Consumer SSD Battle: WD, Kingston, OCZ, Intel

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October 31, 2010 by Lawrence Lee

WD SiliconEdge Blue 64GB
Kingston SSDNow V G2 64GB Intel X25-V G2 40GB OCZ Vertex 2 60GB
Sample Supplier
Kingston Technology Intel OCZ Technology
Street Price
US$230 US$120 US$95 US$150

Every component in a modern desktop PC has gradually become many times faster than its analog from a decade ago with the exception of the hard disk drive. Modern models are undoubtedly speedier, but the relative difference is far less compared to the strides made in CPUs, GPUs, etc. Given how fast technology marches, the hard drive is a living electronic fossil. The lack of progress is not surprising as reading and writing data in a HDD is mostly a physical process. It doesn't much matter how many transistors you can cram onto a HDD's logic board — the motor still needs to spin the platter, the actuator arms still must move to the correct position so that the heads can perform operations.

Enter the solid state drive, which has been around for a long time, but only recently started to become mainstream due to advancements in Flash memory production. Though still very expensive per byte, the proliferation of the Flash chips found in memory cards, USB keys and mobile devices has brought the price down to the point where a tech-savvy end-user can buy an SSD without feeling like a complete sucker. The capacity of an affordable drive is rather small, but with no moving parts, access time is a hundred times faster, power consumption drops like a stone, and noise vanishes altogether. The resulting package is also smaller and less prone to physical damage.

The anatomy of an SSD is simple, with a 2.5" enclosure housing a small circuit board containing Flash memory chips, a controller, and memory for the controller. Budget drives use NAND Flash with slower MLC (multi-level cell) rather than SLC (single-level cell) chips due to cost and capacity. With many manufacturers using similar Flash chips in these drives, the controller and firmware are usually the biggest difference-makers when it comes to performance. The Flash chips themselves aren't that fast, but they can make a big impact if large number of chips are paired with a controller with enough channels to access them all at the same time. As a result, some larger SSDs outperform smaller ones from the same product line.

Not only does the controller have to manipulate all the data stored on the drive, it also is responsible for wear-leveling, spreading data evenly across the drive so blocks do not fail prematurely. Flash chips are split into a number of blocks, each with a finite number of writes that can be performed. Once a block is written to too many times, it stops retaining data. There is extra storage available to compensate for this, but eventually the entire drive becomes unusable. If data is written efficiently though, the lifespan of the drive is extended with most having estimated MTBF (mean time before failures) much higher than HDDs.

Three contenders: Intel X25-V G2 40GB, OCZ Vertex 2 60GB, and WD SiliconEdge Blue 64GB. The Kingston SSDNow V 64GB failed to show up for the groups photos.

The Intel X25-M was for a time the consensus choice for a performance MLC SSD. Its introduction two years ago marked Intel's entry into the SSD arena and virtually assured the mainstream acceptance of SSDs. The X25-V uses the same controller, though it is crippled somewhat because it cannot access as many chips simultaneously. This along with only 40GB of capacity results in its status as a budget SSD. Note that our sample is a 2nd generation drive with 34nm Flash chips.

The Kingston SSDNow V 64GB is a value product, one of the most affordable from a brand name, for its capacity. Unlike earlier Kingston SSDs, which were rebranded Intels, the SSDNow Series V is Kingston's own make. It uses a JMicron 602 controller with 64KB of cache, possibly the same one used in the WD SiliconEdge Blue. Earlier problematic JMicron controllers used just 16KB of cache.

The OCZ Vertex 2 uses a highly coveted controller from a company called Sandforce that has been making waves in 2010 and is now found in many MLC SSDs. The Sandforce controller uses a compression scheme that reduces the need for having its own separate memory; it has a small cache on the same package as the controller instead. The first Vertex had an Indilinx controller that arguably was the first to make budget SSD performance acceptable.

WD's SiliconEdge Blue carries an unusually high price, and reportedly, a JMicron controller. JMicron was responsible for a series of controllers that had major problems in earlier generation SSDs, but presumably they've gotten their act together for a company like WD to use them. More interesting perhaps is that WD, despite being a giant in the hard drive world was very late to the solid state game; Intel and OCZ have been at it for a few years while the SiliconEdge series is WD's first SSD offering, introduced some six months ago. The name acknowledges the role of SiliconSystems Inc, an SSD manufacturer acquired by WD in March 2009, in the development of the product.

The drives laid bare.

A stock photo of the Kingston.

Both the Intel and OCZ drives came in retail packages with a 3.5" drive adapter included, while the WD and Kingston arrived as bare OEM drives. OCZ went with a shiny silver on black motif while WD and Kingston opted for simple uniform metallic enclosures. The X25-V is the most distinct with its protective rubber bumper running along the outside rim on the top side of the drive.

Specifications: WD SiliconEdge 64GB vs. Kingston SSDNow V 64GB vs.
OCZ Vertex 2 60GB vs. Intel X25-V G2 40GB
Model Number
2100 (WD)
SNV425-S2/64GB (Kingston)
G2GC (Intel)
Random 4KB Read
5,000 IOPS
25,000 IOPS
Random 4KB Write
5,000 IOPS
50,000 IOPS
2,500 IOPS
Sustained Read
250 MB/s
200 MB/s
250 MB/s
170 MB/s
Sustained Write
140 MB/s
110 MB/s
35 MB/s
Max Read
250 MB/s
285 MB/s
Max Write
170 MB/s
275 MB/s
Idle Power
0.6 W
0.7 W
0.5 W
75 mW
Active Power
2.2 W 3/5 W (read/write)
2 W
150 mW
1,400,000 hrs
1,000,000 hrs
2,000,000 hrs
1,200,000 hrs
3 years
3 years
3 years
3 years

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