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AData Premier SP550 240GB SSD Review

AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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5,274
The SSD segment has seen a good amount of contraction over the last two years and that trend has continued as of late. With drive technology hitting the limits of SATA 6Gbps, SATA Express being treated like a leper by most companies and the expensive NVMe just starting to make inroads, some may even say the mainstream and slightly higher end segments are experiencing a bit of stagnation. This has actually led to a bit of a renaissance within more affordable price brackets where buyers can now combine very aggressive SSD cost with capacity and a good amount of performance as well.

AData has taken the present state of the SSD market in stride by putting a focus upon delivering that optimal blend of features and pricing which buyers are now accustomed to looking for. A little while ago we looked at the first phase of their multi-pronged approach: the XPG SX930. That drive featured excellent NAND, very good performance and backed it up with a unique controller solution. Unfortunately we found it a bit expensive in comparison to some of its competitors like Crucial’s excellent MX200.



With the XPG SX930 being a tad on the costly side, we’re now turning to AData’s more affordable alternative. Called the Premier SP550, this SSD isn’t a direct upgrade from the older SP500 series per se but it does reach some impressively low $ / capacity numbers. To be precise the 240GB version of the SP550 has on online asking price of only about $80USD. For budget minded consumers who may have never owned an SSD this price point is a lot more palatable than the XPG SX930's $105. In fact the SP550 is priced $10 less than OCZ's entry level Trion 100. Meanwhile, on paper at least, it offers some pretty robust performance figures.

Naturally, in order to offer a much less costly solution for buyers AData had to make some sacrifices. These certainly don’t negatively affect its throughput but they could have more subliminal impacts.


The first and arguably largest difference between this and other AData SSDs is the NAND. Instead of using highly binned "enterprise grade" MLC+ NAND ICs, AData has instead gone in a completely different direction and used TLC NAND ICs. TLC certainly doesn’t have the extreme endurance, data retention capabilities or performance of some other NAND types. However, it is inexpensive to source and offers more than enough durability for years of running within a home-use environment. This makes it absolutely perfect for the SP550.


Interestingly, like many of their competitors, AData has chosen a Silicon Motion controller for this budget-friendly drive but in this case it is the newer SM2256 version. When compared directly to the 2246EN found in Crucial’s BX100 series, it has a revised 4-channel layout and numerous built in features to ensure that the TLC NAND it is paired with will last well past the point the drive becomes obsolete.

To do this SMI has configured the NAND ICs into a RAID type array which gives the SP550 an extra layer of ECC. While not the first to arrange the NAND into a 'RAIN' or "RAISE" array this extra ECC - or what SMI calls a "Low Density Parity Check ECC" - reduces concerns over data corruption. It may not eliminate it since static data stored on TLC does corrupt faster than on MLC, but more ECC means longer periods of time before it becomes uncorrectable.


They controller and its DPC abilities are only the first half of the equation, and much like the MX200 and Samsung Evo series, this drive uses a portion of its NAND in quasi-SLC cache mode. Unfortunately it is hard set at a rather piddling amount instead of being flexible like within Crucial’s drives, but this makes the NAND much more durable since only long term writes are written to the “fragile” TLC NAND portion of the drive.

It is this combination of increased ECC and enhanced durability that allows the SP550 to boast a 90TB of Total Bytes Written (over only 3 years) for the 240GB version. This is noticeably better than the Crucial BX100 series and well in excess of what home consumers will actually need. In other words, instead of worries over the NAND, the only major concern is performance.


Opening up the drive we can see that AData has opted for a smaller PCB, but is still capable of handling 16 NAND ICs, the SMI controller, and two DDR3 Ram ICs.

Unfortunately, much like ONFi 3 MLC NAND which are also has a 128Gbit density, these 128Gbit TLC NAND IC need a lot fewer layers in order to hit a given capacity point. Hence why AData’s 240GB model only has 8 of the 16 locations populated with TLC NAND ICs and the number of layers per IC is rather mediocre at 2. This will negatively impact short and long term performance as it the NAND interleaving (the number of NAND layers per channel) that makes a drive “fast”.

AData has also opted to only populate one of the two RAM locations. Specifically this model comes with one DDR3-1600 256MB module for caching purposes, though based on previous experience with SMI controllers this should prove more than adequate.


AData has not used Crucial, Toshiba or Samsung TLC NAND ICs. Instead they have opted for the lesser known SK Hynix TLC NAND ICs. These 128Gbit (32GB) NAND modules aren’t used all that much, but given the fact that SMI have a strategic partnership with SK Hynix the controller should be able to fully harness them.

In order to further reduce cost, there’s also a lack of onboard capacitors or other means of providing short term power in the event of an unexpected power failure. This in conjunction with the fact that a portion of the NAND is set aside for 'caching' purposes means the chances of data corruption happening from a power failure are greater than they are on an 'old fashioned' SSD like the XPG SX930.
 
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AkG

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Test System & Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a drive is not as simple as putting together a bunch of files, dragging them onto folder on the drive in Windows and using a stopwatch to time how long the transfer takes. Rather, there are factors such as read / write speed and data burst speed to take into account. There is also the SATA controller on your motherboard and how well it works with SSDs & HDDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for drives to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our test-bed will be a more standard motherboard with no mods or high end gear added to it. This is to help replicate what you the end user’s experience will be like.

Even when the hardware issues are taken care of the software itself will have a negative or positive impact on the results. As with the hardware end of things, to obtain the absolute best results you do need to tweak your OS setup; however, just like with the hardware solution most people are not going to do this. For this reason our standard OS setup is used. However, except for the Windows 7 load test times we have done our best to eliminate this issue by having the drive tested as a secondary drive. With the main drive being an Intel DC S3700 800GB Solid State Drive.

For synthetic tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HD Tune, Crystal Disk Benchmark, IOMeter, AS-SSD, Anvil Storage Utilities and PCMark 7.

For real world benchmarks we timed how long a single 10GB rar file took to copy to and then from the devices. We also used 10gb of small files (from 100kb to 200MB) with a total 12,000 files in 400 subfolders.

For all testing a Asus Sabretooth TUF X99 LGA 2011-v3 motherboard was used, running Windows 7 64bit Ultimate edition. All drives were tested using either AHCI mode using Intel RST 10 drivers, or NVMHCI using Intel NVMe drivers.

All tests were run 4 times and average results are represented.

In between each test suite runs (with the exception being IOMeter which was done after every run) the drives are cleaned with either HDDerase, SaniErase or a manufactures 'Toolbox' and then quick formatted to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.

Processor: Core i7 5930K
Motherboard: Asus Sabretooth TUF X99
Memory: 32GB Crucial Ballistix Elite DDR4-2666
Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780
Hard Drive: Intel DC S3700 800GB, Intel P3700 800GB
Power Supply: XFX 850

SSD FIRMWARE (unless otherwise noted):

OCZ Vertex 2 100GB: 1.33
Vertex 460 240GB: 1.0
Intel 7230 240GB: L2010400
Samsung 840 Pro 256GB:DXM06B0Q
Plextor M6e 256GB: 1.03
AMD R7 240GB: 1.0
Crucial MX200: MU01
G.Skill Phoenix 480GB: 2.71
Intel 750: 8EV10135
Kingston HyperX Predator 480GB: 0C34L5TA
Kingston HyperX Savage 240GB: SAFM00.r
OCZ Trion 480GB & 960GB: SAFM11.1
AData XPG SX930 240GB : 5.9E
AData SP550 240GB: O0730A

Toshiba TC58 controller:
OCZ Trion 480GB & 960GB - Custom firmware w/ 19nm Toggle Mode TLC NAND

Samsung MDX controller:
Samsung 840 Pro 256GB- Custom firmware w/ 21nm Toggle Mode NAND

SandForce SF1200 controller:
OCZ Vertex 2 - ONFi 2 NAND

SandForce SF2281 controller:
G.Skill Phoenix 480GB - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND

Marvell 9183 controller:
Plextor M6e 256GB- Custom firmware w/ 21nm Toggle Mode NAND

Marvell 9189 controller:
Crucial MX200 - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND

Marvell 9293 controller:
Kingston HyperX Predator - Custom firmware w/ 19nm Toggle Mode NAND

Barefoot 3 controller:
AMD R7 (M00) - 19nm Toggle Mode NAND w/ custom firmware
OCZ Arc 100 (M10) - 19nm Toggle Mode NAND

Intel X25 G3 controller:
Intel 730 - Custom firmware w/ ONFi 2 NAND

Intel NVMe G1 Controller:
Intel 750 - Customer firmware w/ MLC 20nm NAND

Phison PS3110 Controller:
Kingston HyperX Savage 240GB - 19nm Toggle Mode NAND

JMicron JMF670H Controller:
AData XPG SX930 240GB - ONFi 3 NAND

SMI SM2256 Controller:
AData SP550 240GB - TLC NAND

Special Thanks to Crucial for providing the memory for this testbed.
 
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AkG

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5,274
Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


<i>For this benchmark, HDTach was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these hard drives. The long test was run to give a slightly more accurate picture. We don’t put much stock in Burst speed readings and thus we no longer included it. The most important number is the Average Speed number. This number will tell you what to expect from a given drive in normal, day to day operations. The higher the average the faster your entire system will seem.</i>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/read.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Write Performance


<i>For this benchmark HD Tune Pro was used. To run the write benchmark on a drive, you must first remove all partitions from that drive and then and only then will it allow you to run this test. Unlike some other benchmarking utilities the HD Tune Pro writes across the full area of the drive, thus it easily shows any weakness a drive may have.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/write.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

As you can see the read performance of this rather inexpensive drive is very decent bordering on impressive and is capped by the SATA interface rather than anything else.

Unfortunately, the write speed is something altogether different. To be fair, this drive <i>starts</i> out fine with performance results that you would expect from a mainstream SSD. Unfortunately this is because of the SLC Cache portion artificially inflating results, and once it is exhausted the drive first gets slower (as the RAM cache buffer tries to keep up with the controller and its emergency write processes)…and then plummets. This is the problem with classic write cache algorithms such as what this drive relies upon.
 
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AkG

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Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,274
ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


<i>The ATTO disk benchmark tests the drives read and write speeds using gradually larger size files. For these tests, the ATTO program was set to run from its smallest to largest value (.5KB to 8192KB) and the total length was set to 256MB. The test program then spits out an extrapolated performance figure in megabytes per second. </i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/atto_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/atto_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Because this is a synthetic test that relies upon rather small amounts of data, the SP550 posts write performance results that are really impressive. Also on the positive side, the read performance is also pretty darn good for the sub-$100 category.
 
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AkG

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Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,274
Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7

Crystal DiskMark


<i>Crystal DiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and random read/write speeds; and allows you to set the number of tests iterations to run. We left the number of tests at 5 and size at 100MB. </i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/cdm_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/cdm_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>


PCMark 7


<i>While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark 7, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of numerous tests that try and replicate real world drive usage. Everything from how long a simulated virus scan takes to complete, to MS Vista start up time to game load time is tested in these core tests; however we do not consider this anything other than just another suite of synthetic tests. For this reason, while each test is scored individually we have opted to include only the overall score.</i>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/pcm.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>

These results fall into two categories: decent and sub-optimal. Since PCMark relies mainly on mainly read based tests the results the SP550 post are more than acceptable. On the other hand once this drive has to use the TLC NAND for writes, even the SLC cache algorithms cannot save it from rather low results.
 
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AkG

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5,274
AS-SSD / Anvil Storage Utilities Pro

AS-SSD


<i>AS-SSD is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and small 4K read/write speeds as well as 4K file speed at a queue depth of 6. While its primary goal is to accurately test Solid State Drives, it does equally well on all storage mediums it just takes longer to run each test as each test reads or writes 1GB of data.</i>
<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/asd_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/asd_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>

Anvil Storage Utilities Pro


<i>Much like AS-SSD, Anvil Pro was created to quickly and easily – yet accurately – test your drives. While it is still in the Beta stages it is a versatile and powerful little program. Currently it can test numerous read / write scenarios but two in particular stand out for us: 4K queue depth of 4 and 4K queue depth of 16. A queue depth of four along with 4K sectors can be equated to what most users will experience in an OS scenario while 16 depth will be encountered only by power users and the like. We have also included the 4k queue depth 1 results to help put these two other numbers in their proper perspective. All settings were left in their default states and the test size was set to 1GB.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/anvil_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/anvil_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Once again the read results are good with the occasional excellent result, but the write performance numbers can be charitably called 'nothing to write home about'.
 
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AkG

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5,274
IOMeter

IOMETER


<i>IOMeter is heavily weighted towards the server end of things, and since we here at HWC are more End User centric we will be setting and judging the results of IOMeter a little bit differently than most. To test each drive we ran 5 test runs per HDD (1,4,16,64,128 queue depth) each test having 8 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 8 subparts were set to run 100% random, 80% read 20% write; testing 512b, 1k, 2k,4k,8k,16k,32k,64k size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the 8 subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these 8 numbers add them together and divide by 8. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/iom.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

This drive cannot handle workstation type work scenarios and these poor performance numbers just underscore that fact. By the same token it doesn't have to be good at this test since AData hasn't designed it to compete in this corner of the market.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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5,274
Windows 8.1 / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Windows 8.1 Start Up with Boot Time A/V Scan Performance



<i>When it comes to hard drive performance there is one area that even the most oblivious user notices: how long it takes to load the Operating System. We have chosen Windows 8.1 64bit Pro as our Operating System with all 'fast boot' options disabled in the BIOS. In previous load time tests we would use the Anti-Virus splash screen as our finish line; this however is no longer the case. We have not only added in a secondary Anti-Virus to load on startup, but also an anti-malware program. We have set Super Anti-Spyware to initiate a quick scan on Windows start-up and the completion of the quick scan will be our new finish line. </i>


<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/boot.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>


Adobe CS5 Load Time


<i>Photoshop is a notoriously slow loading program under the best of circumstances, and while the latest version is actually pretty decent, when you add in a bunch of extra brushes and the such you get a really great torture test which can bring even the best of the best to their knees. Let’s see how our review unit fared in the newly updated Adobe crucible! </i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/adobe.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Since Adobe is almost entirely a read-only test, while the Operating System test is more 60/40 we are getting nearly diametrically opposed results. Adobe shows this drive to be a decent performer and well worth its asking price, while Windows shows it to be in-line with pretty much every other drive.
 
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AkG

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Messages
5,274
Firefox Performance / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance


<i>Firefox is notorious for being slow on loading tabs in offline mode once the number of pages to be opened grows larger than a dozen or so. We can think of fewer worse case scenarios than having 100 tabs set to reload in offline mode upon Firefox startup, but this is exactly what we have done here.

By having 100 pages open in Firefox portable, setting Firefox to reload the last session upon next session start and then setting it to offline mode, we are able to easily recreate a worst case scenario. Since we are using Firefox portable all files are easily positioned in one location, making it simple to repeat the test as necessary. In order to ensure repetition, before touching the Firefox portable files, we have backed them up into a .rar file and only extracted a copy of it to the test device.</i>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/ff.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>


Real World Data Transfers


<i>No matter how good a synthetic benchmark like IOMeter or PCMark is, it cannot really tell you how your hard drive will perform in “real world” situations. All of us here at Hardware Canucks strive to give you the best, most complete picture of a review item’s true capabilities and to this end we will be running timed data transfers to give you a general idea of how its performance relates to real life use. To help replicate worse case scenarios we will transfer a 20.00GB contiguous file and a folder containing 800 subfolders with a total 24,000 files varying in length from 200mb to 100kb (20.00 GB total).

Testing will include transfer to and transferring from the devices, using MS RichCopy and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found. </i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/copy_lg.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/copy_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

As you can see this drive posts pretty darn good read-based results, and if the write was even just half as good as the reads it would easily justify its asking price. Sadly, the write performance of this drive is edging awfully damn close to SSHD and HDD levels but it does not offer the capacity to offset the lowered performance it offers.
 
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AkG

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Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,274
Partial and Full Drive Performance

Partial and Full Drive Performance


<i>While it is important to know how a drive will perform under optimal conditions, more realistic scenarios are just as important. Knowing if a solid state drive will behave differently when partially or even nearly full than when it is empty is very important information to know. To quickly and accurately show this crucial information we have first filled the drive to 50% capacity and re-tested using both synthetic and real world tests. After the completion of this we then re-test at 75% and 90% of full capacity. </i>

Synthetic Test Results

<i>For our synthetic testing we have opted for our standard PCMark 7 test.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/data_pcm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>


Real World Results

<i>For a real world application we have opted for a modified version of our standard Windows 7 Start Up test. Unlike our standard Windows 7 image this image is based on a working system that has been upgraded numerous times over the past few years and represents an even more realistic real world test.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/AData_SP550/data_boot.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Performance retention is acceptable but that's not really saying much since the SP550 didn't really have all that much throughput in some of these tests to start out with. While there is certainly a good amount of downgrading as its capacity fills up, the results are pretty much par for the course.
 
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