Differing Firmwares

OCZ's exclusive on the SF-2281 has finally lifted and now we're beginning to see an influx of second generation SandForce drives from other vendors. Make no mistake, although these drives may look different, have creative new names and different PCBs - they should all perform the same if you know what you're comparing.

OCZ sells three lines of SF-2281 based drives: Vertex, Agility and Solid. The Vertex 3 uses synchronous NAND (read: faster), while the Agility 3 and Solid 3 use slower asynchronous NAND.

Other companies are following suit. Asynchronous NAND is more readily available and cheaper, so don't be surprised to find it on drives. So far everyone seems to be following OCZ's footsteps and creating separate lines for the synchronous vs. asynchronous stuff.

The table below should break it down for you:

SandForce SF-2281 SSD Comparison
Product NAND Type Capacities Available Latest FW Available Price for 120GB Drive
Corsair Force GT Sync IMFT 60GB, 120GB, 240GB Corsair v1.3 (SF v3.20?) $248.49
Kingston HyperX Sync IMFT 120GB, 240GB SF v3.20 $269.99
MemoRight FTM Plus Sync IMFT 60GB, 120GB, 240GB, 480GB MR v1.3.1 N/A
OCZ Agility 3 Async IMFT 60GB, 120GB, 240GB OCZ v2.11
(SF v3.20)
$209.99
OCZ Vertex 3 Sync IMFT 60GB, 120GB, 240GB, 480GB OCZ v2.11
(SF v3.20)
$254.99
OCZ Vertex 3 MAX IOPS Toggle 120GB, 240GB OCZ v2.11
(SF v3.20)
$284.99
OWC ME Pro 6G Toggle 120GB, 240GB, 480GB SF v3.19 $279.99
OWC ME Pro 6G Sync IMFT 120GB, 240GB, 480GB SF v3.19 $279.99
Patriot Pyro Async IMFT 60GB, 120GB, 240GB SF v3.19 $209.99
Patriot Wildfire Toggle 120GB, 240GB, 480GB SF v3.19 $284.99

The four drives we're looking at today are a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous. The newly announced Patriot Pyro uses async NAND while everything else uses some form of synchronous Flash memory. OWC recently switched to using 32nm Toggle NAND in an effort to boost performance to OCZ MAX IOPS levels.

SandForce delivers firmware to all of its partners, however the schedules don't always match up. OCZ gets first dibs and renames its firmware to avoid direct comparisons to other drives. There are cases where OCZ may have some unique features in its firmwares but I don't believe that's the case with its latest revision.

Corsair and MemoRight do the same renaming, while the rest of the players stick to the default SandForce firmware version numbers. Everyone that shipped us drives seems to be sticking to either the latest firmware revision (3.20) or the one prior to it (3.19). Performance hasn't changed too much between all of these revisions, the majority of the modifications are there to squash this BSOD issue.

Corsair Force GT

The Force GT is Corsair's answer to OCZ's Vertex 3. The GT ships with a custom PCB design and is outfitted with IMFT (Micron branded) NAND running in synchronous mode. The 120GB sample we were sent for review has 16 NAND packages each with one 8GB MLC NAND die. Corsair just released its first firmware update for the Force GT, bringing it up to version 1.3 in Corsair-speak. Given the timing of the release, I'm going to assume this is Corsair's rebrand of the SandForce 3.20 firmware.

The Force GT is the cheapest 120GB SF-2281 based drive with synchronous NAND in the roundup. The drive comes with a 3 year warranty from Corsair.

Kingston HyperX

As Kingston's first SandForce SSD, the HyperX looks great. Although it doesn't really matter once you get it in the system, the HyperX enclosure has the most heft to it out of all of the SF-2281 drives we've reviewed. Part of the added weight comes from the two thermal pads that line the top and bottom of the case:

Kingston annoyingly uses 1.5mm hollow hex screws to keep the drive together, our biggest complaint from a physical standpoint. As a standalone drive the HyperX is our second most expensive here at $269.99 for 120GB.

The drive ships with a custom PCB and the latest SandForce firmware (3.20). Kingston sent along the upgrade kit which includes a 3.5" drive sled, USB enclosure, SATA cable and Kingston screwdriver:

 

MemoRight FTM Plus

We haven't had a MemoRight drive in for review since the early days of SSDs on AnandTech. The FTM Plus is a vanilla SF-2281 drive with SandForce's 3.19 firmware. The PCB design is custom although the NAND configuration is pretty standard. We got a 240GB drive in for review with 16 NAND devices and two 8GB 25nm IMFT die per chip.

OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 6G

The last time we reviewed OWC's Mercury Extreme Pro 6G we were a bit surprised by the presence of a rework on a shipping SSD. Since then a couple of things have changed. For starters, the rework is gone as you can see from the images above. While these drives use standard 25nm IMFT synchronous NAND, OWC has recently switched over to 32nm Toggle NAND - giving the Mercury Extreme Pro 6G the same performance as the MAX IOPS drives from OCZ or the Patriot Wildfire. We don't have the Toggle NAND drives in yet but I'd expect performance similar to the MAX IOPS for the updated drives. The branding and pricing haven't changed, just the performance.

The Mercury Extreme Pro 6G is offered with a 5 year warranty from OWC. It's also the most expensive SF-2281 based on IMFT NAND with a 120GB drive costing $279.99.

Patriot Pyro

While the Wildfire is Patriot's high-end SF-2281 offering, the Pyro is its more cost effective solution. The Pyro's savings come courtesy of its asynchronous NAND, putting it on par with an Agility 3. The Wildfire by comparison is akin to OCZ's MAX IOPS drives. Patriot uses the same PCB layout as OWC. The drive ships with firmware revision 3.19 and a 3-year warranty.

The Test

CPU

Intel Core i7 2600K running at 3.4GHz (Turbo & EIST Disabled) - for AT SB 2011, AS SSD & ATTO

Motherboard:

Intel H67 Motherboard

Chipset:

Intel H67

Chipset Drivers:

Intel 9.1.1.1015 + Intel RST 10.2

Memory: Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1333 2 x 2GB (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
The SF-2281 BSOD Bug Random & Sequential Read/Write Speed
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  • bobbyh - Thursday, August 11, 2011 - link

    FIRST!
    Are you going to talk about synchronous vs asynchronous NAND and the benefits of one vs the other?
    Reply
  • bobbyh - Thursday, August 11, 2011 - link

    nevermind lol! Reply
  • bobbyh - Thursday, August 11, 2011 - link

    very nice roundup A+ would read again Reply
  • Arnulf - Thursday, August 11, 2011 - link

    FIRST what ? FIRST idi0t to tag himself ? You got that right ! Reply
  • ARoyalF - Thursday, August 11, 2011 - link

    The estimated cost breakdown sure gave me an appreciation of what goe$ on behind the scenes. Reply
  • Sagath - Thursday, August 11, 2011 - link

    Firstly, I'd state I always appreciated you bringing these issues to the front page to allow the consumer to see these issues in a public venue, while also berating manufacturers for selling us junk. Thank you, Anand.

    That being said; I fully understand that the new Sandforce chips allow SATA6 connectivity, and are thus the fastest possible drives on the market...yet I have to ask, is it worth it? I don't see you mentioning these issues with last gens drives like the aforementioned X25-m, or Sandforce v1.

    Any SSD sold today is plainly 'fast', and order of magnitudes faster then magnetic-based storage. Is the incremental upgrade (of microseconds at best?) really worth sacrificing the reliability associated with last generations drives?

    My X25-M and Vertex 2's across multiple computers, laptops and friends computers are all running flawlessly. I have had zero complaints about random BSOD's or lockups. I also have 2 friends with whom purchased Vertex 3's on their own, and are both experiencing the famous Sandforce v2 issues...

    I'll stick with my 'slower' (lol?) X25-m's and V2's, then deal with these issues.
    Reply
  • bobbyh - Thursday, August 11, 2011 - link

    I have an older x25-m it still works flawlessly, this generation of drives has had an insane amount of problems. Reply
  • tbanger - Thursday, August 11, 2011 - link

    Can anyone shed some more light on the Intel 320 series firmware problem that Anand mentions?

    I've experienced it recently myself with my work machine's 300GB model resetting itself to an 8MB partition with all data lost. Not a huge problem (good backup scheme) but still annoying. At least Intel kindly replaced my drive with a new one fairly quickly. However, given I had already ordered a bunch more drives for the company (before the failure), I would like to see a firmware update that fixes this problem. I'm getting nervous that we're going to experience a bunch of failures.

    Is there any official plan to fix this from Intel? I haven't found much from Googling other than user complaints with little response from Intel.
    Reply
  • Nickel020 - Thursday, August 11, 2011 - link

    Just follow the link in the article ;)
    http://communities.intel.com/message/133499

    They've reproduced the issue and are validating the firmware fix. I got not clue how long their validating could take, but a new FW could be out any day, or maybe it'll take another month. They might find some issues during validation, which need further fixes and then further validating, so not even someone from Intel could give you a definite ETA.
    Reply
  • tbanger - Thursday, August 11, 2011 - link

    That'll teach me to only skim the article :)

    Thanks for the link. Nice to see Intel to offer a little official feedback.
    Reply

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