ADATA SP550 SATA III (120GB, 240GB & 480GB) SSD Review

ADATA SP550 SATA III (120GB, 240GB & 480GB) SSD Review

ADATA's SP550 gives us our first look at Hynix 16nm TLC toggle flash. Powered by SMI's 2256 and an SLC cache layer, does this new SSD deliver the goods?

@JonCoulterSSD
Published Thu, Nov 12 2015 9:07 AM CST   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:34 PM CDT
Rating: 71%Manufacturer: ADATA

Introduction, Drive Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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VIEW GALLERY - 55 IMAGES

The SP550 gives us our first look at Silicon Motion's newest controller, the SM2256, in a retail package. The SM2256 is a third party controller designed for use with TLC Flash. We've been testing a reference design from SMI that employs an SM2256 controller with Toshiba A19nm TLC flash, and it performs quite well. We will be including the reference design in this review as a point of comparison.

The SMI SM2256 controller is specifically designed to deliver acceptable SSD performance with next gen TLC Flash. The key feature of SMI's 2256 controller is LDPC (Low-Density Parity-Check) bit correction. SMI calls their proprietary LDPC bit correction engine NANDXtend. NANDXtend error correction and data protection technology triples the P/E (Program/Erase) cycles for TLC SSD devices. This is very important because with conventional ECC correction typical TLC flash is limited to about 500 P/E cycles. With NANDXtend technology (LDPC) TLC P/E endurance is tripled to about 1500 P/E cycles or about half that of today's 3000 P/E MLC flash.

Extending endurance through LDPC bit correction is the most important feature of the SM2256 controller because this gives TLC (Triple Level Cell) flash enough endurance to make it a viable option. Second on the list of features that make TLC viable, is the implementation of an SLC (Single Level Cell) programmed caching layer to mask the extremely low write performance of TLC flash. The SM2256 enables PSLC (Pseudo SLC) programming on TLC flash. A PSLC caching layer is important for TLC SSDs as an acceleration layer, but also it enhances endurance by sequentializing cached data before writing it to the drives TLC programmed flash array and that lowers write amplification.

As mentioned this is not only our first look at the SMI SM2256 controller, the SP550 affords us our first look at SK Hynix 16nm TLC toggle mode flash. On paper, the SP550 looks like it has the ingredients to deliver decent performance and plenty of endurance for typical use cases. Let's get into the review and see what the SP550 is capable of delivering. All three capacity points will be covered in this review.

Specifications: ADATA SP550 SATA III SSD

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The SP550 SATA III 2.5" x 7mm FF SSD is available in three capacities: 120GB, 240GB and 480GB. Sequential read performance for the SP550 is listed as up to 560 MB/s. Sequential write performance varies by capacity from 410 MB/s up to 510 MB/s.

Random 4K read performance varies by capacity from 60,000 up to 75,000 IOPS. Random 4K write performance varies by capacity from 70,000 up to 75,000 IOPS. MTBF comes in at 1.5 million hours. ADATA backs the SP550 with an industry standard 3-year warranty. No TBW is given.

Drive Details

ADATA SP550 SATA III SSD

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The SP550 retails in a small white box with a clear plastic window to view the drive directly. The box is adorned with ADATA's trademark hummingbird logo. The front of the box advertises the important features of the SP550 and the included Acronis cloning software available for download.

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The rear of the packaging lists the drive's sequential performance capabilities at each capacity point along with other relevant information

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Inside the box, we find the drive itself nestled in a clear plastic tray. Also included is a paper quick start guide and a plastic spacer.

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The front of the drive's black colored aluminum enclosure is covered with an attractive silver manufacturer's label, advertising the drives model, interface, and capacity.

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The back half of the drive's aluminum enclosure has another manufacturer's label that lists the drives model number, warranty code, and other relevant information.

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The drives three-quarter length PCB is attached to the bottom of the drives aluminum enclosure with three screws.

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The drives SM2256 controller, half of its flash packages and DRAM cache package are located on this side of the three-quarter length PCB.

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This side of the PCB houses the remaining half of the drive's flash packages, along with various surface mounted components.

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A close-in view of the 4-channel Silicon Motion SM2256 controller that powers the SP550.

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A close-in view of one the drive's 16nm SK Hynix TLC toggle mode BGA flash packages.

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Finally, a close-in view of the drive's Samsung DDR3 DRAM package.

Test System Setup and Properties

Jon's Consumer SSD Review Test System Specifications

We would like to thank ASRock, Crucial, Intel, Corsair, RamCity, IN WIN, and Seasonic for making our test system possible.

Drive Properties

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The majority of our testing is performed with our test drive as our boot volume. Our boot volume is 75% full for all OS Disk "C" drive testing to replicate a typical consumer OS volume implementation. We feel that most of you will be utilizing your SSD's for your boot volume and that presenting you with results from an OS volume is more relevant than presenting you with empty secondary volume results.

System settings: Cstates and Speed stepping are both disabled in our systems BIOS. Windows High-Performance power plan is enabled. Windows write caching is enabled, and Windows buffer flushing is disabled. We are utilizing Windows 10 Pro 64-bit OS for all of our testing except for our MOP (Maxed-Out Performance) benchmarks where we switch to Windows Server 2008 R2 64-bit.

Synthetic Benchmarks - ATTO & Anvil Storage Utilities

ATTO

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.47

ATTO is a timeless benchmark used to provide manufacturers with data used for marketing storage products.

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Sequential read/write transfers max out at 557/514 MB/s. Keep in mind this is our OS volume 75% full.

Sequential Write

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All three capacity points of the SP550 can meet specification as all the transfers fall within the drives caching layer. The reference design with A19 TLC flash delivers the highest sequential write performance of our test pool.

Sequential Read

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All capacity points of the SP550 deliver similar performance. Our reference drive performs identically to the SP550's. The TRION and the M6V both slightly outperform the SP550.

Anvil Storage Utilities

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1.0

Anvil's Storage Utilities is a storage benchmark designed to measure the storage performance of SSD's. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests; you can run a full test or just the read or write test, or you can run a single test, i.e. 4k QD16.

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Scoring

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Anvil's scoring gives a good indication of a drive's overall performance. The 240GB SP550 turns in a very good performance; ten percent better than the larger 480GB SP550, and second overall.

(Anvil) Read IOPS through Queue Depth Scale

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Although the SP550's are delivering performance to specification, they are performing below the rest of the drives in our test pool.

(Anvil) Write IOPS through Queue Scale

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The SP550's outperform the competition in this portion of the test. The 120GB SP550 wins this test.

Synthetic Benchmarks - CrystalDiskMark & AS SSD

CrystalDiskMark

Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview

CrystalDiskMark is disk benchmark software that allows us to benchmark 4k and 4k queue depths with accuracy. Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 Technical Preview was used for these tests since it offers the ability to measure native command queuing at QD4.

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The SP550 performs similarly at all capacity points when reading data. The SMI reference design with its A19 Toshiba flash delivers much better 4K QD1-4 performance than the SP550.

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As long as the data fits within the SP550's caching layer performance is quite good. The SP550 can deliver very good 4K QD1 write performance.

AS SSD

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.7.4739.38088

AS SSD determines the performance of Solid-State Drives (SSD). The tool contains four synthetic as well as three practice tests. The synthetic tests are to determine the sequential and random read and write performance of the SSD.

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The 480GB SP550 delivers a nice score of over a thousand points. Scoring is decent because the test is running within the drives caching layer. The SMI reference design has a little better performance, and that is to be expected because it has a superior flash array.

Benchmarks (Trace Based OS Volume) - PCMark Vantage, PCMark 7 & PCMark 8

Moderate Workload Model

We categorize these tests as indicative of a moderate workload environment.

PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.0.0

The reason we like PCMark Vantage is because the recorded traces are played back without system stops. What we see is the raw performance of the drive. This allows us to see a marked difference between scoring that other trace-based benchmarks do not exhibit. An example of a marked difference in scoring on the same drive would be empty vs. filled vs. steady state.

We run Vantage three ways. The first run is with the OS drive 75% full to simulate a lightly used OS volume filled with data to an amount we feel is common for most users. The second run is with the OS volume written into a "Steady State" utilizing SNIA's guidelines. Steady state testing simulates a drives performance similar to that of a drive that been subjected to consumer workloads for extensive amounts of time. The third run is a Vantage HDD test with the test drive attached as an empty, lightly used secondary device.

OS Volume 75% Full - Lightly Used

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OS Volume 75% Full - Steady State

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Secondary Volume Empty - FOB

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There's a big difference between an empty drive, one that's 75% full/used, and one that's in a steady state.

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The important scores to pay attention to are "OS Volume Steady State" and "OS Volume 75% full." These two categories are most important because they are indicative of typical of consumer user states. When a drive is in a steady state, it means garbage collection is running at the same time it's reading/writing. This is exactly why we focus on steady state performance.

A larger caching layer pays dividends again for the 480GB SP550. The 480GB SP550 delivers the best steady state performance of the TLC-based SSDs in our test pool.

PCMark 7 - System Storage

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.4.0

We will look to Raw System Storage scoring for evaluation because it's done without system stops and, therefore, allows us to see significant scoring differences between drives.

OS Volume 75% Full - Lightly Used

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Even though some of our synthetic testing shows a performance advantage for the 240GB SP550 in comparison to the 480GB version, real-world simulations show the 480GB has the advantage when running applications. The SMI reference design can outperform the SP550's by a slim margin. The M6V has the advantage of MLC flash.

PCMark 8 - Storage Bandwidth

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.4.304

We use PCMark 8 Storage benchmark to test the performance of SSDs, HDDs, and hybrid drives with traces recorded from Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, and a selection of popular games. You can test the system drive or any other recognized storage device, including local external drives. Unlike synthetic storage tests, the PCMark 8 Storage benchmark highlights real-world performance differences between storage devices.

OS Volume 75% Full - Lightly Used

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PCMark 8 is the most intensive moderate workload simulation we run. On moderate workloads, this test is what we consider the best indicator of a drive's performance.

Once again the 480GB SP550 can best the SMI Reference design. As long as the workloads fit within the drives caching layer, the SP550 can deliver a decent SSD experience.

Benchmarks (Secondary Volume) - Max IOPS, Disk Response & Transfer Rates

Iometer - Maximum IOPS

Version and / or Patch Used: Iometer 2014

We use Iometer to measure high queue depth performance. (No Partition)

Max IOPS Read

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Max IOPS Write

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We're not sure what is going on with the 480GB SP550. The 480GB model would logically have the best read performance of the series, but it's by far the worst of the bunch. The 480GB model is reading below specification. And the 240GB model is writing below specification. Only the 120GB model can meet and exceed its given max IOPS specifications.

Iometer - Disk Response

Version and / or Patch Used: Iometer 2014

We use Iometer to measure disk response times. Disk response times are measured at an industry accepted standard of 4K QD1 for both write and read. Each test runs twice for 30 seconds consecutively, with a 5-second ramp-up before each test. We partition the drive/array as a secondary device for this testing.

Avg. Write Response

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Avg. Read Response

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The 480GB SP550 delivers very good write response. The SP550 at all capacity points deliver below average read response times.

DiskBench - Directory Copy

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.6.2.0

We use DiskBench to time a 28.6GB block (9,882 files in 1,247 folders) composed primarily of incompressible sequential and random data as it's transferred from our DC P3700 PCIe NVME SSD to our test drive. We then read from a 6GB zip file that's part of our 28.6GB data block to determine the test drives read transfer rate. Our system is restarted before the read test to clear any cached data, ensuring an accurate test result.

Write Transfer Rate

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Read Transfer Rate

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This test best exposes non-Samsung TLC flash based drives. Sustained writes bring the all the TLC drives in our test pool to their knees. If you are going to transfer large chunks of data on a regular basis, then the SP550 and all other non-Samsung TLC drives we've tested are not for you.

Benchmarks (Secondary Volume) - PCMark 8 Extended

Futuremark PCMark 8 Extended

Heavy Workload Model

PCMark 8's consistency test simulates an extended duration heavy workload environment. PCMark 8 has built-in, command line executed storage testing. The PCMark 8 Consistency test measures the performance consistency and the degradation tendency of a storage system.

The Storage test workloads are repeated. Between each repetition, the storage system is bombarded with a usage that causes degraded drive performance. In the first part of the test, the cycle continues until a steady degraded level of performance has been reached. (Steady State)

In the second part, the recovery of the system is tested by allowing the system to idle and measuring the performance after 5-minute long intervals. (Internal drive maintenance: Garbage Collection (GC)) The test reports the performance level at the start, the degraded steady-state, and the recovered state, as well as the number of iterations required to reach the degraded state and the recovered state.

We feel Futuremark's Consistency Test is the best test ever devised to show the true performance of solid-state storage in an extended duration heavy workload environment. This test takes on average 13 to 17 hours to complete and writes somewhere between 450GB and 14,000GB of test data depending on the drive. If you want to know what an SSD's steady state performance is going to look like during a heavy workload, this test will show you.

Here's a breakdown of Futuremark's Consistency Test:

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.

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We consider steady state bandwidth (the blue bar) our test that carries the most weight in ranking a drive/arrays heavy workload performance. Performance after Garbage Collection (GC) (the orange and red bars) is what we consider the second most important consideration when ranking a drives performance. Trace-based steady state testing is where true high performing SSDs are separated from the rest of the pack.

We will preface by saying this test is almost enterprise in nature, and workloads of this intensity will likely not occur with typical usage. That being said, in a deep steady state, the SP550 is the worst performing SSD we've ever tested. On the other hand, look at the SMI reference design. That baby handles this test with ease, even outperforming many MLC-based variants.

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We chart our test subject's storage bandwidth as reported at each of the test's 18 trace iterations. This gives us a good visual perspective of how our test subjects perform as testing progresses. The SMI reference design delivers by far the best degrade and steady state performance of the drives in our test pool.

Total Access Time (Latency)

We chart the total time the disk is accessed as reported at each of the test's 18 trace iterations.

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Disk Busy Time

Disk Busy Time is how long the disk is busy working. We chart the total time the disk is working as reported at each of the tests 18 trace iterations.

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When latency is low, disk busy time is low as well.

Data Written

We measure the total amount of random data that our test drive/array is capable of writing during the degradation phases of the consistency test. Pre-conditioning data is not included in the total. The total combined time that degradation data is written to the drive/array is 470 minutes. This can be very telling. The better a drive/array can process a continuous stream of random data, the more data will be written.

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Combined read/write latency, capacity and overprovisioning are the biggest factors that determine the outcome of this portion of the test. The extra capacity of the 480GB SP550 enables it to write a decent amount of random data, even the 240GB SP550 does well. The M6V doesn't have any overprovisioning, so it gets outperformed by the 240GB SP550 even though the M6V is a faster drive overall. The SMI reference design smokes the rest of the test pool and it's only a 240GB drive.

Benchmarks (Secondary Volume) - 70/30 Mixed Workload

70/30 Mixed Workload Test (Sledgehammer)

Version and / or Patch Used: Iometer 2014

Heavy Workload Model

This test hammers a drive so hard we've dubbed it "Sledgehammer". Our 70/30 Mixed Workload test is designed to simulate a heavy-duty enthusiast/workstation steady-state environment. We feel that a mix of 70% read/30% write, full random 4K transfers best represents this type of user environment. Our test allows us to see the drive enter into and reach a steady state as the test progresses.

Phase one of the test preconditions the drive for 1 hour with 128K sequential writes. Phase two of the test runs a 70% read/30% write, full random 4K transfer workload on the drive for 1 hour. We log and chart (phase two) IOPS data at 5-second intervals for 1 hour (720 data points). 60 data points = 5 minutes.

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What we like about this test is that it reflects reality. Everything lines up, as it should. Consumer drives don't outperform Enterprise-Class SSD's that were designed for enterprise workloads. Consumer drives based on old technology are not outperforming modern Performance-Class SSD's, etc.

The drives in our test pool, especially the 480GB SP550 are all over the place. It's almost impossible to read this chart because of the performance variability of the SP550, so I have listed the average IOPS for each drive. The SMI reference design shreds this test, delivering performance that is right up there with the best MLC-based consumer-class SSDs.

Looking at the SP550, the 240GB model and the 480GB model are closely matched. However, the 240GB SP550 has much less performance variability than the 480GB model making it the superior performer of the two.

Maxed-Out Performance (MOP)

Maxed-Out Performance

This testing is just to see what the drive is capable of in an FOB (Fresh Out of Box) state under optimal conditions. We are utilizing Windows Server 2008 R2 64-bit for this testing. Same Hardware, just an OS change.

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Final Thoughts

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The ADATA SP550 is a mixed bag. Running it as our OS disk, all three capacity points delivered a good SSD experience. But, as we dig a little deeper and hit the SP550 with extended workloads the shine rubs right off. I suppose that for someone using an SSD for the first time the SP550 will be adequate, after all it's much, much faster than any HDD due to far superior random and sequential read performance.

When comparing the SP550 to the competition, it is, for the most part, faster than the TRION, but that's not much of a compliment. So we need to look at pricing to see if the SP550 is worthy of your consideration. Right now, the SP550 is retailing for $44.99, $72.99 and $134.99 at Newegg. This pricing is low, but it's still too high in our opinion for what the SP550 has to offer.

This is our first look at 16nm Hynix TLC flash, and we aren't coming away impressed. We do like the SMI SM2256 controller, and as we saw from the SMI reference design, the SM2256 controller when paired with decent flash can perform on par with some MLC-based drives except when transferring large chunks of data.

As it stands, we cannot recommend the SP550 when it's only a few dollars cheaper than MLC-based alternatives and the 850 EVO that deliver vastly superior performance.

Pros:

  • Faster than an HDD

Cons:

  • No accessories
  • Low Performance to cost Ratio
Performance65%
Quality including Design and Build75%
General Features70%
Bundle and Packaging75%
Value for Money70%
Overall71%

The Bottom Line: While the SP550 is much faster than an HDD, it does not deliver compelling performance. For the performance you get, we feel the SP550 is overpriced.

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

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Jon became a computer enthusiast when Windows XP launched. He was into water cooling and benching ATI video cards with modded drivers. Jon has been building computers for others for more than 10 years. Jon became a storage enthusiast the day he first booted an Intel X25-M G1 80GB SSD. Look for Jon to bring consumer SSD reviews into the spotlight.

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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