Introduction & Specifications, Pricing and Availability
With the SF-2281 era grinding down and the SF3700 series late to market, companies have turned to competitor Marvell to breathe new life in the consumer SSD market. We first tested the new Marvell 88SS9189 in the Crucial M550 just weeks ago, now it's ADATA's turn to show the world what they can do with the new controller.
Unlike LSI SandForce, Marvell leaves final firmware development to the companies selling the final product. That fact, paired with the different types of flash on the market, means we see larger differences between Marvell based SSDs than we do from LSI SandForce based drives.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
The ADATA Premier Pro SP920 pairs the Marvell 88SS9189 controller with Micron 20nm 128Gb die size flash in all four capacity sizes. This works out well for the two largest capacity sizes, 1TB and 512GB, but the smaller two models, 128GB and 256GB, are slower due to the loss in parallelism when reading and writing to the flash. We'll talk about this more in the SP920 128GB review that will follow this review.
ADATA sent pricing over via MSRPs for the Premier Pro SP920 series. The 128GB should launch at $89.99, 256GB at $159.99, 512GB at $334.88, and the massive 1TB model at $529.99.
The SP920 1TB is the same price as the Crucial M550 1TB at Newegg at the time of writing. These two drives are very similar in construction, warranty (3-years), and performance. In the years before the Samsung 840, ADATA was always a value leader with products that ran with the best in both performance and price. Now that the market has shifted and the fab companies are getting aggressive, it will be interesting to see how ADATA competes as a flash customer SSD manufacturer.
With a drive that is nearly identical to the M550, ADATA needed to deliver in other areas, and that is what they did. The SP920 includes a nice accessory package, an area where Crucial's M550 falls short. The SP920 includes a desktop adapter bracket, Acronis data migration software to clone your existing drive, and ADATA even developed a SSD toolkit.
ADATA Premier Pro SP920 1TB SSD
The SP920 package is a carryover from years past and very close to the SP900 we reviewed a few years ago. This is ADATA's first 1TB capacity size SSD, though.
Inside, we found a quick start guide, instructions for Acronis, a 7mm to 9.5mm adapter, a desktop adapter bracket, and screws for mounting the drive to the adapter.
Here we get our first look at the drive. This is a new case design for ADATA but nearly identical to the case Crucial used on the M550. The top cover is a thin sliver of aluminum, but the rest of the case has some heft to it since it also doubles as a heat sink for the Marvell controller.
The SP920 is a 7mm z-height drive, so it will fit in your ultra-thin Ultrabook.
We're not sure if Marvell released a reference design and both ADATA and Crucial followed it to the letter or if both the SP920 and M550 are related in some way. Looking at both PCBs together, we only found one difference; the ADATA SP920 has one extra capacitor in the power management area of the PCB, but both drives use identical PCBs.
The Marvell 88SS9189 controller has a built-in thermal throttle. If the drive gets hot, it will reduce the speed of the controller to keep from malfunctioning. To help keep the controller cool, the case also doubles as a heat sink for the controller.
ADATA used Micron 20nm flash with 128Gb die and Micron DRAM for the page map buffer.
The SP920 has host power loss protection, but we haven't tested it yet in DriveMaster. Over the next few weeks, we plan to test this feature on the ADATA SP920, Crucial M550, and Intel 730.
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
The SP920 hit its marks in ATTO. Our test drive achieved 564 MB/s sequential read and 512 MB/s sequential write.
Benchmarks - Sequential Performance
HD Tune Pro - Sequential Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.00
The 1TB capacity size class is small with only a few drives in this category. We never tested the 840 EVO 1TB, but the 750GB shares the same specifications as the 1TB model, so its results will have to do until we secure the flagship EVO drive.
As you can see, the sequential read performance of the five 1TB class drives is nearly identical down the chart.
The drives start to separate when we test write performance, though, and we'll see further separation in the random tests.
HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes
Version and / or Patch Used: 220.127.116.11
After a number of random writes to the drive, we ran HD Tach to see how the sequential write performance faired. The SP920 1TB held up well in this test, but we did get the sequential writes down to 200 MB/s at two points.
Benchmarks - AIDA64 Random Access Time
AIDA64 - Random Access Time
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.30.2900
The AIDA64 latency test shows read latency at 0.12ms. The chart leads us to believe this is a high rate, but it's in line with other drives that use the same Marvell controller and much lower than mechanical drive latency.
The write latency is very low in this test, the lowest on the chart.
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 QD16.
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 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 ADATA SP920 works with both compressible and incompressible data the same way, so performance stays the same regardless of data type.
Read IOPS through Queue Depth Scale
Low queue depth 4k read performance is just over 8k IOPS. The drive scales well as the queue depth increases.
Scaling Write IOPS through Queue Scale
The ADATA SP920 does really well writing 4k data. At QD1, the drive delivers just over 36k IOPS, and at QD2, the IOPS jump to over 70k.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests
PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
The SP920 is very close to the highest performer in nearly every test in Vantage.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage (Drives with Data Testing)
PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
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.
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.
With 50 percent of the flash filled with data, the SP920 falls just shy of the performance of the Samsung 840 EVO 750GB.
Benchmarks - PCMark 8 Advanced Tests
PCMark 8 2.0 Advanced Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.0
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.
The 1TB drives are at the bottom of the chart. All four SP920 capacity sizes are shown and grouped with similar capacity drives. Strictly speaking about the SP920 1TB model, the performance after recovery is very good, nearly the highest on the chart. The drive can wear down, and it takes longer to recover under heavy use than some of the other drives on the chart.
Benchmarks - DiskBench
DiskBench - Directory Copy
Version and / or Patch Used: 18.104.22.168
Note: In this test, we use the Lenovo W530 Mobile Workstation and a SuperSpeed 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 transferred. The 15GB Block is the same data we built for the Data on Disk Testing and is a mix of compressible and incompressible data.
In a notebook, the power management states limit SSD performance. In this test, we transfer data to and from the target drive while staying within the constraints of the link management, a power-limiting feature by the system.
The SP920 1TB also does well when transferring data to and from the drive.
Benchmarks - Power Testing & Final Thoughts
Version and / or Patch Used: 2012 1.5
In the notebook battery life test, the SP920 did a bit better than the M550. The Crucial M500 still delivers the best battery life in the 1TB capacity size class of products, but it's a bit slower than the SP920 in all of the performance tests.
This review feels like dejà vu from a week ago...right around the time we wrote the M550 1TB. The SP920 and the M550 are nearly identical, but that's not a bad thing for the ADATA SP920 or you. Both drives are very good, but ADATA picked up the slack where Crucial fell short.
For the same price, ADATA managed to include a desktop adapter bracket and a SSD Toolkit. It might not seem like much, but when you need either, the extra expenses can add up quickly.
When it comes to performance, the SP920 brings ADATA back into the performance tier. This isn't another mainstream drive with performance matched by a large number of products. At this time, very few drives make up the upper tier, but the SP920 1TB is one of them.
The same can't be said about the other capacity sizes in the SP920 series. The 128Gb die means just eight die make up the 128GB drive, and performance suffers because of this Crucial got around this issue by manufacturing 20nm 64Gb die flash for the 128GB and 256GB M550. We'll talk more about this in the reviews of the 128GB and 256GB SP920.
The Premier Pro SP920 1TB is just about as perfect as it gets. The price is comparable with other 1TB class drives on the market, but the accessory package is superior.
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