Update: Since the publication of this review OWC appears to have switched controllers for the Mercury Extreme SSD. The current specs look similar to that of SandForce's SF-1200 controller, not the SF-1500 used in the earlier drives. Performance and long term reliability (in an enterprise environment) are both impacted. For more information, read this.

I must admit, I owe OWC an apology. In my Vertex LE review I assumed that because my review sample had an older version of SandForce’s firmware on it that the company was a step behind OCZ in bringing SandForce drives to market. I was very wrong.

For those of you who aren’t Mac users, Other World Computing (OWC) just shouldn’t be on your radar. The only reason I’ve heard of them is because of my Mac experience. That’s all about to change as they are technically the first company to sell SandForce based SSDs. That’s right, OWC even beat OCZ to the punch. The first customers actually got drives the day my Vertex LE review went live. Multiple days before the LE actually went on sale at Newegg.

I mentioned it briefly in my Vertex LE review. The OWC Mercury Extreme SSD is based on the same SandForce controller as the Vertex LE. There was some confusion as to exactly what this controller is. As of today there is only a single SandForce MLC SSD controller shipping. It’s somewhere in between the performance of an SF-1200 and a SF-1500. Ultimately we’ll see the SF-1500 move to high end enterprise drives only, with the SF-1200 used in consumer drives like the OCZ Vertex 2 and Agility 2. The accompanying firmware is also somewhere in between the SF-1200 and SF-1500 in terms of performance (more on SandForce's controllers here). But as I just mentioned, its the equivalent of what OCZ is shipping in the Vertex LE.

OWC has assured me that all drives that are being sold have the latest RC1 firmware from SandForce, just like the Vertex LE. The firmware revision number alone should let you know that like the Vertex LE, these are wholly unproven drives. OWC is only sending out drives on 30 day evaluation periods, so I don’t expect many long term reliability tests to be done on those drives in particular. Thankfully we do still have the Vertex LEs to hammer on.

I previewed the Mercury Extreme in my last article, stating that it performs identically to the Vertex LE. Not only does it perform the same, but it's also a little cheaper:

Capacity OCZ OWC
50GB N/A $229.99
100GB $429.00 $399.99
200GB $929.99 $779.99


OWC is the first company to offer a 50GB drive based on the SandForce controller. I’d long heard rumors that performance was significantly lower on the 50GB drive, but I had no way of testing it. OCZ still doesn’t have any 50GB drives. OWC gave me the opportunity to answer that question.

OWC got upset with me when I took their drive apart last time, so I can't provide you guys with internal shots of this drive. The concern was that opening the drive left it in an unsellable condition. I would hope that no company is reselling review samples, but you never know.

The 50GB Mercury Extreme carries a $229 price tag, that’s comparable to other small-capacity SSDs on the market:

SSD Price Price per GB of NAND
Corsair P64 64GB $209.00 $3.266
Intel X25-M G2 80GB $219.99 $2.750
Kingston SSDNow V Series 64GB $139.99 $2.187
OWC Mercury Extreme 50GB $229.99 $3.594


Unfortunately it does give you the worst cost per GB of NAND, and even worse when you consider how much of that is usable accessible. Remember that these SF-1500 controllers are derivatives of SandForce’s enterprise SSD efforts, meaning they are designed to use a lot of spare area.

Despite having 64GB of MLC NAND on board, the 50GB drive has a formatted capacity of 46.4GB. Nearly all of the extra flash is used for bad block allocation and spare area to keep performance high.

I installed Windows 7, drivers and PCMark Vantage on my 50GB drive which left me with 30.8GB of free space. That’s actually not too bad if you aren’t going to put a whole lot more on the drive. There’s more than enough room for a few applications, but think twice before using it for media storage.

Preview Today, More Tests Coming

It’s sheer excitement that made me push this review out today. I was really curious to see how well one of these 50GB SandForce drives performed. I have seen some of you request that you’d like to see more non-I/O specific, real world tests in our suite. I’ve done this in previous articles but stopped simply because the data didn’t seem to provide much value. These drives are so fast that measuring application launches, game level loads or boot time simply shows no difference between them all. Instead, by focusing on pure I/O performance I’ve at least been able to show what drives are technically the fastest and then base my recommendation on a good balance of raw performance and price. Then there’s the stuff that’s more difficult to benchmark - long term reliability and consistency of performance. Most of these drives end up in one of my work machines for several months on end. I use that experience in helping formulate my recommendations. In short, I’m still looking to expand the test suite and add meaningful tests - it’s just going to take some time. This is a lengthy process as each new controller poses new challenges from a benchmarking perspective.

The Test

CPU Intel Core i7 965 running at 3.2GHz (Turbo & EIST Disabled)
Motherboard: Intel DX58SO (Intel X58)
Chipset: Intel X58 + Marvell SATA 6Gbps PCIe
Chipset Drivers: Intel + Intel IMSM 8.9
Memory: Qimonda DDR3-1333 4 x 1GB (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
Sequential Read/Write Speed
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  • SeanFowler - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    You mention the performance that's lost on the 50GB platform, which is interesting.

    As an SSD noob I wasn't aware that performance on smaller drives could be significantly slower than the performance on larger drives of the same series.

    I had the 100GB LE on order, then cancelled it to order the C300 as I have Sata3, then found out that the 128GB C300 drive has mediocre write speeds (up to 140MB/s). Talk about a mess!

    I see that you and most other sites tend to focus on the largest drives in a series, typically 256GB. Are these really the drives most of your readers are buying though? Based on your LE review and SSD round-up I went for the C300. I can't help thinking that your recommendations would have been very different had you instead tested the 128GB drives. Btw there's more info about the slow write speeds in my comment on the LE article, left earlier today.

    I'm now in a bit of a quandry. Do I try to get an LE after all? Will it also have significantly poorer write performance than the 256GB version that everyone's reviewing? Help me Anand Kenobi; you're my only hope!
  • greenguy - Saturday, February 27, 2010 - link

    I bought 3 of the Intel x25-V 40GB drives recently - two for a workstation (mirrored boot drive), and one for my home system. I think that most people who run operating systems other than MS (e.g. Linux, BSD, OpenSolaris) would only really need around the 40-50GB mark. When I look at my Linux system that has been running over a year, the OS and apps part of the drive (i.e. that which benefits from an SSD), it doesn't come anywhere near the 40GB mark.

    Everything else is media, and even Samsung's 5200RPM HDD is faster than these really need to be. 80MB/s and Bluray's max speed is 7MB/s. As a media drive, most of these will be used write once, read many, and for a read speed of 7MB/s, that's only 500rpm.

    Only gamers are going to benefit from larger SSDs, and that's only if they can't be bothered in copying saved game files and settings to the storage drive after deleting whatever games they have gotten sick of. Or simply moving the directory to the storage drive and moving it back when done.

    When prices come down again, you can buy more and raid them. This will give nearly double the speed for equivalent cost of buying say, an 80GB drive.

    Really, $/GB is a pretty poor metric when evaluating these drives for use as a boot drive. Random 4k read speed/$ is probably the best, with one eye on the random writes (so long as the drive is bigger than say, $30GB).

    Of course, this is not the case for laptop drives unless you can fit both a boot and a storage drive in them.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    I usually try to review the sweetspot drive, Micron sent out only 256GB drives for review but normally I focus on the ~120GB drives. The LE I tested was a 100GB drive, so you can see where your performance would have been. I'll request a 128GB drive from Crucial right away :)
  • SeanFowler - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    Thanks Anand; I was forgetting you'd reviewed the 100GB LE rather than the 200GB version. This is probably the one for me to go for then.

    Another interesting subject is what impact read and write speeds have on the perceived performance of an OS drive. I would expect the read speed to be more important than the write speed as OS drives do more reads than writes.

    This could mean that the extra 70MB/s read speed the C300 gives over the LE compensates for the 110MB/s deficit in write speeds.

    I could cancel the C300 order and wait to see what's what in a week or so, but by that time the LE's will probably have sold out. The safest option right now seems to be the LE.
  • Crypticone - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    I too am not sure what drive to purchase right now. I would really like to see the performance of the C300 in SATA 6gig mode on the Storage Bench. Any chance of running this test? I am interested to see if the faster interface would improve apps and games loading, etc in the real world.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    6Gbps SATA will only improve large file read performance off of the drive. Loading apps and games shouldn't be any faster. Nearly all high performance SSDs load a single app/game in about the same time.
  • vol7ron - Saturday, February 27, 2010 - link

    That might be true presently, but shouldn't that change as apps/games take advantage of more cores while loading and executing?

  • pesos - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    Very cool! Any plans to let the IT side guys take a crack at these in RAID configurations and let them lose on some database benchmarks?
  • pesos - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    I meant let them LOOSE of course - they probably wouldn't lose
  • viewwin - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    When will we hear more about the consumer level controller, SF-1200?

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