Friday , 28 November 2014
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SandForce Quietly Releases Performance Improving Firmware – Great News For New SSD Buyers!!

SandForce has released a new firmware update to client level manufacturers that significantly improves the performance of  ‘SandForce Driven’ drives.  As far as we can tell, the firmware is only available in new SSD purchases and we haven’t seen the same firmware available to present owners of  SSDs using SandForce technology.

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We believe this update has yet to be recognized within the SSD community because legal agreements are in place between SandForce and manufacturers which prevent them from discussing it.  The SSD community also relies so heavily on rating solid state drives by their advertised performance specifications that we have overlooked the simple truth that these advertised specs are not a realistic indicator of the typical users SSD performance.

If you are considering buying a solid state drive, this article will be as important as a previous article posted here at The SSD Review, titled ‘The Manufacturers Bluff’.

SATA 2.0 Has Reached Its Limit

The SATA 2.0 interface is the the physical connector that connects your SSD to your computer or laptop and contains two connectors known as the interface connector for data and the power connector. Here we have the SATA connector of our recent review on the  Super Talent UltraDrive MX 480GB SSD, a SSD not released to the public as of yet:

The difficulty with SATA II is that it has a bottleneck where it only allows so much data to transfer through the interface at any given time.  SATA II is capable of running at 3.0 Gb/s which stands for 3 Gbits per second and NOT 3 GB (Gigabytes) per second.  It can get a bit confusing so lets suffice to say that SATA II is theoretically capable of a maximum speed of 300MB/s but, in reality, 285 MB/s seems to be the maximum as a result of hardware and sofware limitations.

Solid state drives have come so far that they have reached their limit in SATA II mode and most of the upper tier drives today will list their performance capabilities to be in the area of this limit of 285MB/s. Although these advertised speeds are not commonly used by the typical consumer, they sell solid state drives and most benchmarking programs simply test to verify these transfer rates.  We use them in our reviews.  Look at any SSD review and you will see tests through Crystal Disk Mark, ATTO Disk BenchMark, HDTune Pro and HDTach.  These tests have become so integral in arriving at the manufacturers listed specifications that we completely overlook the fact that their typical computer use will never utilize this disk access method better known as ‘high sequential read and write transfer speeds’.

This is exactly why The SSD Review utilizes PCMark Vantage x64 HDD Suite in our reviews.  This software program contains eight tests which are simulations of real life typical user scenarios which measure read and write speeds to arrive at a speed measured in MB/s for each test.  The combination of all tests results in a Suite score which, only a month or so ago, typically leveled at around 34000-36000 points.

Why This Article Is Important

The article will enable the consumer to more accurately identify what solid state drive is best for them and, more importantly, allow them to understand that there now exists a new breed of solid state drives.  The SSDs identified are ‘SandForce Driven’ SSDs that have vastly superior performance as a result of new firmware alone.

The reader will understand that this firmware now differentiates todays SandForce controlled SSDs from most others still available and current and that two SSDs with the same listed performance specifications do not necessarily perform equally.

The Conspiracy Theory Begins

Although this article will certainly not become a best selling novel, we hope to hold the readers interest as it does come about in somewhat of a conspiracy theory.  A short time ago, we posted a review where we discovered abnormal results in the Vantage HDD Suite scoring as it jumped 8000-10000 points higher than we had ever seen it prior.  We subsequently included this paragraph in our review:

“It is known that all firmware is not the same and oems can have firmware custom suited to their  needs by SandForce.  It has been suggested recently that firmware has now become available that improves the performance of SF-1200 drives to that of the SF-1500 drives.  Its a theory not easily proven but this review deals with a soon to be released product which may just be reaping the rewards of a newer firmware release, a release that may validate this theory.”

Shortly after this review, we were contacted by an industry insider who wished to remain nameless.  He conceded that we may have hit on something with our article and suggested that we might want to check on an activity known as rebadging that seemed to have reappeared in the SSD arena and specifically with ‘SandForce Driven’ solid state drives.  He explained that a few larger manufacturers were mass producing solid state drives and selling them to smaller manufacturers for rebadging as their own product.

SSD Rebadging

For those new to SSDs, rebadging was commonplace when solid state drives first made their entrance into the technology arena.  The two largest manufacturers at the time, Intel and Samsung, utilized a smart business decision in manufacturing their complete SSDs and then selling the product, minus the Intel sticker, to smaller companies.

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The companies then simply placed their sticker on the exterior casing of the SSD and there may or may not have also been a few tweaks to the firmware of the oem SSD. Here is a great example of a more recent rebadged Kingston SSD.

Renice K3VLAR 64GB Mini-PCIe SSD Review (Pre-Release)

Our first indication that a new firmware might exist was in a review we did of the Renice K3VLAR 64GB mini-PCIe SSD.  In that review, we conducted the usual tests and were stunned by a return of 43831 points in the PCMark Vantage HDD Suite which was a totally unheard of score.

Previously, the highest SandForce return we had received was along the lines of 34000 points so we knew that this would be the start of some very long nights and it was.  We tested and retested several drives and the result was still that this Renice PCIe mini was, not only the smallest SandForce SSD on the planet, but also the fastest.  As this was an exclusive review of an, as of yet, unreleased product, we knew that the firmware had to be brand spanking new.

We examined the firmware information of several similar ‘SandForce Driven’ SSDs and discovered that proving our the theory might not be as simple as identifying the firmware by name.  Through previous interviews with SandForce representatives, we learned that although firmware, for the most part may be very similar, there are still ‘ad ons’ available to the firmware and its naming convention is assigned by the oem and not SandForce.  In other words, although two companies may have the exact same firmware, the f/w names will be different.

Pg1 – The Conspiracy Theory

Pg2 – Validation

Pg3 – The Good News

About Les Tokar

is a technology nut and Founder of The SSD Review. His early work includes the first consumer SSD review along with MS Vista, Win 7 and SSD Optimization Guides. Les is fortunate to, not only evaluate and provide opinion on consumer and enterprise solid state storage but also, travel the world in search of new technologies and great friendships. Google+
  • thedreadedgman

    excellent intriguing article.

    However there is one glaring issue:

    In the passage:

    SATA II is capable of running at 3.0 Gb/s which stands for 3 Gbits per second and NOT 3 GB (Gigabytes) per second. It can get a bit confusing so lets suffice to say that SATA II is theoretically capable of a maximum speed of 300MB/s but, in reality, 285 MB/s seems to be the maximum as a result of hardware and sofware limitations.

    It’s not a result of “hardware and sofware limitations”, it’s simple maths
    300 Megabytes a second
    300,000,000 bytes a second
    is equal to:
    286 Mebibytes a second
    (1 Mebibyte = 1,048,576 bytes)
    So the passage could be corrected by saying:

    SATA II is capable of running at 3.0 Gb/s which stands for 3 Gbits per second and NOT 3 GB (Gigabytes) per second. It can get a bit confusing so lets suffice to say that SATA II is theoretically capable of a maximum speed of 375MB/s (357 MiB/s) but, in reality, 300 MB/s (286 MiB/s) is the maximum after 8b/10b encoding.

    References:
    SATA 3Gb/s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sata#SATA_Revision_3.0_.28SATA_6_Gbit.2Fs.29
    8/10 bit encoding: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8b/10b_encoding
    Mebibyte: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mebibyte

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