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ADATA XPG SX300 128GB & Intel 525 Series 180GB mSATA SSDs

The ADATA XPG SX300 and Intel 525 Series brings the SandForce SF-2281 experience to the tiny mSATA form factor without missing a beat.

January 20, 2013 by Lawrence Lee

Product
ADATA XPG SX300 128GB mSATA SSD Intel 525 Series 180GB mSATA SSD
Manufacturer
ADATA Technology Intel
Street Price
US$125 ?

Mini-SATA is a small form factor developed by Intel for solid state drives
using the mini-PCI Express interface. It’s supported on a handful of desktop
and mini-ITX motherboards but more common in the mobile space. Most laptops
and ultrabooks have but a single SATA drive bay, forcing users to sacrifice
storage space for a peppy SSD or trade performance for a roomy old fashioned
hard drive. Having an mSATA option allows you to have both, using an SSD on
the mini-PCIe slot and a HDD on SATA.

The ADATA XPG SX300 and Intel 525 Series 180GB are two more SandForce SF-2281
based SSDs, though this time in mSATA form. The last ADATA model we tested,
the SX910,
was a fairly snappy drive but faced heavy competition in a market flooded with
2.5 inch SATA SSDs, mainly other SandForce models. As mSATA is just taking off,
the SX300 and 525 face virtually no competition. The Intel 525 is similar to
the the 520,
though according to earlier reports, it was supposed to be equipped with 22
nm NAND Flash — our CX300 and 525 samples are both outfitted with run-of-the-mill
25 nm modules. The 525 hasn’t been officially released but one was fortuitously
included with our sample of the
Intel Next Unit Computing DC3217BY
.

ADATA XPG SX300 128GB and Intel 525 Series 180GB.

Due to the small form factor, mSATA drives top out at about 256GB though this shouldn’t be an issue for most users since larger drives are prohibitively expensive per byte. With the circuit board being a minuscule 51 x 30 mm, finer fabrication processes are required to increase storage capacity. Both drives have a SF-2281 controller chip and 25 nm Flash chips, 4 x 32GB for the ADATA SX300 128GB and 3 x 64GB for the Intel 525 180GB.

Like most SandForce drives, a percentage of the 525’s storage is withheld from the user to replace cells as they eventually wear out from overuse. The SX300 follows in the footsteps of the SX910, having altered firmware that frees up all available capacity to the user. This obviously creates some concern regarding longevity but ADATA is apparently confident with this move, rating the drive for 1,200,000 hours of operation and backing it with a standard 3 year warranty.

Intel 525 180GB installed on a SATA drive adapter.

Like most desktoptop motherboards, our hard drive testing platforms lacks an
mSATA connector, so testing these SSDs are tested using an mSATA to SATA adapter,
model number Syba SY-ADA40050. The documentationc claims no bottleneck for dataflow,
but we would not be surprised if there is some overhead, however slim. The adapter
board has an exposed circuit board which can be an issue depending on how snug
the SATA power connector fits. Flexing and even cracking or breaking the board
is within the realm of possibility, so some caution should be exercised handling
the adapter.


ADATA XPG SX300: Specifications
(from the product website)
Capacity 64GB/128GB/256GB
Form Factor Full-size mSATA
Interface SATA 6Gb/sec
NAND Flash Multi-Level Cell (MLC) NAND Flash Memory
Controller LSI SandForce SF-2281
Dimensions 50.95 x 30 x 4mm(L × W × T)
Weight 7g
Performance Read: 550 MB/sec.
Write: 505 MB/sec.
IOPS: Read 25,000/Write 85,000 (Maximum 4K Random Write)
Operating Temperature 0~70 °C
Storage Temperature -40~85 °C
Shock Resistance 1500G/0.5ms
MTBF 1,200,000 Hours
ECC Recovery Up to 55 bits correctable per 512-byte sector (BAH)
Certification RoHS, CE, FCC
Warranty 3 Years

The SX300’s specifications are unremarkable for a moderately fast Sandforce
variant. The sequential write and random read performance figures are a little
low compared to the SX910. We don’t have any verified numbers for the Intel
525 as it hasn’t officially launched but our guess is it’s comparable to the
520.

TESTING

Our samples were tested according to our standard
hard drive testing methodology
. As of mid-2008, we have been conducting most acoustics tests in our own 10~11 dBA anechoic chamber, which results in more accurate, lower SPL readings than before, especially with <20 dBA@1m SPL.

Two forms of hard drive noise are measured:

  1. Airborne acoustics
  2. Vibration-induced noise.

These two types of noise impact the subjective
perception of hard drive noise differently depending on how and where the drive
is mounted.

Both forms of noise are evaluated objectively and
subjectively. Airborne acoustics are measured in our anechoic chamber using a lab reference
microphone and computer audio measurement system
. Measurements are taken at a distance of one meter from the top
of the drive using an A-weighted filter. Vibration noise is rated on a scale
of 1-10 by comparing against our standard reference drives.

As of late-2011, we have been conducting performance testing. A combination of timed real-world tests is used to represent a workload of common activities for a boot drive including loading games, running disk-intensive applications, copying files, and installing programs. Synthetic tests are also run to better judge the performance across the entire span of the drive.

Summary of primary HDD testing tools:

Key Components in LGA1155 Heatsink Test Platform:

Performance Test Tools:

Benchmark Details

  • Boot: Time elapsed between pressing the power button to the desktop and the Windows start sound playing (minus the average time to get to the “loading Windows” screen, 11 seconds on our test system)
  • COD5: Combined load time for “Breaking Point” and “Black Cats” levels.
  • Far Cry 2: Load time for one level.
  • ExactFile: Creating a MD5 check file of our entire test suite folder.
  • TrueCrypt: Creating a 10GB encrypted file container.
  • 3DMark Vantage: Install time, longest interval between prompts.
  • PowerDVD 10: Install time, longest interval between prompts.
  • Small File Copy: Copy time for a variety of small HTML, JPEG, MP3, ZIP, and EXE files.
  • Large File Copy: Copy time for 4 AVI files, 2 x 700MB and 2 x 1400MB
    in size.

A final caveat: As with most reviews, our comments
are relevant to the samples we tested. Your sample may not be identical. There
are always some sample variances, and manufacturers also make changes without
telling everyone.

Ambient conditions at time of testing were 10.5 dBA and 22°C.

Real World Performance

A Windows 7 image loaded with our test suite was cloned to a 50GB partition
at the beginning of each drive after a complete format. Our entire
test suite was run start to finish three times with a defragmentation (SSDs and hybrid drives excluded) and reboot
between runs.
Average times were collected for comparison.

The SX300 edged out the SX910
128GB
and HyperX
3K 120GB
by 0.1 and 0.2 seconds respectively to earn the win in our
loading tests. The 525 finished more than two seconds slower, headlining a group
of less impressive entrants, but overall the gap between fastest and slowest
boot time is pretty inconsequential.

In our application tests, the SX300 was average, lagging 5.4% behind in the
TrueCrypt test to larger capacity SandForce drives. The 525 had an even tougher
time, finishing last overall some 11.5% behind the leaders.

In a reversal of fortune, the 525 found itself in the top three when copying
files to itself while the SX300 lagged behind somewhat, but the difference between
the two was just a second or so. Both drives were quite quick with small file
batches but slower with larger file sets.

Difference in application tests were small overall, but SX300 led by a hair
amongst the smaller SandForce drives in installation performance while the larger
models and the Samsung
830
had a comfortable cushion installing PowerDVD. The Intel was marginallt
behind.

To accurately represent the overall results of our real world performance tests, we gave each model a proportional score in each benchmark series (loading, application, file copy, and installation) with each benchmark set equally weighted. The scale has been adjusted so that among the drives compared, a perfectly average model would score 100 points.

Despite its average results in most of our tests, its excellent loading times
pushed the SX300 into 3rd place, just slightly ahead of the Corsair
Force GS 240GB
while the 525’s more lukewarm performance was good for
6th. It’s important to note that the differences in scores are minute; in normal
use, it would be exceedingly difficult to tell most of these drives apart unless
you timed every task performed. There just isn’t much difference between the
various SandForce models.

Synthetic Test Results

Though our timed benchmark tests do a fair job of simulating performance in real world situations, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Synthetic tests like HD Tune and CrystalDiskMark help fill the gap. Note: on SSDs, a full format was conducted before running these tests.

The SX300 appears to be the king of sequential performance, outpacing all comers
by a comfortable margin, aside from the HyperX 3K 240GB.

Random performance was a mixed bag with the SX300 excelling with large 512K blocks and the 525 performing slightly better with the smaller 4K size. Write speed seems to be Achilles’ heel of both drives compared to the Samsung 830 and Corsair Force GS.

Energy Efficiency

It looks like our power consumption figures reflect the extra power required
for the mSATA to SATA adapter circuitry. We suspect these smaller drives could
be slightly more energy efficient than standard SATA drives but we have no sure way to
tell, and the difference would be trivial anyway. We can say the 525 uses slightly
less power than the SX300.

Noise

As solid state drives have no spinning platters or moving parts of any kind, they are effectively silent storage devices. It is possible that there could be a tiny bit of electronic noise (typically a high pitched squeal) being emitted, either intermittently depending on task, or continuously, but the neither of the mSATA drives we tested today made so much as a peep as far as we could tell. The only SSD we’ve ever tested that made any audible noise was the Zalman S Series 128GB model which produced an odd high frequency squeal whenever it was accessed.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The important thing to take away from our test results is that you’re not going
to give up anything by going with an mSATA SSD, at least as far as SandForce
based drives are concerned. The ADATA XPG SX300 128GB and Intel 525 Series 180GB
deliver the same performance as similar capacity SandForce SSDs using the more
common SATA interface. Though the SX300 is a bit quicker overall, edging out
the 525 and some of the better drives we’ve encountered in our real world performance
test suite, in most cases we’re talking a couple seconds — or just fractions
of a second — so you may never be able to tell the difference.

Searching for a good SATA SSD is only difficult in that there are so many options
— dozens upon dozens of models that are both widely available and competitively
priced, many of which are indistinguishable from one another aside from brand.
mSATA is another story, a less common interface primarily used in laptops and
SFF desktop PCs. Naturally there are much fewer options (compounded by the capacity
limit of the smaller form factor) and somewhat higher prices all around. In
this limited market, the ADATA XPG SX300 128GB is a standout.

There is a slight price premium, with the SX300 going for approximately US$125,
about US$20 more than its 120GB sized SandForce cousins. The extra 8GB
offered by the SX300 helps soothe the difference somewhat. As for the Intel
525 Series 180GB, we have no information regarding pricing or release and when
it does launch, it might be running better optimized firmware or be using higher
grade and/or denser Flash chips than our sample. Our sample is not a final production
model, so consider this more of a preview than review.

Many thanks to ADATA
Technology
and Intel
for the respective samples.

* * *


ADATA XPG SX300 128GB
is Recommended by SPCR

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:
Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB SSD Review
Intel 520 Series 120GB SandForce SSD
Crucial M4 64GB: Solid-State on a Budget
Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB vs. Samsung 830 Series 128GB
Corsair Force GS 240GB: SandForce with Toggle-Mode NAND
ADATA XPG SX910 128GB Solid State Drive

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