An Update on SandForce

Before we get to the topic at hand today I wanted to give a brief update on SandForce. In our last SSD article I mentioned that I'd been able to replicate the infamous SF-2281 BSOD bug. In my testing the issue never appears as a full on BSOD, instead I either see periods of very high IO latency (multiple seconds) or a hard lock requiring a reset. The problem doesn't appear with any amount of regularity in most of my testbeds, however I can get one specific test system (the ASUS P8Z68V-Pro I mentioned in the earlier article) running the right workload to exhibit this issue at least once in any 72 hour period. I don't know whether or not this issue is related to the BSOD bug that many complain about, but I do know that the behavior isn't desirable and doesn't appear to impact other comparable SSDs. At the same time, the issue doesn't appear to be present and/or as severe on all platforms. Since the last article I've deployed two more drives in separate systems, neither of which has come back with any serious issues yet.

I still believe whatever issue plagues these drives to be limited in scope, but without a way of predicting whether or not the problem will occur it's still a thorn in SandForce's side. Contrary to what you may have heard, I believe this issue impacts all SF-2xxx based drives and I've reproduced it on drives from multiple vendors.

SandForce is going to be flying down a representative to take a look at my test system to help determine the root cause of the issue.

The Crucial m4 Update

When we first reviewed Crucial's m4 SSD we came away with mixed feelings on the drive. In some cases it was the first or second fastest drive we'd reviewed, while in others it struggled to outperform last year's C300. While Crucial has been diligent in updating the m4 to fix compatibility issues, we haven't seen any of the performance increases Crucial promised at the drive's introduction.

That all changed last week as Crucial posted the latest 0009 firmware for the m4 and Micron C400. The firmware updates drives that shipped with the original 0001 firmware as well as those with the previous 0002 version. Crucial supplies a bootable ISO that you can either burn to a CD or image to a USB drive.

The firmware update process went smoothly for me. I tested on an Intel DH67BL motherboard with the SATA ports set to AHCI. I used a USB stick imaged with the ISO via UNetbootin.

Crucial's release notes indicate improved performance as a major feature of FW0009:

Release Date: 08/25/2011
Change Log:

  • Changes made in version 0002 (m4 can be updated to revision 0009 directly from either revision 0001 or 0002)
  • Improved throughput performance.
  • Increase in PCMark Vantage benchmark score, resulting in improved user experience in most operating systems.
  • Improved write latency for better performance under heavy write workloads.
  • Faster boot up times.
  • Improved compatibility with latest chipsets.
  • Compensation for SATA speed negotiation issues between some SATA-II chipsets and the SATA-III device.
  • Improvement for intermittent failures in cold boot up related to some specific host systems.

The Test

CPU

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

Motherboard:

Intel DH67BL 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
Random & Sequential Read/Write Performance
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  • ckryan - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    As one of those Intel 510 owners, I wish Intel would release some differing firmware releases to enhance some aspects of drive performance (I for one would enjoy smaller read and write ability over top end speed the 510 has). It's good to see some improved performance with the M4 at any rate, and there weren't many fixes needed either. Between the Crucial C300 and m4, the Intel 510, and the Corsair P3, you can get some vastly different performance characteristics just on firmware alone.

    I don't regret buying the 510, but I do regret not saving some money and getting the Performance 3, a drive which recently was going for >$100 less than the 120 GB 510 on Newegg a few days ago. So all told, Micron powered drives are -mostly- the same, but there are some important differences -- mostly price. If you don't want a SandForce controlled SSD, get which ever one is cheaper.
    Reply
  • cactusdog - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    The 256GB M4 is excellent value.... Reply
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    Picked one up from newegg.com for $330. Its a awesome drive. Reply
  • jdietz - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    I got this same deal. $1.30 per GB is excellent. As mentioned in the conclusion, there's probably little difference between this and more expensive drives. Reply
  • radium69 - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    What counts most for me, is that the M4 seem very reliable. And all of the bad things really are solved. I'm very tempted to buy the 256GB one. Also for what you get, it's absolutely great.

    With the price they are currently offering it's a very competitive product, and we all know that competition is good. :)

    Also Crucial seems to have a great customer service, which is a mood point but still nice to know.

    With all of the trouble about sandforce drives, Corsair force 3, OCZ vertex 2 and vertex 3, I absolutely don't want to risk any data corruption/loss. Why spend more and have a greater risk? Why all the bleeding edge products, when you can get nearly same results for a much friendlier price.
    Reply
  • GoodRevrnd - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    Yup. If the Samsung 830 turns out to be a disappointment I'll likely be picking up one of these. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    "Improvement for intermittent failures in cold boot up related to some specific host systems."

    Intermittent? According to the forum AND my Elitebook it's EVERY single boot from off that causes the black screen of nothing'nuss.

    I just love how they worded that little bit there.

    Glad they've fixed the problem... or have they... 'Improvement'?
    Reply
  • Patrick Wolf - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    Recently the 128GB M4 has been $180 or less on many sites, making it the best value. Reply
  • Marlin1975 - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    Most were $160 and buy.com was $150 with coupon for the 128gb

    I could not pass up a non-sandforce 128gb for $150 shipped.
    Reply
  • raducanon - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    Today 8/31/2011 at Newegg Shell Shocker Deal (between 10.00 AM - 12.59 PM PT ) the Crucial M4 SSD 128 GB will be $169.99 !!!!!! Reply

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