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Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB SSD Review

The Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB gives us an opportunity to explore how capacity affects the real world performance of SandForce SSDs.

October 21, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Kingston HyperX 3K
120GB 2.5″ SSD
Manufacturer
Kingston Technology
Street Price
US$100

A year ago, a decent 120GB solid state drive cost around US$200, about twice what you would pay today. Back then we would have recommended purchasing the smallest capacity available that would fit your operating system, core programs and games. Thankfully since then, we’ve seen a nice, continual drop in solid state drive prices, making them more accessible to the masses. While this is great for consumers, the current affordability of SSDs makes choosing the right capacity a more difficult decision than in the past.

It’s not simply about how much storage you require either — there are performance ramifications to be considered. The controller design and number and distribution of NAND flash chips can be a significant determining factor in how an SSD performs. A good example is the recently reviewed Crucial M4 64GB. The small capacity meant there weren’t enough NAND chips to properly take advantage of its Marvell controller’s eight channel architecture, resulting in very disappointing write speeds.

According the various spec sheets we’ve looked through, this isn’t as big an issue with LSI’s popular SandForce SF-2281 controller, but we’ve noticed that amongst the SandForce drives we’ve reviewed thus far, the 240GB models have been a bit faster than the 120GB ones. That being said, we haven’t had both a 120GB and 240GB variant of the same drive model to make a proper apples-to-apples comparison until now. Today we’ll see if the Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB can match up to its big 240GB brother.


Kingston HyperX 3K: Specifications
(from the manufacturer data sheet)
Form Factor 2.5″
Controller SandForce® SF-2281
Components MLC NAND (3k P/E Cycles)
Interface SATA Rev 3.0 (6Gb/s), SATA Rev 2.0 (3Gb/s)
Capacities 90GB, 120GB, 240GB, 480GB
Sequential reads SATA Rev. 3.0
90GB / 120GB / 240GB – 555MB/s
480GB – 540MB/s
Sequential writes SATA Rev. 3.0
90GB / 120GB / 240GB – 510MB/s
480GB – 450MB/s
Sustained Random 4K R/W 90GB – 20,000/50,000 IOPS
120GB – 20,000/60,000 IOPS
240GB – 40,000/57,000 IOPS
480GB – 60,000/45,000 IOPS
Max Random 4K R/W 90GB – 85,000/74,000 IOPS
120GB – 85,000/73,000 IOPS
240GB – 86,000/60,000 IOPS
480GB – 75,000/48,000 IOPS
Power Consumption Idle – 0.455 W (TYP)
Read – 1.58 W (TYP)
Write – 2.11 W (TYP)
Dimensions 69.85mm x 100mm x 9.5mm
Weight 97g
Operating temperatures 0°C ~ 70°C
Storage temperatures -40°C ~ 85°C
Shock Resistance 1500G
Vibration Operating – 20G
Non-operating – 2.17G
MTBF 1,000,000 Hrs
Total Bytes Written (TBW) 90GB: 57.6TB
120GB: 76.8TB
240GB: 153.6TB
480GB: 307.2TB

The HyperX 3K 240GB is a very fast drive, in fact the quickest SandForce model we’ve ever tested, even beating out the Corsair Force GS 240GB which is equipped with supposedly faster, Toggle-mode NAND chips. On paper, the 120GB model sports the same sequential write/read speeds but there is some variation in random performance. Most notably, the 240GB version is twice as fast when it comes to sustained random 4K reads. We’ll see how this affects real world performance.

Box and contents (SH103S3/120G).

The drive.

The package we received from Kingston this time around is a little lighter, lacking most of the amenities (USB enclosure, SATA cable, imaging software, screwdriver) included with the more expensive upgrade kit version of the drive (SH103S3B/120G). The barebones model (SH103S3/120G) contains just the drive, a brief instruction sheet, and a 3.5 inch internal drive adapter. The 9.5 mm thick metal casing is the same though, comprised of a slick, gun metal brush aluminum face with raised letters.

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.

Increasing loading speeds is one of the main reasons users upgrade to SSDs. In this area, the smaller 120/128GB SandForce drives have the edge, completing these tests about 2 seconds faster overall than the larger, high performance models.

In our application tests, the HyperX 3K 120GB produced numbers close to that of similar capacity mid-range SandForce drives from Intel and ADATA. In TrueCrypt, primarily a write speed test, it finished 9% slower than the 240GB version.

The HyperX 3K 120GB performed well in our file copy tests, finishing in the top half of the drives compared, just ahead of the Corsair Force GS 240GB, thanks to an excellent result with small files.

Our installation tests illustrated once again, a slight divide between the 120/128GB SandForce models and their bigger 240GB cousins. The installation times for 3DMark were very close across the board, but the HyperX 3K 120GB and its compatriots were about 4 seconds slower when installing PowerDVD.

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.

The HyperX 3K 120GB scored 104.4 points on our scale, putting it almost directly in between the Intel 520 Series 120GB and ADATA SX910 128GB. The difference in scores between these three drives and even the Corsair Force GS 240GB are quite small, so it looks like a toss-up in terms of real world performance.

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.

In HD Tune’s main benchmark, the HyperX 3K 120GB was slower than competing models with noticeably slower sequential read and write speeds. Its access times were also nothing to brag about.

In CrystalDiskMark, using a block size of 512K and a random data set, the HyperX 3K 120GB once again performed very similarly to the Intel 520 and ADATA SX910 drives. The Samsung 830 and larger SandForce models had far superior write speeds. It didn’t fare any better when switching to the smaller 4K block size.

Energy Efficiency

The HyperX 3K 120GB is the most energy efficient SF-2281 drive we’ve tested so far, but only by a hair, edging out its 240GB brother by only 0.02W. Like most SSDs, it uses less power than a typical 5400 RPM hard drive but the difference isn’t significant enough to noticeably affect battery life.

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 HyperX 3K 120GB was completely silent. 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

Our Crucial M4 64GB review illustrated the possible performance implications of choosing a smaller solid-state drive. Thankfully the Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB doesn’t suffer greatly in this regard — it lags behind the 240GB version but not by a whole lot; the larger model had just a 4% advantage in our real world tests. Its performance is almost indistinguishable from the ADATA SX910 128GB and Intel 520 Series 120GB. The ~120GB SF-2281 drives all kind of blend in with one another.

At this point it seems that SandForce SSDs are effectively becoming commodities given the minimal speed differences and the multitude of manufacturers now using the SF-2281 controller. All things equal, if you’re having difficulty choosing a SandForce drive, we’re tempted to simply recommend going with the company you trust the most with the length of warranty weighed into the decision. It’s also becoming apparent that chip selection and firmware optimizations are not great differentiators — capacity, or rather having an optimal number of NAND Flash chips seems to be a bigger factor.

Price of course should always be a consideration, and at about US$100, the HyperX 3K 120GB is one of the least expensive SandForce drives, especially compared to the ADATA SX910 and Intel 520. However, we have to point out that SSD that has most impressed us doesn’t employ a SandForce controller at all — the Samsung 830 Series 128GB remains our favorite. It can be found for around the same price, sports a bit more capacity, is the most energy efficient drive in its class by a significant margin, dominates our real world performance test suite, and doesn’t rely on compressible data to produce good results. The downside is it might not be as long-lived as without compression, the 830 will perform many more writes over its lifespan.

Many thanks to Kingston Technology for the HyperX 3K 120GB solid state drive.

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Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB
is Recommended by SPCR

SPCR Articles of Related Interest:

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
Western Digital Red 3TB & 1TB Hard Drives
ADATA XPG SX910 128GB Solid State Drive

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