SSD Supertest – December 2012 (Part 3) : KingSpec PCIe MultiCore 1TB, Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB

12/18/2012 3:27:50 PM

Vital statistics

·         Price: $1,720

·         Manufacturer: KingSpec

·         Web: www.kingspec.com

·         Capacity: 1TB

·         Memory type: MLC synchronous

·         Controller: 8x SandForce SF-1200

·         Interface: PCI-Express 8-lane

·         Peak performance: 2GB/sread, 2GB/s write

·         Max lOPS: 130k

KingSpec PCIe MultiCore 1TB

Exotic sports cars ain't what they used to be. Hurl a gold Rolex over your shoulder almost anywhere in West London today, and odds are you'll take out a Ferrari, Lamborghini or perhaps a Pagani.

You could say the same about PC components. The frisson of the truly unusual has been dampened by broader adoption of high performance kit and a narrowing of the performance delta between mid-range and the top-rung kit.

But a 1TB solid state drive sporting a superfast PCI Express interface, whole gigabytes per-second of bandwidth and a $1,600 price tag? That's got to qualify.

It's the McLaren PI of PC components with specs that are simply out of this world.

However, unlike hypercars, the KingSpec PCIe SSD can justify its existence in purely practical terms. The fact is, the SATA interface is proving to be an increasing bottleneck when it comes to peak data transfer rates with the latest SSDs.

The solution is to dip into the huge bandwidth of multi-lane PCI Express, an interface designed to feed the epic bandwidth needs of modern graphics chips. Sounds like a good idea to us. The specifics begin with an eight-lane physical card in PCI Express 2.0 configuration, giving a theoretical total of 4GB/s of raw bandwidth.

With that, the tables are turned. It's now the SSD hardware - the memory chips and controller - that are under pressure to deliver. Kingspec's answer involves no fewer than eight 120GB mSATA SSDs, each with its own last-gen SF controller. Suddenly, that price tag doesn't look so bad.

Hook them altogether, stir in some RAID striping sauce and you have a recipe for epic performance. It varies according to model (there's a 500GB or 2TB), but this 1TB effort is rated at 2GB/s for both reads and writes. Yikes.

This is no chintzy lash up, either. It's just a case of bringing together well-established technologies, including PCI Express, RAID and SandForce based SSDs to overcome the limitations of the SATA interface.

Crashing to earth

Unfortunately, the real-world results don’t stack up. You can extract peak transfer rates in line with the 2GB/s claims in synthetic tests of peak sequential bandwidth, but both synthetic random access and applications performance are a lot more patchy.

KingSpec PCIe MultiCore 1TB

KingSpec PCIe MultiCore 1TB

In terms of 4k random access, you're looking at performance no better than a single SandForce spec SSD hooked in via SATA. And that means slower performance than several of the latest drives, including the Samsung drives and OCZ's Vertex 4.

However, the deal-breaker is application performance. In both our game install test and the ZIP decompression test, there's only one word to describe the performance of this mighty PCIe card. Slow.

In fact, even when you might expect it to be at its best, it's not that much quicker than the competition. Try copying large files internally and you'll get a sustained rate of around 550MB/s. That compares with up to 450MB/s for the best SATA drives. Put it all together and it's clear that those seeking lTB of solid-state storage would be better off using RAID with a pair of 500GB SSDs.

Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB

Vital statistics

·         Price: $124.8

·         Manufacturer: Kingston

·         Web: www.kingston.com

·         Capacity: 120GB

·         Memory type: MLC synchronous

·         Controller: SandForce SF-2281

·         Interface: SATA 6Gbps

·         Peak performance: 555MB/sread, 519MB/s write

·         Max IOPS: 85k

Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB

Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB

Do we spend too much time banging on about controller chipsets and not enough thinking about the other work that goes into a good solid-state drive? Line up Kingston's HyperX 3K against the other SandForce based drives here, and that seems a possibility.

After all, the HyperX sports precisely the same SandForce SF2281 controller chip as the Intel 330 and KingSpec E3000 drives. But they're a world apart by some metrics. As we'll see, this Kingston drive proves there's a little life left in ye olde SF-2281.

But first, let's have a quick look at the specs. The HyperX 3K is the slightly more aggressively priced of Kingston's HyperX SSD pairing. This is achieved by using cheaper flash memory. In this case we're talking NAND that supports fewer write-erase cycles.

That sounds like the result will be a less reliable drive and, in extremis, that will certainly be the case. You probably wouldn't want to stick this drive in a mission critical server, but for home users, the cost-benefit is a bit different.

More to the point, SSD reliability is an issue of more than write erase robustness. Write amplification is a major issue, too. The upshot of all this is that Kingston covers the 3K with a three-year warranty, which is good, but not great.

Like other SandForce drives, a little of the flash memory is soaked up for spare capacity to deliver that longevity, so the HyperX weighs in at 120GB where some drives give you 128GB. Not a massive problem, but all part of making that buying decision.

What really makes the HyperX stand out against the other SandForce drives is its 4k random write performance. Surprisingly, it scores 72.5MB/s, which makes itthe fastest drive here. Not at all what we were expecting.

A mixed bag

The snag is that performance drops off pretty precipitously with heavy usage. Following a few fill-and-delete cycles, the HyperX is reduced to 59.23MB/s. That's still better than the widely lauded Samsung 840 Pro can manage, and equal or better than most SandForce drives can manage in box-fresh condition.

Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB

Kingston HyperX 3K 120GB

But it's well behind the OCZ Vertex 4. The HyperX's performance in AS SSD's incompressible sequential write benchmark is rather under whelming too, even if it's predictable enough for a 120GB SandForce-based drive. But the deal breaker involves the game installation and file decompression application test results. At 52 seconds and 57 seconds respectively, the HyperX needs roughly twice as long to complete those benchmarks as the fastest drives here. In fact, it performs about the same as a Crucial C300 we've been hammering in a test rig for the last two years. Not good.

These are very confusing results, to be sure. There's nothing in the synthetic test results that even hints at a performance problem. We may have simply been unlucky with our sample drive. And the likely worse-case scenario is a glitch that a firmware update would solve. In the meantime, it's pretty hard to give the HyperX 3K a buy recommendation when there are drives out there you can buy with confidence that they'll deliver in the real world.

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