Articles: Storage

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SandForce’s is a story of success on the semiconductor market. A small team of experienced engineers in a very short time developed and put into production a solid state drive platform which has become one of the most popular among SSD makers as well as computer enthusiasts. There seem to be two factors contributing to that success. First, SandForce came up with an innovative technology that helped squeeze a very high performance out of MLC NAND flash memory. Second, this technology was presented in a manufacturer-friendly way. SandForce do not offer a bare controller. Instead, they offer a PCB design and firmware which can be tailored to the specific SSD maker’s needs.

As a result, there are now dozens of brands producing SSDs based on SandForce controllers. It is in fact very easy to enter the SSD market with SandForce's help. You don't have to have your own semiconductor fabs or advanced R&D resources. You don't even need programmers. All you have to do as a SandForce partner is to buy flash memory chips, solder them to PCBs, put the PCBs into cases, package the resulting products and sell them through your distribution channels. The profit rate of such a business is still very high, the SSD market developing exponentially. No wonder that besides world-famous brands like Intel, Samsung and Micron, we can see a lot of other, often obscure, brands producing their SSDs. In fact, other than the first-tier brands, SSD makers are all adherents of the SandForce architecture.

We might expect the market to be flooded with clone products, but that’s not really so. The SandForce architecture is flexible. There are several controllers with somewhat different basic functionality. Each SandForce controller is compatible with different varieties of NAND flash memory irrespective of the latter’s interface, speed and price. For example, the SF-2000 series controllers can work with new 25nm NAND flash as well as with 3x-nanometer chips, with both MLC and SLC memory, and with different interfaces (synchronous or asynchronous, ONFI or Toggle Mode). The consequence is that even the latest generation of SSDs with SATA 3.0 (SATA 6 Gbit/s) interface that are based on the same SF-2000 controllers can differ greatly in their consumer properties, including price.

For example, based on the same modification of the SandForce SF-2281 controller, the 120GB OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS costs $270, while Corsair Force 3 with the same capacity – only $180, and this difference in price surely reflects a difference in performance. It means that your shopping choice should be based not only on what controller the particular SSD has but also on other factors since SSD makers can change the speed of their products by choosing different flash memory or optimizing firmware. In other words, if you like the OCZ Vertex 3 we tested earlier, it doesn’t mean that every other SATA 6 Gbit/s SSD with a second-generation SandForce controller is going to be just as fast. That’s why we are going to carry out a comparative test of new SandForce-based products with the latest SATA interface which are currently available aplenty in shops.

In this review we will take a look at seven products from Corsair, Kingston, OCZ and Patriot.

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