of the data on it. The RAMDISK software increases your SSD performance by caching random writes to RAM, and then sends the writes to the drive as sequential data. This also increases the SSDs lifespan. The SSD Tweakit utility configures the operating system to use the SSD instead of the operating systems cache.
Newegg lists the 240GB ROG RAIDR Express we have in for review today, but not the 120GB model. The price at the time of writing is $349.99 for the full retail kit. ASUS covers this model with a three year warranty in the USA.
Packaging and Accessories
ASUS went full tilt on the product packaging...
...And then some. The front cover opens to reveal all of the software details, and expose the actual SSD on the other side.
This is a bit more than what we normally see from a regular 2.5" SSD.
The back of the package shows the specifications: up to 830 MB/s sequential read, 810 MB/s sequential write, and 100K IOPS for both read and write random 4K. These are obviously FOB specifications, so we didn't even talk about them on the specifications page; we'll determine the true performance today.
The packaging keeps the drives secure in the box, away from the corners where most damage occurs during shipping.
Inside we found a paper user guide, software disk, and the SSD.
ASUS ROG RAIDR Express
Here, we get our first look at the ROG RAIDR Express PCIe SSD. The drive has a metal housing that covers both sides of the drive.
Like the retail package, the drive has a lot of visual appeal added to enhance the product.
The RAIDR logo on the side of the drive glows red when inserted in a PCIe slot.
The drive uses a PCIe 2.0 2-lane connection to transfer data to and from the card. The small sticker on the left shows our sample is hardware version A02. The drives have firmware 5.0.7 installed on them; the sticker also shows the firmware version.
Here, we see the drive with the metal shroud off. The large heat sink cools the two LSI SandForce SF-2281 controllers. ASUS used the new B02 stepping controllers that use less power, and produce less heat than the early stepping controller's produce. The heat sink is a bit much, but we never complain about overkill.
The drive has sixteen NAND flash packages; eight per side. Here we see the back of the SSD with the cover off.
Back to the main side again, the heat sink connects to each controller with thermal pads.
Here, we see the drive naked. There are two LSI SandForce SF-2281 controllers, and a small Marvell RAID controller under the SSD controller on the right side.
ASUS used the SF-2281VB2 controller, also known as B02. This is the second gen SF-2281 that uses less power than the first version.
ASUS used Toshiba 19nm Type C flash with 16K page sizes.
As mentioned in the article, the Marvell 88SE9230 RAID controller passes TRIM commands to the individual SSDs.
Broken down into sections, here we see one SSD. Each drive has eight NAND packages, a controller, and power circuits.
With the cover off, we get a good view of the DuoMode Switch. This allows you to change the firmware on the drive from legacy BIOS, to UEFI BIOS support.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
Desktop Test System
ATTO Baseline Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34
ATTO is a timeless benchmark used to provide manufactures with data used market storage products.
ASUS asked us to show ATTO at QD10 (shown below), but we still needed to show our standard QD4 test, the default for ATTO. The maximum sequential read speed in our ATTO test was nearly 830 MB/s. Very impressive. The maximum sequential write speed was nearly 825 MB/s.
At QD10, the maximum performance decreased slightly, but lower block size increased throughput significantly.
Page 5 [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.
RAID is a tradeoff, but one the users can make in the end. By changing the stripe size, an array can work better with sequential data, or with random data. For consumer workloads, finding the right balance is the key. From the factory, the ASUS ROG RAIDR Express comes with a stripe size of 64K. Looking at the configuration in the Marvell utility, we discovered this RAID controller can also be configured for a 32K stripe size. 32K may be a little better for desktop use since Intel recommends 16K for PCH RAID 0.
Setting a controller up for higher sequential performance leaves a void down low in the random department. Either way, with RAID, you also need high queue depths to reach maximum performance, even with sequential reads and writes. In the chart above, we see a single queue read across the drive. The maximum read speed of the ROG RAIDR is faster than the 2.5" drives on the chart. The average speed is nearly 415 MB/s
The QD1 write across the drive, produced an average write speed of 423 MB/s. This is faster than many of the new low-cost drives like the 840 EVO and M500. It's even faster than the new Vector 150 240GB.
HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes
Here, we see sequential read and write performance at 128KB after a number of random writes to the drive.
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 opposed 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 only happens with controllers manufactured by Jmicron.
Access time is what makes your system feel fast. The lower the access time, the faster your system feels. While manufacturers like to talk about IOPS performance at high queue depths and sequential reads and writes of over 500+ MB/s, access time is what makes your system fast.
The ASUS ROG RAIDR Express keeps the read latency down to normal LSI SandForce SF-2281 levels. They are a little higher than some of the other drives on the chart, but they are more consistent.
The write latency is nearly identical to the read latency: .19ms.
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, 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, has been updating the software steadily on several international forums 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
The ROG RAIDR Express uses LSI SandForce controllers, so incompressible data flows slower than compressible data. LSI uses this as a feature to increase compressible data performance, and reduce the number of writes to the NAND flash.
Read IOPS through Queue Depth Scale
The 64K stripe size holds the SSDs back from breaking records with random data, even at high queue depths. In consumer applications, you want low queue depth performance. The RAIDR does well at QD1, QD2, and QD4.
Scaling Write IOPS through Queue Scale
The RAIDR scales well in random write IOPS tests. At QD32, the drive nearly breaks 100K IOPS. Low queue depth IOPS performance is decent, but less than what a single SF-2281 240GB SSD can produce.
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 four and 32.
As the chart shows, the RAIDR is average in nearly all of the tests. The sequential read performance is higher than most of the other drives on the chart, but some of the 2.5" drives are still faster.
The write tests in CDM show the RAIDR Express in a good light. The two drives in RAID configuration increase the incompressible data performance over a single controller SF-2281 drive.
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/products/pcmarkvantage
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.
Real-world, day-to-day performance is lower than the other 256GB class drives on the chart in all categories except the Windows Media Center test with all of the drives 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 is a test run just after the fill tests, and shows if a drive needs time to recover, or if performance is instantly restored.
We like the Vantage test, but we like our version a bit better. Using the 50% of total NAND capacity as our benchmark, the ASUS ROG RAIDR Express 240GB compares well to the other drives. If the RAIDR were the fastest drive in this test, we'd be impressed, but some of the other drives are faster.
Benchmarks - PCMark 8 Hard Disk Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark8
Note: PCMark 8 Storage benchmark is ideal for testing the performance of SSDs, HDDs and hybrid drives. Using traces recorded from Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office and a selection of popular games, PCMark 8 Storage highlights real-world performance differences between storage devices.
So far, we've split hairs looking at performance, but the truth is most of the SSDs we've shown today perform very close to each other when not measuring in microseconds. PCMark 8 does a really good job of keeping SSD testing real.
PCMark 8 Storage Bandwidth
Averaged out, and in a different metric, the RAIDR Express is still slow than many of the other top-selling SSDs today.
ASUS just about pulled off an amazing SSD, but fell short with this one. The presentation is great, the concept solid, but the execution, as well as the price, didn't hit their marks. The Marvell RAID controller used in the ROG RAIDR Express passes the TRIM command, one of only two SATA RAID parts that I'm aware of that work. ASUS chose the Marvell solution because the Intel PCH is a chipset, and is not available for an add-on card.
The problem with the Marvell controller is it's not as fast as the Intel PCH found on most modern motherboards. The other problem is the Intel PCH is on most motherboards. For that matter, the Marvell 88SE9230 is also on many of the new enthusiast class boards as well.
If you have a newer Intel motherboard, anything after the X58, then you already have RAID TRIM, and it's faster than the Marvell controller. The ASUS ROG RAIDR Express costs more than two 2.5" 128GB SSDs, and even more than a single 256GB SSD. If you're looking for performance, two drives on the PCH will be faster, and cheaper.
If you're looking for a SSD to match your ROG motherboard, ROG video card, and color RAM, then the RAIDR is a good fit. The drive also has a number of interesting features that increase its appeal, if you are looking for those specific features.
One such feature is the hybrid option where the ROG RAIDR acts as cache for a HDD. At 240GB, the RAIDR is a large cache drive. Paired with a large HDD, the configuration would be impressive for general use computing, gaming, and other daily activities.
As a standalone SSD, the ASUS ROG RAIDR Express is an average SSD with a few bells and whistles, but the price can't be justified. If ASUS would have made a 480GB model, then the outcome would have been much different. Single 240GB SandForce controlled drives are quite a bit faster than the 120GB models. Two 240GB drives making a RAIDR 480GB would have been quite a bit faster than a single 480GB 2.5" SSD.