The days in which a Solid State Drive existed solely for the wealthy, and all the affordable ones were woefully inadequate in performance terms, are long gone.
Nowadays you can buy a good OS sized drive for just shy of a hundred pounds, which is excellent value considering the speed and noise benefits over a mechanical one.
Recently we have seen a new controller taking its place amongst the Indilinx and Samsung ones of this world, namely the Sandforce. Last time we looked at it it was as part of the OCZ Vertex 2 and we felt that it just didn't have all the bugs ironed out of it yet. Peak performance was alright, but it couldn't sustain it anywhere near as well as the more mature controllers available.
Patriot are well known as the manufacturer of good quality affordable DIMMs, so let's see how their affordable Solid State effort fares.
Thankfully the tendency of manufacturers to overstate the capabilities of their products has greatly lessened over the years as reviews have been easier to find on the Information Superhighway.
From our previous experience we're slightly dubious of the maximum quoted speeds, but hopefully the time between reviews has enabled the bugs to be ironed out and the performance kept more consistent.
The Inferno comes in a very shiny box with a little window that allows you to see the Patriot comes in a lovely shade of red rather than the more common and sedate black.
Internally there are two separate plastic cases, one containing the drive and one containing a 2.5" to 3.5" adaptor to allow you to install the drive securely in any case of your choosing.
The adaptor is identical to the Corsair Nova one we've seen, but that's by no means a bad thing as if it isn't broken you don't need to fix it.
The drive makes a lovely difference to the plain black ones with a white sticker than seem prevalent. It's a lovely shade of red in high quality brushed aluminium and the chromatic sticker really helps give an air of class to proceedings.
Internally everything is as you'd expect with the SandForce controller centrally mounted and surrounded by the memory chips. One of the benefits of SandForce is that it doesn't require a cache chip and so the board has more room than other variants.
Along with the SandForce controller the capacity is provided by Intel MLC NAND chips which give good performance.
Patriot Inferno 60GB
ASUS Rampage III
Intel Core i7-920 @ 3.8GHz
6GB Corsair Dominator GT
Windows 7 x64
IO Meter tests the input and output operations per second. For this test we're using 4KB data blocks which are a nice balance between the tiny sized data blocks that give all drives problems, and the larger sized ones that are handled easily.
IOMeter gives a good indication of overall performance and as you can see here in the read test we're getting just over 220MB/s. A long way short of the proclaimed 290MB/s but around the IO Meter results we've seen previously from SandForce equipped drives.
Writing performance has always been a strong suit of the SandForce and so it proves with the Inferno reaching nearly 240MB/s. A very good figure indeed.
AIDA64 from FinalWire is produced by the very same people who gave us the excellent Everest and contains the same quality benchmarking and information tools.
Starting on the left with the Linear Read test we can see that by and large the drive performs well with the only major drops occurring as the controller switches between memory chips. An average of 241MB/s isn't too bad at all although it's strange to see the peak not being much higher than the average.
The Random Read test is massively more impressive. An average read of 271MB/s shows where the strengths of the SandForce controller lay and that's especially good considering you'll be performing random reads in daily usage far more than linear ones. There must be some buffering going on for the maximum read test speeds because the SATA II interface theoretically doesn't support such high speeds. However it occurs regularly enough that at the very least we can say it's maxing out the interface.
Write performance, a strength of the SandForce controller, is excellent. The Linear Write looking very similar to the Linear Read test both in flatness and absolute speed.
We see similar results within the Random Write test as the drive is clearly capable of giving the SATA II interface everything it can handle and, despite one big dip, handily pumps along just shy of 270MB/s.
The ATTO disk benchmark gives a clear indication of the consistent performance of the Patriot Inferno in both read and write scenarios. It struggles with very small transfer sizes more than some other controllers on the market, but once it's up and running it is like a locomotive.
HD Tune has a similar testing output to that we saw in AIDA64, although the results are more varied with the read speed remaining under 200MB/s on average and three clearly visible peaks and troughs in the graph.
If the read test appears inconsistent then the write test is positively schizophrenic with the graph endlessly going from 230MB/s down to about 140MB/s a back again for a very poor average write speed of 148MB/s.
Crystal Disk Mark
Against a couple of different sized, and differently controlled, SSDs the Patriot clearly struggles, in Crystal Disk Mark at least. Although down at the 4KB end it's not too bad as the block size increases the performance doesn't increase at a level we'd expect. Write speeds in particular are the worst we've seen yet.
PC Mark Vantage
Finally we move to the HDD test suite of PC Mark Vantage which utilises the drive to perform general tasks and get a feel for the performance in more real-world applications. Contrary to the tests of the past couple of pages the Patriot actually performs with aplomb in all the tests and even dominates some of them. Nothing if not unpredictable.
So where are we after all that testing?
It's difficult to say with any certainty. For every test that showed the fearsome potential of the SandForce controller paired to the Intel MLC, we have one that makes it appear like an absolute dog. In relative terms at least.
In purely linear read or write tests the results are fairly, well, linear. Although there are a few small drops as the controller switches from one MLC NAND chip to another in general everything is handled very well.
Once we move to the random read and write the drive really struts its stuff getting very close to the claimed attainable speeds. Writing in particular is a strength. Many drives forgo a good write speed to focus everything on a read speed that looks good "in lights" but the SandForce equipped Patriot Inferno manages to produce consistently better write speeds than read.
Unfortunately consistency isn't a term applicable to any other element. Crystal Disk Mark in particular doesn't like the drive at all, and AIDA64 seems to think it's capable of out-performing the SATA II interfaces capabilities.
Yet PC Mark Vantage shows it as having the ability to make the hitherto untouched Corsair Nova get left behind.
So for once this is a product that relies more on "feel" than on hard data to try and make sense of the reams of conflicting information. In use we have to probably closest to the linear speeds from the AIDA64 test as although it isn't the barn-burner that was the Corsair Nova, it's also not as bad as the other SandForce drive we've tested the OCZ Vertex 2.
All in all for a OS drive that doesn't cost the earth you could do much worse than the TRIM-compliant, SandForce based Patriot Inferno. Just accept it doesn't always perform to its full potential in every scenario.
For around a hundred pounds if you've been looking for a drive to run Windows and your major applications on we can recommend the Patriot Inferno and thus it gets awarded our Bronze Award. We'll just be pleased when all these slight issues have been eradicated from the SandForce controller.
Thanks to Patriot for supplying the Inferno for review. Discuss in our forums.