SanDisk are one of the more famous memory guys on the planet. Even if you had absolutely no interest in computers you'll be aware of their SD cards which are so ubiquitous it's not stretching it to think that probably everyone reading this has got at least one of their products in a camera or phone or digital photo frame or or or.
So with such a tremendous background in making the very best out of different memory formats it's quite a surprise that they haven't dipped their toes in the waters of high-speed Solid State Drives. Strictly speaking they have had a go before with the SanDisk Ultra, which is a fairly average performing drive. But even da Vinci didn't come out of art school and do the Mona Lisa.
Having proven that there was a market for a SanDisk SSD they return with the Extreme. A SATA 6 drive equipped with the SandForce controller which is rapidly becoming the controller of choice in high-speed Solid State Drives. So how does it perform?
|Sequential Read (up to)||550 MB/s||550 MB/s||540 MB/s|
|Sequential Write (up to)||510 MB/s||520 MB/s||460 MB/s|
|Random Read ( up to)||23K IOPS||33K IOPS||44K IOPS|
|Random Write (up to)||83K IOPS||83K IOPS||46K IOPS|
|MTBF||2.5M hrs||2.0M hrs||1.4M hrs|
Bold is the word that springs to mind when looking at the packaging for the Extreme. Most surprisingly is that SanDisk have resisted the temptation to put any numbers on the packaging at all, besides the drive capacity. Usually a manufacturer will take the biggest read figure they've obtained and splash it all over the box. SanDisk doesn't mention speeds even in the small print on the back.
The drive itself replicates the stark packaging. It's worth noting that the drive is the only thing included. No cables or 3.5" adaptors or anything. You get the drive in a box, and that's it.
Although we used to see a huge amount of different controllers as manufacturers aimed for whatever was currently at the technological edge, we're rapidly seeing the SandForce SF2281 as the dominant option. Although given the tremendous speeds it's capable of that isn't a great shock.
With a PCB capable of supporting 480GB capacity it's not a surprise to see the 120GB model seeming so threadbare in terms of the NAND MLC chips. Although it's nice to see SanDisk using their own chips rather than the common Samsung ones. If only because as a memory giant it makes perfect sense for them.
Considering that this is the 120GB model which always loses a little performance at the bleeding edge when compared to the 240GB+ models that we are comparing against, the performance is very good indeed. The highest Random Read speed, the third best Buffered speed. It's only in the Linear test that we can see the small loss in performance.
Anvil Sequential IOPS
Moving on to IOPS testing with Anvil, in the sequential test (the comparison to the Linear testing in AIDA64) we again see a small drop in absolute speed when compared to the larger capacity drives. It's only a tiny amount, but it's there.
With a reduction in drive capacity the biggest drop in performance is always in the tiny block size and so it proves in the Anvil read testing with the 4K test having a significantly lower IOPS than the larger drives. Even the 32K test shows some drop off which balances as we move in to 128K block size. The write speeds are much closer with the two larger block sizes with only the 4K test showing the reduced performance we'd expect.
Away from the IOPS testing and into the MB/s rating which we're all more familiar with, the SanDisk isn't quite able to match the very highest scores we've seen, but it's certainly in the ball park with only the 4K speeds again letting it down.
ATTO always gives us the best performance figures and here is no exception. Only in the 16K read test does the SanDisk Extreme lag behind the others by a significant amount, and in the rest of the testing, including all the Write benchmarks, it's right up there.
Crystal Disk Mark
CDM gives us some very varied results when compared to our other tests. Again in the read test the small block speed is only average, and even the bigger block size and sequential results are only middling. The write tests show the Extreme about on a par with the Mushkin and Kingston drives, all of which are a mile behind the Corsair and Intel efforts.
So what do we make of SanDisk's first serious foray into the world of Solid State Drives?
Actually quite a lot. Although the performance of the drive when using the smallest 4K block size was consistently slower than our other drives, it's worth remembering that we've only got the 120GB model on test here and a smaller SSD will always have lower performance than a larger capacity model, with 240/256GB being the sweet spot on this 2281 SandForce controller.
Write speeds are consistently good, and this is usually the area in which drives fall down. Not so with the SanDisk Extreme though, as the drive was great throughout our testing. The read speeds are even better, being over the 500MB/s mark more often than not. It certainly is fast enough that we consider it as good as any of the other drives we've put through their paces.
Of course there is the difference between benchmark speeds and real world usage. Whilst it might seem like 500MB/s against 550MB/s is a large reduction in performance, in actual use you'd struggle to notice much of a variation.
So it all comes down to pricing. The SanDisk Extreme, in the 120GB guise we have here, is around the £120 mark, which is not only down to £1 per GB but around the same price as a Crucial M4 or Corsair Force 3 of the same capacity. Considering that the performance will be nigh-on identical then the lack of a 2.5" to 3.5" adaptor goes from being a minor thing into about the only difference between this and other comparable drives.
You have the confidence of knowing that SanDisk are one of the biggest hitters in the memory marketplace, as well as a good looking, high performing drive. It's a fantastic drive only let down by the slightly lower performance with small data block sizes, and the missing adaptor. Unfortunately with the quality of SSDs these days on such small margins are things won and lost, and so we can only award the SanDisk Extreme our OC3D Silver Award.
Thanks to SanDisk for supplying the Extreme SSD for review. Discuss in our forums.