Introduction

Shortly after our Plextor M3 review went live, I received numerous emails asking us to review Corsair's Performance Series Pro. Your voice was heard and we went and asked Corsair for a review sample, and here we are with the results.

There aren't too many Marvell SSDs on the market so the Performance Pro stole my attention immediately. When testing a SandForce drive, you pretty much know what to expect. Only Intel uses an in-house firmware whereas the rest of the SandForce OEMs are stuck with the firmware that SandForce provides. That limits differentiation a lot. When it comes to Marvell, things are a lot more open and interesting. Firmwares are often proprietary and that's why you never know what to expect.

Personally I'm all for differentiation. The more different SSDs there are, the more competition there is, which is always good from a consumer's standpoint. SandForce is competitive for sure, but most SandForce drives can only compete against each other in price. That's where Marvell and others come in; they offer differentiation in performance and compatibility for instance.

Price competition is not a bad thing but especially since most SandForce OEMs are fabless, it's fairly limited. You buy controllers from SandForce and choose NAND from a few sources; every other SandForce OEM (except Intel) does exactly the same. While every OEM can negotiate their own pricing with SandForce and the selected NAND supplier(s), it's unlikely they will get a significant discount. That's why most SandForce SSDs are priced so similarly. If a certain NAND supplier drops their NAND prices, it always affects more than one SSD OEM.

A Marvell based SSD can still stand out even if it's more expensive since there may not be a comparable drive on the market. Performance is only one aspect; especially garbage collection and power consumption should not go unmentioned as firmware can have a huge impact on them, and hence make drives different.

The Corsair Performance Series Pro

Corsair sampled us with a 256GB unit. Below is a specification table of the Performance Series Pro:

Corsair Performance Series Pro Specifications
Model 128GB 256GB
Raw NAND Capacity 128GiB 256GiB
Usable Capacity 119.2GiB 238.5GiB
Number of NAND Packages 8 8
Number of Die per Package 2 4
Sequential Read 500MB/s 515MB/s
Sequential Write 340MB/s 440MB/s
4K Random Write 60K IOPS 65K IOPS

Interestingly, Corsair offers only 128GB and 256GB models. I can understand the lack of a 512GB model because of price and low popularity, but 64GB is often one of the most popular models. Corsair does offer 60GB Force Series 3 and Force Series GT drives, and they recently released Accelerator series aimed at caching. There is no specific reason to why Corsair has decided to exclude 64GB from the Performance Series Pro lineup, but it's possible that 64GB was not profitable enough.

64GB SSDs are usually the most expensive in terms of price per GB because the share of NAND in the bill of materials is smaller. In other words, all the other expenses such as controller and manufacturing are the same as in bigger drives. Moreover, 64GB isn't exactly a performance category either. Users who buy such small SSDs are already making a compromise in performance, so they are more likely to grab the cheapest drive instead of paying a bit more for a faster drive.

The Performance Pro does well on paper. Sequential write speeds are very good for a Marvell drive. These days I'm more interested in pricing than the actual specifications, though, mainly because the real world performance difference between most SATA 6Gb/s SSDs is so small that paying more for a slightly faster drive may not be worth it unless your workload is heavily I/O bound. Let's see how Corsair's Performance Series Pro stacks up against other drives in a NewEgg price comparison:

NewEgg Price Comparison (5/14/2012)
  64GB 128GB 256GB 512GB
Corsair Performance Series Pro N/A $200 $340 N/A
Plextor M3 $130 $180 $340 $660
Crucial m4 $80 $120 $250 $600
Intel 520 Series $113 $179 $331 $825
Samsung 830 Series $100 $130 $310 $710
OCZ Vertex 3 $165 $110 $250 $650
OCZ Vertex 4 N/A $150 $300 $650

The Performance Pro is definitely not the cheapest drive. The 128GB model is actually the most expensive 128GB drive in our comparison and there is $20-40 premium even over the Plextor M3, Intel 520 Series, and Samsung 830 Series, all of which are considered to be high-end drives. The 256GB version is a bit more reasonably priced at $320, although there are still cheaper, competitive drives such as the Samsung 830 Series.

In any case, I would like to point out that SSD prices fluctuate a lot. The price you see today may be different tomorrow. I borrowed the pricing table from our Plextor M3 review and nearly all prices had changed, some even dramatically. If you're buying an SSD, my advice would be to follow the prices for at least a couple of days before pulling the trigger as you may be able to catch a hot sale that way.

Corsair Performance Pro Packaging and Internals, Test Setup
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  • SlyNine - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    Put a M4 in my GF's computer and she has had no problems at all. Friend also has one and again no problems.

    Just because you have had issues doesn't mean someone else will, if they were that easily repeatable they would be easy to fix.
    Reply
  • ShieTar - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    Why does this article contain two tables with the exactly same lable "NewEgg Price Comparison (5/5/2012)" but very different numbers? Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    If you loaded the article right when it went live, it's possible that you saw two different tables. I updated the prices just before I posted this, but forgot to copy-paste the new table to the final page. Both tables should be up to date now, though. Reply
  • CyberAngel_777 - Thursday, May 17, 2012 - link

    I wish you had two different dates and prices just show the price fluctuations
    and then later with updated data also updated prices

    every drive should have thickness data recorded

    thank you!
    Reply
  • Coroder - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    Does the vertex 4 drive in this test use the new firmware that was made available? It increases the speed in most tests by quite a bit. Reply
  • XJDHDR - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    I believe they are waiting for the firmware to come out of beta testing. Reply
  • jwilliams4200 - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    Lite-On owns Plextor, so it is misleading to say that Plextor buys the SSDs from Lite-On. It would be more accurate to say that the Plextor / Lite-On relationship is like the Crucial / Micron relationship. Reply
  • koinkoin - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    At my company we use McAfee Endpoint Encryption, how does this affect the performance of the drives and how much does this change over time?
    I went for a Plextor M3 256GB and seem to be working fine as for now, but only got it now for 2weeks.
    Reply
  • rlhunts - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    My company also uses the McAfee Endpoint Encryption. I upgraded the WD 250 GB 7200 RPM drive to a Samsung 830 258 GB SSD in my Dell laptop (I5 2540M processor) a couple months ago. It definitely helps, especially with boot time, but McAfee EE adds a lot of processor overhead, which a drive can't help with. It's still slow as a slug compared to the same machine and software configuration without McAfee with a traditional 7200 rpm hard disk. Reply
  • Movieman420 - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    In all fairness the Vertex 4 needs to be re-tested with the latest 1.4RC fw...or wait til it's final then flash up. Reply

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