Allyn’s Picks

After posting up the Decoder Ring, we have had some recommendation requests by people that just want to cut to the chaff.  Here are a few of my own usage scenarios, the drives I use, and why.

Lightweight Portable / Netbook

Portable machines using very low power chipsets will see a big boost in random access by moving to almost any SSD.  When choosing, consider that one of the keys to low power chipsets is to run internal busswork at lower clocks and fewer channels.  The end result is your typical netbook will not get very far past SATA-1 speeds even when using a SATA-2 controller and SSD.  Limited processing power will not be able to take advantage of the IOPS provided by the speediest SSD’s out there.  This means you can save some coin by going with something like an older generation Samsung controlled device.

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The Corsair ‘S’ Series use the previous generation Samsung controller and are a good match for low-power use.

Mid / High-End Laptop

Some newer laptops may be able to saturate SATA-2, most do not.  While faster processors and higher available bandwidth will help laptops take some advantage of the IOPS available from higher end SSD’s, you will not see their full potential in a portable machine.  A Corsair S Series drive like the one above will do well, but you will still see a performance gain by going with the newest PB22-J Samsung controlled units.  These can be found most commonly in the Corsair P series units and OCZ’s new Summit line.  The PB22-J can hit over 200 MB/sec in reads and writes in sizes of 128 and 256GB.  The slower 120 MB/sec write speed of the 64GB model meshes nicely with the ultimate throughput seen from most laptop power-saving chipsets.

You can of course go crazy and throw an Intel X25-M in there, but even the fastest laptops will have a hard time unleashing the full potential of those units.

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A 120GB OCZ Summit awaits review in our lab.

High End Desktop

My choice here is hands down Intel X25-M.  Even though many of the other SSD makers have caught up and surpassed Intel in sequential writes, that is the only area in which they have done so.  The Intel controller makes the best possible use of its parallel architecture, taking full advantage of Native Command Queueing at depths up to 32.  You can hit one of these drives with hundreds of parallel random tasks and they will just laugh it off.  What does this mean to you?  Things like drawing a desktop full of icons, running multiple VM’s, or compile tasks pulling from hundreds of different sources will take place almost instantly.  Most SSD’s are pretty speedy at this sort of stuff, but the X25 is 2-3x faster than the best of the rest at present.

Early units of the X25-M 80GB shipped with firmware susceptible to long term fragmentation effects that were corrected after we brought them to light.  Be sure your X25-M is flashed to firmware revision 8820 (or later) prior to production use to avoid these potential slow downs.

One last thing about the X25-M’s 80MB/sec sequential write limit.  Most other SSD’s tend to end up averaging 80-100 MB/sec sequential writes when there is an existing level of fragmentation in place.  Don’t let the 80 MB/sec limit be your only reason for not pulling the trigger on one of these for your high end gaming rig.

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The Intel X25-M.  Long time champion of SSD IOPS.

For the Enthusiast – Indilinx:

I’m placing all Indilinx-based SSD’s into their own ‘enthusiast’ category for the time being.  This controller is in a constant state of flux and continues to see firmware updates pushed out almost monthly.  While the firmware currently lacks in long term write performance, slowing as write combinations fragment the flash, there is a solution in the form of proprietary TRIM support.  This requires the newest firmware and the running of a special software tool to keep write performance up to par.  While it does work, it is very picky about running under certain OS / controller combinations.

Due to their lower cost, enthusiasts may purchase two (or more) smaller capacity Indilinx units with the intention to run them in RAID.  While this will undoubtedly boost read performance, write performance will degrade with no ability to recover, as TRIM is currently unable to work through existing RAID controllers.

If you are willing to commit to the higher maintenance required with these units, you will be rewarded by saving a few bucks.  There is also a hidden long-term reward on the horizon, as Windows 7 implements TRIM at the OS level, and once ATA-spec TRIM is supported by Indilinx, it should solve the long term performance issues noted above (except for the point about RAID of course).

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The OCZ Vertex.  Undoubtedly the most popular Indilinx-based SSD.

Other things to consider: JMicron

JMicron 602 controllers are generally shunned here at PCPer.  While they have improved slightly with the newer 602b variant, they suffer from nasty OS stuttering issues due to the controller effectively hanging all other tasks while servicing a write.  Multiple small writes issued will bring a 602-controlled SSD to enough of a halt to cause odd things to happen, like your mouse cursor intermittently hanging while Windows waits on the SSD to service cache reads.

That said, JMicron does have a new controller in the works that should solve all of these issues and put them back in the running.  We hope to see production samples from them before years end, but for now here’s a pic.

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JMicron’s new ARM-based JMF612 controller.

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