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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  • Arbie - Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - link


    What about write amplification and the longevity of the drive? I thought that would be a hot topic given the aggressive garbage collection! AT is about the only site where such a thing would even be addressed, so I'm sorry there's no discussion here.
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