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Corsair Force 40GB Solid State Drive Review

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AkG

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In the past we have looked at numerous SandForce based drives and have walked away impressed in the majority of cases. Sadly, even the least expensive Sandforce-based product was still far outside of the price range most consumers are willing to pay for a low-capacity drive. It goes without saying that to get premium performance you usually have to be willing to pay premium prices but Corsair is looking to buck that trend with their new Force F40 – a drive that sports a Sandforce controller at its heart and a killer price to boot.

It comes as no surprise that Corsair, a household name to enthusiasts and non enthusiast alike, has expanded their Force line down market as well as looking to even higher end niches. They are one of the few companies who consistently listen to the varying needs of ALL their customers; not only the ones who want bleeding edge products.

When it comes to actual monetary outlay, this newly released drive does have a very tempting price tag of $116. This in combination with its great availability at retailers and e-tailers alike is intriguing to say the least and could make the Force 40GB appealing to a large cross section of the market. While this drive is small potatoes in terms of usable storage with only 40GB, in terms of performance we may just be looking at the next best thing to perfection for first time buyers.

It will be interesting to see how this value priced drive scales in terms of performance, as the best controller for this market has been Intel’s (which is represented in our charts with the now defunct Kingston SSDNow V40) which ruled the roost when it came to small files but tanked when faced with mid to large size files. If SandForce is able to keep a good portion of not only the larger versions low end but also its high end this may just be one killer platform.

mfg.jpg

 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications



<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Force40/specs.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Force40/specs2.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Force40/specs3.jpg" border="0" alt="" />


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AkG

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A Closer look at the Corsair F40

A Closer look at the Corsair F40


Corsair_Force40GB_box_f_sm.jpg
Corsair_Force40GB_box_b_sm.jpg

As with both previous versions of the Corsair Force line we have looked at (the F120 HERE, and the F100 HERE) in the past, the F40 uses Corsair’s usual plain packaging scheme. It is the same exact same compact grey and white cardboard box, with the exact same generic picture. The only way to tell any of them apart is by the small label which lists what model it is.

Corsair_Force40GB_box_o_sm.jpg

While it is the budget orientated version of the Corsair Force lineup, the F40 doesn’t have any corners cut when it comes to the internal protection scheme. It comes clad in the exact same plastic clam shell inner container as all the others do.

Corsair_Force40GB_ang_sm.jpg
Corsair_Force40GB_ang2_sm.jpg

Just as F120’s metal case is an all black affair so too is the F40. Needless to say this is a pretty looking drive; though it is nowhere near as striking or handsome as some other models, but who will really care about how an internal storage device looks anyways?

In the continuing theme of “its exterior is exactly the same as all the other Force drives”, Corsair has once again opted for a single label with no large information label on the bottom of the drive.

Corsair_Force40GB_board_sm.jpg
Corsair_Force40GB_board2_sm.jpg

As expected the PCB and the layout of the chips is not very different from other Sandforce drives we have seen in the past and to be precise is the exact same PCB as found on the F120. The only difference is the type and number of NAND chips installed. On the top side you have five installed with the other three slots empty while on the bottom there are another seven chips with one slot empty. Using more yet lower density NAND chips is a sensible way of doing things compared to the Intel V / Kingston SSDNow V 40GB. The performance variance between the Force 40 and its bigger brothers probably is not going to be night and day like it was with those other “value orientated” versions of the Intel X25-M.

Corsair_Force40GB_nand_sm.jpg

Obviously, with 12 NAND chips there was no way that this drive could use the same NAND as the F120 or F100. To be precise the F40 has twelve Intel branded, 29F32G08CAMDB chips. As the model name suggests these are 32Gigabit density chips (4GB) and with twelve of them this model is in fact a 48GB drive with 8GB set aside for over-provisioning. To put all of that in perspective, the Force F120 uses Intel branded, 29F64G08CAMDB chips (8GB density chips); so the only real difference is in their density compared to those of the bigger Force drives.
 
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AkG

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DuraWrite, Firmware & Trim

A Look at DuraWrite, RAISE and More


Corsair_Force_sandforce_logi.jpg


The Force 40 has twelve 4GB NAND chips on board which gives it a capacity of 48GB, but is seen by the OS as 40GB. This is called “over-provisioning” and happens when a manufacturer has their drive consistently under report its size. Manufacturers use this to help increase IOPS performance and also extend life via wear leveling (as there is always free cells even when the drive is reported as “full”) and even durability since the drive has cells in reserve it can reassign sectors to as the “older” cells die.

duraclass.jpg


As we said, over-provisioning is usually for wear leveling and ITGC as it gives the controller extra cells to work with for keeping all the cells at about the same level of wear. However, this is actually not the main reason SandForce sets aside so much. Wear leveling is at best a secondary reason or even just a “bonus” as this over-provisioning is mainly for the Durawrite and RAISE technology.

Unlike other solid state drives which do not compress the data that is written to them, the SandForce controller does real time loss-less compression. The upside to this is not only smaller lookup tables (and thus no need for off chip cache) but also means less writes will occur to the cells. Lowering how much data is written means that less cells have to be used to perform a given task and this should also result in longer life and even fewer controller cycles being taken up with internal house cleaning (via TRIM or ITGC).

Corsair_Force_Fact5.jpg


Longevity may be a nice side effect but the real purpose of this compression is so the controller has to use fewer cells to store a given amount of data and thus has to read from fewer cells than any other drive out there (SandForce claims only .5x is written on average). The benefit to this is even at the NAND level storage itself is the bottleneck for any controller and no matter how fast the NAND is, the controller is faster. Cycles are wasted in waiting for data retrieval and if you can reduce the number of cycles wasted, the faster an SSD will be.

Compressing data and thus hopefully getting a nice little speed boost is all well and fine but as anyone who has ever lost data to corruption in a compressed file knows, reliability is much more important. Compressing data means that any potential loss to a bad or dying cell (or cells) will be magnified on these drives so SandForce needed to ensure that the data was kept as secure as possible. While all drives use ECC, to further ensure data protection SandForce implemented another layer of security.

Corsair_Force_Fact4.jpg


Data protection is where RAISE (Redundant Array of Independent Silicon Elements) comes into the equation. All modern SSDs use various error correction concepts such as ECC. This is because as with any mass produced item there are going to be bad cells while even good cells are going to die off as time goes by. Yet data cannot be lost or the end user’s experience will go from positive to negative. SandForce likes to compare RAISE to that of RAID 5, but unlike RAID 5 which uses a parity stripe, RAISE does not. SandForce does not explicitly say how it does what it does, but what they do say is on top of ECC, redundant data is striped across the array. However, since it is NOT parity data there is no added overheard incurred by calculating the parity stripe.

Corsair_Force_Fact2.jpg


According to SandForce’s documentation, not only individual bits or even pages of data can be recovered but entire BLOCKS of data can be as well. So if a cell dies or passes on bad data, the controller can compensate, pass on GOOD data, mark the cell as defective and if necessary swap out the entire block for a spare from the over-provisioning area. As we said, SandForce does not get into the nitty-gritty details of how DuraWrite or RAISE works, but the fact that it CAN do all this means that it most likely is writing a hash table along with the data.

SandForce is so sure of their controller abilities that they state the chances of data corruption are not only lower than that of other manufactures’ drives, but actually approaches ZERO chance of data corruption. This is a very bold statement, but only time will tell if their estimates are correct. In the mean time, we are willing to give the benefit of the doubt and say that at the very least data corruption is as unlikely with one of these products as it is on any modern MLC drive.
 
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AkG

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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 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 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

SSD FIRMWARE (unless otherwise noted):
G. Skill Titan: 0955
G.Skill Falcon: 1571 (AKA FW 1.3)
OCZ Apex: 955
OCZ Vertex: 1.3 (AKA FW 1571)
Patriot Torqx: 1571 (AKA FW 1.3)
Corsair P64: 18C1Q
OCZ Summit: 1801Q
A-Data S592: 1279 (AKA PRE 1.1 FW)
OCZ Agility EX 60GB: 1.3 (AKA 1.4 for MLC Indilinx Drives)
Kingston SSDNow V 40GB: 02G9
G.Skill Falcon 2: 1881 (AKA 1.4)
Kingston SSDNow V+ 128GB: AGYA0201
Corsair Nova: 1.0 (AKA 1916/1.5 for most other MLC Indilinx Drives)
Corsair Force F100: 0.2 (AKA bug fixed / modified 3.0.1)
OCZ Vertex 2: 1.1 (custom “full speed” SandForce 310 firmware)
G.Skill Phoneix: 305 (standard “mass production” firmware)
Patriot Inferno: 305 (standard “mass production” firmware)
OWC Mercury Extreme Pro: 310 (standard 310 firmware)
Corsair Force F120: 30CA13F0 (aka standard 310 firmware)
Corsair Force F40: 1.1 (standard SandForce 310 firmware)
 
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AkG

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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 drives. 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.


<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Force40/read.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

We really don’t put much faith in sequential speed, but these numbers are not all that terrible for a sub-$130 drive. While on first glance they numbers look pretty grim (and they are indeed on the low side for a solid state drive) they are actually not that terrible. An average of 150+ MB/s is outside the league of hard drives yet this unit is priced in hard drive territory.


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.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Force40/write.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

Yes once again we are seeing numbers that are low compared to the big expensive solid state drives; however take a closer look at where the other “value” SSD is. This drive indeed is slower then other SandForce drives, but it scales a whole heck of a lot better then a drive this budget friendly has any right to.

 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / Random Access Time

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


<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Force40/cdm_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

As expected, the sequential and even mid size results are a tad on the low side. This is an area in which even the most expensive SandForce drives don’t exactly dominate. However, if you take a look at the all important 4k read performance you can see the difference between the Vertex 2, Force 120 and all the other “best of the best” SandForce drives and this little guy is not all that big.


Write


<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Force40/cdm_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

The biggest claim to fame the Intel X25-V 40GB (and by extension the Kingston SSDNow V 40GB) was its small 4k write performance. As you can see, the Corsair Force 40 simply dominates what was one of our all time favorite budget drives. Big, small and everything in between; it does impressively well. This drive is really shaping up to be the one to beat in the frugal end of the marketplace.


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).


<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Force40/random.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

While there is indeed a slight increase in latency it will likely go unnoticed. As we have said in the past, differences this small are really academic.
 
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AkG

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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


<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Force40/atto_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

Now this certainly is interesting. While the power curve is indeed lower than the other SandForce drives we have looked at, the difference is not what we would classify as night and day. It is interesting to note that while the Intel is faster at small files, by the mid way mark it flattens out whereas the Force 40 continues to get faster.


Write


<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Force40/atto_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

Once again the differences between the Force 40 and other SandForce drives is minor. As an aside, when the Force 40’s curve is compared to the SSDNow V 40GB the difference IS certainly significant. The Intel once again starts out faster, but at the mere 4K point the Force starts to catch up and by the 8K mark is significantly faster.
 
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AkG

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IOMETER / IOMeter Controller Stress 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 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 que depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Force40/iom.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

This test shows that while the Force 40 does indeed scale awfully well, the big “full size” drives are in a league of their own. To be totally fair, at ultra low que depths the difference is not all that large.


IOMeter Controller Stress 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 powerful the controller is we, 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 past we found this tests was a great way to check and see if stuttering would occur. Since the introduction of ITGC and / or TRIM the chances of real world stuttering happening in a modern generation SSD are next to nill; rather the main focus has shifted from predicting "stutter" to showing how powerful the controller used is. By running continuous small, random writes we can stress the controller to its maximum, while also removing its cache buffer from the equation (by overloading it) and showing exactly how powerful a given controller is. In the .csv file we then find 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 350ms to be a good indicator that the controller is either relying heavily on its cache buffer to hide any limitations it possess or the firmware of the controller is severely limiting it.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Force40/stutter.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

On the surface an increase of about 50% on maximum write latency sounds horrible but to be perfectly blunt, this difference is down right minor and way below what we would consider to be worrisome or even noteworthy.
 
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AkG

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XP Start Up / Adobe CS3 Load Time

XP Start Up


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. For our tests the clock starts as soon as the system “beeps!” and stops when our Anti-Virus splash screen disappears. While all the other tests were run with a streamlined XP image this particular image is the test bed's “day to day” OS and it has accumulated a lot of crud over the months from installs and removals. We chose the Anti-Virus splash screen as our finish line as it is the last program to be loaded on start up.

boot.jpg


The Force 40GB may be slower then most other high performance solid state drives, but this drive is not meant to compete against them. It is meant to compete against other budget drives, yet here it is not only easily beating the SSDNow V 40GB but actually giving mid tier drives a run for their money.


ADOBE CS3 LOAD TIME


Photoshop is a notoriously slow loading program under the best of circumstances, but 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 faired in the Adobe crucible!

adobe.jpg


Once again the results are indeed slower then flagship models, but is still better then what WAS our favorite budget SSD until this point. This drive will be a great improvement over your hard drive, no matter what drive you previously used; and to be blunt will deliver a better experience then what was previously though possible in the budget SSD arena.
 
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