240 GB SATA-600 Solid State Drive Round-Up
By Henry Butt on July 22, 2011
Even though there is a plethora of mechanical hard drives on the market that support the SATA-600 interface, we really need a solid state drive to make use of the bandwidth available. Today we are going to compare five different models from Crucial, Intel, Mushkin, OCZ, and OWC to see how they perform.
Recently, there has been a mass adoption of the SATA-600 interface by motherboard manufacturers thanks to native support in the latest chipsets from AMD and Intel. So if you’re going to be building a new system anytime soon, it’s likely that you’ll be able to make use of the extra bandwidth of SATA-600 over the previous generation SATA-300 interface.
Before continuing, we’d highly suggest that you read our Anatomy of SSD Units tutorial which provides all the background information you need to know about SSDs. The SSDs featured in this review use MLC memory chips.
In the table below, we compare all the drives we’re going to review. All five units use the standard 2.5” form factor and the SATA-600 interface. The Vertex 3 unit from OCZ is available in two slightly different models. We have the MAX IOPS version for testing today.
The advertised capacities of the drives on test vary slightly even though all of the drives on test feature the same number of memory chips. All five drives feature 256 GB of physical memory, but some of the manufacturers set aside a certain portion of the available memory for over-provisioning. This helps to improve the performance of the drive in the long run. The capacities of the five drives are displayed in the table below.
Vertex 3 MAX IOPS
Mercury Extreme Pro 6G
Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review. The Mushkin Chronos wasn’t available from Newegg.com at the time of review, so we took the price from AVADirect.com.
In the table below, we provide a more in-depth technical overview of the reviewed units. For some reason, most chip manufacturers don't put on their websites specific information about these chips, so we are linking only what we found.
Micron IED22D9LGQ (256 MB)
Micron 29F128G08CFAAB (16 x 16 GB)
Intel 510 Series
Intel 29F16B08JAMDD (16 x 16 GB)
Toshiba TH58TAG7D2FBA89 (16 x 16 GB)
OCZ Vertex 3 MAX IOPS
Toshiba TH58TAG7D2FBAS9 (16 x 16 GB)
OWC Mercury Extreme 6G
Micron 29F128G08CFAAB (16 x 16 GB)
Even though all the drives on test have the same capacity, the internal configurations are all slightly different. We will now look at each drive in more detail.
Crucial has opted for a very plain grey design for the casing of the M4, which doesn’t infuse us with excitement. But its metal construction feels very solid and should prove durable.
On the top of the PCB, the Marvell 88SS9174-BLD2 controller takes center stage next to eight of the 16 Micron 29F128G08CFAAB 16 GB memory chips. The eight remaining memory chips are located on the underside of the PCB alongside the 256 MB Micron IED22D9LGQ buffer chip.
Intel has chosen to use a silver colored metal casing for the 510 Series drive. The design of the case is very similar to the one used by OWC for the Mercury 6G. Both these drives have an exceptional quality feel, which is much more impressive than any of the other drives on test.
Like Crucial, Intel has also chosen to use a Marvell controller in their SATA-600 drive, albeit a slightly different model (Marvell 88SS9174-BKK2). It has maximum claimed read and write speeds of 500 MB/s and 265 MB/s, respectively. Eight of the Intel 29F16B08JAMDD 16 GB memory chips are located on the top of the PCB next to the controller alongside the Hynix H5TQ1G63BFR 128 MB buffer chip. The remaining eight chips are located on the underside of the PCB.
Mushkin has chosen to use a dark grey metal casing for the Chronos, which is decorated with a large sticker. This is very similar in design to the casings used by Intel and OWC, making it very good quality, indeed.
The Mushkin Chronos is the first of the five drives on test that features the latest SandForce SF-2281 controller. The drive boasts some impressive read and write figures of 560 MB/s and 520 MB/s, respectively. There are 16 Toshiba TH58TAG7D2FBA89 16 GB memory chips in total, which are distributed evenly between both sides of the PCB.
The Vertex 3 MAX IOPS features an identical casing to the Agility 3, although it does have a slightly different sticker on the top. This isn’t quite as good quality as the other drives on test, but it shouldn’t cause any issues.
Even though the Vertex 3 MAX IOPS features the same SandForce SF-2281 controller as the Agility 3, it has slightly better claimed read and write figures of 550 MB/s and 500 MB/s, respectively. OCZ has used 16 Toshiba H58TAG7D2FBAS9 16 GB memory chips, which are distributed evenly between the two sides of the PCB.
There’s no denying it, the OWC unit has the most striking appearance of the five drives on test, thanks to the attractive metallic blue finish. The casing is constructed from metal and is very good quality.
Figure 9: OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 240 GB 6G
The OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 6G drive also features the latest SandForce SF-2281 controller and boasts claimed read and write speeds of 559 MB/s and 527 MB/s, respectively. OWC has chosen to use 16 Micron 29F128G08CFAAB 16 GB memory chips to make up the 240 GB capacity. Eight of these are on the top of the PCB, with the remaining eight on the underside.
During our testing procedures, we used the configuration listed below. The only variable component between each benchmarking session was the SSD being tested.
We adopted a 3% error margin in our tests, meaning performance differences of less than 3% can’t be considered meaningful. Therefore, when the performance difference between two products is less than 3%, we consider them to have similar performance.
As you will have gathered from the previous page, we measured the performance of each drive using three different programs: AS SSD, CrystalDiskMark, and HD Tune. We will be looking at the test results from each program in the order they appear in the list above.
It’s important to note that we connected the SSDs to a SATA-600 port on our motherboard rather than a SATA-300 port, which could cause performance limitations. We used the default configuration in AS SSD for our tests.
All three SandForce based drives – the OWC Mercury 6G, OCZ Vertex 3 (MI), and Mushkin Chronos – exhibited a similar level of performance in the sequential read test. They were approximately 9% better than the Intel 510 Series drive and 21% better than the Crucial M4 unit.
In the sequential write test, the Intel 510 Series drive exhibited the best performance, which was about 12% better than the OWC Mercury 6G. The other two SandForce based drives, the Mushkin Chronos and OCZ Vertex 3 (MI), exhibited a similar level of performance, which was about 18% slower than the Intel unit. The Crucial M4 drive showed the worst performance in this test and was around 30% slower than the Intel 510 Series unit.
In the random read test using 4 KB, the OWC Mercury 6G performed best, beating the Crucial M4 and OCZ Vertex 3 (MI) by just over 3 percent. These drives exhibited a similar level of performance to each other. The Intel 510 Series and Mushkin Chronos also showed a similar level of performance to each other, which was around 15% less than the OWC Mercury 6G.
Moving on to the random write test using 4 KB blocks, the Mushkin Chronos and OWC Mercury 6G exhibited a similar level of performance, which was around 4% better than the OCZ Vertex 3 (MI) and 5% better than the Crucial M4. The Intel 510 Series unit was the clear loser in this test, as it scored 38% worse than the best performers in this test.
The Mushkin Chronos and OWC Mercury 6G exhibited a similar level of performance in the read test, beating the Crucial M4 by 16%, the OCZ Vertex 3 (MI) by 160%, and the Intel 510 Series by 204 percent. In the write test, the Intel 510 Series drive was the best, beating the OWC Mercury 6G by 141%, the OCZ Vertex 3 (MI) by 153%, the Mushkin Chronos by 156%, and the Crucial M4 by 184 percent.
We used CrystalDiskMark’s default configuration for our tests, which benchmarked each SSD using a file size of 1,000 MB with five test runs. Please continue reading to see the results.
The OCZ Vertex 3 (MI) held the performance lead in the sequential read test, performing about 7% better on average than the Intel 510 Series, Mushkin Chronos, and OWC Mercury 6G, which all exhibited a similar level of performance. The Crucial M4 was the clear loser in this test, as the OCZ Vertex 3 (MI) outperformed it by about 30 percent.
In the sequential write test, the Intel 510 Series drive performed best, beating the OWC Mercury 6G by 5%, the OCZ Vertex 3 (MI) by 11%, the Mushkin Chronos by 14%, and the Crucial M4 by 35 percent.
Once again, the OCZ Vertex 3 performed best in the read test, outperforming the Mushkin Chronos by 4% and the OWC Mercury 6G by 10 percent. The OCZ Vertex 3 also beat the Intel 510 Series by 48% and the Crucial M4 by 53 percent.
In the random write test using 512 KB blocks, the OCZ Vertex 3 (MI) exhibited similar performance to the Crucial M4. On average, these outperformed the Intel 510 Series by 7%, the Mushkin Chronos by 9%, and the OWC Mercury 6G by 17 percent.
In the random read test using 4 KB blocks, the OWC Mercury 6G achieved the best performance, beating the Mushkin Chronos by 4%, the OCZ Vertex 3 (MI) by 8%, the Crucial M4 C400 by 47%, and the Intel 510 Series by 58 percent. In the random write test, however, the OCZ Vertex 3 (MI) came out on top, beating both the OWC Mercury 6G and Mushkin Chronos by 10 percent. It also beat the Crucial M4 by 17% and the Intel 510 Series by 55 percent.
Now we will look at the results recorded using HD Tune. Please read on to see the results.
In the burst transfer rate test, all three SandForce drives and the Intel 510 Series achieved a similar level of performance. On average, they beat the Crucial M4 by a massive 240 percent.
The OWC Mercury 6G drive achieved the best performance in the average transfer rate, beating the Mushkin Chronos by 3%, and the OCZ Vertex 3 by 4 percent. It also beat both the Intel 510 Series and Crucial M4 by 5 percent.
So, which is the fastest 240 GB solid state drive? Well, there was no clear overall winner, as each drive had strengths and weaknesses in different tests.
In the sequential read tests, the OCZ Vertex 3 MAX IOPS performed best, beating the other drives by a clear margin in CrystakDiskMark and AS SSD. But, in the sequential write tests, the Intel 510 Series drive came out on top. In both the sequential read and write tests, the Crucial M4 showed the worst performance and was outperformed by a large margin.
Moving on to the random tests using 512 KB blocks, the OCZ Vertex 3 MAX IOPS drive came out on top in both the read and write tests. In the random tests using 4 KB blocks, however, the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 6G was the overall winner, coming out on top in three out of the four tests. In the CrystalDiskMark random write test using 4 KB, the OCZ Vertex 3 MAX IOPS beat the OWC drive by a small margin.
In HD Tune, the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 6G achieved the highest average transfer rate and the joint highest burst transfer rate with the other two SandForce based drives.
So which one of these drives should you buy? Well, if you’re looking for the best possible performance, either the OCZ Vertex 3 MAX IOPS or OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 6G would be our choice. The two drives exhibited strengths and weaknesses in different areas with the OWC drive coming out on top in seven tests and the OCZ Vertex 3 MAX IOPS in five. The two drives are very similarly priced, and both are a great option.
Although the Crucial M4 SSD was the worst overall performer, we must consider that it costs around USD 130 less than the other drives on test. This makes it a great option for people who don’t mind sacrificing a little performance for better value for the money. It also has a slightly larger capacity, as Crucial hasn’t used any over-provisioning.
We believe the Intel 510 Series drive is a little overpriced, but we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to users if it were to come down a little to somewhere in between the Crucial M4 and the SandForce based drives. So if you can pick it up on sale somewhere, you won’t be disappointed! The Mushkin Chronos drive exhibited very good performance in our tests but ended up coming in slightly behind the OCZ Vertex 3, coming out on top in four of the tests. While it is still a fast drive, we would like to see it come down in price by USD 15 before we would purchase it over the two better performing SandForce based drives.