The pace of development in the SSD world is staggeringly awesome, as each generation of SSD controllers has delivered substantial increases in performance and reliability, while at the same time we've seen flash prices drop like a stone. It's a great time to be storing and accessing data, for sure, but we've also seen the market dominated by a trio of SSD controllers from SandForce, Marvell, and Indilinx, with different vendors applying their own tweaks to the drives' firmware to differentiate them. Though these controllers are all pretty sweet, we were beyond stoked to see two brand-new drives from Samsung and Corsair arrive this month, both with all-new SSD controllers. Will either of them put a dent in the SandForce/Marvell juggernaut?
Corsair Neutron GTX 256GB
Corsair's Neutron GTX packs a punch via a new controller from Link A Media.
Corsair's Neutron GTX is the first solid-state drive to arrive in the Lab sporting a brand-new eight-channel controller from a company named Link A Media Devices (LAMD for short). The controller promises top-notch I/O performance, especially in a multitasking environment, making this a drive specifically targeted at hardcore enthusiasts-which is you, since you're reading this.
The Neutron GTX uses Toshiba 24nm MLC toggle-mode NAND flash memory and includes some enterprise-level technology designed to enhance reliability. It also supports the Windows Trim command and employs a routine of wear-leveling and garbage collection to help maintain performance over time. The LAMD controller uses a multicore ARM microcontroller, and hooks up via a SATA 6Gb/s interface.
The enclosure itself is a slim 7mm unit, so it will fit in any notebook or Ultrabook, and if you want to stick it in your PC, Corsair provides a 3.5-inch bay adapter. It also features a metal chassis, giving it a rigid feel while keeping it amazingly light at the same time.
During testing, the GTX posted impressive benchmark numbers across the board, making a remarkable debut appearance on our benchmark chart. In sequential read tests it averaged 435MB/s, which is decent but not earth-shattering. Its sequential write speeds, however, make it the second-fastest drive we've ever tested, losing only to the Samsung drive, and just by a hair.
When the workload increased to 32 commands in a queue, the GTX kept up relatively well but couldn't keep pace with the SandForce-equipped Patriot and Intel drives. In our simulated real-world test, PCMark Vantage, the GTX achieved the second-fastest score ever, behind the new Samsung. Overall the only area where it lagged in any significant way was in heavily queued 32-command workloads.
The GTX is an impressive drive, and we can't wait to see if other manufacturers jump on the LAMD train. Even though the Samsung 840 Pro steals its thunder a bit, Corsair's new solid state drive is still one of the fastest we have ever tested.
Samsung 840 Pro 256GB
We loved Samsung's 830 Series SSDs, and we love its new 840 Series even more.
Samsung brings considerable resources to bear as the world's largest manufacturer of flash memory, and it has quite a stellar track record in this market, as well. The 470 Series in early 2011 earned a verdict of 8 from us, and the 830 Series, which came out at the end of 2011, received not only a 9/Kick Ass but a spot on our vaunted Best of the Best list as the fastest solid state drive money can buy. That's a tough record to beat, but the company is trying to do just that with its all-new 840 Series SSDs, available in Pro and non-Pro versions. We focus on the Pro model in this review.
Unlike Corsair and other vendors that must purchase drive controllers from a third party and then tweak them to fit the flash memory that was also purchased from a third party, Samsung builds its own controllers from scratch. It also builds its own NAND flash. And its own DRAM. So the entire package is 100 percent made by Samsung. Don't get us wrong, we're not criticizing how Corsair, OCZ, and others assemble SSD drives from third-party vendors, but Samsung is uniquely capable of putting the whole drive together by itself, which it claims provides better performance. After testing the 840 Series drives, it looks like Samsung might be onto something here.
Like the Corsair Neutron GTX, the 840 Pro comes in a 7mm chassis and uses toggle-mode NAND flash, though it's built on a smaller 21nm process than Corsair's 24nm flash from Toshiba. Samsung uses a multicore controller as well, allowing for increased efficiency as the drive fills up. The drives are actually quite close in terms of build and specs, so their close performance isn't much of a surprise.
Even though the two drives were quite close in benchmark performance, the Samsung drive had a small edge in every single test we ran. In sequential read and write tests the 840 showed us the fastest scores we've ever seen, with its closest competitor being both the Neutron GTX and the SandForce Patriot Pyro SE. In our 32-command-queue tests, the Samsung also trumped the Neutron GTX but lost big-time to the SandForce-based drives, as they are simply head and shoulders above everyone right now. These were the only tests in which the Samsung failed to set a new record.
In the final tally, the Samsung 840 Pro took top honors in seven out of nine benchmarks, so it looks like it'll be taking its predecessor's place on our Best of the Best list. Samsung also claims this drive is energy-efficient and "robust," which is great news, but in the end, just icing on a very, very fast cake.