Update: Since the publication of this review OWC appears to have switched controllers for the Mercury Extreme SSD. The current specs look similar to that of SandForce's SF-1200 controller, not the SF-1500 used in the earlier drives. Performance and long term reliability (in an enterprise environment) are both impacted. For more information, read this.

I must admit, I owe OWC an apology. In my Vertex LE review I assumed that because my review sample had an older version of SandForce’s firmware on it that the company was a step behind OCZ in bringing SandForce drives to market. I was very wrong.

For those of you who aren’t Mac users, Other World Computing (OWC) just shouldn’t be on your radar. The only reason I’ve heard of them is because of my Mac experience. That’s all about to change as they are technically the first company to sell SandForce based SSDs. That’s right, OWC even beat OCZ to the punch. The first customers actually got drives the day my Vertex LE review went live. Multiple days before the LE actually went on sale at Newegg.

I mentioned it briefly in my Vertex LE review. The OWC Mercury Extreme SSD is based on the same SandForce controller as the Vertex LE. There was some confusion as to exactly what this controller is. As of today there is only a single SandForce MLC SSD controller shipping. It’s somewhere in between the performance of an SF-1200 and a SF-1500. Ultimately we’ll see the SF-1500 move to high end enterprise drives only, with the SF-1200 used in consumer drives like the OCZ Vertex 2 and Agility 2. The accompanying firmware is also somewhere in between the SF-1200 and SF-1500 in terms of performance (more on SandForce's controllers here). But as I just mentioned, its the equivalent of what OCZ is shipping in the Vertex LE.

OWC has assured me that all drives that are being sold have the latest RC1 firmware from SandForce, just like the Vertex LE. The firmware revision number alone should let you know that like the Vertex LE, these are wholly unproven drives. OWC is only sending out drives on 30 day evaluation periods, so I don’t expect many long term reliability tests to be done on those drives in particular. Thankfully we do still have the Vertex LEs to hammer on.

I previewed the Mercury Extreme in my last article, stating that it performs identically to the Vertex LE. Not only does it perform the same, but it's also a little cheaper:

Capacity OCZ OWC
50GB N/A $229.99
100GB $429.00 $399.99
200GB $929.99 $779.99

 

OWC is the first company to offer a 50GB drive based on the SandForce controller. I’d long heard rumors that performance was significantly lower on the 50GB drive, but I had no way of testing it. OCZ still doesn’t have any 50GB drives. OWC gave me the opportunity to answer that question.

OWC got upset with me when I took their drive apart last time, so I can't provide you guys with internal shots of this drive. The concern was that opening the drive left it in an unsellable condition. I would hope that no company is reselling review samples, but you never know.

The 50GB Mercury Extreme carries a $229 price tag, that’s comparable to other small-capacity SSDs on the market:

SSD Price Price per GB of NAND
Corsair P64 64GB $209.00 $3.266
Intel X25-M G2 80GB $219.99 $2.750
Kingston SSDNow V Series 64GB $139.99 $2.187
OWC Mercury Extreme 50GB $229.99 $3.594

 

Unfortunately it does give you the worst cost per GB of NAND, and even worse when you consider how much of that is usable accessible. Remember that these SF-1500 controllers are derivatives of SandForce’s enterprise SSD efforts, meaning they are designed to use a lot of spare area.

Despite having 64GB of MLC NAND on board, the 50GB drive has a formatted capacity of 46.4GB. Nearly all of the extra flash is used for bad block allocation and spare area to keep performance high.

I installed Windows 7, drivers and PCMark Vantage on my 50GB drive which left me with 30.8GB of free space. That’s actually not too bad if you aren’t going to put a whole lot more on the drive. There’s more than enough room for a few applications, but think twice before using it for media storage.

Preview Today, More Tests Coming

It’s sheer excitement that made me push this review out today. I was really curious to see how well one of these 50GB SandForce drives performed. I have seen some of you request that you’d like to see more non-I/O specific, real world tests in our suite. I’ve done this in previous articles but stopped simply because the data didn’t seem to provide much value. These drives are so fast that measuring application launches, game level loads or boot time simply shows no difference between them all. Instead, by focusing on pure I/O performance I’ve at least been able to show what drives are technically the fastest and then base my recommendation on a good balance of raw performance and price. Then there’s the stuff that’s more difficult to benchmark - long term reliability and consistency of performance. Most of these drives end up in one of my work machines for several months on end. I use that experience in helping formulate my recommendations. In short, I’m still looking to expand the test suite and add meaningful tests - it’s just going to take some time. This is a lengthy process as each new controller poses new challenges from a benchmarking perspective.

The Test

CPU Intel Core i7 965 running at 3.2GHz (Turbo & EIST Disabled)
Motherboard: Intel DX58SO (Intel X58)
Chipset: Intel X58 + Marvell SATA 6Gbps PCIe
Chipset Drivers: Intel 9.1.1.1015 + Intel IMSM 8.9
Memory: Qimonda DDR3-1333 4 x 1GB (7-7-7-20)
Video Card: eVGA GeForce GTX 285
Video Drivers: NVIDIA ForceWare 190.38 64-bit
Desktop Resolution: 1920 x 1200
OS: Windows 7 x64
Sequential Read/Write Speed
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74 Comments

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  • lorteti - Saturday, February 27, 2010 - link

    Anand,

    How about the used drive performance?
    I'm currently still unsing Vista, no plan upgrading to Win7 this year.
    I think many are still using older OS.
    Does these SSD's SandForce and C300 perform the same in used condition without TRIM?

    jx
    Reply
  • shawkie - Saturday, February 27, 2010 - link

    Anand, can you please include some discussion and/or benchmark on power consumption for those users with laptops? Reply
  • shawngmc - Saturday, February 27, 2010 - link

    Anand,

    Can you confirm whether or not this series of drives have Trim support? I had emailed OWC's tech support to try to find out, and they responded saying that their drives handle Trim internally.

    I asked if I could get some details on this, but the technician did not have any. I can understand if they do automatic garbage collection, and I understand that the cycling is much lower due to the low 'write amplification' factor, but that's still not Trim support. You said that the Vertex LE supported Trim, and it's roughly the same drive, but I don't want to make an assumption I'll regret.

    It's especially vexxing since OSX has no native Trim support, while I want to use this as a Windows 7 drive (as will many people after this review).

    I've been waiting for SSD prices to drop, and while this isn't a drop inherently, 100GB that literally saturates SATA II for $400 is a very tempting spot to jump in.

    Thanks,
    Shawn
    Reply
  • ScavengerLX - Saturday, February 27, 2010 - link

    Do you dream about SSDs, Anand? Reply
  • Paladin1211 - Saturday, February 27, 2010 - link

    Normally you dont dream about your work, right? :D Reply
  • ScavengerLX - Saturday, February 27, 2010 - link

    Yes :-D Reply
  • iwodo - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    "6Gbps SATA will only improve large file read performance off of the drive. Loading apps and games shouldn't be any faster. Nearly all high performance SSDs load a single app/game in about the same time. "

    So you are saying we are already reaching tipping point where SATA3 with 700MB/s Seq Read / Write wont give us any perceivable performance advantage? I did do any research or test, but surely Apps like Photoshop / Office / Games require to load more then few hundred MB right?
    Reply
  • Paladin1211 - Saturday, February 27, 2010 - link

    I think the statement is pretty logical. Assume that you have 350MB/s sequential read and I have only 200MB/s. We both need to read a file of 20MB. Then it would take you 0.057 sec or take me 0.1 sec. Even a mouse click would take longer than the 0.043 sec difference :)

    To load apps and games means to process a lot of small files, not one large file of multi hundred MB. This is where random read/write comes into play, negating most of the sequential advantages.

    Reply
  • Conscript - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    thanks for the review Anand, I've been looking up and down at these drives and was waiting for a reliable review. I am concerned that they won't let you open em up. Tell ya what, why don't you give them the $229, check to make sure there's nothing funny going on, and when you put it back together and check that it still works, I'll buy it off ya...and a used discount of course :) Reply
  • ssdreviewer - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    we would like to see more latency benchmark info in all SSD reviews, such as AS SSD benchmark, HDTune Pro access time etc. Reply

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