Intel wins top spots in SSD storage drive ranking

DRAMeXchange said SSDs vary widely in quality depending on the controller chips, NAND chips and firmware

Chip giant Intel won first place in a ranking of flash memory-based Solid State Drives (SSDs), in which the researcher, DRAMeXchange Technology, pilloried the industry over the wide disparity of quality among the storage devices.

Intel took first place in two categories, one for its Intel X25-M 160GB SSD (SSDSA2M160G2GC) and the other with its 80GB Intel X25-M SSD (SSDSA2M080G2GC). DRAMeXchange praised the chip maker for speedy boot-up times on the SSDs.

Beyond the rankings, which are listed below, the Taiwanese market researcher blamed controller chips, flash memory storage chips, and firmware for a wide disparity of quality among SSDs.

SSDs are made using flash memory chips and have no moving parts. The storage drives grew in popularity after Apple started using them for music storage in its popular iPods, and have since caught on as the main storage for smartphones. SSDs have continued to expand in netbooks, laptops and servers due to their speedy run times, and they give off little heat so they don't need fans and are more power efficient. Their high price, especially compared to HDD (hard disc drives) with much greater storage capacity, has kept them out of many systems.

Netbooks, in particular, became a case study for SSDs. When the mini-laptops first came out, many were armed with what were called 4GB SSDs or "flash memory modules," storage drives that turned out to be nothing more than flash memory chips using cheap controller chips found on USB flash drives. The result was poor performance in write times, although read times remained speedy. Users complained about the performance and tiny amount of storage, so that now, most netbooks come with traditional HDDs.

Tom Coughlin, from data storage consultancy Coughlin Associates, has also noted a big variance in SSD quality, but advises sticking with trusted names in storage. The DRAMeXchange test appears to prove his point, at least in the case of Intel.

DRAMeXchange found that the main indicator of SSD performance lay in the controller chips. The researcher said Intel and Samsung Electronics, which make their own controller chips, ranked among the best, along with chip designers SandForce, of California, Indilinx, of South Korea and Taiwan's JMicron Technology.

In SSDs, the controller chip directs all the reads and writes between the flash memory chips inside an SSD and the host device. It also manages data storage, by, for example, moving data away from damaged memory cells.

DRAMeXchange said it tested 40 different SSDs for the ranking, mainly those which used lower-cost MLC (multi-level cell) NAND flash chips in their SSDs as opposed to the more expensive and SLC (single-level cell) NAND flash chips. The difference between SLC and MLC NAND, the company says, is that SLC is more suitable for writing data, while MLC shows better performance in reading data. The downside of MLC is its shorter lifespan and that it requires SSD controller chips to write data uniformly and to extend its lifespan.

Top grades for performance were given to companies for a number of criteria, including best performance for the price, best overall transmission efficiency, best high-speed writing, best system boot disk, and best high-load input/output. The research company plans to conduct tests to determine if SSD performance declines after long-term use.

The rankings are listed here:

The first category ranged from 100GB to 160GB:

1, Intel X25-M SSDSA2M160G2GC 160GB

2, OCZ Vertex PRO 120GB SSD

3, A-Data SSD S599 100GB

4, G.SKILL Phoenix 100GB SSD

5, MX-Technology MXSSD2MDS 100GB SSD

6, Micron REALSSD C300 128GB

7, Starex 128GB SSD

8, Apogee Mars FlashSSD 128GB

9, Corsair CMFSSD-128GD1 X128 SSD

10, Super SSpeed SSD 128GB

The second category ranged from 60GB to 80GB, but mainly focused on 64GB, which is at a price people are willing to spend to upgrade to the SSDs.

1, Intel X25-M SSDSA2M080G2GC 80GB

2, OCZ Agility EX 60GB SSD

3, KingFast KF251MCI 64GB SSD

4, A-Data SSD S592 64GB

5, Starex 64GB SSD

6, Gingle V3 64GB SSD

7, PQI SSD S528 64GB

8, Corsair CMFSSD-64GBG2D P64 SSD

9, RiData X-series NSSD-X25-64-C07M-PN 64GB SSD

10, RunCore RCP-IV-S2564-C 64GB SSD

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