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SanDisk Ultra II 240GB SSD Review - SanDisk TLC NAND Flash takes shape

SanDisk Ultra II 240GB SSD Review - SanDisk TLC NAND Flash takes shape

Last month we previewed Toshiba's TLC flash, our first look at TLC outside of Samsung. Today we look at SanDisk's first retail SSD with TLC flash.

@ChrisRamseyer
Published Fri, Sep 12 2014 12:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Thu, Jul 30 2020 4:20 PM CDT
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: SanDisk

Introduction & Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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The consumer SSD market is about to make another significant change. Samsung released the 840 EVO SSD over a year ago with the industry's first 3bits per cell NAND flash (TLC). It took some time, but a year later, Micron released its TLC competitor product, 16nm MLC flash. At Flash Memory Summit last month, we previewed Toshiba's TLC flash paired with a Silicon Motion controller, but this month we get to test the first non-Samsung retail SSD with TLC flash, SanDisk's Ultra II.

TLC flash is cheaper to manufacture on a capacity basis since each die holds more data. The initial wafer costs are the same regardless of the flash for the most part, so adding more data capacity per square inch reduces the overall cost. In turn, it also means flash makers can produce more flash capacity and that too reduces the cost to consumers.

At the time of writing, the SanDisk Ultra II 240GB SSD with 550 MB/s sequential read performance and 500 MB/s sequential write performance sells for just $99.99 at some e-tail outlets. Clearly TLC flash is doing what it's designed to do, reduce the cost of SSDs.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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At the time of writing, SanDisk has two Ultra II products on the market and an additional two more on the way. You can currently purchase the 120GB and 240GB models at Amazon, Newegg and other online shops, and the larger 480GB and 960GB models will follow in mid-October. The two smaller capacity drives use 4-channel Marvell flash controllers, while the two larger capacity drive use 8-channel Marvell flash controllers. All four capacity sizes rate at the same 550 MB/s sequential and 500 MB/s sequential write performance. Random performance escalates as the capacity increases. The 240GB model we're testing today measures 91K random read IOPS and 83K random write IOPS. On the next page, we'll discuss how the Ultra II with X3 (SanDisk marketing speak for TLC) flash is able to achieve these high performance numbers.

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Newegg currently shows the Ultra II 128GB at $79.99 and the 240GB model at $109.99. The price for the 240GB model has gone back and forth between $99.99 and $109.99 depending on the e-tailer. Newegg offers free shipping on this series.

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Newegg also shows the two large capacity models, but lists the release date as 10/16/2014. The 480GB model is just $219.99. If that price isn't crazy enough, the 960GB model has it beat on a cost per GB basis, just $429.99. To keep the Ultra II prices as low as possible SanDisk only includes a 7mm to 9.5mm adapter shim. The Ultra II SSDs do carry a three-year warranty.

PRICING: You can find the SanDisk Ultra II 240GB SSD for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The SanDisk Ultra II 240GB SSD retails for $110.95 at Amazon.

Canada: The SanDisk Ultra II 240GB SSD retails for CDN$199.99 at Amazon Canada.

Advanced Technology and SanDisk TLC

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We've learned from controller makers that you can't just slap TLC flash to a regular controller and expect the drive to last. The tools used to increase MLC endurance are used as a base and then expanded on. The Ultra II uses three new technologies to increase endurance.

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The first is a generational update to nCache. nCache, then nCache Pro have now led to nCache 2.0. The technology started out as a SLC layer managed by the flash translation map. In the new 2.0 form, all data writes are first past through the SLC layer. This increases performance, but also reduces X3 flash wear, since the data sent from the SLC to the TLC is sent as sequential data.

The difference is like moving several small items from one room to another. You can take each item one at a time and make several trips, or you can put them in a box and move them once.

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The Ultra II uses more SLC area than previous generation nCache, now around 320MB per 128Gb die.

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The transfer takes place using what SanDisk calls "On Chip Copy". This occurs with little intervention from the controller.

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The data the SLC blocks to the TLC blocks in the same package.

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Multi Page Recovery is a RAID like page-level parity system that ensures data protection over the life of the drive.

SanDisk Ultra II 240GB SSD

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Here we get our first look at the Ultra II SSD. Our drive arrived in a special reviewer package, so we don't have the retail box this round, but should receive the full retail kit in the other capacity sizes. The only accessory in the retail package is a 7mm to 9.5mm adapter.

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The model number, serial number and capacity size are listed on the back of the drive.

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SanDisk used a 7mm case design for the Ultra II so this model will work in new Ultrabook designs that require the smaller form factor.

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Inside we found a tiny PCB with one controller, one DRAM buffer and four NAND flash packages. Half of the case is plastic and the other half is metal. The controller faces the metal side and a thermal transfer strip covers all of the components on this side.

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The thermal material is oily and that makes it difficult to see the markings on this side without zooming in.

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The controller is a Marvell 88SS9190-BJM2, a 4-channel controller.

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The DRAM is from SK Hynix, model H6TC2G63FFR.

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Our first close up look at the SanDisk 1Ynm ABL X3 NAND package.

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The two remaining flash packages are on the other side of the PCB.

Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance

Desktop Test System

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Lenovo T440 - Notebook Power Testing with DEVSLP and Windows 8.1 Pro

Nearly all of the performance tests run on the desktop system but we use a Lenovo T440 to run the power tests. The T440 is the latest addition to our client SSD test lab and allows us to test the notebook battery life offered by an SSD with advanced features like DEVSLP enabled.

ATTO - Baseline Performance

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34

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In ATTO at QD4, we scored the SanDisk Ultra II 240GB at 550 MB/s sequential read and just over 511 MB/s sequential write performance.

Benchmarks - Sequential Performance

HD Tune Pro - Sequential Performance

Version and / or Patch Used: 4.55

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There are a number of low-cost SSDs on the market these days. OCZ recently released the ARC 100, Crucial has the MX100, SandForce is still alive and well with the SF-2281 controller, Samsung has the year old 840 EVO (the only other consumer SSD with TLC flash), and Silicon Motion is an up and comer with several design wins that fit in the low cost category.

The SanDisk Ultra II 240GB does really well in the sequential read test. The read performance is in line with several enthusiast / power user class SSDs on the market like the Extreme Pro and 840 Pro.

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The SLC layer means sequential write performance rolls off at a rapid pace from its peak. When writing to the SLC, the Ultra II delivers over 430 MB/s sequential write performance, but once you get into the TLC, the write performance drops to just over 215 MB/s with 64KB blocks.

HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes

Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0.4.0

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HD Tach uses 128KB blocks and shows us both sequential read and write performance in the same chart.

The 500 MB/s sequential read isn't a surprise and neither is the 214.7 MB/s sequential write average. In the chart, we get to see the slope from SLC to TLC flash on the data write side.

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.

We can use Anvil 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

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Incompressible Data

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The performance with compressible data and incompressible data is the same, so you don't have to worry about performance loss while editing audio and video files.

Low Queue Depth Read IOPS

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The Ultra II produced 9600 random read IOPS at QD1, around 1300 more than the MX100 and even more over the ARC 100. The 840 EVO does a bit better at QD1, but by QD2 and beyond, the Ultra II delivers more performance.

High Queue Depth Read IOPS

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Most of us will never hit the queue depths in this chart and especially not with the workloads the Ultra II was designed for. Still, the Ultra II 240GB hits 90K random IOPS at QD32, but more importantly, the performance scales as the depth increases.

Low Queue Depth Write IOPS

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It's easier to hit higher queue depths when writing data to the SSD since most writes happen in bursts, like when installing programs, running Windows Updates and so on. The Ultra II scales really well in our random writes test. We a bit surprised to see the MX100 doing a bit better in the low queue depths though since the Ultra II has an SLC layer.

High Queue Depth Write IOPS

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Most of the drives on the chart have reached the maximum random write performance by QD8.

Benchmarks - Mixed Read / Write Workloads

Mixed Read / Write Workloads

In this series of tests, we measure mixed workload performance. We start with 100% read and then add data writes to the mix until we get to 100% writes, in 10% increments. We believe this will be the next major area SSD manufactures will address after performance consistency.

Mixed Workload Bandwidth

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In our mixed IO test with sequential data, we observed the Ultra II losing a significant amount of performance when writes are included in the mix.

80% Read / 20% Write Bandwidth

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With 80% reads and 20% writes, the Ultra II is the slowest drive on the charts. This test pushes the drive into steady state with 128K sequential blocks so the SLC doesn't really have a chance to kick in and increase the performance.

Mixed Workload Response Time

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The random mix test is 50% reads and 50% writes and does not run in steady state. Here the SLC has a chance to work properly, and as you can see in the chart, the SLC layer really helps.

PCMark 8 Consistency Test

Futuremark PCMark 8 Extended - Consistency Test

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.0.228

Heavy Usage Model:

FutureMark's PCMark 8 allows us to wear the test drive down to a reasonable consumer steady state and then watch the drive recover on its own through garbage collection. To do that, the drive gets pushed down to steady state with random writes and then idle time between a number of tests allows the drive to recover.

Precondition Phase:

1. Write to the drive sequentially through up to the reported capacity with random data.

2. Write the drive through a second time (to take care of overprovisioning).

Degradation Phase:

1. Run writes of random size between 8*512 and 2048*512 bytes on random offsets for 10 minutes.

2. Run performance test (one pass only).

3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 8 times, and on each pass increase the duration of random writes by 5 minutes.

Steady state Phase:

1. Run writes of random size between 8*512 and 2048*512 bytes on random offsets for 50 minutes.

2. Run performance test (one pass only).

3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 5 times.

Recovery Phase:

1. Idle for 5 minutes.

2. Run performance test (one pass only).

3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 5 times.

Storage Bandwidth

PCMark 8's Consistency test provides a ton of data output that we use to judge a drive's performance. Here we see the three states of performance for the select SSDs, light use, consumer steady state and worst case.

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For most mainstream users the performance to look at in this series are the orange and red bars. The orange and red bars show lighter workload conditions typically used with low cost SSDs. In all three workloads, the Ultra II is faster than the MX100, but slower than the ARC 100.

Storage Bandwidth All Tests

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Here we see all of the tests. The measurements start after the drives are in steady state and Recovery 1 starts adding 5 minute delays between each performance run. After the Ultra II recovers from the random write steady state, the performance increases significantly, but is still a hair lower than the ARC 100.

PCMark 8 Consistency Test - Continued

Total Access Time

The access time test measures the total latency across all 18 tests. This is one of, if not the most important test we run at this time for consumer SSDs. When your latency is low your computer feels fast, it's just that simple.

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The latency results show the Ultra II performing very well when out of steady states. In our opinion, the latency results are more important than the throughput results.

Disk Busy Time

In the final test, we measure the amount of time the drive worked to read and write the data to complete the test. When a drive is active, it uses more power so the faster it can complete the tasks the faster it can fall into a low power state.

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The disk busy time is nearly identical to the latency results. We often can link disk busy time to notebook battery life, but not in this case.

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.

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The SanDisk Ultra II doesn't take advantage of DEVSLP, but we still achieved a very good result with this model. Two of the highest ratings come from SanDisk SSDs, the X300s and Ultra II are just 10 minutes apart, with the ADATA SP610 (Silicon Motion SM2256EN controller) riding in the middle.

Power Limited Performance

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The notebook test runs with the Lenovo T440 in a low power state with SATA, PCIe and the CPU all operating in low power mode. In this state, we can see the performance of the drives. As you can see in this chart, the performance is nearly identical with all of the drives tested in this low power state.

Final Thoughts

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The projections show TLC flash will overtake MLC in volume shipped in the next couple of years. SSDs couldn't stay enthusiast parts forever. The low prices we've seen for the last few months are just the start as companies race to get the lowest cost per gigabyte drives to market since that's what will spur mass adaption. For the most part, the consumer market has plateaued, we all have SSDs, but we're also the group that will upgrade at a higher frequency. The real growth will come from OEM sales, a market that should more than double in the next four years.

The OEM desktop adaption rate should increase five fold over the next four years, but even then, the volume is very small next to the OEM notebook market, where a majority of OEM system SSDs are already shipping. TLC will really help those markets grow, but at the same time, the OEM products will help lower the cost of enthusiast products, too.

The SanDisk Ultra II wasn't designed for enthusiast users, the Extreme PRO fits that bill and it's fantastic. Most of our daily readers have more than one PC, a primary system and at least one other system. At this point, I think everyone who has experienced the performance of SSDs could never go back to a mechanical HDD, even on a second system.

At just $99.99, the SanDisk Ultra II 240GB is a solid choice for mainstream users and works well for enthusiasts who need a boot SSD for a secondary machine. The drive also works well for secondary storage. With prices this low, it's really time to start thinking about replacing HDDs that hold cold data with more reliable solid state drives. This is another area that will grow with TLC based SSDs as they continue to drive down the cost of flash storage. Just as before, enthusiasts will adapt flash for cold storage before the rest of the market.

Today we looked at the Ultra II 240GB with a 4-channel controller and the performance was better than we expected with SanDisk's first X3 (TLC) flash. In a month, we should have the 480GB and 960GB models that use 8-channel controllers. I think the larger capacity size models should do a bit better in our mixed workload and steady state tests.

The 480GB model may actually turn out to be the SSD to own for gaming as well since the price point is very low and the 8-channel controller should increase the real-world performance over the 240GB model. We'll know in a month, so stay tuned.

PRICING: You can find the SanDisk Ultra II 240GB SSD for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The SanDisk Ultra II 240GB SSD retails for $110.95 at Amazon.

Canada: The SanDisk Ultra II 240GB SSD retails for CDN$199.99 at Amazon Canada.

TweakTown award
Performance (including Overclocking w/a)89%
Quality94%
General Features93%
Bundle and Packaging90%
Value for Money95%
Overall92%

The Bottom Line: The SanDisk Ultra II 240GB's low cost, Dashboard software, and quality make it an excellent choice for surfing the web, casual gaming and general computing activities. At this point, the HDD is dead for consumer boot drives, this is your reliable entry level flash option.

PRICING: You can find products similar to this one for sale below.

USUnited States: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.com

UKUnited Kingdom: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.co.uk

AUAustralia: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.com.au

CACanada: Find other tech and computer products like this over at Amazon.ca

DEDeutschland: Finde andere Technik- und Computerprodukte wie dieses auf Amazon.de

Chris Ramseyer started his career as a LAN Party organizer in Midwest USA. After working with several computer companies he was asked to join the team at The Adrenaline Vault by fellow Midwest LAN Party legend Sean Aikins. After a series of shake ups at AVault, Chris eventually took over as Editor-in-Chief before leaving to start Real World Entertainment. Look for Chris to bring his unique methods of testing Hard Disk Drives, Solid State Drives as well as RAID controller and NAS boxes to TweakTown as he looks to provide an accurate test bed to make your purchasing decisions easier.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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