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G.Skill 64GB SATA II SSD Review

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AkG

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<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/GSKILL_SSD/gskill_logo-1.png" border="0" alt="" />


G.Skill 64GB SATAII SSD Review




Manufacturer Product Page: SATA
Product ID: FS-25S2-64GB
Price: Click here to compare prices
Warranty: 1 year



If there is one area of computers which has lagged behind all the others it has to be the realm of storage devices. The very first hard drive was released way back in 1956 by IBM and since then not much has changed. Yes, the size has increased incrementally and so has the speed; but when compared to the rest of the computer sub components, hard drive technology has not changed all that much. Even the fastest 15000rpm SCSI hard drive on the market today still measures its speed in MB/s and random access time in milliseconds, just like they always have. Heck, if CPU’s advanced at the same glacial pace as the hard drive we would all be using 286’s and hoping the rumors of 386’s in 3 years time would be true.

When you get right down to it, a hard drive is a hard drive. You have little mechanical heads which read and write 0s and 1s unto pieces of iron impregnated unto a spinning platter. While the speed and size of the platters has changed this is about all which has. We don’t have 3 million rpm hard drives with 100GB/s burst rates and we never will. This is because the technology (no matter how refined it is) is by nature very limited and history will probably judge it as a dead end which shouldn’t have gone as far as it did.

At this point your probably wondering: “If spinning platter based hard drives are the past then what is the future?”; and this cuts to the heart of the matter. Hard drive manufacturers have known for quite some time that spinning platters could only go so far and that brick wall / technology barrier is fast approaching. Yes they have been able to hold of the inevitable with tricks like perpendicular recording but the big boys like Seagate and Western Digital (etc.) know they are nothing more than stop gaps. While these stop gaps bought them time, massive amounts of R&D have been thrown at the problem and a clear winner has started to emerge.

This winner which we are talking about is none other than Solid State Disk Drive technology (SSD for short). In a nut shell SSDs are nothing but special RAM chips which don’t forget their state (0 or 1) when the power is removed. By getting away from spinning platters and moving into the memory arena, the “hard drives" of the future are going to get fast, small and cheap in a pretty big hurry. A few years ago a 64GB SSD would cost you (if you could buy one of them) a cool 10k and today they go for about 800 to 900 dollars. More importantly than price or speed is the fact just about any company can now produce a kick ass hard drive without spending the big bucks in R&D.

One of these companies which is getting into the SSD market is G. Skill. G. Skill is well known is the enthusiast community for producing very good DDR2/3 RAM at a very affordable price; and now they have expanded their business model to include Solid State Drives. Today we will looking at their brand new 2.5 inch 64GB SSD which is one of three models they are releasing within the next little while. While it may only have a form factor of 2.5” vs. the normal 3.5” we usually use in PCs this drive is more than powerful enough to compete in this market as well as the usual laptop market.

In our opinion, comparing this drive against other 2.5” hard drives is counter intuitive as it literally crushes any true 2.5” drive out there (remember the new Velociraptor, while being 2.5” is too big to fit in a normal 2.5” laptop bay), so we are going to see how well this bad boy fares against some real competition in the form of a brand new Western Digital SE16 640GB hard drive, a new single platter Western Digital SE16 320GB, a Western Digital Velociraptor and even a pair of Seagate 7200.10 320’s in RAID 0. I don’t know about you but I recommend breaking out the pop corn and cola as its going be a bonny good fight!

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

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Specifications

Specifications


 
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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories



When the courier dropped off his precious box of cargo we were extremely excited to see what G.Skill had in store for us. In the past we have used numerous batches of DDR2 ram from them and found their packaging scheme to be as colorful as they are protective, so our reasoning was if this was how they treat a sub hundred dollar item what kind of extremes would they go to for a $800 one!?


When we ripped this cardboard box open and peaked inside….boy were we unimpressed. As you can see the box is an all black affair with bold white lettering. From an ascetics point of view this was a good choice as it is easy to read, does stand out amongst flashier competitors and does seem to say: “ hey bub, look at me. I’m one lean, mean storage machine!”. This is the good part of the packaging scheme, and we have no issues with it. What we do have issues with is the material the packaging container/box itself is made out of. Just recently we reviewed a $32 value orientated CPU cooling solution which had thicker, more robust cardboard than this $800 bad boy did! In point of fact, we have seen magazine covers which were thicker and more robust.

Honestly, when you fear for the integrity of said box by just holding it in your hands, and you catch yourself gently holding it for fear of a finger (or thumb) mashing through the side of the box you know something is wrong. We understand SSD devices don’t need garish boxes to sell themselves; we also understand they are robust devices which don’t require overkill levels of packaging protection but come on folks it’s a frickin’ $800 device! For this kind of money the least we expect is a case which you could use as a keep sake or feng shui knick-knack. This box is neither and looks so fragile that a good beady eyed glare will probably cause it to crumple up and blow away in the wind.


Luckily, when we open the top of the box (with a finger, no knife is required to pop open the top) G.Skill obviously spent time and effort in making the internal packaging good and protective. As you can see in the above picture G. Skill opted for the tried and true method of suspending the device in the middle of the case via two pieces of foam. This method is great as an sharp object has to cut awfully deep before it will hit the drive; and better yet, the amount of trauma those foam protectors can absorb before passing any onto the device is simply mind boggling. Of course the SSD itself is also further protected by being placed in a static proof bag so all the bases have been covered and it does help make up for the wimpy box it comes it.


When one takes a look at the accessories, the first thing you are probably going to do is say “that’s it?” or maybe even “Oh Crap! Something must have fallen out!”. These are perfectly reasonably and acceptable responses as the list of accessories is awfully short. In all you get a short SATA connector, and a pamphlet….and nothing else. No case badges, no free T-Shirts…not even a “collectable” action figure (even though MS Source Force figures are pure cheese I’m kind of partial to the Viking looking one). When you spend over twice the money of the new Velociraptor, you would think you would get some kind of swag, yet G.Skill went for the minimalist approach. On the positive side at least the SATA cable is a right angle connector style (though it is the non locking type similar to the ones ASUS packages with their high end R.O.G. boards) so its not all bad.

In the end we are cautiously optimistic and hoping G.Skill opted to spend all their resources on the SSD itself; if this is the case, then they can be forgiven for this weak first impression. Heck, if the SSD is as good as the hype surrounding it, I couldn't care less if it came in a brown paper bag and was delivered by the hobo express; as anyone spending this kind of green on a hard drive are only going to be interested in its performance and not the throw-away package it came in.
 
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AkG

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First Impressions

First Impressions



When you first hold this amazing piece of kit in your hand the very first thing which pops out at you is how freakin’ light it is. Now, normal 2.5” hard drives do weigh a lot less than most 3.5” drives, but this product takes the idea of a featherweight hard drive to a whole new level. This little darling weighs in at about 75 grams (2.6 ounces), whereas a regular 2.5” drive weighs in at about 360’ish grams (or nearly 5 times more). I don’t know about you but having all that power in something which weighs about the same as a bag of salt and vinegar crisps is down right scary.


It is actually funny how when you hold it in your hands you expect it to undersized and when compared to a 3.5” hard drive it is down right diminutive but it really does comply with the normal industry standard 2.5” form factor ( approximately 70mm x 10mm x 100mm) so there is not any worries about it fitting in your laptop, heck even if you have one of those fancy paper thin bad boys this guy should just slide right in like it was designed for it!


The case of the G.Skill is quite flashy and attention getting in its brushed metal finish and its polished reflective edges. However these attention-getting looks do bring up an interesting point: this product looks alot like a rebadged Samsung SSD which you would find inside the expensive version (as if they make a cheap one) Apple Macbook Air. In fact, when you take a close look at the front of the this SSD, the label states it is indeed a Samsung drive (MCCOE64G5MPP-0VA). This Samsung drive is also used in some of OCZ’s SSD as well as a lot of others, so seeing that serial number tells us G.Skill didn’t mess around with second rate or el cheapo parts; but rather went for one of the best Solid State Drives out there.


The next thing which jumps out at you is there is no exposed circuit board on this “hard drive”. After seeing the ubiquitous controller board on the bottom of every platter based hard drive it really does look odd when its not there. Now don’t get us wrong, having an exposed circuit board is just asking for trouble as it is an additional point of failure, but it really feels odd not having one. In fact the only other hard drive we have ever seen that is also bare bottomed, is the recently released Velociraptor; and in that case its just because the 2.5” form factor drive is mounted on the IcePak heatsink, so it still has one, just one which is protected by a thick layer of armor.


This lack of external regalia sure makes this drive very sleek and sexy looking; but it also makes the power and SATA connectors port stick out like a sore thumb. Of course there is nothing which can be done about this, but maybe in the next revision can make the connectors blend in a little bit better by making them a similar colour? This is such a small thing which shouldn’t even be considered a annoyance, but it is funny when the connector ports are eye catching on a hard drive!


For all you eager to see just how small and sexy this SSD actually is, here are some photos showing it next to a Velociraptor. Yes, it really is this small and striking in real life as it is in those pictures.

For many reviewers this is as about as far they are willing to go; as this bad boy is a loaner and after three weeks if wasn’t returned in perfect condition everyone at HWC was going to turn into a pumpkin! Well, we like to live on the edge…’ish, so while we are going to void the warranty and crack this baby open we are going to resist temptation and not pop a couple of .44’s into to see if it meets military specs.
 
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Interior Impressions

Interior Impressions


As mentioned earlier, to open this little fella you have to peel off the “warranty void” sticker and reveal the fourth hidden screw. These screws are tiny and you really need a good jewelers screwdriver to open it up. When you have those screws removed you then simply leaver the top off and look inside at the elegant simplistic beauty which lies therein. Now unlike normal hard drive popping the top off an looking inside will not ruin your hard drive. You don’t need a clean room like you do a normal drive, heck all you need is an insatiable curiosity which will allow you to justify voiding your warranty on your shiny new eight hundred dollar piece of computer kit.


When you take a good close look at the PCB board you realize how simple a setup these drives really are. The PCB is a single sided affair which has a grand total of ten chips on it. Eight of these chips are the NAND flash chips (we will get into greater depth about these chips later) which actually make up the storage or “hard drive” of this Solid State Drive. The other two chips are a ARM processor chip and a small ram chip.


The actual storage of this drive is eight, 8GB NAND SLC flash memory chips. In this particular instance they are Samsung K9NCG08U5M chips. These chips are lead free, large block Single Layer Chips as opposed to the slower (but cheaper) Multi-Layer Chips. The beauty of SLC chips is they hold only 1 bit of data per cell as opposed to 2 bits per cell in MLC. On the surface, one would think 2 bits are better than 1 and thus MLC would “logically” be faster; however you would be wrong. Because they only store 1 bit of data per cell, the cell only needs two states (0 and 1, or off and on, etc) whereas MLC needs 4 states to store its 2 bits. This means the MLC cells react slower and thus have slower reads and especially writes.

An easy way to think about this is two look at Parallel ATA vs. Serial ATA, the more complex 80 pin scheme maybe more complex than SATA, but this dead simply serial interface can transmit a lot more data in a shorter period of time; and the same holds true for NAND flash memory. When you get down to “the brass tacks” as they say, people do not care how something does it, just how fast it can do it.

While speed is the biggest reason Samsung (and thus G.Skill) chose SL chips we also have to remember that they are more durable as well. Samsung states the MTBF as 2 million hours and the rule of thumb is each cell should be good for more than a 100,000 write cycles (with advanced algorithm wear leveling keeping all cells at about the same state); not only are these chips fast and durable they also have a lot of error correction built into them. Most SL chips have 1 or 2 bits for error correction, whereas according to Samsung’s part number decoder) these particular ones have 4 bit ECC for read and 4 for write (the “5” in the serial number). This is the same amount as the overly complex ML chips have and this is a down right amazing amount of overkill; and we think we speak for everyone when we say Bloody good job Samsung and G.Skill.


The I/O controller chip shown above is a Samsung System On a Chip (SoC) ARM processor model S3C49RBX01-YH80. While not much is known about this chip, we can easily decode the model number into its pertinent parts using Samsungs SoC Model decoder. The first two digits tell us it is indeed a microcontroller, the fourth and 5th digit tells us it’s a “special” 32bit controller; and the 6th states it’s a 8MB ROM Master. What is very interesting is the “01” at the end (before the dash) tells us this 32bit special microcontroller 8MB Rom Master, is a first generation chip. After the dash just tells us it’s a package type and pin outs (FPGA 285 pin, lead free tray package w/ 0 ROM).

Needless to say this 32bit controller is also an ARM SoC as it is stamped so right on the chip and as such is a low heat device which is more than powerful enough to handle the data loads any SATA 2 bus can throw at it.


As with most controller chips, this one requires its own Random Access Memory, and in this instance Samsung went for one of their own chips. The K4M56323PI-HG75 is a 133mhz, cas latency 3, 256mb chip (8Mx32). I’m sure your all going “well that’s interesting…but what does it do?” and the easy answer is this chip does the same job as the cache on a platter based hard drive. Yes, this SSD has the equivalent of 256mb of ultra fast cache on board, though this is an oversimplification of the matter as the main NAND chips are 50ns, so they are not exactly slow either.
 
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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.

For these tests I used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, SIS Sandra Removable Storage benchmark, PCMark 05 Hard drive tests 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.

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.

All tests were run 4 times and only best 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 Seagate 7200.10 320GB (for OS drive when synthetic tests were running)
Power Supply: Seasonic S12 600W
 
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AkG

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HDTach / SIS Sandra

Performance Results



Read Bandwidth

For this benchmark, HDTach was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these hard drives.


As expected, the RAID 0 drives walked away from this test with first place with only the Velociraptor giving it any serious competition. However, the G.Skill’s 94MB/s average is very impressive in its own right. What was interesting is unlike the another spindle based drives the HDTach graph of the SSD was for all intents and purposes a straight line. So while you may “only” get 94MB/s you will get it for the entire size of the drive. This is impressive as there is no need to move files around to get the best performance from the drive and while yes defragging your hard drive is still a good idea it is not as vitally important when every bit of the drive provides killer performance.


Random Access Time

Once again, HDTach 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.


OK, we intellectually knew this drive was going to excel at random access, but knowing it and actually witnessing it is different. In fact a “Uh rah!” escaped me when I saw it smoke my brand new (and still shiny) Velociraptor!


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.


For some strange reason Sandra did not like this SSD as much as we though it would. The numbers Sandra spit out are OK but they are not anywhere near what we were expecting.
 
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ATTO Disk Benchmark / IOMeter

Performance Results Con't



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 SSD is up against the best of the best when it comes to 3.5” SATA drives and I think its safe to say 95MB/s write and 105MB/s read is very impressive. The fact that it does all this while using almost no electricity and making absolutely no noise makes it all the more impressive and you can certainly see the future is very bright for SSD’s.


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.


WOW. It is easy to see that the G.Skill walked away with the IOMeter performance crown. To put into perspective how massively huge this win was, the Velociraptor has shown to perform as well as many 15Krpm SCSI drives in the IOMeter tests and this little SSD stomped the Velociraptor worse than a turtle being run over by a hummer!
 
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Real-World Performance

Performance Results Con't



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.


Considering this drive is really designed for laptops these are very impressive performance numbers and you could easily use this as your main system's OS drive. Heck, 3 seconds is nothing when it comes to startup times and considering the Velociraptor is the top dog right now in the PC market this is a bloody well impressive showing from the G.Skill SSD.


ADOBE Photoshop CS3 LOAD TIME

Photoshop is a notoriously slow loading program under the best of cirumstances, 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. Lets see how our review unit faired in the Adobe crucible!


Talk about reversal of fortunes! The SSD was faster than the Velociraptor and that is darn impressive. The amazingly fast random access speed is what obviously made the difference and allowed the relatively slower drive the ability to power past the speedy Vraptor. Hopefully, this also puts to bed the RAID 0 speed myth when it comes to real world applications.


Real World Data Transfers

No matter how good a synthetic benchmark like IOMeter or PCMark is, it can not 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 4.00GB contiguous RAR file and a folder containg 49 subfolders with a total 2108 files varying in length from 20mb to 1kb (1.00 GB total).

Testing will include transfer too and transferring from the devices, timing each process individually to provide an approximate Read and Write performance. To then stress the dive even more we will then make a copy of the large file to another portion of the same drive and then repeat the process with the small one. This will test the drive to its limits as it will be reading and writing simultaneously. Here is what we found.







Once again this peppy powerhouse with its ultra low random access speed makes all the difference; however, when it comes to single large file transfers the best random access speed doesn’t matter. Of course, considering this is a relatively small drive most people will store their large files on the big (and cheap) drive like the SE16 640 and load only programs and the OS files on the SSD. This would make a great combination and give you the best of both worlds: speed when you need it and storage space galore!


Extended Runtime Testing

Where these units are marketed towards the home environment, it is reasonable to expect them to be able to handle moderate usage, with random reads and writes of various sizes. To test how robust this unit is, and how well it can take handle a marathon stress test, the G.Skill was subjected to a 20hr torture session. During this time IOMeter was setup to run for 20 hours using various size tests all with completely random read/write scenarios.

During this testing the drive only got about 8° C above ambient, and to say that we were impressed is an understatement. For the whole time this drive had no active cooling and it was completely up to the metal case to dissipate the minor heat it generates.
 
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Conclusion

Conclusion



Going into this review we were very excited to see what the future of hard drives would be like, and for better or naught Solid State drives are the way of the future. Take this drive for instance, it is ultra light weight, uses almost no power and yet can trade blows with the best of the best (the Velociraptor) and have a good chance of winning. That’s pretty darn impressive when you think about it. Now impressive or not, we would have really liked to have seen the G.Skill break the 100MB/s barrier as this would have put any doubts about its performance to bed. However, 94MB/s is awfully darn close and with its low random access speed of .3ms it does have a lot going for it.

Unfortunately, not everything is wine and roses with this unit. Fast or not, G.Skill needs to take the time and upgrade the packaging; as this is what will give potential customers their first impression of this. We really have to wonder how many people will take one look at the box, feel how light and cheesy it is and go “huh, I guess they are not ready for prime time yet, or G.Skill would have gone all out!”. Hopefully, not to many will as if you have the money to buy this bad boy its performance will not fail to impress.

Then there is the matter of pricing. At this time it is very hard to justify the price of not only the G.Skill 64GB SSD but of Solid State drives in general. We are sure that as production ramps up, storage size increases and market acceptance grows, the price will begin to fall quite quickly. However, given the performance versus the price and capacity it is very hard to truly recommend going the SSD route right now. The warranty is also a bit of a sticking point since in our opinion by giving this drive a one year warranty G.Skill is showing a lack of confidence in the technology. Let's be honest, one of the main selling points of SSDs is their supposedly long life when compared to platter-based hard drives. So, it is a bit mind-boggling when we see this SSD having a much shorter warranty (one year only) than the majority of hard drives out there.

If you are looking for a replacement hard drive for your laptop this one should be at the top of your list. However, as a PC’s main hard drive it does become a bit more difficult to recommend, as the relatively inexpensive Western Digital Velociraptor is nearly as good but costs about half as much. So unless noise, or using the least amount of power is my main priority, I would rather have a Velociraptor for my main drive, a SE16 640 for my scratch file and two hundred bucks to spend on some other tech goodie. However, there is something so undeniably sexy about this drive that maybe a term like value shouldn't be a factor, and in that case I would be all over this since it makes even the ultra modern Velcoiraptor look pudgy and homely.


Pros:
- Great Performance
- No Noise
- Light weight
- Good Looks


Cons:
- Price
- 2.5” form factor will make it hard to fit properly in PCs
- 1 year warranty


Thanks to G.Skill for sending us this product
 
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