SandForce Quietly Releases Performance Improving Firmware – Page 3

OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 40GB SSD Review (Re-Fresh)

Our first indication that there may be new firmware on the horizon came earlier in the year with OWC who had requested a review on their soon to be released Mercury Extreme Pro 40GB SSD.  Receivingthe SSD was a confusing process which was uncommon with  OWC who had sent us samples previously, each making it from Chicago to Niagara, Canada, in under 24 hours.  We subsequently spoke with their representative who let us know that they were holding back until a refresh of this new drive which would have a new firmware with better specifications.

We recently received the drive and observed that the random 4k IOPS performance listed at a maximum of 50,000 IOPS.  We slid the drive into our test bench, formatted, tested and the final Vantage HDD Suite score was the highest we have received yet from any SSD at 44103 points.  This drive contains the SF-1200 processor with refreshed firmware and specifications at the enterprise level of 50,000 IOPS.

This was the first we had seen of IOPS at the enterprise level as the Renice, Memoright and Mach Extreme had specifications of 3,0000 4k random max IOPS.

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Corsair F90 Force Series 90GB SSD (Pre-Release)

We had but one review left before we dared attempt organization of the forty or so notes that we had lying around pertaining to SandForcee firmware upgrade, several of which had the words ‘ to remain unnamed‘ highlighted in yellow marker.  Corsair announced their release of the new F90 and F180 drives on 2 December 2010 and we received our F90 less than a week later.

We were anxious to get it tested because the release itself stated that this release had “a 4K random write throughput of up to 50,000 IOPs. This is the same level of performance as that of enterprise-level SSDs, and results in unmatched system responsiveness.”

As expected our PCMark Vantage Test score resulted in a return of 43188 points making it the third best SSD result we had ever obtained and we were ready to put the pieces together.

The SSD Review Vantage 40000 Club

This chart identifies the absolute top scores we have received with SSDs through use of PCMark Vantage.  Vantage is a software benchmark application that utilizes eight tests, based on simulated typical computing scenarios, to rate transfer speeds and provides an over all numerical score.

A valid point to remember is that all of these drives will appear to have the same performance levels of lesser drives simply because their performance is identified by ‘high sequential read and write transfer speeds.

In addition, the following can be stated of this chart:

  • the chart consists of the best scores we have ever received from Vantage;
  • all but one (Samsung) are SandForce controlled SSDs
  • the Super Talent FT2 is controlled with the enterprise SF-1500 processor
  • the OWC, Renice, Corsair, Memoright and Mach Extreme all contain the SF-1200
  • all SF-1200 controlled drives were tested as pre-release or re-freshed drives with the most recent firmware

We had discovered a fly in the ointment however.  The OWC and Corsair advertised 50,000 IOPS whereas the remainder of the SF-1200’s advertised 30,000.  Surely these couldn’t contain the same firmware could they?

Information Gained from Industry Insiders

The SSD arena is hitting the world like a storm which doesn’t seem to be letting up with the expected release of SATA 6GB/s in the near future and native USB 3 shortly thereafter.  Given respect to this, we have seen SSD manufacturers appear (Mach Extreme  most recently) and disappear (MTron) in the past few years leaving the industry in a delicate balance.

Those insiders who are privy to the information are those who could be looking for new employment in a heart beat so they are very careful in choosing their words. They can’t simply agree or deny, but rather, have a company issued line that explains their restrictions in disclosing information or, in some cases, we are fortunate to get a period of silence.  We enjoy the silent response because ‘silence is golden’.

I can go so far as stating that an executive asked me just this week to direct my questions to him at CES rather than the ‘fresh’ representatives that put the face on their product as influence can be a powerful tool and we wouldn’t want anyone losing their job.  I simply smiled and agreed that he had a point.

The following information has been gathered and confirmed through several industry professionals:

  • the SSDs we have tested all contain new firmware that is available only in some drives of some manufacturers
  • the new SF-1200 firmware performs at the level of the SF-1500 and sometime in excess of the SF-1500;
  • it is not the same firmware as the SF-1500 as many additional characteristics are necessary for operation in enterprise environments.  An example is the requirement for commands and the inclusion of the ‘Super Cap’ (shown below) on SF-1500 drives which ensures that all data in flight is saved to the flash in the event of a power loss;
  • the only drives that we can confirm contain this firmware are those that we have tested;
  • the firmware will perform at a maximum of 50,000 IOPS and manufacturers who list there specifications as such are correct.  This result can only ever be realistically attained after a secure erase where there is no need for garbage collection or very short bursts;
  • other manufacturers choose to list the firmware as max 30,000 IOPS which is also correct.  This is the steady state number you get after garbage collection kicks in after a secure erase or new out of box test; and
  • the physical composition or ‘silicon’ of  both the SF-1200 and SF-1500 is identical.  This is a widely used practice in all industries and the best and most recent example would be that of Intel i7 processors, excluding the Extreme versions.

Conclusions

The SF-1500 Super Cap

To start, the cat is out of the bag and we can confirm that SandForce has released a new firmware version for specific SF-1200 client SSDs.  Not only has it been spoken of  but our tests afford first hand proof and even go so far as to demonstrate that this firmware does one heck of a job of pushing new SandForce Driven SSDs to the top.  Short of the ‘Super Cap’ we can pretty much see that these new drives perform at the SF-1500 level and then some and they have proven that in simulated real life testing through PCMark Vantage x64.

What does this mean to the consumer?  An educated consumer who wants the best will look at the above charts and, in their selection of any brand of SandForce Driven SSD, ask the question as to whether that SSD is an older release or one that is newer or has been refreshed.  We will admit that the firmware update information is very confusing but the opportunity is always available to contact their support and ask the question directly.

In all efforts, we have not been able to obtain direct confirmation from SandForce or manufacturers that this firmware even exists as they are bound to silence so we cannot recommend which SSD contains the firmware and what does not other than those reviewed through our testing.  As well, we may have let out a few SandForce secrets but, at the price of showing that the five of the top seven SSD we have ever tested contain the SF-1200, would they complain?  We certainly hope not.

Falling short of that, we can guarantee that the drives we have tested all contain this new firmware as they are all new releases or refreshed drives.  The reviews speak for themselves.  We choose to include the result as displayed in performance software so there is no question whatsoever in the result.

Last but not least, this is an article which is predominantly SandForce but we have to give all the credit in the world to Samsung for introduction of that drive at just the right time.  Their arrival at our offices and subsequent test results contributed significantly to our lack of sleep during this period. No other ‘non-SandForce Driven’ manufacturer has reached the Vantage 40,000 plateau as of yet.

Pg1 – The Conspiracy Theory

Pg2 – Validation

Pg3 – The Good News

6 comments

  1. Might have to add another drive manufacturer to that list, G Skill have just released a new SF 1200 series called the Sniper, I noticed the much higher IOPS on this series of drives, two capacities available 60gb and 120gb. Only spotted it yesterday, might be worth a review.

    SITE RESPONSE: I would love to but G.Skill is one of only 2 companies that we have not been able to get a response from or establish contact with as of yet. If the is a G.Skill representative, please contact The SSD Review.

  2. How about the Mushkin Callisto Deluxe? I’ve heard rumors they have the high-ops 50K firmware out – is this the same high speed firmware?

    EDIT: I can’t answer that because theRE isn’t an OEM that has offered the opportunity to review one of their drives that has already been advertised as a ‘50000 IOPS drive’. I have reviewed drives like the OWC RE drive in the past and just because they reach 50000 IOPS does not mean they will get that result in Vantage. I can only speak for the drives that were tested.

    • I just tested mine in Vantage – 2x120GB Callisto Deluxe drives in RAID 0 and reached a Vantage score as shown:

      HDD Test Suite 62245.0

      This seems to me like each drive of course isn’t coming close to the 40K scores for a single drive you’re seeing with these ones. Bummer.

  3. A question for both of you, Cody and SSD. WIn 7 fully supports the TRIM function and is invaluable in measuring random write/read performance. What version of OS were you running to achieve these numbers?
    Cody, it is my understanding the TRIM function will not pass through a RAID configured disc array for SSD’s. Are you running a garbage collection utility on your RAID disc controller? You may be doing more harm than good in this config. try running the same exact tests with the Mushkin Callisto in a non RAID scenario.
    On a by note, if the Callisto Deluxe’s don’t provide the performance you expected I will happily purchase them from you. Mushkin is currently out of the 90&120 GB versions.

  4. Is it possible, or will it ever be possible, for a user to upgrade the firmware on a SandForce based drive?

    SITE RESPONSE: This is done with all SF drives right now…

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