Solid State Drives are constantly becoming cheaper and cheaper, whilst the performance is increasing massively from the first ones that we tested. Of course if you're going to grab a SSD you want the best performing one you can, and that means going SATA3. Even the average models will max a SATA II connection and its 300MB/s cap.
Benchmarking is always a tricky balance. On the one hand we want to give you the most up-to-date and relevant benchmark tests possible, but equally data in a vacuum is pointless and so we can't just endlessly chop and change.
One area that has been in need of some tweaking has been our storage testing though. A lot of the benchmark suites we've been using were originally designed with mechanical drives in mind rather than the blistering pace, and abilities, of Solid State Drives. As our storage reviews have solely focussed upon SSDs for a long while now, Velociraptor RAID notwithstanding, we felt it was time to finally refresh our suite.
Enter the Anvil SSD Benchmarking tool. This provides the simplest 'one stop shop' for testing Solid State Drives and is the most consistent method we've found to obtain the all important IOPS result. Regular readers will remember our brief trials with IOMeter for these, but Anvil manages to be both easier to use, much easier to configure, and more reliable with its output.
So we felt it was time to give a roundup of some of the most popular SATA 6Gbp/s SSDs on the market and see which one of them will come out on top.
We have four of the main drives on hand, the Intel 520, the Mushkin Chronos, the Corsair Force 3, and the Kingston Hyper X. All of these drives are the 240GB versions, so that we'll be comparing like for like. This is important as different sized Solid State Drives have differences in performance.
Corsair Force GT
Kingston Hyper X
Intel Core i7-3960X @ 4.6GHz
ASUS Rampage IV Extreme
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
With the smaller data block size you can get through more Input/Output operations per second (hence the IOPS). Even with such a reasonable variance in results it shouldn't overly affect the actual transfer rate. However, in the read tests the Corsair is the most consistent providing good results in all three data block sizes. The Intel struggles with the smaller 4K blocks, but makes it up with the performance in the 32K block size, giving a pretty big 5548 IOPS.
Write testing is much closer between the drives. Indeed you'd struggle to separate them in pure number terms, let alone the realities of daily use.
The pure megabytes per second test is something we're all much more used to, as nearly all storage benchmarks work in MB/s and even the manufacturers tend to quote sequential read speeds as their big selling point. You can see the correlation between the IOPS results and the MB/s results here as the drives are closely matched, but the Intel replicates its excellent 32K performance. Write speeds are similarly replicating the IOPS result with our eclectic selection of storage options all running each other close.
We've run ATTO as part of our suite for a long time and it's always produced good results. Rather than present a giant screenshot we thought we'd focus on the three main block sizes that influence speed changes. Generally drives are slow until the 8KB test, then they pick up at 16KB, remain at roughly that level until 128KB, and once you're at the 1MB mark the speed doesn't really vary.
In ATTO the 128KB block size definitely belongs to the Mushkin, with the Intel once again just edging the large block size transfer rate and definitely holding the lead at 16KB. The Kingston and Corsair are damn close in all tests except for the 4K read which has the Corsair lagging a little behind.
Crystal Disk Mark
CDM is another regular, and the results are something we've all seen a dozen times before. Considering how close the drives are in ATTO and Anvil, it's a surprise to see how the Mushkin and Kingston struggle compared to the Corsair and Intel. Once again if we had to single a drive out for its consistent performance it would have to be the Intel 520, although the Corsair holds the read test edge.
Finishing off with AIDA64. The Linear is taken from the Linear(Begin) section, which doesn't really make a difference with SSDs as there isn't a platter to provide variable speeds. Although the Mushkin is average at Random read, the drives are otherwise very closely matched with the Intel 520 just keeping ahead of the pack.
We know that people are paying closer attention to the IOPS result as more and more manufacturers include it in their technical specifications and advertising blurb. Now we've finally found a tool that can easily and consistently give us usable IOPS testing, what new information does it give us?
Oddly, we don't think there is much that IOPS can inform us of that isn't clear in the MB/s rating. Generally the two are linear with the lower IOPS score leading to a lower pure data transfer rate.
Probably most surprising is how varied the results can be which shows how important it is to use a multitude of testing to get a clear view of the performance of the drives under a variety of scenarios. If we just looked at AIDA64 we would think the Mushkin was the lesser drive. Crystal Disk Mark clearly favours the Intel and Corsair drives. Otherwise they are all amazingly close and there really isn't a lot between them. This further ads weight to our argument that its difficult to get a drive that clearly leads or lags across all of the benchmark results.
So of the four drives we have on test today, which gives the best results?
I think it's pretty obvious that the Intel 520 was the most consistent drive throughout all of our testing, in both the read and write benchmarks. All the other drives had strong results and weak results, but the Intel just kept churning out high scores regardless of what we threw at it and that would have to be our recommended drive of the four on test. Although it is of course worth noticing than in real-life daily usage any of these drives would be nearly inseparable and provide the performance increase that we're all so desperate for.
Thanks to Intel, Mushkin, Corsair and Kingston for providing the drives on test today.
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