by Nikita Nikolaichev
06/29/2011 | 10:06 AM
Although the market is overrun by new solid state drives that support the SATA 6 Gbit/s interface, there are but very few users who really need them. On the other hand, the huge army of notebook owners (and desktop users too) would be willing to upgrade their systems with SSDs that offer an appealing price/performance ratio without setting any speed records. It is for such users that Samsung offers its 470 series products which are not exactly new, yet seem to be an interesting option. That’s not only our opinion because notebook makers agree with us and install Samsung 470 series SSDs into their products. For example, Apple even puts them into its newest MacBook Air.
The success story of Samsung’s 470 series is based on Samsung’s very own second-generation S3C29MAX01 controller. It was released in response to the SandForce controllers, but while the latter are targeted at enthusiasts who don’t mind to regularly update firmware, Samsung focused on reliability.
Another factor contributing to the success of Samsung’s SSDs is Samsung’s own NAND flash memory with DDR interface. The resulting products have spectacular specs even now. For example, the 256GB model we are going to discuss today has a specified read speed up to 250 MB/s and a specified write speed up to 220 MB/s.
Samsung’s 470 series SSDs come in capacities of 64, 128 and 256 gigabytes and are specified to have a sequential read speed of 250 MB/s and a sequential write speed of 220 MB/s. The only exception is the 64GB model which has a specified write speed of 170 MB/s. Samsung notes the fact that the height of these SSDs is reduced from 9.5 to 7 millimeters, which may be important for systems with high storage density.
The Samsung S3C29MAX01 controller is a complex, multiple-chip device. It features a dedicated DRAM buffer to ensure uniform wear of NAND flash memory. The buffer is based on two 128MB DDR2-667 SDRAM chips manufactured by Samsung itself.
As we wrote above, the NAND flash memory installed in the SSD is made by Samsung, too. The chips are labeled as K9HDGD8U5M. This is 30nm MLC memory with toggle mode support. The SSD has a total of 16 chips, each with a capacity of 16 gigabytes.
The Samsung 470 series supports the TRIM command.
The service life of 1.5 million hours and the 3-year warranty should make the device appealing for consumers but these are in fact the minimum requirements for a top-brand product.
The recommended price for the 256, 128 and 64GB models is $399, $199 and $119, respectively.
The Samsung 470 series being not the latest of SSD generations, we decided to use a rather old testbed for it. Replacing an HDD with an SSD in an old computer can make the latter much more responsive.
We used the following testing utilities:
The testbed was configured as follows:
The following SSDs were benchmarked in this test session:
We installed the OS’s generic drivers for the SSDs. We formatted the drives as one NTFS partition with the default cluster size. For FC-Test two 32GB partitions were created on the drives and formatted in NTFS with the default cluster size, too. The drives were connected to the mainboard’s SATA port and worked in AHCI mode.
IOMeter is sending a stream of read and write requests with a request queue depth of 4. The size of the requested data block is changed each minute so that we could see the dependence of the drive’s sequential read/write speed on the size of the processed data block. This test is indicative of the maximum speed the drive can deliver.
Sequential reading is a strong point of the Samsung 470 drive. Its seems to be good not only as a system disk for reading data from but also as an all-purpose disk for any applications.
For this test two 32GB partitions are created on the tested SSD and formatted in NTFS. A file-set is then created, read from the SSD, copied within the same partition and copied into another partition. The time taken to perform these operations is measured and the speed of the SSD is calculated.
There are five file-sets that differ in the average size and amount of files but we will only discuss three of them as the most illustrative ones: Install, ISO and Programs. Their names are quite self-descriptive.
Let’s start with writing:
The Samsung 470 series is good at writing, so it wins here.
Let’s check out the speed of reading now.
Although the Samsung wasn’t very good in the read test from the synthetic IOMeter benchmark, it performs well in FC-Test. This means that Samsung has optimized the drive’s firmware for real-life file systems.
The next group of tests shows the speed of copying files.
The Samsung has no opponents among the SATA 3 Gbit/s drives thanks to its high write speed.
This program was created by Intel developers to test external drives with network interface, i.e. NAS devices, which is reflected by the name of this utility. However, it turned out suitable for tests of any storage devices including flash-drives and SSDs. The only requirement is that the drive has a logical device letter assigned to it and is large enough to accommodate the set of test files.
The operational principles of this test are fairly simple. There is a set of files created on the tested drive and the test interacts with them with the help of special scenarios. All scenarios describe disk operations applied to the tested drive (file, shift, storage capacity and operation – read or write).
A standard set of tests includes the drive’s working as a streaming data source (HD Playback tests), file set read and write speed (similar to FC-Test) and the tests with self-explanatory names – Photo Album and Content Creation.
The logic behind these results is very simple. In those scenarios that need to perform a lot of writes, Samsung 470 easily outperforms all competitors. In those scenarios where reading is dominating, the Samsung SSD performance is not that impressive anymore and it loses to drives built on SandForce controllers.
Now we are going to run the latest version of PCMark called Vantage. Each subtest runs ten times and the results of the ten runs are averaged.
Here is a brief description of each subtest:
Basing on these subtests, the drive’s overall performance rating is calculated.
The Samsung doesn’t stand out among the crowd in the PCMark tests. But as you can learn from the test descriptions, PCMark is focused on read operations hence the results.
The 256MB SSD from Samsung’s 470 series is quite a surprise to us. One might think that the market is ruled by Intel’s products or by SSDs based on SandForce controllers but that’s not true. Some manufacturers have got something up their sleeve such as the Samsung 470 series which seems to be the best SATA 3 Gbit/s SSD, which makes it a perfect option for upgrading old notebooks or desktop PCs.
The extraordinary write speed we noticed in the synthetic benchmarks was also evident in every real-life test, so your computer won’t be sluggish in everyday tasks with that SSD.
As for the price factor, the 256GB Samsung 470 series drive costs as much as $400, which is quite a lot. The 240GB OCZ Vertex 2 can be bought for $350, for example. But the good news about the Samsung is its high quality of manufacture. We’ve never heard any reports about problems with Samsung controllers, so the 470 series seems to be a reliable solution with a top-tier brand’s warranty.