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Apacer AS330 Panther 960GB SSD Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Even though Apacer isn’t as well known in North America as they are in other areas of the world, that hasn’t stopped them from trying to expand further in this market. Some of their efforts have focused upon innovation above all else (look no further than the unique dual interface AS720 for that) while others aim to achieve a perfect balance between the usual “bread and butter” fundamentals of SSD design and pricing.

Their AS330 Panther series targets the later situation perfectly since it is well priced, uses a solid controller and houses well-respected NAND. That seems like a combination for success but we can’t forget that the segment this SSD series plays within is also loaded with alternatives from more-recognizable companies.



On the surface things may appear a tad grim for the AS330 as it does have a noticeably lower model designation than the ‘AS720’. Remember that SSD was rather anemic in its performance so a reasonable person could conclude that this model is even lower powered and directly targets sub-entry level buyers. While the AS330 Panther may indeed be a lower cost solution – the 960GB has a rather reasonable asking price of just $200 at the time of writing this article– this has more to do with the fact that it doesn’t feature the unique USB / SATA interface layout of its close cousin.

The simple fact of the matter is the AS330 series is not meant to be as boundary-pushing or as innovative as the AS720 series. Rather is an entry level model meant to compete with the likes of OCZ’s Trion 150 / TR150, PNY’s well respected CS1311, and even Crucial’s BX200 series. This however does not mean it is as under-powered as the difference in model numbering would lead you to believe.

Unlike the AS720 which is a JMicron JMF670 controller based design that cut a few corners on the amount of onboard RAM cache, the AS330 Panther uses the much more impressive PHISION PS3110-S10 controller. This 4-channel controller has been cutting quite the swath lately in the entry level corner of the marketplace and has powered some very impressive drives lately – with everything from the PNY XLR8 CS2211, to the Kingston HyperX Savage, to even the ZOTAC Premium Edition. In other words, there is very little reason to believe that the AS330 is anything but an excellent drive. Its cost per gigabyte is also among the lowest available right now.


With that being said the PHISION controller has gained a reputation of being able to work with a wide variety of NAND types and as such the amount of performance it can offer does tend to vary. Put another way, the NAND paired with this controller actually makes a huge difference. Unfortunately, this is where the lower model number designation also comes into play. Unlike the AS720 series which used 16nm 128Gbit MLC NAND from Micron, the AS330 relies upon 15nm Toshiba TLC NAND.


The Panther is not the first drive to use this specific combination as it is exactly the same as what the PNY CS1311 uses. This is why when we cracked open the rather colorful full metal case - which the AS720 should have used – there was no surprise upon seeing a half-length PCB which is populated with only eight NAND ICs. On the positive side, and unlike the smaller PNY CS1311 we looked at, this 960GB version has excellent NAND interleaving. Each of the controller’s four channels has access to eight layers of TLC NAND, or a full two NAND ICs. This will help keep performance high and should help alleviate some of the negatives usually associated with TLC NAND.


Just as with most other manufacturers that use this combination the AS330 Panther has a small portion of each NAND IC set aside to act in pseudo-SLC (pSLC) mode. This not only boosts the endurance of the otherwise fragile TLC NAND to acceptable levels but also increases real world write performance.

Further helping to keep this drive as quick as possible, Apacer made the right call and included two 256MB NANYA branded DDR3L-1600 RAM ICs. Half a gigabyte of RAM buffer should be more than enough to satisfy the needs of the typical home consumer. Of course this too is the same amount PNY uses on their larger CS1311 models as well.


Unfortunately, there is no true hardware based data loss protection on this model. While we were not expecting to see rows upon rows of capacitors on this entry level drive, relying almost solely upon firmware based solutions like ECC to keep data from being corrupted isn’t quite optimal in today’s competitive market.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Test System and 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
AMD R7 240GB: 1.0
Crucial MX200: MU01
Intel 750: 8EV10135
Kingston HyperX Predator 480GB: 0C34L5TA
OCZ Trion 480GB & 960GB: SAFM11.1
AData XPG SX930 240GB : 5.9E
AData SP550 240GB: O0730A
PNY CS2211: CS221016
PNY CS1311: CS131122
ZOTAC Premium Edition: [FONT=&quot]SAFM01.6
Apacer AS720: PLD1130
Apacer AS330: AP121PD0

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

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

Marvell 9189 controller:
Crucial MX200 - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit MLC 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
PNY CS2211: 15nm Toggle Mode NAND
PNY CS1311: 19nm TLC NAND
ZOTAC Premium Edition: 19nm MLC
Apacer AS330 - TLC NAND

JMicron JMF670H Controller:
AData XPG SX930 240GB - 128Gbit MLC NAND
Apacer AS720 - 128Gbit MLC NAND

SMI SM2256 Controller:
AData SP550 240GB - TLC NAND

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

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


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.



Write Performance


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.



As expected both the sequential read and write performance of the AS330 960GB are very decent for its class. Nothing special, but certainly not terrible either.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


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.



The performance of this drive is fairly typical for its combination – TLC NAND with a PHISION S10 controller. What this means is that while the smaller file performance could be better we doubt many first time consumers would be anything other than pleased with what it has to offer.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7

Crystal DiskMark


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.




PCMark 7


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.


These results just underscore how important choosing the right controller is in the hotly contested entry level SSD marketplace. Even when paired to less than optimal TLC NAND the PHISION controller is simply better than the JMicron JMF670 controller. That is why the Apacer ‘720’ model easily gets its butt handed to it by this ‘330’ model.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
12,857
Location
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AS-SSD / Anvil Storage Utilities Pro

AS-SSD


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.




Anvil Storage Utilities Pro


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.



Once again, a great controller backstopped by a veritable ton of RAM cache is able to overcome TLC NAND limitations and keep performance levels high enough to be satisfactory. By that same token the Apacer AS330 ‘Panther’ is not showcasing anything that is particularly different or unusual. Instead it is acting pretty much how any PHISION S10 + TLC NAND based drive would – decent but not top of the charts by any stretch
 

SKYMTL

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Messages
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IOMeter

IOMETER


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.


Using any TLC NAND based drive for workstation duties is a recipe for disaster, but we would reach for this drive long before opting for the AS720. That too just highlights how badly Apacer miscalculated when they designed the AS720 series, and how much they got right with this AS330 series.
 

SKYMTL

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Messages
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Windows / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Windows 8.1 Start Up w/ Boot Time A/V Scan


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.



Adobe CS5 Load Time


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!



As you can see TLC NAND is the weak link in the AS330’s chain and it is this NAND which keeps this drive from performing even better. That is a shame, and we just hope Apacer takes the best of both series to create a third one – one that uses 512MB of cache, uses the PHISION S10 controller, but uses either straight 128Gbit MLC NAND or Toggle Mode NAD ICs. Then Apacer will finally have gotten the formula ‘perfect’. However, for the intended market this level of performance is going to impressive bordering on insanely fast – as it is faster than any HDD ever created.  
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
12,857
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Firefox / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance


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.




Real World Data Transfers


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 10.00GB contiguous file and a folder containing 400 subfolders with a total 12,000 files varying in length from 200mb to 100kb (10.00 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.





Once again the Apacer AS330 series is not proving to be anything out of the ordinary, nor does it distinguish itself beyond its rather consistent performance. Put another way this drive may not be anything special compared to other manufacturer’s PHISION S10 + TLC NAND drives, but it certainly is not a bad drive by any stretch of the imagination!
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,857
Location
Montreal
Partial and Full Drive Performance

Partial and Full Drive Performance


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.

Synthetic Test Results

For our synthetic testing we have opted for our standard PCMark 7 test.



Real World Results

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 of the past few years and represents an even more realistic real world test.




Yes, performance is going to drop like a stone when the AS330 is filled to capacity. Yes, the drop-off is better than the AS720 series. But both of these facts miss one point: consumers can drop a hell of a lot more data on to this drive than any 480- 512GB SSD and still get decent performance from it. Having nearly 1 Terabyte of fast storage really was a luxury not all that long ago and one that does bring significant real world performance advantages to the table.
 
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