Articles: Storage

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Unless you’re interested in solid state drives and keep track of all relevant news, the SSD market may seem to have been uneventful recently. This impression arises because of the limited number of SSD controllers available. The Samsung 840, Plextor M5 Pro and OCZ Vector, representing the Samsung MDX, Marvell 88SS9187 and Indilinx Barefoot 3 platform, respectively, are not new products, yet they remain leaders in terms of performance with no challengers in sight. There are just no newer controllers for consumer-class SSDs. Moreover, it has become tricky to increase performance which is often limited by the SATA3 interface bandwidth.

On the other hand, the lack of quick and clear progress is beneficial for end-users as it leads to price wars and, eventually, to cheaper products. Well, the manufacturers of flagship SSDs do not have to play with the price factor. Such products are attractive for their speed characteristics alone. So it is second-tier SSDs from companies that don’t have vast engineering resources that call for more flexible pricing. We mean the numerous firms that chose LSI with its SandForce controllers as their partner. The newest SF-2281 controller is actually over 2 years old, so it doesn’t look as impressive against the competition as right after its release. It is quite a notable trend that SandForce-based SSDs have been getting cheaper. Considering the lack of other news, it can make the subject of this review.

Besides the lowering price, we can see a whole new class of inexpensive SandForce-based SSDs emerge. They used to be made out of cheap MLC flash memory with asynchronous interface, the SF-2281 controller trying to mask its low speed by means of on-the-fly data compression. Such SATA3 SSDs got very popular and were the first to reach the psychological barrier of $1 per gigabyte of storage. But today asynchronous flash is becoming a thing of the past. It’s not good manners on the part of the SSD manufacturer to use it because there are other options available, the faster flash with synchronous interface having got cheaper after the introduction of new manufacturing technologies. As a result, there appear entry-level SSDs whose components would have made a top-performance product but recently.

We can trace this evolution through the products of Kingston, a company that only employs the SF-2281 controller for its SSDs. The SSDNow V+200 series with asynchronous flash has been phased out and replaced with the new SSDNow V300 which, to our surprise, features one of the newest types of MLC NAND flash with synchronous interface. It is going to be a very exciting product with a low price but rather high performance. But is it really possible? We’ll check this out by testing a 240GB Kingston SSDNow V300 and comparing it with the Kingston HyperX 3K which, despite the recent changes, is still positioned by the manufacturer as a mainstream solution.

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