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Cavalry Storage Pelican 64GB External SSD Review

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AkG

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Cavalry Storage Pelican 64GB External SSD Review





Manufacture Page: Cavalry: State Drive Internal Series
Part Number: CASD00064MIS
TechWiki Info: Pelican - TechWiki
Price: $150.00 USD



Today’s review is certainly a different take on the everyday USB storage device. Right now there is actually a large gap between super handy, yet ultra slow and small capacity thumb-drives and full fledged external storage devices. For many users a small USB thumb-drive is fast enough, small enough, and has enough capacity for daily uses; but there is a growing segment which need something bigger and better. In the past this meant a fully fledged external drive in an enclosure with an external power brick (or at the very least an AC plug). While there have been some attempts to take 2.5" laptop drives and put them in external cases and run them off two USB plugs. This still left the drive being fairly fragile (as it is all spindle based drives) and it was a less than optimal solution since two precious USB ports were used. Remember, many laptops in particular are not exactly overflowing with these handy little ports.

This is where the Cavalry Storage Pelican line of SSDs come into the equation. A solid state drive sans storage case is a fairly small, low powered device which still is awfully shock proof. To put this another way, the Pelican can be considered a USB thumb drive on ‘roids and not a OS replacement drive. Will the Pelican work as a laptop drive? It should and we will be taking a look at this as a viable secondary feature, but the main strength is its ability to run via USB without taking up two ports nor need an AC power brick. Need a lot of storage on a removable drive? This may be the way to go.

Cavalry Storage is probably a new name for our readers, and to be honest we had never heard of them until they approached HWC and asked for us to review their product. Cavalry storage has actually been around (in one form or another) since 1985 and are based in Southern California. The about us page states “…our products are on the cutting edge of the industry…” and go on to say they are dedicated to being the “…top external hard drive and storage device manufacturer in the industry…” and doing it by “…providing high quality products at an affordable price, but in no way sacrificing the highest level of customer service and technical support.…” These are high and lofty goals and if the part about cutting edge tech is any indication this little drive may just open up some major doors in the Canadian market for them.

While the Pelican line of devices is not readily available in Canada, the 64GB version goes for about $150 at online US e-tailers. We certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see these start to pop up in online Canadian e-tailers soon. As with any external storage solution there are two main questions any potential customer has to ask and answer: a) is this a viable product which will meet my needs? b) is this a good value?. While answers to these questions will vary from person to person (and even instance to instance) we will endeavor to give you our readers the necessary tools to answer these questions. We certainly are intrigued about this take on the normal SSD so let’s get to it.


 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications




 
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Packaging and Accessories / First Impressions

Packaging and Accessories / First Impressions



The Pelican SSD comes in a very low tech clamshell plastic holder and while not in the same class as the OCZ’s, G.Skill’s or Patriot’s line of SSDs this packaging scheme does afford a very good view of the drive and offers some protection. Unfortuantely, the protection is limited to mainly anti-scratch measures but as SSD are extremely shock proof it is more than adequate for the task at hand as long as you work within its limitations.

On the positive side, all the necessary specifications are listed on the back, and this clamshell was NOT heat sealed together.


Since the Pelican is an external storage solution it comes with the necessary mini-USB cable; albeit only an 8 inch one. In our particular case, the cable which accompanied this unit was defective, which can happen to any company and we won’t be holding it against Cavalry. It was quickly replaced by a known good one…which as a bonus was also longer than the included cable.


On first glance, this device really does look like many other SSDs out there. Heck, if you removed the labels off this drive and literally and other one that we have reviewed, there would be no easy way to tell them apart if you just looked at the top or bottom of the case.

In an effort to make the case different and without adding extra cost to the manufacturing process the top panel of the Pelican is slightly raised and then the regular looking label (with all the pertinent information on it) is applied to this raised area. It’s a subtle distinction and one that we really had to look hard to find. Honestly, calling this a generic black 2.5” SSD case would be a fair assessment and quite accurate as well.


While the Pelican looks awfully similar to darn near most SSDs out there, if you look at the connector end of the drive, the mini-USB port sticks out like a sore thumb. This little connector is the “Secret Sauce” which transforms this drab and plain looking SSD into an interesting external device.

We really wish Cavalry had gone with an eSATA connector or had port coverings for the relatively fragile SATA data and power connectors as they will be the first to be damaged in day to day external usage.


Don’t get us wrong, we like the idea of being able to plug this drive directly into a system and transfer files at SATA speeds but we think an external eSATA connector would have made a heck of a lot more sense. To our way of thinking (and we freely admit we are PC enthusiasts and thus biased) more people are likely to plug an external storage device in via USB or eSATA than take the time to yank the case door, find a free SATA and power cable and plug it in and then reboot the system. While the Pelican’s iteration feels a lot like a hack or mod rather than a truly ground up redesign, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. After all, as the old saying goes ‘if its stupid, but it works….it AIN’T stupid."

All in all, we do have a few nit picks about the exterior design choices Cavalry Storage made, but nothing really stands out as seriously sub optimal. We are even more intrigued with this drive than we were when we first heard of it albeit it’s more a cautious or reserved interest than before. We probably wouldn’t want to use it in a laptop as that would not be playing to its obvious strengths and would in fact be a waste, but we think this little guy may have some serious road warrior storage potential. Let’s take apart this drive and see what makes it tick!
 
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AkG

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Interior Impressions

Interior Impressions


While packaging, accessories and even external looks is all well and fine; the proof is in the pudding as they say, and even the most plain external designs can hide a veritable Cornucopia of tech surprises. So, let’s pry the top off and peer inside to see what we can find.


If you remember our Patriot Warp 2 SSD review, the layout of the Pelican will be vaguely familiar. While this board is upside down in comparison to the Warp's, when you flip the it over you are greeted to what boils down to the exact same layout. However, there is one crucial tweak. At one end you have your SATA power and data connectors, with the SSD controller chip and then two rows of four NAND MLC flash chips (with another 8 chips soldered to the other side of the board) making it for a grand total of 1 controller chip and 16 NAND flash chips. Unlike the Patriot, the Pelican has a mini USB connector next to the standard SATA power and data connectors.


The I/O controller chip shown above is, as expected, a JMicron model 602b. JMicron 602b never did live up to the PR promises and hype surrounding it and is now at least one or two generations removed from the best controllers out there. However, one feature which usually gets lost in the background noise when discussing this controller is the fact this controller not only has single port SATA 2 controller capabilities but is also a single USB port capable controller.

This means it meets the SATA 2.6 specs and is also compliant with Universal Serial Bus Specification Revision 2.0 and Compliant with USB Mass Storage Class specification version 1.0. This in a nut shell means it can act as a USB controller as well as an SATA controller. More importantly, this right here is the reason the Pelican drive is able to run as SATA or USB, without resorting to a secondary on-board controller.

As we will see later in testing the JM602b may not be the latest and greatest SATA controller around….but it’s more than powerful enough for USB operations and is probably overkill for that application. Actually it is probably a lot more powerful than the controllers which are found in most USB thumb drives. Is this a second chance for an aging controller? Will this controller finally find a niche where it can excel at (or at leas be considered good enough)? Who knows, but we will certainly find out later in the testing phase!


The NAND chips used in the Pelican are Samsung K9LBG08U0M-PCB0. Using the handy dandy online Samsung model Decoder we can see these are 1st generation lead free (ROHS compliant), 2.7V ~ 3.6V, 25 nanosecond NAND chips. This model is rated at a density of 32Gbits or 4GB per chip and has an operating temperature range listed as “Commercial” or 0°C to 70°C. Above the model number we can see these were made in the 34th week of 2008 (834) and below it we can see the batch number (or at least what we assume is the batch number but is describe by Samsung vaguely as “Customer List Reference” only).

To put all this another way, except for the fact that these chips do not have Dual nCE (Dual Chip Enable control) & Dual R/nB (Dual Ready/Busy Output) and are (in some cases) a smaller density, they are awfully darn similar to the MLC Samsung chips in the other SSDs we have reviewed, but are still inferior non the less. Lacking one or two options may not sound like a big difference but even small differences can have huge impacts on performance when we are talking about MLC NAND chips.

All in all, the Pelican looks a lot like many older SSDs out there; however this is not necessarily a bad thing since it is still a major improvement in what you will find in most USB thumb drives. Basically, it's better to consider this an over engineered thumb drive rather than an outdated OS SSD.
 
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AkG

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a hard 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 to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for SSDs to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our testbed 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 XP 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 a WD 320 single platter drive.

For these tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HDTune, Cystal Disk Benchmark, h2benchw, SIS Sandra Removable Storage benchmark, and IOMeter for synthetic benchmarks.

For real world benchmarks we timed how long XP startup took, Adobe CS3 (w/ enormous amounts of custom brushes installed) took, how long a single 4GB rar file took to copy to and then from the hard drives, then copy to itself. We also used 1gb of small files (from 1kb to 20MB) with a total 2108 files in 49 subfolders.

For the temperature testing, readings are taken directly from the hottest part of the drive case using a Digital Infrared Thermometer. The infrared thermometer used has a 9 to 1 ratio, meaning that at 9cm it takes it reading from a 1 square cm. To obtain the numbers used in this review the thermometer was held approximately 3cm away from the heatsink and only the hottest number obtained was used.


Please note to reduce variables the same XP OS image was used for all the hard drives.

For all testing a Gigabyte PA35-DS4 motherboard was used. The ICH9 controller on said motherboard was used.

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

Processor: Q6600 @ 2.4 GHZ
Motherboard: Gigabyte p35 DS4
Memory: 4GB G.Skill PC2-6400
Graphics card: Asus 8800GT TOP
Hard Drive: 1x WD 320
Power Supply: Seasonic S12 600W Performance Testing
 
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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 this goes double for SSD based hard drive. The main reason we include it is to show what under perfect conditions a given drive is capable of; but the more 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.




While the SATA speeds are not terrible, we were expecting a lot more from the JM602b controller. If we were to speculate we would say the difference between the Pelican and WARP v2 is more firmware based than hardware, though it may also be due to the slightly inferior MLC flash chips used in the Pelican. On the positive side these numbers are better than the quoted specifications. It’s always nice when the manufacturer is conservative in their estimates.

It will be interesting to see if the other specifications are similarly under valued. Also on the positive side; the read speeds in USB mode are awfully darn good and will give just about any USB thumb-drive a run for its money!


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 utlities the HD Tune Pro writes across the full area of the drive, thus it easily shows any weakness a drive may have.

While most OS drives spend most of their times reading and not writing, the write speed of the drive does have a big impact on the stutter issue and how fast the drive feels.




Ouch, these numbers are abysmal for a modern SSD; heck they are low enough that they are approaching HDD speeds. Compounding this is the fact that the Pelican had many, many dips all of which were under 15MB/s with the worst being a mere 11.5MB/s. To say this is not good is truly an understatement of monumental proportions!

Once again the USB performance stats come to the rescue; though once again with dips that are extremely low. Maybe it is because we have such low expectations of USB “performance” that these numbers can be considered decent…maybe its because most USB thumb-drives are (dare we say it) built for ease of use and not speed? Either way, we would rather use this drive as a USB device than rely on it for an OS drive. Let’s see if this trend continues throughout the rest of the tests.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark

Crystal DiskMark


Crystal DiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your hard 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. When all 5 tests for a given section were run Crystal DiskMark then averages out all 5 numbers to give a result for that section.

Read



While the SATA numbers are once again a little on the anemic side of things, the USB numbers are decent. It’s funny that even over such an inferior link like USB that the Pelican stomps "high performance" HDDs in two of the three tests (and most importantly in the small but tough 4k test!).

Write



In the write end of things, well the outlook is not as rosy as it was for the read results as these numbers are low. We expect the USB numbers to be low and while they are relatively low they are very, very good for USB speeds. As is becoming extremely obvious (and while we hate to kick an already dead horse…again….and again….and again) the SATA numbers are abysmal. While the spindle based drives in our chart can be considered “best of breed” right now in HDD tech…any SSD worthy of the name should NOT be bested as badly as this guy is. Heck, even the 640GB drive which is 10 times bigger yet costs only half as much beats it in 2 out of 3 tests (and the third is so close as to be a frickin’ draw). If Cavalry Storage wants to use terms like “cutting edge” (or even “internal/external storage”)….they better start working on the firmware…or sourcing out for better parts as this iteration is not cutting edge anything when it comes to SATA SSDs.
 
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Random Access Time / SIS Sandra

Random Access Time


To obtain the absolute, most accurate Random access time, h2benchw was used for this benchmark. This benchmark tests how quickly different areas of the drive’s memory can be accessed. A low number means that the drive space can be accessed quickly while a high number means that more time is taken trying to access different parts of the drive. To run this program, one must use a DOS prompt and tell it what sections of the test to run. While one could use “h2benchw 1 -english -s -tt "harddisk test" -w test” for example and just run the seek tests, we took the more complete approach and ran the full gamout of tests and then extracted the necessary information from the text file. This is the command line argument we used “h2benchw 1 -a -! -tt "harddisk drivetest" -w drivetest”. This tells the program to write all results in english, save them in drivetest txt file, do write and read tests and do it all on drive 1 (or the second drive found, with 0 being the OS drive).



Well here at least is some good news: the SATA random access times of this drive are not half bad. Clearly not in the same league as the Intel X-25M but certainly not half bad either! The USB numbers once again continue to impress us.


SIS Sandra


This test was run with the removable storage benchmark in Sandra XII Standard. All of the scores are calculated in operations per second and have been averaged out from the scores of 4 test runs.



SIS Sandra is such a wonky program when it comes to SSD and HDDs it’s almost not worth the effort. For anyone who does use this program as measuring stick…the Pelican fares decently on SATA and relatively well on USB.
 
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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.

Read



When it comes to SATA, ATTO and read speeds the Pelican is fairly mundane. In any other review this would be damning praise indeed, but here it’s actually a nice change to say the Pelican is mediocre. USB speeds are once again good for that technology and would most likely beat (or at least match) the best USB thumb-drives out there.


Write



Well that “winning streak” didn’t last long! As we have seen in the past tests…this drive is truly subpar when in comes to SATA write speeds.
 
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IOMETER / IOMeter Stutter Test

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 que 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 reporst 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 que depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.

Please note: It would be foolish to even try to run IOMeter via USB. We can all agree that its numbers would be minimally exceptional at best. As such we are not subjecting this drive to this or any OS related tests while in USB mode.



It’s hardly surprising that this device is mediocre at this type of task. After all, SSDs do have exceptionally low latency and when it comes to IOMeter that is what matters most. When compared to other single controller SSDs it loses, not as badly as in some tests but not even close all the same. In other words this drive’s SATA performance is mediocre at best.


IOMeter Stutter Test


In our usual IOMeter test we are trying to replicate real world use where reads severely outnumber writes. However, to get a good handle on how well a Solid State Disk Drive will handle a worse case scenario (and thus how likely the dreaded stutter issue will happen) we have also run an additional test. This test is made of 1 section at que depth of 1. In this test we ran 100% random. 100%writes of 4k size chunks of information. In the .csv file we then found the Maximum Write Response Time. This in ms is worst example of how long a given operation took to complete. We consider anything higher than 333ms (one third of a second) to be a good indicator that stuttering may happen, with the higher the number the worse the duration of the stutter will most likely be.



As we suspected, the Pelican SSD is not exactly a cutting edge power house when it comes to actual usage. It may be JM602b controller but 1000+ms is over a frickin' second pause in length….that is bad, really bad and it even stinks even when compared to OTHER JM602 drives. What makes this number even worse is the fact this test is only taking place at leisurely 1que depth pace; our minds shudder even thinking about how bad it would be if used in a multi-tasking environment…like a modern Operating System.
 
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