GSkill Falcon 128GB SATA II SSD Page: 1
Introduction
 
Heralding from Tapei, Taiwan, GSkill are leaders in extreme performance memory and storage solutions so it should come as no surprise that they are hoping to be number 1 in the area which combines both specialities, the Solid State Drive. These storage solutions are now arriving to the market in droves and while the price is still high in comparison with their mechanical counterparts, advances in speed and technology have increased dramatically, inevitably keeping the cost of this new technology high.
 
Innitially, SSD's came with little or no cache memory and while write speeds were amazing, the drives suffered terribly with writing small chinks of data. Manufacturers have now countered this with super quick cache memory which prevents the stuttering encountered previously. The GSkill Falcon is one such drive which carries 64MB of cache. The drive runs with a combination of an Indilinx controller and high speed Samsung memory chips with advertised speeds of upto 230MB/s read and 190 MB/s write (100MB/s sustained).
 
Those Samsung chips are Multi Level Cell varients and while traditionally, MLC is slower than SLC, the advances in the cheaper MLC chips have now surpassed SLC chips. No doubt SLC will once again reign supreme but I am never one to complain about technology on the cheap. Not only that but as the Falcon is built with the same memory and controller as the fantastic OCZ Vertex yet it weighs in at a lower price it seems we may have a new champ on the cards.
 
Let's take a look at the specification of GSkills latest SSD:
 
Model Name: FM-25S2S-128GBF1
Form Factor: 2.5"
Capacity: 128GB**
DRAM Cache: 64MB
Interface Type: SATA II
Read Rate: 230MB/sec(Max)
Write Rate: 190MB/sec(Max)
Sustained Write: Up to 100MB/s
Access Time: <0.2ms
Shock (operating): 1500G
Vibration (operating): 20G
Altitude (operating): 60000ft
Operating Temp: 0oC ~ +70oC
MTBF: +1,500,000 Hours
Data Reliability: Built-in EDC/ECC function
Certifications: RoHS FCC and CE Compliant
Warranty: 2 year
 
As you can see from the specification above, 230MB/s read and 190MB/s write is certainly a recipe for one swift SSD. While the write speed is a little lower than the 250MB/s OCZ Vertex, the write speed of the Falcon is 10MB/s above the 180MB/s the OCZ drive can offer. How this translates to read world performance we will find out later in the review but for now let's take a look at the packaging and appearance of the GSkill 128GB Falcon SSD...


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Packaging & Appearance
 
The Falcon arrived on my desk in a glossy box, not too disimilar to the boxes graphics cards and motherboards re packaged in these days only this was much smaller. The tribal design Falcon is quite attractive as is the red/black fade printwork on the box. Interestingly, GSkill use the slogan 'Where speed is!!' - something we will endevaour to confirm or denounce later in the review. Flipping the box over we see the specifications of the solid state drive along with the product code and a brief run down of the features.
 
box front box rear
 
Removing the SSD from the outer packaging we find the familiar black box most solid state drives appear to be packed in. This box is reinforced with a luxurious foam inner which inturn holds the sealed drive in place. A small instruction leaflet is also included which gives a very basic guide on how to instal the drive. Interestingly, GSkill have also included a jumper which is used for the purposes of flashing the driver to later firmware but for the purposes of this review we will be testing the drive as it arrived. It is however good to know GSkill have provided this feature with the forsight for possible upgrades in the future.
 
box inner contents
 
The Falcon drive is the standard SSD size being 2.5" across. Sadly, as with most SSD's on the market today, no 3.5"-2.5" adaptor is included in the package which is a dissappointment as most cases are not yet fit to house an SSD as standard. Rather than the plastic shell that other manufacturers have adopted, GSkill have used a metal one which is slightly heavier than other models. Personally I prefer this as other SSD's feel flimsy in comparison. As you can see from the pics below, the drive takes standard SATA data and power cables with the jumper header to the edge of the data port.
 
SSD front SSD
 
Voiding the warranty by unscrewing four screws to get to the guts of the SSD you will see from the pictures below that the metal backplate holding the drive together has some discoloration. While this is not visable on the exterior it is slightly worring that moisture may have intruded at some point and caused this slight discoloration of the metal. Needless to say though that the drive was perfectly dry when opened so this was probably the result of the steel being 'unfinished' as it would not normally be visible to the end user. 
 
Plate inner SSD inner
 
The drives internals are laid out pretty much the same as the Falcons biggest competitor, the OCZ Vertex. Perhaps more to the point is the fact this drive uses exactly the same Memory controller by Indilinx, the same 64MB of Cache by Elpida and the same Samsung PCB0 NAND flash chips. It is interesting then that the GSkill is advertised at a slower read speed but higher write than the Vertex. This is again, something we will shortly be putting to the test.
 
ssd back Cache
 
The version we have for review today features 16x8GB NAND chips (MLC) by Samsung giving the end user 128GB of storage space to play with (reduced when partitioned). The Falcon is also available in 64GB and 256GB versions too with the 64GB version being slightly slower than the 128GB.
 
Indilinx Samsung
 
All in all a very nice looking product. I would  have liked to have seen a matching red PCB rather than the contrasting blue but this is a null point really as nobody will be mad enough to take their SSD apart to see this colour (except us here at OC3D). Like the other drives we have tested thus far though, GSkill too have missed the opportunity of providng some simple bracket convertors to ease installation worries. Hopefully this is somthing that will be rectified in future revisions but for now I am thus far pleased with the GSkill Falcon.
 
Let's take a look at the test setup we will be using for todays review... 


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Test Setup
 
The test setup we will be using today for evaluation of theGSkill Falcon drive is fully optimised for compatability and performance for testing SSD drives:
 
Processor: Intel Core i7 920 @ Stock Speed
Motherboard: Gigabyte UD4P X58
Memory: 6GB Corsair XMS2 1600MHz
SATA Controller: On-board ICH10R Southbridge
Chipset Drivers: Intel 9.1.0.1007
Operating System: Windows Vista x64 Ultimate SP1 + most recent Updates
 
Most people who will be considering the upgrade to an SSD drive will likely be making the jump from one of the many 'favourite' mechanical hard drives. With this in mind we will be assessing the GSkill Falcons capabilities in comparison to the following drives:
 
 GSkill FalconOCZ SummitOCZ VertexWD VelociraptorSamsung F1WD Caviar Black
Read Seek Time<0.1ms
 
<0.1ms
<0.1ms
 
4.3ms8.9ms12.2ms
Write Seek Time
<0.1ms
 
<0.1ms
 
<0.1ms
 
4.7ms8.9ms12.2ms
Average Latency
<0.1ms
 
<0.1ms
 
<0.1ms
 
5.5ms4.17ms4.17ms
Read Transfer Rate230MB/s220MB/s250MB/s120MB/s175MB/s106MB/s
Write Transfer Rate190MB/s200MB/s180MB/s120MB/s175MB/s106MB/s
Capacity128GB250GB120GB300GB1TB750GB
Cache64MB128MB64MB16MB32MB32MB
 
Rather than search for and flash the drive to the latest firmware, for our reviews of SSD drives we intend to test the drives as you would recieve them. Obviously flashing and thereby upgrading the drives will have an effect on the scores so this should be taken into consideration when viewing the results. Various Operating system and BIOS tweaks were however performed to obtain the absolute maximum operating conditions for the GSkill Falcon. These tweaks are:
 
  • Superfetch: Off
  • Indexing: Off
  • Search indexing: Off
  • Defrag: Off 
  • SATA Mode in BIOS was set to IDE for all hard disks
  • Drive was formatted with a 4096 cluster size
  • Enable Enhanced Performance was selected in device manager for all hard disks
 
Testing Methodology
 
While synthetic benchmarks such as HDTune offer a good insight into the performance of a mechanical disk drive, these figures do not always translate directly into real world performance, this is especially so for Solid State Drives. For the purposes of comparison to some of our previous reviews though I have included a couple of screenshots of the GSkill Falcons performance here although these should be taken with a pinch of salt due to the sporadic nature of HDTune Pro in testing SSD's:
 
read write
 
HDTune showed some serious performance with the read almost reaching the advertised speed of 230MB/s and the write actually exceeding the advertised write speed, hitting a 207.5MB/s average. As expected, a 0.1ms access time was also recorded.
 
Before we get on-board with the testing, let's also perform a run of HDTach, again not the best utility to use on SSD's but it should give us an idea of the performance to expect and is perhaps the most common utility used to compare hard drives:
 
HDtach 
 
HDTach backed up what HDTune was telling us and recorded some terrific scores. If these readings are seconded by our main table of benchmarks then the GSkill Falcon will certainly be a force to be reckoned with.
 
Along with many other synthetic benchmarks run today, I decided to perform several day-to-day operations (such as file transfer and Windows start up) in addition to the synthetic benchmarks. The full set of tests can be seen below
 
Synthetic Benchmarks
ATTO Disk Benchmark v2.34
PCMark Vantage HDD benchmarks
CrystalDiskMark 2.2.0f

File Write & Manipulation
Random file creation (15GB)
Sequential file creation (100GB)

OS & Gaming
Windows Vista Startup time.
Windows Vista Shutdown time.
Unreal Tournament III map load time.
 
Let's see how the GSkill Falcon performed...  


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CrystalDiskMark
 
CrystalDiskMark is a free utility maintained by Japanese company Crystal Dew World. CrystalDiskMark evaluates the performance of your hard drives based on two tests – a sequential read/write test and a random read/write test. You can select the drive to test, the number of test and the size of the data to test which can be 50MB, 100MB, 500MB and 1000MB. The results displayed below have been conducted using 5 rounds of the 500MB test.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Results Analysis
 
A slight mixture of results here with the GSkill Falcon and OCZ Summit exchanging blows depending the the test run. Overall, the Summit has the fastest write speed but the Falcon is the clear winner in the read stakes and is perhaps the most consistent of all the drives tested.
 
Let's move on...


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ATTO Disk Benchmark
 
ATTO Disk Benchmark may be one of the oldest hard disk benchmark utilities still in service, but many would argue that it still remains the best. Unlike HDTune Pro and many other benchmarking utilities, ATTO can be configured to write up to 256MB of data to the disk in file sizes varying from 5KB to 8MB. This is especially useful for SSD drives and indeed RAID configurations where performance can be heavily reliant on the cluster size of the disk. All tests were run with the default settings of 0.5KB through 8192KB transfer sizes with the total length of 256MB. For clearer comparative purposes, the key stages of the benchmark are included in the graphs below:
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Results Analysis
 
Here is where the GSkill Falcon begins to stretch it's silicon legs. Despite having a lower read speed than the OCZ Vertex, the GSkill falcon managed a blistering 261MB/s which is much faster than the 231MB/s the Vertex managed. Not only that but the Falcon also managed some amazing write speeds, even beating our previous best model, the OCZ Summit.
 
Let's see what PCMark Vantage makes of the drives...


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PCMark Vantage
 
PCMark Vantage may sound like potentially the most 'synthetic' benchmark on the market, but this couldn't be further from the truth. In a whitepaper published by Futuremark (developers of 3DMark and PCMark) they describe how PCMark mimics actual PC usage by performing application launches, web browsing, video playback, photo editing, file searching, and other day-to-day tasks. This potentially makes PCMark Vantage the most 'real world' benchmark of them all, and therefore we will be breaking down the HDD Suite benchmark into its various sections in the graphs to give you the whole picture.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Results Analysis
 
The above results pretty much speak for themselves. The GSkill Falcon literally blew all the competition out of the water with PCMark Vantage showing it to be by far the quick drive on test in all the tests. The closest drive and most direct competitor to the Falcon is the mighty OCZ Vertex but even that could not hold a flame to the all conquering GSkill Falcon. There just  seems to be no stopping the Falcon but thus far we have only tested synthetic tests so it's time we had a look at some real world tests...
 


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Dummy File Creation
 
When performing manual "file copy" benchmarks, the performance of the drive that the files are being copied from can directly and negatively affect the results of the drive they are being copied to. This is something that needs to be taken into consideration when benchmarking high performance hard disks such as the OCZ Vertex SSD as it's performance easily exceeds that of a standard hard disk. Therefore, to test the write performance of each storage device a freeware utility called Dummy File Creator was used to generate files directly to each of the hard disks. The first 16GB benchmark writes a collection of files ranging in size from 1GB to 100KB, whereas the 100GB benchmark writes a single file of exactly that size to the disk.
 
 
 
Unreal Tournament 3 Level Loading
 
With a fresh copy of Vista installed on each hard disk, the final test was to find out if the Windows loading times seen above would also be applicable to the map loading time of a popular PC game. Once again, the test procedure was quite simple: Install Unreal Tournament III, load the game, select a map to play (ONS-Torlan) and measure the time taken from pressing the "Begin" button to the time the map is fully loaded. This procedure was repeated a total of three times on each of the hard disks, with a reboot in between each test to clear system memory.
 
 
 
Vista Boot/Shutdown Time
 
Quite a simple and self explanatory test. We took each of the disks, installed a fresh copy of Windows Vista SP1 on to them and measured the time each took to boot into the Windows desktop and display a text file placed in the startup folder. To ensure that the tests were fair the results were averaged over initial reboots. Shutdown time was also recorded, although this generally happened so quick that accuracy was hard to obtain.
 
 
Results Analysis
 
The random 16GB file creation was neck and neck between the Falcon and the Vertex but switch to the longer lasting test of a 100GB file and it is clear which SSD is the better performer.The Falcon managed to generate the 100GB file over 2 minutes quicker than it's nearest rival which is no mean feat considering the Vertex can hardly be accused of being a slouch in this department.
 
UT III level loading showed the Falcon to have the upper hand here too although the result was much closer with very little to chose between them. Much the same is to be said of the Vista start up and shutdown times.
 
Let's head over to the conclusion where I will try to give my overall view of the GSkill Falcon 128GB SSD...


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Conclusion
 
With every succession of Solid State drive, the performance bar has been raised. First read speeds were sent through the roof, breaking the 200MB/s barrier and then increases in write speed thanks to better controllers and cache. Our previous best drive, the OCZ Vertex is widely considered to be the best Solid State drive available but those who state this have obviously not had the pleasure of testing the GSkill Falcon and here's what confuses me most, when stripped to the bone they are essentially the same drive.
 
Both drives have the same memory type, same memory controller and even the same cache manufacturer. So why the difference in performance? The only thing I can put this down to is the better firmware that has been flashed to the Falcon as standard. No doubt the Vertex would benefit from an updated firmware flash bringing the performance of that drive up a notch or two but we can only review items as you, the end user would receive them.
 
The GSkill Falcon is very well packed but no different from any of the other SSD's we have tested to date. Still missing are the 2.5"-3.5" bracket adaptors we have been hoping for and the instruction leaflet is very basic and in all honesty is just a token rather than a necessity. Apart from that there is little to fault the overall package which is well presented and I for one certainly appreciate the more sturdy metal frame of the Falcon to the plastic of the Vertex.
 
With the above considered, you would expect the price of the GSkill to exceed that of the OCZ Vertex but on average, the 128GB Falcon is on average £30 cheaper than it's OCZ equivalent. So not only is it the faster drive, it's also the cheaper. That £30 does however come at a cost. OCZ now offer a 3 year warranty where at the time of writing this review, GSkill only offer a two year package. How this will effect your buying decision I cannot say but if it were my money being spent, the GSkill Falcon would be the Solid State Drive finding it's way into my system as not only is it one of the best upgrades any enthusiast could make today, it's also the best in it's class.
 
The Good
- Fastest read speeds on test
- Great write speeds to match
- Competitively priced
- All metal casing
 
The Mediocre
- No included adaptor bracket
- Basic instruction leaflet
- Requires jumper (included) to flash firmware
 
The Bad
- I can't afford one!
 
 
Thanks to GSkill for providing the 128GB Falcon Solid State Drive for today's review. Discuss in our forum.