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Corsair Nova V128 Solid State Drive Review

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AkG

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High end products are always great to benchmark and gawk at but the vast majority of consumers will likely be looking for something that offers value instead of bleeding edge performance. To capitalize on this fact of modern economics, Corsair has recently released the Nova line of solid state drives and today we are going to take the time to put the 128GB version through its paces. While the Force and Corsair X-series are designed to take care of the enthusiast customer niche, the Nova is targeted at people who want to get their feet wet in the SSD pool, yet don’t want to spend a fortune on a product they may not feel is worth the investment.

Not that long ago we looked at G. Skill’s foray into the world mid-tier of Indilinx based Solid State Drives with the Falcon 2 and came away impressed with its performance. However, it seems that Corsair has taken a much more rational approach to their entry into this value-orientated market niche as this unit is not called an “X2” or some such. Rather, the Nova series is a separate and distinct line within Corsair’s current offerings.

Corsair is very upfront about the Nova’s value orientation and in fact, one can make the argument that this is Corsair’s version of Kingston “SSDNow V+” or other manufactures “Value” series. This does make a fair amount of sense as this SSD does use slightly slower (and less capable) NAND when compared to a full speed Indilinx drive like the X128 but it still has that potent Barefoot controller in it.

As is par for the course with Corsair products, finding a Nova-series drive at a e-tailer or retailer will not be overly difficult. The other side of this equation is the fact that our review unit is still a fairly large SSD and as such commands a hefty price of about $350CAD. This does place it in full speed Indilinx controller based SSD territory so the biggest question we have is not how good is this drive going to perform versus some slightly lower-price competition. We should also mention that a 64GB version is also available for around $199 CAD. Basically, we know Nova is going to be a decent drive, but is it going to be one that has been priced a tad too high for the new realities of a competitive marketplace? Let’s find out.


mfg2.jpg

 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications


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specs2.jpg


specs3.jpg


mfg.jpg

 
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AkG

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories


Corsair_Nova_box_f_sm.jpg
Corsair_Nova_box_b_sm.jpg

The Corsair Nova ships in a small compact grey and white nondescript cardboard box. The front has a fairly generic looking Corsair branded SSD on it but is lacking any model branding. The upside to using a non-labeled picture is you need only one box for all the various sizes and models offered, which should in theory translate to some cost savings being passed on to you the consumer.

The back of the box has short marketing blurb in six different languages but lacks any specifications, performance information or any real details whatsoever. We do dislike seeing this as at the very least the sequential read and write performance should be listed.

Corsair_Nova_box_o_sm.jpg

Opening the box up we can see that Corsair has opted for a plastic, form fitting plastic clam-shell container for the internal protection scheme. While not nearly as good as the foam boxes which accompany other Indilinx drives such as the G. Skill Falcon 2, the clam-shell protection scheme is more than good enough for these devices.

SSD_bracket_sm.jpg
Corsair_Nova_access2_sm.jpg

The list of accessories isn’t a list at all: you get a 2.5 to 3.5” adapter plate and that’s it. While this may not sound like much, compared to many drives we have looked at in the past which came with nothing, something as useful as an adapter is above average. More importantly, while the supplied adapter does go some way towards alleviating (or at least explaining) the Nova’s slightly elevated price point, it does not fully mitigate it. We really wish Corsair had followed suit and included at the very least a CD with basic cloning software.
 
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AkG

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First Impressions

First Impressions


Corsair_Nova_top_ang_sm.jpg
Corsair_Nova_bottom_ang_sm.jpg

When it comes to the overall colour scheme, Corsair has opted for a monotone super dark (almost black) grey colour for both the cover and the case of the Nova. However, as with any drive, the likelihood of actually seeing it on a daily basis after it is installed is virtually non-existant so the overall look really shouldn’t matter all that much.


label_sm.jpg

In the case of the Nova, the single solitary label does have much of the necessary information such as the model name, capacity, form factor and even manufacturer information. However, it is lacking one crucial peace of information: maximum rated power draw. The Corsair website states this drive is rated for a maximum of 2 watts power draw off the 5v line (0.4 of an amp).

Corsair_Nova_jumper2_sm.jpg

The other noteworthy datum -which was also very conspicuous by its absence- is the lack of jumper pins on the end of the drive. We can honestly say that this is only the second time we have come across an Indilinx-based SSD which was lacking this feature (the first being the AData S592). Unlike the AData S592 which now supports jumper-less firmware updates, Corsair has stated that both the Nova and Reactor lines will NOT be getting firmware upgrades. This may sound like a deal breaker but the fact of the matter is the Indilinx Barefoot controller is nearing the end of its product cycle, so firmware updates for it are going to be (at best) few and far between.
 
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AkG

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A Look Under the Hood

A Look Under the Hood


Corsair_Nova_board_sm.jpg
Corsair_Nova_board2_sm.jpg

As expected, the PCB itself and its layout are classic Indilinx, in the usual green. All in all, there are 16 flash chips, one RAM chip and one Indilinx Barefoot controller chip. In other words this board is a dead wringer for the one within the G.Skill Falcon 2. As you will see, this similarity extends further than just board colour so let’s start by looking at the controller which we have also seen before.

Corsair_Nova_controller_sm.jpg

As you can see in the above photo the Indilinx controller the Nova uses is the “Eco” variation / revision of the “Barefoot” IDX110 controller. Previous Barefoot versions were labelled IDX110M00-LC, whereas this is the IDX110M01-LC version. We are not quiet sure exactly what Indilinx changed in this revision besides its ability to support 34nm flash chips (and probably smaller ones as well but this only speculation on our behalf), but what is known is that this is the exact same controller as the G. Skill Falcon 2.

Corsair_Nova_ram_sm.jpg

The memory in this drive is made by Elpida. To be precise it is listed as Elpida S51321DBH-6DTS-F which means these are 90 FBGA, lead and halogen free, 1.8V ram chips which are rated to run at 166MHZ at CL3.

Corsair_Nova_nand_sm.jpg

After taking apart a G. Skill Falcon 2, and the fact that the NOVA also uses 34nm chips we found exactly what we were expecting when it came to the NAND. To be precise the Nova 128GB uses Intel 29F64G08CAMDB chips and while Intel is not exactly as free with their specifications as other manufacturers (like Samsung), what we do know is these chips are 34NM 64gigaBIT (8GB) units.

Since the NOVA has the exact same controller and the exact same NAND as the Falcon 2 we have a fairly good handle on what to expect, but it will be interesting to see what the later firmware does to the performance profile of this drive.
 
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AkG

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TRIM & Firmware

TRIM & Firmware



Diving into the Firmware Debate

info_sm.jpg

On first glance you may think that the Nova ships with an extremely early firmware, but if you look closer you will see that Crystal DiskInfo reports this drive is TRIM enabled. This is the first clue that Corsair has decided to take a different path than most manufacturers and much like OCZ did early on with their (SLC) “EX” versions, Corsiar has basically given a new naming scheme to the Indilinx firmware.

T13_sm.jpg

In a nutshell, the 1.0 firmware found on the NOVA is equivalent to other manufactures’ 1.5 / 1916 firmware. While it may cause some confusion for anyone used to the standard Indilinx firmware naming schemes, it should prove to be a non issue for first time consumers. Also on the positive side, irregardless of what Corsair calls the NOVA firmware, the Nova DOES ship with the latest version. This is of course a good thing as what you see is what you will have to live with for the life of this drive. Corsair has stated publicly via its support forum that both the Nova and the Reactor lines will NOT be getting firmware updates in the future. You can read more here on this issue, but Corsairs response is short and to the point:

“NO both Nova and Reactor drives will not have firmware updates. However, both drives will have Windows 7 Trim support and Garbage Collection…… there will not be any updates for these products.”


Honestly, it is not like this is the early days where Indilinx seemed to be coming out with a firmware update every other month. So, while firmware updates are important, we don’t think they would present any major changes to an already mature platform. We wouldn’t be surprised if Indilinx start putting more and more of their R&D into the upcoming JetStream rather than spend more time on the Barefoot.


TRIM & ITGC

wiper_sm.jpg

As we have mentioned, the Nova is compatible with both TRIM and ITGC. Also noteworthy is that the wiper.exe program does in fact work on the Nova. In our older Windows XP based test beds, wiper.exe may have taken a tad longer than expected (even on a clean drive it does run slower than usual when “cleaning” a Nova) but it does work. The combination of TRIM, ITGC and wiper.exe means that regardless of what operating system you plan to use, this drive will stay fast while (at worst) needing only some basic maintenance.

All in all, we may not be enamoured with Corsair for going with a non standard nomenclature or for all intents and purposes dead ending the drive with non updateable firmware, but the firmware is strong, versatile and up to date so the pros certainly outweigh the cons. As time goes by our opinion may change, as there is always the possibility that the next firmware update will bring miraculous performance boosts….but we highly doubt that is the case.
 
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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

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)
 
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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.


read.jpg

We had to re run this test numerous tests as we simply did not believe the results. This unit has the exact same NAND and controller as the G. Skill Falcon 2 so we fully expected the results to be darn near identical (with the possibility of it being slightly faster or slower due to slight variances in NAND from batch to batch) but these numbers are a good bit lower. We are inclined to believe that Indilinx has tuned the later firmware from smaller file speed at the cost of large sequential file speed (and sequential read speed is all HD Tach tests for).


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.

write.jpg

As with the sequential read speed, the sequential write speed of the Nova is a little on the low side. As we said earlier: sequential speed is not a good way to judge the power of a drive as it is rarely “used” in an operating system environment.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / Random Access

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/Nova/cdm_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />​

This certainly settles any questions we had about this unit’s speed. The small file read speed is simply phenomenal for a mid tier drive; whereas the medium and sequential file reads are lower than the Falcon 2 (running an earlier firmware revision, yet still the latest G. Skill offers). More importantly, it also gives us enough information that we are confident that the HD Tach read speeds were lower than expected because Indilinx has tweaked the firmware for smaller file read speeds.


Write


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

Compared to the Falcon 2, the Nova has much improved small write speed while having slightly lowered medium and sequential speed. This to us is a great trade-off as you are not going to be using this drive as a storage device and when it comes down to how fast your system will “feel” in the real world, small read and write speeds are extremely important. Also noteworthy is the fact that this drive is much closer to the speed of a flagship Indilinx model’s performance (e.g. the Patriot Torqx).


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/Nova/random.jpg" border="0" alt="" />​

Just as the G. Skill Falcon 2 exhibited a slight increase in latency, so too does the Corsair Nova. This is nothing to worry about as it really is such a small increase (compared to full speed Indilinx SSD’s like the Patriot Torqx) that it will only be noticeable to benchmark junkies.
 
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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/Nova/atto_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />​

The read power curve of the Nova is a little bit lower than that of an Intel drive (for example) on the all important small file end of the tests but ends up in about the same place by the end. This was to be expected as the NAND is a tad less capable than a flagship model and while the Indilinx controller is very powerful it does come down to NAND to determine the performance curve of a drive. If you look very, very, very closely you can just make out the G.Skill’s Falcon 2’s numbers. The difference is negligible and just underscores why we trust Crystal DiskMark’s results more than ATTO.


Write


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

As with the read results, the Nova’s numbers are very similar to those of the Falcon 2 but you can see the results of some of the firmware tweaking at the all important 4kb result. All in all the power curve of the Nova is very respectable and will impress many a first time buyers with its responsiveness.
 
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