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ADATA XPG SX910 128GB Solid State Drive

The ADATA XPG SX910 SSD is yet another in a long line of andForce-based solid state drives, but it has a few extra benefits to differentiate it from the masses.

July 29, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Product
ADATA XPG SX910
ASX910S3-128GM
128GB 2.5″ SSD
Manufacturer
MSRP
US$190

In the past few months, the cost of solid state drives has dropped substantially, allowing more consumers the opportunity to enjoy the various advantages they hold over mechanical hard drives, namely lightning fast access times, transfer speeds that actually push the bandwidth of the older SATA standards, superb energy efficiency, and completely silent operation.

The bulk of consumer grade SSDs currently on the market are powered by LSI’s SandForce controller, an affordable solution found in countless drives from various manufacturers like Intel, OCZ, Corsair, Kingston, Mushkin, and ADATA. The latter just released a new flagship SSD, the ADATA XPG SX910, powered by the current standard for budget SSDs, the venerable SandForce SF-2281 controller.


The ADATA XPG SX910 128GB box.

It’s difficult to keep track of all the current SSD options available as the market is somewhat flooded. ADATA themselves have been selling several different SandForce models prior to this, with the last being the SX900, released only a couple of months ago. As you can guess from the model number, the SX910 is meant as a higher-end alternative The SX910 is a more premium product aimed at gamers and professionals who have higher performance demands than the average Joe.


ADATA XPG SX910: Specifications
(from the product
web page
)
Capacity 128GB/256GB/512GB
Form Factor SATA III 6Gb/sec
NAND Flash Multi-Level Cell (MLC) NAND Flash Memory
Controller LSI SandForce SF-2281
Dimensions 100 x 69.85 x 9.5mm (L x W x H)
Weight 76g
Performance(Max) Sequential Read: 550 MB/sec
Sequential Write: 530 MB/sec
IOPS: 50,000 (Maximum 4K Random Read)
IOPS: 85,000 (Maximum 4K Random Write)
Power consumption 0.5W Idle/1.2W Active
MTBF 1,000,000 Hours
ECC Recovery Up to 55 bits correctable per 512-byte sector (BCH) *varies depending on exact configuration
Warranty 5 Years

Like the SX900, the SX910 is offered in slightly higher capacities than most SandForce drives (128GB instead of 120GB, 256GB instead of 240GB, etc.) All SSDs have more raw capacity than is usable with a most of the unseen space provisioned as backup storage for when NAND cells eventually start dying from overuse. Recently LSI has started allowing manufacturers to alter the firmware to change how this extra space could be utilized and ADATA has decided to maximize usable capacity, to the tune of 7%.

Though you would expect that this would equate to lower lifespan, the SX910’s specified MTBF is a standard 1,000,000 hours (114 years) and the warranty has been confidently increased from three years to five. Performance is also a priority and ADATA specifically notes that the Flash chips used for this new model are more closely screened, resulting in a crop of a higher quality, faster ICs. For all these benefits, the SX910 will command the lofty price of US$190 and $380 for the 128GB and 256GB versions respectively.


Package contents.

The 128GB model comes in a fairly standard package. Along with the drive, a short manual is included as well as a simple metal 3.5 inch to 2.5 inch adapter.


Underside.

For users who are upgrading existing systems, the drive also includes a key for a copy of Acronis True Image, to migrate your data safely without reinstall.

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. Our methodology focuses specifically on
noise, and great effort is taken to ensure it is comprehensively measured
and described.

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.

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 and our entire
test suite was run start to finish three times with a defragmentation
(for hard drives only) and reboot between runs.
Average times were collected for comparison.

Note: the SX910 is the first SATA drive we’ve encountered that is capable of exceeding the SATA 3 Gbps limitation of our test platform, so we had to upgrade to a SATA 6 Gbps system. A handful of SSDs and faster hard drives were re-tested to get some performance references.

The SX910 had excellent loading performance, especially when booting into Windows 7. It was fairly typical for an SSD, though slightly faster overall than the Corsair Force 180GB which uses an older variant of the SandForce controller.

In our application tests, the SX910 was the clear winner. The solid state competitors’ low access times allow them to excel when using ExactFile to check file integrity. Creating an encrypted folder with TrueCrypt typically handcuffs SSDs, so it was impressive to see the SX910 edging out the current hard drive champ, the 1TB VelociRaptor, as well as put a beating on the older SandForce-based Corsair Force.

When we tested the VelociRaptor 1TB, its strong file copy performance was competitive with the consumer grade SSDs we had reviewed up to that point. The SX910 puts it back in place, winning by a comfortable 28%. It should be noted that many of files copied are heavily compressed, especially the large file batch which consists entirely of AVI files encoded using XVID and MP3/AC3. SandForce drives are faster with compressible data as they compress/uncompress data on the fly to improve performance.

Installation performance was the only area the SX910 faltered, finishing about six seconds behind the Corsair Force in PowerDVD.

Overall Performance

To accurately represent the overall performance of the drives, we gave each model a proportional score in each real world benchmark series (loading, application, file copying, and installation), with each benchmark set equally weighted. The fastest hard drive on the market, the VelociRaptor 1TB, was used as a reference point, assigned 25 points in each category for a total of 100 points.

In our test suite, the SX910 was 24% faster than the VelociRaptor while the Corsair Force had only a 5% performance advantage.

The SX910 was also evaluated on our old test system that has only a SATA 3 Gbps controller. The performance advantage over the other SSDs was similar, so it doesn’t appear that the slower SATA interface bottlenecks the drive, at least not in our real world application tests.

It’s also notable that the SX910 came close to matching our current SSD leader, the original OCZ RevoDrive. The RevoDrive uses two first generation SandForce controllers in RAID 0 utilizing a PCI Express 4x interface (which offers more bandwidth than the latest SATA standard).

HD Tune & CrystalDiskMark Performance

 

Our first HD Tune scan showed subpar performance in the first 50GB of the disk which was where our real world test suite was imaged (even though the partition was erased, the data was still there). SSDs require partially or fully populated blocks to be wiped before being overwritten, so naturally this portion of the drive measured slower.

We then formatted the drive completely, and in doing so, executed the TRIM command over the entire drive to wipe all its blocks to clear the way for new data. The average transfer speed dropped to a much more consistent 274 MB/s and access time increased by about 71%, but this more indicative of what to expect after using the drive for some time.

CrystalDiskMark is a useful tool for analyzing the performance of SandForce drives as it allows users to use a nonrandom data to show off their benefits with easily compressible sets of data. With the more easily compressed data configuration, we saw a massive increase in write speed specifically, except for random writes using a 4K block size.

Random 4K read speed was a disappointment, less than half of the write speed. Like most SSDs, the SX910 is particularly proficient with the smaller block sizes, coming in just under 500 MB/s in sequential 512K reads and writes, exceeded the 384 MB/s bandwidth limitation of SATA 3 Gbps controllers by a substantial margin.

Energy Efficiency

With the latest improvements in notebook hard drive energy efficiency, using an SSD in a laptop doesn’t improve battery life as much as it used to. Still, it’s a substantial improvement if you require a performance drive. Sitting idle, the SX910 consumes about 0.55 W, a moderate amount for a SSD, but half that of a typical 7200 RPM notebook drive. It also has a signficant advantage when the drive is seeking as well.

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 ADATA XPG SX910 is completely silent. In fact, 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

Though we haven’t had any other experience with second generation SandForce drives, the ADATA XPG SX910 128GB is pretty darn fast compared to the various consumer grade SSDs we reviewed in 2011. It even came close to topping the OCZ RevoDrive, a PCI Express 4x SSD powered by a pair of first generation SandForce controllers running in RAID 0.

The SX910 being a SATA 6 Gbps drive will undoubtedly placate users who fear bottlenecking when using a SATA 3 Gbps interface. While it’s certainly capable of exceeding the limitations of SATA 3 Gbps, we didn’t find any tangible difference in our real world performance tests. Our test suite isn’t heavy on easily compressible data which may have effected the results, but to be frank, such is the world; most data found on modern computer systems is compressed to some degree.

According to our best information, the SX910 128GB will sell for approximately US$190, making it very pricey compared to most 120/128GB SandForce drives on the market. The SX910 does have a few benefits over the multitude of consumer grade SSDs using the same SF-2281 controller. The SX910 offers a bit more capacity (most SandForce drives have even capacities, e.g. 60GB, 120GB, 180GB, etc.), a 5 year warranty compared to 3 years for most models, and its NAND chips are speed-binned. It’s unclear how much difference the latter makes and whether all these superlatives as a whole justify the higher cost.

Many thanks to ADATA for the XPG SX910 128GB solid state drive sample.

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SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

WD VelociRaptor 1TB and Scorpio Blue 500GB
Hitachi Deskstar 7K3000 2TB Hard Drive
Seagate Barracuda 3TB: 1TB Platter Behemoth
WD Scorpio Black 750GB & Scorpio Blue 1TB
SSD Roundup: Corsair F180 vs. Zalman S Series vs. Kingston SSDNow V+100
OCZ RevoDrive 120GB PCI Express SSD

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