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Hard-Drive Roundup June 2010

Hard-Drive Roundup June 2010

Hard-Drive Roundup

Conclusion
(For detailed scores and pricing see the base of this page)

Corsair F100
Corsair bases their Force Series around the SandForce 1200 controller and pair it with 100Gb of high quality Micron MLC NAND flash chips. Looking first at the packaging and bundle the drive arrived well protected and it was great to see the inclusion of a good quality bracket which allows the drive to be installed in a 3.5” bay.

The unit itself feels sturdy thanks to a quality metal case which will protect the PCB from damage and being finished completely in black makes it desirable to many case modders. When in use the user experience is great on this drive, from boot times that are very fast to file copy operations which exceed the performance of SSDs from a year ago, benefiting greatly from the fact the drive does not require data cache outside the controller. The OS is always fast and responsive when running on the F100 and thanks to the 50k IOPS performance and support for TRIM it should always remain this way.

In terms of firmware and support our experience tells us that Corsair release updates when they feel they are required, rather than making public every possible update. This may not suit some types of consumer but for those who want guaranteed stability it will be appealing. Corsair offer a 3-year warranty on the drive and have a support forum where users can speak directly to Corsair staff which is ideal, though the user community is not as active as some.

Looking at the value represented by the drive, generally SSDs do not offer much in this area with costs still being high for reasonably low capacities. The F100 is more expensive than drives of similar size from the last generation but offers vastly improved write performance. Finally, Corsair have also started shipping 120GB versions of their Force range which offer a little extra storage for those who feel 100GB will be a bit tight.

Product Award

Corsair V128
For their Nova series drives Corsair use the same protective packaging as the more expensive Force series and bundle the same useful drive bracket. The similarities continue through the use of a black, metal casing which looks good and feels sturdy. It is great to see that there have been no corners cut on a drive which is aimed at a lower price point than the Force Series. To reach the lower price point Corsair use an Indilinx controller and as a result we have performance which doesn’t quite match the SandForce based drives, most notably in write speeds. Compared to a mechanical drive, even the high end VelociRaptor and Barracuda XT, the Nova series provides huge leaps in performance and the use of the older Indilinx controller actually has another significant benefit. That is a stable, mature firmware.

As with the force series our experience tells us that Corsair release firmware updates when they feel they are required, rather than making public every possible update. This may not suit some types of consumer but for those who want guaranteed stability it will be appealing. The same 3-year warranty also applies and of course consumers have access to the same support forum where users can speak directly to Corsair staff.

It is worth shopping around for the Nova series SSDs as some stores have them priced quite close to the Force drives, where there is a gap in pricing the Nova offers an ideal entry into the performance SSD market.

Product Award

Crucial C300 256GB
When first unboxing the RealSSD C300 we noticed that the top side of the casing is a little more flimsy than that offered by other manufacturers, bending more under pressure but not to an extent where the drive would be easily damaged. After this minor issue the C300 really shines though, it is a very impressive product.

Marvell, with their experience in creating SATA controllers, seem to have created a SSD chipset which offers everything we would want from a high end drive such as TRIM. Then there is compatibility with SATA3 which allows us to achieve the highest read speeds in this review, well above those possible on SATA2 devices including the SandForce based models.

When looking first at the specifications for write performance it could cause some concern that the speed advertised by Crucial is 60MB/s slower than the Indilinx and SandForce based drives but in real world use this rarely affects the drive. Copying a 17GB file for example completes significantly faster on the C300 than the other drives being tested today. The same can be said for batches of smaller files too.

In terms of support, the firmware update process went very smoothly for us and Crucial are another manufacturer who back up their 3-Year warranty with access to staff via a support forum which is reasonably active with end users. Online live chat is also available.

As we were testing the C300 256GB today this makes the cost significantly higher than the other drives being tested but comparing this model to a SandForce based 256GB drive shows that Crucial have their pricing set at a very aggressive level, £40 below the competition in the UK. The US pricing doesn’t fare as well though with the drive retailing a little higher at this time.

Product AwardProduct Award

Kingston V Series 30GB
The name of this drive tells us a lot about the market segment it is aimed at, V for value and in this regard Kingston have without doubt achieved their goal, especially with the inclusion of drive brackets and imaging software. It may not have a huge capacity or write speed but the V-Series 30GB offers a low cost entry into the world of SSDs. Read speeds are very impressive, exceeding mechanical hard drives by around 60MB/s and it is fantastic to see TRIM support included at such a low price point.

For support Kingston offer the more traditional methods of email and phone rather than a support forum and we rarely see firmware updates from them due to there being no need. Their platform is stable and provides everything the target consumer will require and of course we have a good 3-Year warranty on this drive.

It should be noted that the 30GB model is really aimed at being a boot/OS drive and those who want to install applications without a dedicated storage drive will want to purchase the higher capacity models in the series (64GB for £99) or combine two of these in RAID 0, doubling the capacity and write speed by doing so. Even with the cost of a 2nd drive the price is still competitive, matching many 64GB models.

Product Award

OCZ Vertex2 100GB
The OCZ Vertex 2 arrives in a compact package with plenty of protection for the SSD and as with a few other manufacturers a 3.5” bracket is provided for installation in cases without 2.5” drive support.

The drive itself has a sturdy feeling metal chassis and inside is a SandForce 1200 based unit with Intel MLC NAND flash chips. OCZ advertise uncapped IOPS performance and they achieved this, scoring well in excess of some other SandForce models and older SSDs. Additionally the real world experience offered by the drive was excellent. Read speeds hit the rated levels, as did write performance which is significantly faster than their previous generation Vertex series.

With OCZ it is not all about performance though and we cannot praise their level of customer support more highly. OCZ always offer firmware updates which are quick to market and often well documented, ensuring consumers are able to make the choice on whether to flash or not. For those who do update an easy to use tool is provided which makes the process quick and simple, even rebooting the system at the end of the flash automatically. We have also seen a tool they have in development which will help to maintain the drive within a Windows environment, yet another customer friendly idea. Their real strength though is in the support forum. As well as having a handful of very active staff who are experts in OCZ SSDs the user community is very active and knowledgeable.

All of this is backed by an industry standard 3-Year warranty which combined with the great support and performance makes a well-rounded product.

Product Award

Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB
Seagate’s Barracuda XT is really all about one thing, massive capacity. They have created a drive which offers users as much storage as is currently available in the single drive market and in that respect it has achieved its goal.

Looking closer at the performance and features of the drive it is great to see Seagate being proactive through use of the SATA 6GB/s interface, though in reality mechanical drives in their current form will not achieve read/write speeds which are available on SATA 2. A more useful addition to the drive is 64MB cache which reduces the potential for any bottlenecks within the drive. This results in a product which has some industry leading read/write speeds for a mechanical drive. Users should remember though that as the drive fills performance such as read speed drop significantly as with other mechanical drives.

For support Seagate offer a 5-Year warranty and consumers can contact them through email and live chat. A customer forum is also available. Finally we have the value aspect, currently the Barracuda XT is priced at a slightly lower level than other 2TB drives and is double the cost of 1TB models which makes the pricing pretty much spot on.

Product Award

Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB
When creating the VelociRaptor Western Digital made several significant improvements over previous Raptor drives. For some, cache was increased but the main changes were in noise levels, vibration levels and temperatures recorded. The move to a 2.5” style model combined with Western Digital’s features such as NoTouch create a drive which is much cooler and quieter than the previous generation.

The performance of the SATA 2 based VelociRaptor was good, exceeding the levels found on most mechanical drives however when comparing this to an empty Barracuda XT the WD model often has slower read/write performance by about 10%. As the drives fill though the Barracuda drops to 50% performance, a larger drop than the VelociRaptor which doesn’t fall below 80% of its speed until the final 60GB of the drive.

For support Western digital offer phone and email support and cover the drive with a 5-year warranty. There is one additional support aspect which is impressive, and something which we have experienced ourselves. We had an original Raptor become faulty just 2 months away from the end of its Warranty period. Not only did Western Digital RMA the drive via an automated web process they replaced the drive with an up to date VelociRaptor which had higher performance and slightly more capacity. The turnaround time they offer could be faster but otherwise a great customer experience.

As for value, the VelociRaptor doesn’t fare well when comparing price per Gigabyte with standard mechanical drives but it is faster than most by a clear margin. This makes it a worthwhile purchase for consumers who want top notch mechanical performance rather than huge amounts of storage space.

Product AwardProduct Award

Western Digital Scorpio Black 320GB
The Scorpio Black is aimed at consumers who want to replace the existing drive in their laptop with a model that offers class leading performance and technology. For those who do purchase the drive they will find that Western Digital have created a great notebook based device which matches the best 2.5” mechanical drives out there reaching 85/80MB/s for read and write operations at 7200RPM and containing 16MB of cache.

This drive also offers the all-important free fall sensor which protects data from damage/loss if the laptop is dropped or falls from a surface and quieter operation is achieved through WhisperDrive technology.

Support wise we get the same phone and email options as a standard desktop drive and the warranty is 3-5 Years depending on your region. Then on the value front it is hard to fault the Scorpio Black, as it retails for $80/£57 making it a very affordable upgrade for most consumers.

Product Award

Detailed Score Breakdown and Pricing

Corsair F100

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Available from: Scan – £300 (120GB)
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Available from: NewEgg – $349 (120GB)

Corsair V128

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Available from: Scan – £260 (128GB)
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Available from: NewEgg – $349 (128GB)

Crucial C300 256GB

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Available from: Scan – £496 (256GB)
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Available from: NewEgg – $679 (256GB)

Kingston V Series 30GB

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Available from: eBuyer – £70 (30GB)
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Available from: NewEgg – $90 (30GB)

OCZ Vertex 2 100GB

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Available from: Scan – £292 (100GB)
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Available from: NewEgg – $349 (100GB)

Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB

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Available from: OCUK – £215 (2TB)
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Available from: NewEgg – $200 (2TB)

Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB

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Available from: OCUK – £184 (300GB)
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Available from: NewEgg – $240 (300GB)

Western Digital Scorpio Black 320GB

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Available from: OCUK – £57 (320GB)
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Available from: NewEgg – $80 (320GB)
What do these awards mean?

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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