Understanding SandForce's SF-1200 & SF-1500, Not All Drives are Equalby Anand Lal Shimpi on April 16, 2010 11:30 AM EST
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.