Editor’s Note – Be sure to check out the retesting of this drive to show the numbers it should have gotten in this review: Re-Lighting Patriot’s Inferno.
“A solid state drive (SSD) is the greatest single upgrade you can perform on a modern computer.” At least that’s what we’ve been told at one time or another. SSDs have come a very long way since their first release. They’re more reliable, larger and most importantly, their cost-per-gigabyte has come down. Today, we’ll see if that modern day adage is true as we examine Patriot’s high performance Inferno SSD.
Introduction & First Look
Sporting a controller from now-popular SandForce (model # SF-1222), this unit is marketed as a 100GB model. Due to its controller, that means it is really a 128GB drive with ~28% of its NAND space allocated for spare area. This is borne out when you first format the drive and its total available capacity is approximately 93.1GB. This excellent article at Anandtech has a detailed explanation of what purpose this serves, as well as the step forward SandForce has made with some drives.
SandForce and Spare Area
When you write data to a SandForce drive the controller attempts to represent the data you’re writing with fewer bits. What’s stored isn’t your exact data, but a smaller representation of it plus a hash or index so that you can recover the original data. This results in potentially lower write amplification, but greater reliance on the controller and firmware.
SandForce stores some amount of redundant information in order to deal with decreasing reliability of smaller geometry NAND. The redundant data and index/hash of the actual data being written are stored in the drive’s spare area.
While most consumer SSDs dedicate around 7% of their total capacity to spare area, SandForce’s drives have required ~28% until now. As I mentioned at the end of last year however, SandForce would be bringing a more consumer focused firmware to market after the SF-1200 with only 13% over provisioning. (Source.)
What you get in return, in theory, is higher performance and more reliability out of your drive. Patriot very recently announced the availability of 60GB, 120GB and 240GB models of their Inferno drives, so it would seem they will be rolling out the new SandForce firmware with the mentioned 13% over provisioning in the near future. Let’s see what Patriot says this drive is capable of.
- Maximum sequential read speed 285MB/s
- Maximum sequential write speed 275MB/s
- SandForce SF-1222 SSD processor paired with qualified MLC NAND flash for best performance, value and reliability
- Includes 3.5″ bracket
- TRIM support (O/S dependent)
- DuraClass technology
- DuraWrite extends the life of your SSD
- Intelligent Block Management and Wear Leveling
- Intelligent Read Disturb Management
- Intelligent Recycling improves management of free space
- RAISE (Redundant Array of Independent Silicon Elements)
- Intelligent Data Retention optimization
- Best-in-class ECC protection for longest data retention and drive life
- Power/Performance balancing
- SATA I/II interface
- Native Command Queuing (NCQ)
- MTBF: > 1,500,000 Hours
- Data Retention: 5+ years at 25°C
- Data Reliability: Built in BCH 16-bit ECC & 24-bit ECC
- Operating Temperature: 0°C ~ 70°C
- Storage Temperature: -40°C ~ 85°C
- Shock Resistance: 1,500G (@ 0.5msec half sine wave)
- Vibration Resistance: 15G / 10 ~ 2000Hz w/ 3 axis
- O/S Support: Windows® XP / Vista® / 7 / Mac® OS / Linux
**Capacities stated are unformatted. The total formatted capacity for the drive will differ, depending on the operating system and file system used.
It sure sounds like a top performer. Patriot likes to talk about their warranty (indeed, they did so in a recent issue of Computer Power User), and it is definitely impressive at five years. By comparison, Corsair, Intel, Kingston and OCZ all offer three years.
The Inferno comes in a well put together package. There’s the outer cardboard box and the hard plastic container to protect the drive in transit. It will need a bit of padding of course, but should survive a journey quite easily.
Pulling the drive out of its case, we are met with a standard 2.5″ SSD size, but this drive is far from typical. The red case and even the sticker on it present the drive very well. Should the performance be up to par (we’ll get to that in a bit), this would be a superb display piece in a red-themed build.
Installation is straightforward; it is a hard drive after all, they can only be so difficult. If your case has an SSD mounting mechanism as a lot of newer cases do, you can go that route. If not, Patriot does include a handy mounting plate that will adapt it to a standard 3.5″ drive bay.
Take note if you have a tool-free device for mounting your hard drives – it may not work. I tried the 3.5″ adapter in both an NZXT Tempest EVO and a Cooler Master CM690 II Advanced. While NZXT’s mounting brackets worked fine, the Cooler Master bracket did not mesh with the adapter. The pins in the tool-free mount were too large to fit in the screw holes on the adapter, which pushed them out and didn’t allow them to slide back into place. The fix is easy though – just remove the tool-free mounts and replace them with screws. Or, if you have the CM690 II Advanced, use the correct bracket that’s tailored to fit an SSD. It does require screws though.
Opening the drive, you can see the Sandforce SF-1222 chip surrounded by the array of MLC NAND flash it controls.
Looking a little closer, we have the SF-1222 itself.
Enough looking around though, let’s get down to the brass tacks!
We used several benchmarks to measure drive performance. Legit Reviews uses a benchmark suite similar to what you’ll see in this review. In the analysis of this drive’s performance, I’m going to be basing a lot of my comments on how other drives performed in their excellent review of the Corsair Force Series 120G. It’s a good read and shows a nice swath of the current crop of SSDs on the market.
The Test System
|Processor:||AMD Phenom II 965 BE @ 3.4GHz|
|Motherboard:||ASUS Crosshair IV Formula|
|Chipset:||AMD 890FX Northbridge /
AMD SB850 Southbridge (with SATA 6Gbps native)
|RAM:||G.Skill Trident DDR3-2000 (running at DDR3-1600)|
|OS:||Windows 7 x64|
To start with, let’s have a look at the HDTune benchmark, which tests read & write speeds across the entire drive, showing the minimum, maximum and average read/write speeds.
These tests were run four different times, under different conditions. The first was on the bare, just opened, blank drive. After that, the drive was filled with random data and the tests were run again. Then it was formatted to see how it would recover and finally the test was run one last time after installing Windows 7.
Read speeds were tested with four data sizes, 4KB, 64KB, 2MB and 8MB. The data labels shown correspond to the average figure.
Before getting to the numbers, there is an important point to make here. SandForce does not appear to have any sort of application currently to manually TRIM one of their drives like Indilinx and Intel do. Neither of those work on a SandForce drive (I tried). I asked Patriot and they have no application to supply that will do so. With this in mind, I would strongly suggest only using this or any SandForce based drive with an OS that supports TRIM, at least until they do come out with an application like that. These are limited to Windows 7 or any Linux distro that uses kernel 2.6.33 or later.
HDTune Read Benchmarks
As you can see, the drive is capable of some impressive numbers. Strongest average read speeds for all of the benches occurred on the completely blank drive (which stands to reason), and these were:
Of course, the reason all of those were run was to see how the drive compared under different conditions. Here are all of the average reads compared against one another.
So, while the drive did suffer a little bit of performance loss when full of random data (as expected), it gets that performance right back after a good formatting. The results were so close the blank and formatted lines are completely overlapping. Performance goes down a little bit when an OS and complement of programs are installed (approximately 35GB of space was used for the install and accompanying programs), but not by very much at all.
HD Tune Write Benchmarks
There are two deficiencies when benching writes with HD Tune. First, it won’t test 4KB writes for some reason; it crashed the program each time. Second, since it tests writes across the whole drive, it’s not an option to test with an OS installed. That said, it’s still a solid metric for the rest of the sizes tested and for seeing how the drive copes with the random data. Here is how it performed under each of the three conditions.
Combining the average numbers, we come up with this:
So, as expected it lost a little bit after being filled with random data, but gained it back after a format. Even so, the speed lost was rather minimal, so score one for the Inferno!
Since part of our goal is to explore how much of a difference an SSD upgrade would make, for the next benchmarks I’m going to include a result from a several-years-old Western Digital Caviar 160GB HDD underneath the SSD bench.
HD Tach is as much of a test of the drive itself as you can get, separating it as much as possible from the surrounding hardware and software environment.
According to their homepage, “HD Tach is a low level hardware benchmark for random access read/write storage devices such as hard drives, removable drives (ZIP/JAZZ), flash devices, and RAID arrays. HD Tach uses custom device drivers and other low level Windows interfaces to bypass as many layers of software as possible and get as close to the physical performance of the device possible.”
Our version of HD Tach doesn’t show write speeds, a fact which we hope to remedy by the next review.
With an average read of 241.2MB/s and a burst speed of 240.3MB/s, the drive definitely shows off some of its muscle here. The dip you see was consistent through multiple runs, as were the results, and seems to just be a quirk of the drive. In this test, the Inferno is a very strong performer and among the top of the pack.
By comparison, the poor HDD maxes out at about 65MB/s and goes down from there.
ATTO Disk Benchmark
An oldie, but a goodie, ATTO does a good job of showing how a drive will perform from a tiny data block (a mere .5KB) to a larger one (8MB). It tests both read and write speeds and lists the results in bytes/second.
This drive, like many SSDs shows greater performance once you pass the 64KB mark. Above that, results hovered right around 250MB/s write speeds and 243MB/s read speeds. These aren’t king-of-the-hill numbers, but neither are they anywhere near the bottom of the SSD offerings out right now. Compared to other SandForce SF1200-based drives though, they seem to be lagging a little behind.
Our HDD, while maxing out a little earlier than the SSD at 32K, continues to lag way behind at about 58MB/s read and write speeds.
CrystalDiskMark shows how a drive performs under various conditions, with the default configuration testing how it copes with random data.
Not horrible numbers, but not awe-inspiring either. As a drive in your system, it will still fly, but synthetically benching the sequential read results with random data are just not pretty with this bench. I fear the competition will aim a little water at the Inferno when looking at this metric. On the bright side, sequential writes and strong 4K performance make it look a whole lot better.
After looking at that, you were expecting better sequential numbers, weren’t you? Well, never fear, here they are:
When using CrystalDiskMark, you can select options for the bench to measure not random data, but all 0’s and all 1’s as well. When not faced with random data, the Inferno blazes on like it’s nobody’s business.
The HDD? The Inferno left it smoldering on the side of the road a long time ago.
AS SSD Benchmark
AS SSD is another great tool for measuring numbers with random data. The first screenshot shows the bench as measured in MB/s and the second as measured in iops (16MB was run, but the was box un-ticked accidentally after the run).
Yet again, the Inferno’s sequential numbers aren’t that great. It does well for itself and out-performs a lot of other drives, but you won’t see it setting any sequential read / write records. Fortunately, just like CrystalDiskMark, this drive shows stronger 4KB performance than many of its contemporaries, putting it right back at the top of the pack. So AS SSD is a mixed bag – great 4K performance, excellent access times but not so great sequential reads and writes.
Thankfully for the end user, 4KB random reads and writes are one of the strongest indicators of real-world performance out there and that’s a place where this drive shines.
Sigh; that poor, poor HDD. It’s thinking of seizing up out of humiliation.
Whew, I almost forgot. We’re supposed to see if a solid state drive really is “the greatest single upgrade you can perform on a modern computer.” To quantify that in a real-world situation, I measured the boot time. This system had a 160GB plain-jane Western Digital caviar 7,200RPM hard drive. It booted in…
…yep, 53.945 seconds. Yawn!
Then I took literally the same OS installation and just cloned it over to the new drive. After completing that, I ran the boot timer again and it booted up in (drum roll please)…
…13.945 seconds. Wow, what a difference! Amazing really. That’s 25.8% of the original boot time, meaning it takes four times as long to boot into windows with the HDD as opposed to the Inferno.
Since that time, I’ve used this SSD for a little while to see how it ‘feels’ in daily operation. Night and day would be the best description of coming from a standard platter HDD. I have seen the light and it is good. Very good. The not-so-old adage that an SSD is the best upgrade you can perform on a modern system (that only has a platter HDD) is absolutely correct.
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
This was the first SSD I’ve reviewed. It was a fun review to complete because, while I had an idea of what to expect, reading can only get you so far. To be blunt, I’m enamored with SSDs now and have been stricken, nay, branded by the Inferno’s fire (proverbially, of course).
Not everything was peachy in Patriot-land though and like all products, it does have at least one drawback – synthetically benched sequential reads & writes of random data (say that ten times fast). If you plan on using an SSD as a storage drive, with other SSDs that you want to transfer lots of data to and from, perhaps this isn’t the drive for you.
But the 4KB performance is right up there with the best SSDs on the market right now. That’s where the rubber meets the road for most users. Unless you meet the above criteria, this drive has your name written all over it. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Patriot’s superb warranty again – no less than five years.
Right now, this drive retails at Newegg for $329.00 shipped. Tack on the current $30.00 mail-in-rebate and you’re looking at $299.00. No, it’s not cheap. Not by a long shot. But all things are relative. It’s closest 100G competitor (at least in specifications) listed at Newegg right now is the OCZ Vertex 2 and it lists at $345.00 after rebate. With the OCZ though, you have to pay for shipping and you get two years’ less warranty. G.Skill’s Pheonix is about $20.00 less than the Inferno, but you lose a little (specified) speed and you lose the same two years off the warranty.
There’s a lot to love about the Inferno. If you’re in the market for an SSD, you know how expensive they are. While its benched sequential numbers aren’t the greatest, it will serve you very well as an OS/Programs drive and do it for at least five years, guaranteed. This drive is, without a doubt, Overclockers Approved.
Big thanks to Patriot for supplying this drive for review.
– Jeremy Vaughan (hokiealumnus)