It seems that the world of technology has stopped with allegations that some SSD companies are pulling the old ‘bait and switch’ routine in their SSDs by switching off components that many had recognized through initial SSD reviews. We have read several reports and forums, most of which simply repeat the original information, and finally have decided to clarify things just a bit from our perspective. Get ready though as many may not like our viewpoint; it goes against the grain somewhat.
Some time ago, Kingston released their V300 SSD and it contained synchronous NAND flash memory, only to be recently updated to asynchronous memory that may be identifiably less powerful than the original release. Similarly, the PNY Optima was originally released with a SMI 2246en controller where a product change has it now being shipped with the LSI SandForce SF-2281 controller, the latter being an 8 channel controller vice 4. In neither case did companies notify SSD buyers of this change. Do we like what has occurred…definitely not. Is it as bad as many have made it out to be ? We don’t think so. What we do find concerning, however, is how so many jumped on the band wagon that these companies were providing better SSDs to reviewers for review, and then pulling the ‘bait and switch’ in retail sales. This is not, and has never been the case.
BAIT AND SWITCH EXPLAINED
Bait and switch is the ‘intentional’ advertising of a product with a specific component or feature that would attract a customer, only to switch this product in the sales channel with a lesser performing and cheaper product, increasing the profit to the manufacturer. This hasn’t occurred in either case as the original memory in use by Kingston in their V300 was due for a refresh (Kingston loves refreshing the SSDNow family) and, as for the PNY Optima, the mid-class SMI controller was switched for the upper-class LSI SandForce controller. If anyone in the industry tries to explain that a 4 channel controller (SMI) is more capable than an 8 channel controller (LSI SandForce), simply walk away and laugh. It is not worth the argument and those straggling few anti-SandForce war horses aren’t worth the listen as their one sided view destroys any knowledge or credibility they might hold.
The PNY Optima issue doesn’t exist. As for Kingston, let’s make it very clear that we didn’t like the switch, but the issue lies in whether they tried to pull a fast one, and more importantly, whether the new components matched their listed specifications for that SSD. Kingston was very frank in stating that maintaining the original memory was not value smart for that particular product. It is a given that asynchronous memory has lower write transfer speeds when moving incompressible data, such as media, but does this alone make the case against Kingston. We don’t think so. Today’s asynchronous NAND flash memory has come a long way and, as long as that memory meets the listed specifications of the product, they are in the clear, even if we don’t like it. What’s more; we don’t get a say as to whether they test with ATTO or AS SSD to determine their listed specifications.
HOW DID WE GET HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE?
You can blame us reviewers, you know. Years ago, when reviewing SSDs became popular, the manufacturers all put up a united front to stop our opening of SSDs in order to identify components. After all, it is not done in so many other areas of the industry, so why would we do this? Imagine buying a…oh I don’t know…any Apple product and learning that many parts within were actually Samsung manufactured. The world would stop, but nevertheless, this is the reality of cost and value. You might see Samsung and Apple fighting like cats and dogs daily, but the reality of Apple products are that Samsung plays a vital role in their production.
SSD reviewers are a very particular bunch and probably the most competitive anywhere. In our efforts to provide information about SSDs that wasn’t evident on every other site, we have poked and prodded to the most intricate details about SSDs and their components. How much did you know about a hard drive? Not much…it just worked. With SSDs, we speak of 4 channel vice 8 channel controllers, synchronous vs asynchronous memory, encryption, SATA vs PCIe, DRAM cache, and even our performance is broken down into consumer vs enterprise testing, throughput, IOPS, and even drive latency. Quite frankly, what the #$%^ would a person buying a value priced consumer SSD ever need to know about IOPS or latency for? Actually…let’s go one step further.
UNDERSTANDING SSD PERFORMANCE
Both the Kingston V300 and the PNY Optima SSDs are value driven products, products that are described as a ‘cost-effective way to revive your computer’. If you bought one and don’t like the components, your only recourse is to rely on specifications. Do the tests that you are conducting match that as advertised? Are you then looking at this from a more advanced test methodology where incompressible data results show the visible difference and, according to all the published reviews, this isn’t correct? Well, first, if you bought a value SSD for more intense media work where you would need the higher performance, take a seat. One needs to consider the listed specifications and not what the reviews report. How many actually understand SSD performance in any case?
If you are buying an SSD that has been marketed as a value solution (which these both have), we are going to believe that you are looking for that upgrade that the SSD has over a hard drive. Would you believe that, regardless of what SSD we put side by side, there are no visible differences in the visible performance of any when completing typical consumer activities. That’s a fact Jack! The visible performance boost we see from SSDs comes entirely from disk access and has nothing to do with the specific components we are looking at in these two specific cases. If I put the Kingston V300 with synchronous or asynchronous side by side, and I put the PNY Optima with SMI or SandForce controllers side by side, even the experts can’t determine which is which in the ole ‘Coke/Pepsi’ taste test, that we need to term as typical user activities for safety sake here. There is absolutely no visible difference. How can that be?
In SSDs, visible performance is the result of disk access time, these times being as fast as .01ms. Disk access time is the time it takes from a request to a return of information. More importantly, it is the time it takes from the systems demand on start up to operating system files to be executed. In the hard drive, it is around 9ms, or about 90 times than the SSD theoretically. This is where we see such a visible upgrade in the SSD compared to the hard drive. Do we think we might see a difference when comparing SSDs that all have the same super-fast disk access? Of course we won’t. To see the differences, we have to conduct activities that stress the SSD, the most obvious being the movement of media files that are highly incompressible. How often does the typical consumer do that, and more importantly, would they even recognize the difference of a few seconds in the transfer?
HAVE WE SEEN THIS BEFORE?
Of course we have. In fact, we expressed some pretty blatant views when Asus switched off the LSI SandForce SSD in their ZenBook for an older and much less performing SSD. As a consumer, the two things that were important in that case were the understanding that, in typical use, one couldn’t tell the difference between either SSD. In more demanding business use, however, this ultra book just took a dump on the reality of enhancing work productivity and it affected many media professionals. As much as we hate to say it though, the key here is still whether the manufacturer falsified their specs in any way; they didn’t then and to our knowledge, they haven’t even today. Correct me if I am wrong please.
IS THERE A SOLUTION?
For all of those stating that you will never buy Kingston or PNY products again, take a seat because we can easily rhyme off dozens of others who have done similar in countless industries. The consumer will always lose out on the manufacturer cost/value consideration because, if a product won’t make money, it won’t be sold. If you were looking for anything but a value SSD, you should have purchased just that. I was amongst the first to tell Kingston that the memory switch to asynchronous didn’t provide for good optics and I can guarantee they will heed that advice. As for PNY switching off the SMI 4 channel controller for the LSI SandForce 8 channel, they should be given credit quite, frankly. In the end, blame the reviewers for giving you a look inside SSDs as you never saw with hard drives, and most likely won’t for most other tech items. It’s our fault after all!
KEEP UP WITH THE ‘LEARNING TO RUN WITH FLASH’ SERIES!