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G.Skill Falcon II 128GB SSD Review

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AkG

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G.Skill Falcon II 128GB SSD Review





Manufacturer’s Product Page: Click Here
Part Number: FM-25S2I-128GBF2
TechWiki Info: G.SKILL Falcon II 128GB SSD - Techwiki
Warranty: 2 years
Price: Click here to compare prices
Buy from: NCIX | BestDirect


Today’s we’re going to be reviewing a refreshed version of one of our old favorites: G.Skill Falcon but this time in its “Part Deux” guise. While the name has connotations of higher performance than its predecessor (after all, a follow-up product is usually better than the first iteration) this is actually a mid-range SSD solution from G. Skill. In other words its competition is not the Vertex nor the Torqx like the original Falcon is, but instead the Falcon II is aimed straight at the OCZ Agility slice of the pie. To us this is great news as not only was the SLC version of the Agility we recently reviewed very impressive but it means that the Solid State Drive market niche has finally grown large enough that there are significant numbers of people wanting to buy SSDs which are more value orientated.

When companies start releasing products that concentrate on price and performance at the same time, a certain market has matured enough to be viable for most consumers. In the world of Solid State Drives the bellwether was OCZ’s Agility line (as it is basically a Vertex with slower NAND) which offered something for everyone and ended up leading in the sales charts as a result. However, OCZ is only one company and while we had an inkling of what was to come it is only now that we can say SSDs are starting to go more mainstream.

Before we begin please do not get us wrong, this drive is NOT a low end / low performance drive. What it makes it hard to classify is the fact that it uses a new Indilinx “eco” controller, so it will be interesting to see if this is “just” G. Skill’s answer to the OCZ Agility or something altogether new.

While it has only been available for a short while you can find the Falcon II in retailers and e-tailers here in Canada. As of the time of this article it commands (approximately) a $335 price and as such it is a slightly more budget friendly solution than the original Falcon.

It certainly is going to be interesting to see how this value-orientated product stacks up against the “best of the best” in not only the performance department but the performance per dollar department as well.


 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications


<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Falcon2/specs.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Falcon2/FalconII-128G-01.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Falcon2/FalconII-128G-03.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
 
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AkG

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging and Accessories



As we said in the introduction, giving this mid range product the exact same name as your flagship product is going to cause a bit of confusion amongst your target nice. As with the original Falcon, the box is an all white affair with red highlights, and stylized Falcons on the front.

Also just like the original, the back of the box is where you will find a small blurb on it and its specifications. Unless you compare the specifications of the original with the Falcon 2, you may not notice the fact that the specifications for this model are slightly lower.


On the positive side, opening this box up we can see that G.Skill stood with their tried, tested and true internal protection scheme. The cardboard and foam “book” style protection is one of the best ways to protect a solid state drive we have seen. It really is a damn shame that not more companies follow G. Skill and OCZ’s lead on this as it is head and shoulders above the other options we have looked at in the past.


Unfortunately for the G. Skill Falcon II, our expectations of what should come as standard accessories has been significantly elevated after looking at the Kingston SSDNow V 40GB. While that item was the desktop upgrade kit, there were several good additions which should be included in more expensive drives as well. Keeping with the status quo, the Falcon II comes with a instruction pamphlet and jumper but nothing else.
 
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AkG

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First Impressions

First Impressions



The Falcon II drive is a darn near dead ringer for the original in terms of construction and the overall graphical design of its labels. The body has been done in an all-black metal and the top logo look identical to the original Falcon’s. However the white with red fading to black still looks down right handsome.


On the plus side, the Falcon II is a down right gorgeous looking drive and the bottom label is full of all the details and information we have come to expect from a top notch company like G.Skill.

We really wish more companies would follow G.Skill’s lead and include information like read and write speeds on their drive labels. As we have come to expect, this one is full of information which will be useful sometime down the road when you are thinking of upgrading to the latest and greatest.


Flipping the drive over we come to the other label, the label which is actually more important and useful than the colorful top one. This is where you will find the various standards it meets and most importantly: the maximum power draw of the unit. In the case of the Falcon II 128GB model, this unit is rated to draw 0.55 of an amp off the 5V line. This translates to 2.75 watts, or in other words: the Falcon II 128GB has the exact same power draw as the original Falcon 128GB SSD.

Needless to say the “Eco” in the controller title does not stand for “ecologically friendly” or other such meaningless “buzz” words. Though to be fair and to put this in perspective, a typical 2.5” high performance 7200rpm drive uses about 3 watts of power (about 0.6A on the 5v line) and the more “typical” 5400rpm uses about 2.4 watts (about .48A on the 5v line). So this drive is far, FAR from being a “1 amp wonder” (AKA power hog) like a certain 80GB SSD line is.


Like all properly designed Indilinx SSDs we have looked at in the past, the Falcon 2 not only has an SATA and power port on the end but also two small jumper pins. While some companies have gone with jumper-less firmware updates, G. Skill has continued its original course and made all of their firmware updates require jumpers. The down side to doing this is that you do have to remove the drive and install the jumper pin before flashing and then remove it again to remove the jumper. However, G.Skill states that they are doing it the “old fashioned way” as there is a lot less risk of bricking your drive (compared to the jumper-less method).
 
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AkG

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Interior Impressions

Interior Impressions


Before we continue: Please remember that opening any SSD will effectively void your warranty.


As expected, the PCB itself and its layout are classic Indilinx, in the usual green. All in all you get: 16 flash chips, one RAM chip and one Indilinx Barefoot controller chip….just like all their other drives. However, this drive does have a few interesting twists on the classic Indilinx setup waiting for us. Let’s start by looking at the biggest of these twists first: the Indilinx controller.


The I/O controller chip this SSD uses is referred to in the various literature as the new Indilinx “Eco” controller. As you can see in the above photo the “Eco” controller is nothing more (or less) than a new revision of the “Barefoot” IDX110 controller. Previous version 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 chips (and probably 32nm as well but this only speculation on our behalf). It will be interesting to see if anything else was added, tweaked or refined while they were at it.


The memory which Indilinx and/or G.Skill chose to use in this drive is made by Elpida. This was completely expected as every Indilinx SSD we have looked at in the past has used Elpida ram. However, unlike previous units the specific 64MB SDRAM chip used in this solid state drive is different. To be precise the ram on this board is the Elpida S51321DBH-5ATS-F which from all accounts is the same chip as the Vertex and other Indilinx SSDs are now shipping with and appears to have superseded the earlier EDS51321CBH-6DTT-M-F we saw on other review samples.

This lead and halogen free, 1.8V ram chip is rated to run at 166MHZ at CL3 and is rated for an operating temperature range of -20°C to 85°C.


After taking apart an OCZ Agility EX, and the fact that this uses 34nm chips we were expecting what we found when looking at the NAND chips this board sports. Unlike every other Indilinx MLC based SSD we have used, it does not use Samsung NAND; rather it uses Intel.

To be precise the Falcon II 128GB uses Intel 29F64G08CAMD NAND chips and while Intel is not exactly as free with their specifications as Samsung is, what we do know is these chips are 34NM 64gigaBIT (8GB) units. Also nice to see was that G.Skill did not use mixed batches in the same drive as ours had 094415 for the back eight chips and front eight chips.
 
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AkG

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TRIM, & Firmware

TRIM, & Firmware



Since the Falcon II is very, very new we are not surprised in the least that ours came with the latest and greatest firmware: 1881. This does make things a lot easier for first time users as they need not worry about doing anything besides plugging it in and loading their OS onto it. The fact of the matter is Indilinx has worked hard on the firmware front and it shows. What was once an extremely immature firmware base has grown up into what we have today: a great example of what a mature firmware should look like and how a company should be active on the firmware front!



With all that being said we do have one point of contention with G.Skill on their firmware front: the lack of options. As it stands you can either run a TRIM aware firmware….or run older outdated firmware. Where is the “1881.1” (or whatever G. Skill would call their version of the OCZ 1.4.1 firmware)? Not everyone is interested in TRIM as it does add to the overhead and does slow things down somewhat and if you run a pair (or more) of these in RAID, TRIM doesn’t work right now. G. Skill really needs to step up to the plate and add in their version of OCZ’s 1.4.1 firmware. It is obviously doable, and we understand the reasons why ITGC was removed from the TRIM firmware (as the two do not play nice together) but please G.Skill you are doing a real disservice to your customers by not offering this option.

To be fair and balanced, and in the grand scheme of things, this is not going to be a deal breaker for many, but considering this reviewer‘s preference for Indilinx’s second iteration of ITGC over TRIM, this option IS conspicuous by its absence.
 
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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)

Please note: The "G.Skill 64GB" listed in some of the graphs (the one with incomplete data) is the very first SSD we here at HWC reviewed. It does not have a name but its model number is FS-25S2-64GB and here is a link to our review of it.
 
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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.




At an average of just of 223MB/s this drive is slightly slower than the original Falcon, but is far, far from what we would consider “slow”. A difference of 7.3MB/s is really not all that much (about 3.2%) and quite honestly it is doubtful you would ever notice this slight variance in real world conditions. It seems that Indilinx Barefoot controllers and HDTach still don’t like each other as the “burst” rate is still out to lunch, though this drive is actually faster at bursting than its predecessors. Like we said, we don’t put much stock (let alone faith) in burst speeds so it is neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things.


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.



Also as expected the average write speed is slower than the original but still impressive nonetheless. The fact that a drive which is marketed more as a “mid-tier” solution than a flagship model can post average write speeds in excess of 181MB/s just shows how far the SSD market (or storage in general for that matter) has come in such a short period of time. For anyone keeping score the difference between the Falcon II and the original Falcon works out to be 12.5MB/s or about 6.5%. Of course, you have to consider the fact that the original Falcon was running earlier firmware than our Falcon II is, so it is not exactly a fair “apples to apples” comparison.
 
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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 Performance



If we didn’t know better we would say this drive was actually a flagship model based on results like this. Up until now the differences between it and the premier Falcon model have been small enough that you can put it down to firmware differences; however, the differences shown here are significant and are puzzling. They are puzzling because this drive is actually better in all three categories than the original Falcon and in the all important small 4k reads it is placed higher than the SLC Agility EX! The most likely explanation for these discrepancies is the fact that this drive uses 34NM Intel NAND, and boy when it comes to read these chips are real beasts.


Write Performance



Finally we get to see a true insight to what this drive is made of. Its numbers are good. In fact, it’s sequential and 512KB test results are actually an improvement (as expected from moving to 34NM NAND), but the all important small 4k tests numbers are low; to be precise they are 30.8% lower than the older Falcon. This is not a good thing, but it is the first sign we have been given that this drive is a mid-tier unit and not a flagship model. We have a feeling that the real world performance test numbers will most likely fall in between the extremes we are seeing from synthetic to synthetic test. Until then we will not really know exactly how good (or bad) a bang for your buck this drive really is.


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 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 gamut 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).



New revision or no, the controller in this drive is at heart a Barefoot controller and thus acts and performs just like all Barefoot controllers we have looked at in the past. This is not a bad thing as it does make the Falcon II all the more attractive to the bargain hunter in us.
 
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AkG

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ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


The ATTO disk benchmark tests the drive’s 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



After the HDTach numbers this drive posted we are not that surprised with the fact that (except for one or two noticeably lower postings) the Falcon 2 has the same but slightly lower read curve as the other Indilinx models we have looked at. To be honest this really was expected and even if we had run this test first it would not have been shocking as there is very little difference on the read end of things between high end NAND and more value orientated NAND.


Write



Things are not quite as cut and dry on the write end of things as they were with the read. While the curve is decent, it is not as smooth as it is with Samsung NAND based Falcon 1 drive we have looked at in the past. It starts out and ends in roughly the same place (slightly slower than the original Falcon) but there is a intriguing peak at the 8KB range which is much higher than the original’s, but then for the next three sizes it loses significantly before catching up. If we were to hazard a guess or three we would say the slightly elevated peak and drops are more than likely due to firmware differences and the NAND is not the limiting factor in any of these modern Indilinx SSDs.
 
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