This Monday sees another of our old favourite, the SSD, come through the OC3D secret underground testing facility. Rarely does any hardware have more predictable responses in our comments section with the opinion split between wonderful and expensive.
Thanks to recent reductions in the price of NAND flash, Solid State Drives are slowly creeping down in price. That isn't to say they are as affordable as mechanical drives, but for something that gives the same equivalent performance gain as a new processor or monster graphics card, they are exactly the price you'd expect.
Today we take a look at the latest in a long line of Corsair SSDs, the Nova.
Before we discuss what we have, here are the specifications from the Corsair website.
|Technology||Indilinx Barefoot controller|
|Form Factor||2.5 inch|
|Interface||SATA II 3.0Gbps|
|Memory||Intel 32nm MLC NAND Flash|
|Performance||270MB/s sequential read|
195MB/s sequential write
|DRAM Cache||64MB Elpida|
|Power Consumption load||2.0W maximum|
|Power Consumption idle||0.5W maximum|
|Mean-Time Before Failure||1 Million Hours|
|Extras||Two year warranty|
Included 3.5" adaptor bracket
Three big technological things to take note of here. Firstly we have an Indilinx Barefoot controller which is the controller of choice for high end SSDs. Allied to this is 64MB of Elpida cache and, of the two major NAND manufacturers, Corsair have chosen to use Intel rather than Samsung memory chips. We'll take a closer look at these later on.
The other interesting thing is that Corsair claim the performance is 270MB/s read and 195MB/s write. Heady numbers indeed. Of course we all know what to make of claimed performance, but Corsair rarely over-state their case and if they are accurate we could be looking at quite a beast here.
Corsair V128 Nova Up Close
I know very few of you are interested in packaging but you should be. When you see as many products as we do, seeing a company go the extra mile can usually be taken as sign that the whole product has had a lot of thought and care put into it. It's not an absolute, but the more effort taking to protect the hardware, the more the company cares about it.
For this reason it's worth us showing you how the Nova SSD arrived at our office. A properly sturdy box will absorb anything the most ham-fisted delivery man can offer and this most definitely is sturdy. Inside we even have the airbags that have overtaken bubble-wrap as the bump-absorbing material of choice. Albeit not as much fun to pop.
Moving on to the Nova itself we have everything we'd expect to see. Simple and clean packaging with a clear plastic insert holding the Nova itself.
Removing the Nova we see it follows the box art exactly. The case is a black aluminium affair that feels very tactile and must play a large role in the exceptional 40G shock that the Nova can withstand.
Remember the small things I spoke about at the top of the page? Here is another. Corsair provide the Nova with a 2.5" to 3.5" converter and all the screws necessary to mount it in any case. It is also black aluminium and texturally perfectly matches the Nova.
Unlike some other adaptors it fits perfectly into our tool-less CoolerMaster drive bays. A definite thumbs up to Corsair for the ease in which you can be up and running.
No Fish, just Chips
Starting with the controller chip, and Indilinx Barefoot IDX110M01-LC. This is the same controller we saw used to such great effect on the Crucial M225. The LC designation shows that this is one of Indilinx cherry-picked chips from their Barefoot line.
This is also a revised variant which adds improvements to the general performance as well as, for the joy of us all, TRIM support in Windows 7. This is the key element as TRIM ensures the performance of the SSD doesn't degrade over time.
The cache is dealt with by an Elpida S51321DBH-6DTS-F. This is 64MB of CL3 cache which should eliminate all the stuttering early SSDs suffered with. As manufacturers have got to grips with the amazing performance available from Solid State Drive technology and implemented cache on all their models the stuttering is no longer the issue it was. However the Barefoot/Elpida combination has proven a highly successful partnership so we have high hopes that the advertised performance could be close to the truth.
Finally we have the storage itself. The two major players in the NAND world are Samsung and Intel. For the Nova Corsair have decided upon the Intel, and in this case the Intel 29F64G08CAMDB. These are 32nm NAND chips to provide 128GB of total storage.
As our Corsair Nova uses the Indilinx/Elpida/Intel combination we thought it would be good to put it up against an Indilinx/Elpida/Samsung model, the Crucial M225 which comes in at the same price and same capacity as the Corsair. This should really see the benefits of the 32nm Intel NAND flash and the refined Barefoot controller chip.
Intel Core i7 920 @ 3.2GHz
6GB Corsair Dominator @ 1600MHz
Asus P6T Deluxe
Windows 7 64 Bit
XFX HD5870 XXX
Corsair Nova 128GB using Intel 9.6 RST
Crucial M225 128GB for comparison
Windows 7 Load Time
A test as obvious as it sounds. We measure the time from selecting the operating system, until a 103KB image stored in the startup menu is displayed.
Straight away we can see an improvement. A few seconds here and there in OS loading might not make much of a difference but is a good indicator of the performance we can expect.
Along with the other tests we're also testing finding, accessing and loading multiple files from a huge selection. For this test we're using a full add-on graphics package for Football Manager 2010, weighing in at 3.4GB, containing 90000 files. Although it seems a strange choice the way that we can force the game to flush the cache and refil it provides an easily repeatable benchmark.
Outstandingly there is a second between the two drives. On such a short test that's a 10% improvement. Incredible. And yes, both the best times we're spot on to the .0 mark. Rounded for simplicity.
ATTO Disk Benchmark
ATTO is one of the best SSD tests around. Many HDD based testers can't handle SSDs easily, but ATTO handles them with aplomb.
In our read tests the performance of both drives is very similar, with the Corsair just missing its 270MB/s acclaimed performance, but still handily smashing past the 250MB/s barrier. Blazing speed doesn't begin to cover it.
In write tests it was even more impressive. Corsair claim 195MB/s but we saw 197MB/s come up regularly.
The main point of note here is the huge difference between the Corsair and the Crucial when dealing with very large or very small segments. Although the Crucial M225 has a lead between 128K and 1024K, at the other extremes it's well behind the Corsair Nova.
Crystal Disk Mark
New to our testing is Crystal Disk Mark 3.0. This has added two new features, 64bit support and the QD32 test. With such a huge file chunk, and a different method of testing, neither drive match the pure speed of the ATTO test, but the results are similar with the Corsair Nova proving to be one of the best performing drives we've seen.
As plain old speed tests can become tiresome, especially with SSDs which have a certain performance and pretty much any test will hit it, here we're using Everest Ultimate to plot a read graph so you can see that the sustained transfer performance is just as impressive as the out and out speed.
PC Mark Vantage
As a reviewer you have a love/hate relationships with benchmarking software. On the one hand they give you hard and fast results which is something we all adore. But on the other hand they do take up enormous amount of time. After all, the best way to get a result is to run a test that is repeatable, and this repeatability takes time. PC Mark Vantage is one of those packages that breaks this rule by covering so many different real-world tests that it saves time and is a boon to testing the performance of a system.
In every test the Corsair was noticeably faster and "snappier" than the Crucial. Considering that the Crucial is by no means a slow drive this is impressive indeed.
Finally we'll look at some game loading times.
Of course having all this blazing speed to hand isn't much use if it doesn't continue into real usage. After the behemoth of the previous page we'll cut this right down as I'm sure the conclusion we're heading towards is obvious by now.
For Company of Heroes we used an 8 player Skirmish game using the Route 13 map. Timings were taking from pressing the go button to the start box appearing. With 4 different races to load (US, British, Wermacht and Panzer Elite) on a very large map the loading times are very fast indeed. If you're playing a 2 player map you'll barely have time to get comfy before the game is afoot.
Need for Speed Shift definitely benefits from the reduction in loading time as races are much shorter than a RTS session and so the time savings quickly accumulate. Even with such a large track as the Nordschleife and the small loading time the Corsair Nova still manages quite a spanking on the similarly equipped Crucial M225.
Phew. Nearly all "resulted" out. It's time for the conclusion and, to quote Mr Rolf Harris, can you tell what it is yet?
Anyone who has ever used an SSD or, if you're fortunate enough, owns one will talk until we're blue in the face about how amazing they are. How they can transform even the most average system into a performance beast.
We've run multiple reviews that demonstrate the clear difference between a mechanical HDD and an SSD and yet some always talk about how the price per gigabyte is ridiculous. Because of course you can get 128GB of DDR3 for 300 notes can't you.
Sadly those people seem to never be able to be convinced. So to the more open minded in the audience we'll say for what feels like the thousandth time, save up, sell your Granny, do what you have to but if you haven't got an SSD in your system you will never unleash its full potential.
Now we've established that you want an SSD, is the Corsair Nova series the SSD you want?
Price wise it's very much on a par with most of the 128GB drives on the market. So not the cheapest upgrade you can ever find, but certainly the one that will give you the best reward.
Compared to its rivals, it's a stunner. With Trim support as standard, 200MB/s write speeds and 270 MB/s read speeds it is as fast and reliable as anything on the market. Even in big sustained read testing it still happily blazes along at 250MB/s and puts the Crucial M225, which uses the same controller and cache chips, in its shadow.
So what are the bad points? Before anyone out there thinks they are clever by shouting "Price", you're wrong. For a 128GB SSD this is in the mid to low price bracket and so outstandingly priced.
Intel RST 9.6 allows the TRIM command to be passed from controller to the OS/host when the controller is in RAID mode, so you can have HDD RAID and an SSD with TRIM. But it doesn’t support SSDs in RAID with TRIM. Background Garbage Collection (BGC) is the firmware-level block cleaning system that works independently of the OS, so this will still work in RAID arrays, and do a good job of maintaining performance. In our tests, BGC pretty much keeps it running at peak speeds in RAID 0.
This is a premium product indeed, delivering epic speeds at a reasonable price from a manufacturer you know is good with customer support. It looks the part and does the business. Highly recommended indeed and a worthy winner of our Editors Choice award.
- Blazingly Fast
- Outstanding write speeds
- Consistently quick in all applications
- Priced competitively
- Comes with a drive-bay adaptor
- Zilch. NOTHING.
Thanks to Corsair for providing us with todays review sample. Discuss in our forums.