Introduction & Specifications, Pricing and Availability
As we alluded to in the ADATA Premier Pro SP920 1TB review, we have all four-capacity sizes in house to test. Rather than place all four drives in a single review and compare them to just one capacity size, we're breaking the reviews into individual reviews in order to compare apples to apples, or in this case, similar capacity sizes.
When shopping for an SSD, most of us start with the price. Once we know how much we can spend on an SSD, we can look at the capacity, performance, accessory package, and warranty to determine what to buy. All of these factors are variables between different makes, models, and even capacity sizes. Starting with the price means you may be able to get a larger, but often slower, SSD for the same money. We like to look for the best balance.
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.
SSDs work like RAID arrays; the controller reads and writes data to more than one NAND flash die at the same time. The more reads and writes that can happen at the same time, the higher the performance. Using 128Gb dies poses a problem on smaller SSDs because the drive doesn't achieve the optimal parallelism.
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 128GB at $89.99 represents one of the best values on the market today based on price and the accessory package. ADATA includes a desktop adapter bracket, screws for mounting, Acronis data migration software, a 7mm to 9.5mm adapter, and ADATA even has a new SSD Toolbox that takes care of drive maintenance without third party software.
ADATA Premier Pro SP920 1TB SSD
The SP920 package is a carryover from years past and is very close to the SP900 we reviewed a few years ago. ADATA lists the product features as well as the accessory package and three-year warranty on the front of the package.
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 it is 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.
ADATA uses eight flash packages and a single DRAM to cache the page table data.
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.
Just a few surface mount components on the back side.
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 specification sheet from ADATA lists the SP920 at 560 MB/s sequential read and 180MB/s sequential write. We managed to achieve those numbers and get a little more out of a nearly new drive with a handful of tests already performed.
Benchmarks - Sequential Performance
HD Tune Pro - Sequential Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.00
We shouldn't have any issues with the ADATA SP 920 128GB when reading data even with the parallelism issue. The flash is fast enough when reading sequential data to hit the upper limit of SATA 6Gb, but random performance and sequential writes are what we have to really pay attention to.
We can tackle the sequential writes right here and show how important parallelism is. The Crucial M550 128GB uses the same controller and DRAM buffer as the SP920. The difference between these two drives is the flash and possibly the firmware. The SP920 uses 128Gb dies and the M550 uses 64Gb dies, both in 20nm lithography.
The M550 128GB averages 317 MB/s sequential write performance, but the SP920 only musters 170 MB/s.
HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes
Version and / or Patch Used: 126.96.36.199
After a number of random writes, we test the drive with HD Tach to see the sequential read and write performance at 128KB. The sequential write performance drops to just 20 MB/s with dirty flash in some places, and the average drops to just 115 MB/s.
Benchmarks - AIDA64 Random Access Time
AIDA64 - Random Access Time
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.30.2900
The read latency at 64KB is nearly identical between the M550 and SP920.
Surprisingly, the write latency is also nearly the same as well.
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 and delivers over 80k IOPS in our 4k test.
Scaling Write IOPS through Queue Scale
The SP920 does well in the 4k QD1 write test with just over 35k IOPS. By QD2, the SP920 reaches its maximum performance at just over 45k IOPS. The drive hits a wall at that point and fails to scale higher. The M550, on the other hand, reaches 70k IOPS at QD2 and scales all the way to nearly 84k IOPS.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests
PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
Futuremark's PCMark Vantage uses heavy read tests to show real-world applications. The SP920 does really well when reading data back from the drive, so it does well in everyday activity.
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 data on the drive, we see a loss of performance just like every other consumer SSD on the market today.
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.
We've shown that SSDs slow with data on the drive, but they also slow after heavy use. Different architectures take longer to recover than others, and often, the recovery process itself slows the drive.
Most of us don't hammer the drives with data writes very often, so we look at the final recovery (blue) bars on the chart for typical everyday performance. The other bars show worst case and initial recovery performance.
Benchmarks - DiskBench
DiskBench - Directory Copy
Version and / or Patch Used: 188.8.131.52
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 128GB reads our directory of data just fine, but first, the data has to write to the drive. This was an issue with the 128GB model as the mixed workload between random and sequential data slows the drive quite a bit.
Benchmarks - Power Testing & Final Thoughts
Version and / or Patch Used: 2012 1.5
Slow write performance means increased disk busy times so less idle or sleep time for the drive. The increase in busy time means more power consumption from the battery. The SP920 128GB didn't do all that well in our notebook battery life test.
It's a tale of two different drives with the same model number. Just hours before completing this review, I was asked why we were not putting all four capacity sizes in the same review and kicking the results out. Even though the 1TB drive and the 128GB drive share the same SP920 name, the performance in comparison to other products on the market is quite different.
At this time, we're not sure if Micron plans to sell 64Gb 20nm flash to third-party manufacturers like ADATA or if Micron plans to keep it for itself. ADATA has a number of very smart engineers, product managers, and accompanying staff, so they know using 64Gb is the best way to squeeze performance out of lower capacity SSDs. If ADATA didn't use 64GB dies, then either Micron isn't selling it to third parties or the price is prohibitive for ADATA to use it at this time.
ADATA did put together a nice accessory package for the SP920, but it's hardly a package that is completely unique to the market. The ADATA package is a lot better than the Crucial offering with the M550, but Crucial has the performance in this duel. You can't keep the OCZ Vertex 460 120GB off of the table, either, even though the price is higher. The Samsung 840 Pro costs a bit more, but the EVO is in the same price range of the SP920 and M550. Both drives have latency issues in this capacity until you enable RAPID Mode.
Unless you need the accessories, I'd say pass on the ADATA SP920 128GB and look elsewhere for higher performance. If ADATA manages to significantly undercut other 128GB capacity class size drives, then things change, but at the time of writing, the same money delivers more performance from other products.
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