What's new
  • Please do not post any links until you have 3 posts as they will automatically be rejected to prevent SPAM. Many words are also blocked due to being used in SPAM Messages. Thanks!

G.Skill Phoenix Pro 40GB & 120GB Solid State Drives Review

Status
Not open for further replies.

AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
In recent years G.Skill has gained quiet an enviable reputation for delivering high quality “enthusiast grade” computer components at extremely reasonable price points. A few months ago we took a look at their 100GB Phoenix SSD and walked away extremely impressed. With that drive G.Skill found a very unique and innovative way to overcome what amounted to crippled firmware: they used better components.

Today we will be looking at the Phoenix PRO line which takes a much more sensible approach it comes to giving their customers the best performance: G.Skill ponied up the money for a full speed firmware from the getgo. This new and improved model comes in three available capacities: 40, 60 and 120GB and we will be looking at the highest and lowest ends of the spectrum in this review.

Shortly after we looked at the Phoenix 100GB, G.Skill released an extended version which they dubbed the Phoenix 120GB. Sadly, they were unable to use the same slightly faster NAND modules when they released the Phoenix 120GB “extended” model so while it was from all reports a good drive, it was not as fast as the original 100GB product. With very few options available left, G.Skill stuck with SandForce, used the “unlocked” firmware and the Phoenix Pro line was created.

The fact that G.Skill is effectively paying for a faster firmware does bring up one major question: has the cost associated with this “full speed” firmware been rolled into the cost of these drives? Considering the 40GB and 120GB models are available for about $125 and $200 USD respectively which happens to be only a few bucks more than non-PRO branded drives, we suspect not. In our opinion, that’s a good thing for any potential customers but can G.Skill’s new Phoenix Pro line compete with some of the best drives on the market?

mfg.jpg

 
Last edited by a moderator:

AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
Specifications

Specifications

spec.jpg

mfg.jpg

 
Last edited by a moderator:

AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
A Closer Look at the G.Skill Phoenix Pro Series

A Closer Look at the G.Skill Phoenix Pro Series


GSkill_Phoenix_Pro_front_sm.jpg
GSkill_Phoenix_Pro_back_sm.jpg

As you can see, G.Skill once again opted for a very good looking and stylish packaging scheme for their latest Phoenix Pro line. Also worth noting is all models (or at the very least the two we received for testing) come in almost the exact same box with the exact same full colour graphics. The only easy way to tell them apart (besides compared specifications on both boxes) is by reading a small sticker which states what size they are. In our case -40GB for the smallest 40GB model and -120Gb for the largest version.

GSkill_Phoenix_Pro_open_sm.jpg

G.Skill has opted for the wonderful “book type” foam protection scheme that we are so fond of. Meanwhile, the free 2.5” to 3.5” adapter is inserted over and around the SSD.

GSkill_Phoenix_Pro_bottomn_sm.jpg
GSkill_Phoenix_Pro_label_sm.jpg

There usually isn’t all that much to say about the enclosures most SSDs come with but in this case we’ll have to break with tradition a bit. Oddly, both the 40GB and 120GB units state they use 0.48 of an amp…which is downright odd considering the difference in the number of NAND chips used in each drive. While this is noteworthy, there is one major concern here as well: for some reason G.Skill seems to chosen an enclosure which is both light and extremely flimsy. This won’t be of much concern to people installing these drives into standard enclosures but notebook users should take pay special attention since theirs is a higher impact environment. Considering how rugged the original Phoenix felt, this is definitely a step in the wrong direction.

GSkill_Phoenix_Pro_top_off_sm.jpg

Instead of the two halves of the tinfoil-thick case being secured with screws G.Skill has opted for 10 interlocking tabs built right into the metal of the case. This we actually did not mind all that much as the end result is just as secure as a screw-equipped setup. In fact, getting apart the 40GB was so difficult that we feared breaking it and as such did NOT try again on the 120GB.

What we saw inside the 40GB drive carried on the cost-cutting seen with the enclosure. While we may prefer screws to keep the exterior case together, it was quite shocking to see that the PCB wasn’t held in place with screws either. Much like you would attach a cheap fan to drive bay adapter, G.Skill has opted for plastic push pins.

In most situations, plastic push pins are perfectly fine but we have to remember that plastic doesn’t maintain a constant shape over time when used in certain applications…like push pins for example. There is a chance –however minute it may be- that these plastic push pins could gradually loose their grip over time and eventually allow the PCB to flutter around the SSD’s enclosure. Why G.Skill didn’t use standard screws is simply beyond our understanding.

GSkill_Phoenix_Pro_board_sm.jpg

The NAND used in these drives is the same as those found in the most SandForce SF1200 SSDs. To be precise they are Intel NAND chips. The smaller 40GB uses the same as those in the Corsair 40GB and the 120GB version most likely uses the same as those in the Corsair Force 120, OCZ Vertex 2 and basically every SandForce drive EXCEPT the 100GB Phoenix. The 40GB obviously uses only 12 of these and is missing 4 chips. To put a positive spin on things, this NAND in combination with the full speed firmware means the Phoenix Pro line should act just like a similarly sized OCZ Vertex 2. Unfortunately, at the physical level there is very little to recommend the G.Skill Phoenix Pro over an OCZ Vertex 2 or any “full speed” SandForce drive for that matter as those drives are simply built to a higher standard.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
A Look at DuraWrite, RAISE and More

A Look at DuraWrite, RAISE and More


Corsair_Force_sandforce_logi.jpg


Let’s start with the white elephant in the room and explain why these 40GB and 120GB drives are in reality 48GB and 128GB respectively. For example, the Phoenix Pro 120GB has sixteen 8GB NAND chips onboard which gives it a capacity of 128GB, but is seen by the OS as 120GB. 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.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
Firmware, Trim & Self Maintenance

Firmware, Trim & Self Maintenance


cdinfo.jpg

The firmware which comes preloaded on the Phoenix Pro is labeled as "2.1" which is actually not the latest firmware this is G.Skill's version of the "1.1" edition. OCZ's Vertex 2 for example is now on 1.23. This means that while the Phoenix Pro will be fast, it may not be as fast as some other updated Sandforce drives. Hopefully, this is only a short term issue and G.Skill releases a 1.2x update soon. Edit: G.Skill has updated their site with the 3.1 firmware

sandforce_logo.jpg

When it comes to the self-maintenance routines G.Skill's Phoenix Pro has, one thing is for certain: it is extremely mild. After working with these drives on an older operating system -which by its very natures does not support the TRIM command- we can say it is pretty easy to get any SandForce controller based drive into a degraded state when TRIM is not a possibility. If you do not plan on using Windows 7 or another TRIM aware OS, you really need to give these drives a lot of downtime to self clean or you will notice them getting slower.

The same can be said of anyone wanting to RAID these drives: think long and hard before you do. It really is a shame, but they are just too easy to get into a degraded state and take too long to get out of it. SandForce really, really needs to spend some time and effort improving its self-maintenance routines.

<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:WordDocument> <w:View>Normal</w:View> <w:Zoom>0</w:Zoom> <w:punctuationKerning/> <w:ValidateAgainstSchemas/> <w:SaveIfXMLInvalid>false</w:SaveIfXMLInvalid> <w:IgnoreMixedContent>false</w:IgnoreMixedContent> <w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText>false</w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText> <w:Compatibility> <w:BreakWrappedTables/> <w:SnapToGridInCell/> <w:WrapTextWithPunct/> <w:UseAsianBreakRules/> <w:DontGrowAutofit/> </w:Compatibility> <w:BrowserLevel>MicrosoftInternetExplorer4</w:BrowserLevel> </w:WordDocument> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:LatentStyles DefLockedState="false" LatentStyleCount="156"> </w:LatentStyles> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} </style> <![endif]-->
ocz_toolboz.jpg


For anyone interested in whether or not OCZ Toolbox (2.2) works on the Phoenix, as you can see above it does. You can do a secure erase, set up an optimized partition alignment, even read the SMART information from the Phoenix via this great piece of software.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
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, 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)
Corsair Force F100: 0.2 (AKA bug fixed / modified 3.0.1)
OCZ Vertex 2: 1.23 (custom “full speed” SandForce 3.4.x firmware)
G.Skill Phoenix: 305 (standard “mass production” firmware)
Patriot Inferno: 305 (standard “mass production” firmware)
OWC Mercury Extreme Pro: 310 (standard 3.1.0 firmware)
Corsair Force F120: 30CA13F0 (aka standard 3.1.0 firmware)
Corsair Force F40: 1.1 (standard SandForce 3.1.0 firmware)
G.Skill Phoenix Pro: 2.1 (custom "full speed" SandForce 3.1.0)
 
Last edited by a moderator:

AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
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


As expected, the 120GB version of the G.Skill Phoenix Pro posts very good numbers and is right there at the top of the charts. What was NOT expected was how good the 40GB version is; it's head and shoulders better than the Corsair Force 40GB. It seems that by removing the firmware speedbumps, the controller can overcome much of the PHYSICAL limitation the 40GB has by not having all its channels fully populated.


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


The G.Skill Phoenix Pro 120GB’s number may be “only” good enough for a third place finish but that is still awfully darn good. While nothing is mentioned specifically in the firmware change log we do have to wonder if this minor difference in performance between the G.Skill Phoenix Pro (running its “latest” 1.1 firmware) and the OCZ Vertex 2 (running 1.23) is because of it. This would make sense as SandForce firmware is still fairly immature and they are in all likelihood still refining and tweaking it. The upside to this is in time the G.Skill Phoenix Pro 120GM may get as fast as the Vertex 2…just as soon as G.Skill gets around to updating their site.

Once again the real star of the show has to be the mighty G.Skill Phoenix Pro 40GB. Those numbers are simply astounding when compared to the Corsair Force.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
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 takes the best out of all 5 numbers to give a result for that section.

READ


cdm_r.jpg


The fact that a SSD with a MSRP of under $300 can perform this well just shows you how fast and furious the competition really is these days.


Write


cdm_w.jpg


There is no ifs, ands or buts about it, both of these drives have a LOT of low end power. We may not like the case they come in or the other costing cutting measures G.Skill has taken with their “Pro” line, but from a pure performance perspective you HAVE to respect numbers as good as both these drives post.


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).

random.jpg


Full speed firmware really does make a difference and here is where it really shows. When it comes to random access the G.Skill Phoenix Pro 120GB is just as good as the Vertex 2; the drive many people consider the “gold standard” for which all SandForce SF1200 based drives are compared to.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
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.


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

The ATTO disk benchmark tool really doesn't shed any new light onto things. Both of these drives have very good power curves and in fact the G.Skill Phoenix Pro 120GB model is a virtual dead ringer to that of the Vertex 2’s. Or at least it is a dead ringer for the Vertex 2 when it is running older 1.1 firmware. It seems some minor tweaking to the power curve has been done and while it is still with in the range of statistical insignificance it will be interesting to see if the G.Skill Phoenix Pro 120GB gets a little faster when IT gets the 1.2x firmware.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
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.

IOM.jpg


If you look closely you can see that the Phoenix 120GB does post numbers a touch lower than that of its main rival the Vertex 2 but it is still nonetheless a very, very fast drive. With that being said, and as with all the other tests, the 40GB really is the star of the show.


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.

stutter.jpg


As expected, the numbers are right we expect them to be: DAMN GOOD. This controller really is a beast.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top