Where Do We Go From Here?

Corsair is under no obligation to ship drives with the 3.0.5 firmware. Assuming there are no other problems with the 3.0.1 firmware, Corsair could presumably keep shipping the higher performing OCZ-like firmware. The problem is that if you ever need to upgrade your firmware, you could lose performance.

As I've mentioned in the past, customers of whatever company or companies work closest with the controller manufacturer will undoubtedly get access to firmware quicker than anyone else. We've seen this work both in favor of and against the best interests of the consumer. Sometimes you get features/performance early (e.g. TRIM support for Indilinx drives) and other times you get early, untested firmware. Your best bet at this point is to hold off on any SF-1200 purchases unless you're willing to accept the risks that comes with.

The case isn’t closed on this issue however, not by a long shot. It’s my understanding that the SandForce/OCZ exclusivity agreement is currently only a short term agreement. While the companies are in the process of negotiating a long term agreement, nothing is final yet.

There are some measures in place to ensure that you can’t flash an OCZ firmware on a non-OCZ drive (and vice versa) but there’s nothing saying that at some point this won’t change either.

We also don’t know what the real world impact of the standard SF-1200 firmware will be. I’m hoping to have a standard SF-1200 drive with production firmware very soon and I will report my findings as soon as possible.

I’ve also communicated to SandForce that this should have never happened. It was well aware that there would be a performance difference between the Vertex 2 and all other SF-1200 drives, and there’s absolutely no reason any company other than OCZ should have had 3.0.1 with that exclusivity agreement in place. It’s simply not right to give your partners performance that you know for a fact will later be taken away. SandForce indicated to me that everyone was aware that performance could change between firmware revisions, but in my opinion this is still not being totally transparent. The moment a review based on Corsair’s Force drive went live, SandForce should’ve had a discussion with Corsair and the reviewer. We weren’t the first to review the Force drive, but it wasn’t until after our review went live that SandForce contacted us.

SandForce is a very young company and this just sounds like a bad case of partner mismanagement. Thankfully there haven’t been that many SF-1200 drives sold, but if you’re considering one you have to keep in mind that you could see performance drop in one metric with a firmware update. Note that the drive will still perform as specified, the SF-1200 controller is only rated for 10,000 sustained 4K random write IOPS.

There’s also the issue of SSD makers shipping drives based on firmware that’s not MP ready. I’ve established a more direct line with SandForce so I’ll at least be made aware of what firmware is ready for shipping and what isn’t. I’ll also be putting more pressure on manufacturers to only ship MP ready firmware. Let this serve as a warning to SSD manufacturers. I haven't been keeping close tabs on shipping firmware revisions since I never recommend any brand new, unproven SSD controller. But clearly I'm going to have to start docking points for not following controller manufacturer guidance. This stuff is serious guys, you're playing with our data here - I can't stress that enough.

As I keep mentioning in my coverage of SandForce and any other new SSDs, if you jump on board you’re assuming a risk. These drives and controllers are largely unproven. While I’m doing my best to put them through their paces, I can’t test every system combination. On top of that, many of these companies are newcomers to the industry and as an early adopter, you might find yourself in the middle of a situation like this.

This is unfolding in real time so I’ll keep you posted as I come across any new developments.

It’s a Mad World: Not All SF-1200s Perform Alike
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  • willscary - Friday, April 16, 2010 - link

    Where does the Mercury Extreme fit in? 5 days ago I purchased 3 of these drives. The website touted 10,000,000 hr life, etc. of the Sandforce 1500. Suddenly, this morning, (after my 1st two drives have shipped, but 3rd drive is out of stock) the OWC site lists 2,000,000 hr life.

    Did OWC switch to the 1200? Am I stuck with a lesser controller? Did OWC always use the 1200 controller and now just change their website after your article appeared?

    If so, I will cry "FOUL"!!!
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, April 16, 2010 - link

    When OWC started shipping the Mercury Extreme there were no SF-1200s as far as I can tell. The early set of drives were almost surely this odd SF-1200/SF-1500 hybrid similar to what OCZ shipped with the Vertex LE.

    Remember that those controllers were a limited run. I wouldn't be surprised if the newer drives are SF-1200 based, although that's super sketch to change specs without changing the drive's name at all. I'm going to find out for you what's going on asap.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Saturday, April 17, 2010 - link

    Technically they could still go for the "odd SF-1200/SF-1500 hybrid" as the chips are identical anyway. It's a matter of supporting this operation mode in newer firmware, though. Reply
  • yodasz - Monday, April 19, 2010 - link

    http://macperformanceguide.com/Reviews-SSD-OWC-Mer... Reply
  • willscary - Monday, April 19, 2010 - link

    Nice catch on the post. However, the author can claim whatever he wants about the "flavor" variations...OWC TOLD ME VERBALLY that all current and future Mercury Extreme SSDs were shipping with the Sandforce 1200 controller. This was NOT speculation. While I understand that specifications may have little or no impact on the actual, real world performance, the fact is that I paid for something and in return was sent something that cost them between $100-150 less than the original. This was not labor or process efficiency cost savings. It was not a reduction in R&D. It was a change in the actual product hardware. It would be the same as an auto manufacturer selling me a car with a V6, then actually delivering the same model with a turbocharged 4 cylinder. The overall performance may be nearly the same, but the longevity may be different and the cost would be less for them. If the auto dealer failed to tell me they had switched mortors and also failed to discount the price, I would sue them. What makes this OK for OWC? Reply
  • punjabiplaya - Friday, April 16, 2010 - link

    Really good insight. Just looks like business got in the way of the drive's performance. Hopefully SandForce has acknowledged their mistake and will not repeat it. Their controller looks really promising. Reply
  • newsh.it - Sunday, April 18, 2010 - link

    yes Anand is a top notch reviewer... keep up the good work!!! Reply
  • Zenthar - Friday, April 16, 2010 - link

    I'm probably not the first to say it, but as my first comment ever I felt I had to say it: Anand you're the best. You do a better job investigating the tech industry products and practices than most journalists do for any kind of articles; this article is a clear example of that. People might start reviewing other SF-1200 drives based on the "wrong" F/W and thus review drives better than they should be; I can't but suspect SandForce did this consciously and with that objective in mind.

    Keep on the good work.
    Reply
  • Doraemond - Friday, April 16, 2010 - link

    I agree wholeheartedly! Unlike other sites which just rehash and aggregate other news sites, AnandTech really takes the extra effort to go out, investigate, benchmark and analyze technology. You guys really make me come back for more!

    I remember one of the first magazines I subscribed to was Byte. Though now defunct, I thoroughly enjoyed their very in-depth articles on everything from microprocessor architecture to the run-of-the-mill experiences of an author who loves tech (Jerry Pournelle). I miss that publication greatly but everytime I go to AnandTech, this site really reminds me of how technical and professional Byte was in their journalism and how great a service AT has been to both technical jargon-inclined people such as myself as well as the average Joe.

    Thanks guys!
    Reply
  • semo - Friday, April 16, 2010 - link

    This is obviously a blunder that only a new and inexperienced company can make. Like someone else said, it's probably more like the business unit failing rather than the engineers but it just shows that this market segmentation crap looks really silly unless executed well and come up with sufficient amount of bs to cover it. Intel seems to got the hang of it Reply

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