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Mushkin Callisto Deluxe 40GB SSD Single & RAID Review

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AkG

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Much like the graphics card arena, the SSD market seems to prefer giving the big “flagship” 120GB+ Solid State Drives most of the limelight. However, their smaller brethren are the products which most people opt for. So while the amazingly expensive high performance, large capacity drives are great for eye candy, most of the interest lies in more affordable alternatives.

Today we are going to be looking at yet another entry-level Solid State Drive powered by SandForce but from a manufacturer we haven’t seen much of lately: Mushkin. Their new Callisto Deluxe series caters to an entry level market but still aims to give end users the performance they expect from an SSD.

Mushkin is certainly no stranger to the enthusiast community as they made quiet the name for themselves with their Redline, Blackline and numerous other enthusiast grade memory lines. While they may have stumbled a bit in North America over the last year or two, they are back in full swing and trying to expand their area of influence into the SSD market. This just happens to be the same market they were unable to really break into the forgettable “Io” series and the original (firmware hobbled) “Callisto”. Well as the old saying goes, “third time is a charm” as it looks like the DELUXE version of the Callisto line is about to make some waves.

In this review we won’t be looking at the bleeding edge of the Callisto Deluxe lineup even though these drives are available with capacities up to 240GB. Rather, the highly affordable 40GB version will be the star of the show.

On first glance, a price of a mere $90 should make anyone sit up and take notice because this significantly undercutsmost of the Callisto’s competition. A low price combined with Mushkin’s enviable customer service reputation may just be the perfect combination that woos many consumers away from the firmly entrenched SandForce drives on the market. They certainly got the price point down pat, but let’s see what else Mushkin has done to help their newest drive stand out in a highly saturated market.


 
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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications

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

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A Closer Look at the Mushkin Callisto Deluxe

A Closer Look at the Mushkin Callisto Deluxe



From first glance, it is quite obvious that Mushkin has designed the Deluxe’s packaging to fit right into a retail store environment. We aren’t necessarily fans of the limited protection a plastic clamshell affords an expensive piece of hardware but at least this puts the drive on display.

Unfortunately Mushkin needed to cut costs which means the Callisto 40GB goes without the 2.5” to 3.5” adaptor plate but with many newer cases already incorporating one, it really isn’t all that necessary.


As you can instantly see just by looking at the Callisto Deluxe, Mushkin went with a very durable design that actually reminds us a lot of Intel and Kingston enclosures which are some the best on the market today.


Up until the recent G.Skill Phoenix Pro review, we wouldn’t have even thought twice about looking too closely at an SSD’s enclosure. However, the Phoenix used a seriously cut-rate external design which could very well affect its life expectancy so it’s good to see that Mushkin didn’t fall into this same pit.


Opening up the Callisto Deluxe we can see that unlike most SSDs, it uses two PCBs that have been attached together. As for the NAND Mushkin opted for, just like every 40GB SandForce SF-1200 based SSD we have looked at so far, this solid state drive uses twelve Intel branded NAND chips. There are also four “missing” NAND chips, as this is what differentiates the 40GB from the 60GB model.

It is interesting to see that unlike others manufacturers, Mushkin has taken a much more sensible two per side approach when removing chips opposed to the “three and one” setup that others use.
 
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AkG

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A Look at DuraWrite, RAISE and More

A Look at DuraWrite, RAISE and More




Let’s start with the white elephant in the room and explain why this 40GB drive is in reality a 48GB drive. The Mushkin Callisto Deluxe 40GB has twelve 4GB NAND chips onboard which gives it a capacity of 48GB, but is seen by the OS as 40GB. 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.



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).



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.



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.



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

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

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Firmware, Trim & Self Maintenance

Firmware, Trim & Self Maintenance




The firmware which came preloaded on our pair of Callisto Deluxe 40GB drives was labeled as "340A13F0" which is actually the latest non-beta firmware SandForce offers as of this review. While we believe any performance difference between one revision and the next is usually going to be relatively minor, it is always nice to see a company being extremely aggressive in getting firmware updates out the door. After all, minor improvements from firmware to firmware revision DO have a cumulative effect. For proof of this all you need do is look at the Corsair Force F100 which is firmware locked at a downright ancient revision.


When it comes to the self-maintenance routines Mushkin’d drive has, they are minor at best. After working with these drives on an older operating system -which by its very nature doesn’t 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 in non-TRIM environments.



For anyone interested in whether or not OCZ Toolbox (2.2) works on the Callisto Deluxe, as you can see above it does. You can do a secure erase, set up an optimized partition alignment and even read the SMART information.
 
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AkG

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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology



Testing a drive is not as simple as putting together a bunch of files, dragging them onto folder on the drive in Windows and using a stopwatch to time how long the transfer takes. Rather, there are factors such as read / write speed and data burst speed to take into account. There is also the SATA controller on your motherboard and how well it works with SSDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for SSDs to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our testbed will be a more standard motherboard with no mods or high end gear added to it. This is to help replicate what you the end user’s experience will be like.

Even when the hardware issues are taken care of the software itself will have a negative or positive impact on the results. As with the hardware end of things, to obtain the absolute best results you do need to tweak your OS setup; however, just like with the hardware solution most people are not going to do this. For this reason our standard OS setup is used. However, except for the XP load test times we have done our best to eliminate this issue by having the drive tested as a secondary drive. With the main drive being a WD 320 single platter drive.

For these tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HDTune, Cystal Disk Benchmark, h2benchw, 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: 1.24 (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)
Mushkin Callisto Deluxe 40GB: 340A13F0 (custom full speed 3.4.0 firmware)
 
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AkG

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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


For this benchmark, HDTach was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these hard drives. The long test was run to give a slightly more accurate picture.

We don’t put much stock in Burst speed readings and this goes double for SSD based drives. The main reason we include it is to show what under perfect conditions a given drive is capable of; but the more important number is the Average Speed number. This number will tell you what to expect from a given drive in normal, day to day operations. The higher the average the faster your entire system will seem.




As you can plainly see, the Callisto Deluxe 40GB with its latest and greatest firmware out and out stomps the Corsair Force 40GB drive. To be blunt it is edging darn near close to the Force 120GB's territory. This really is a perfect example of how important getting an un-hobbled SandForce drive really is.

When we RAID'ed these two little power houses, we got some very impressive sequential speed numbers and some down right odd burst numbers. In one run it said the burst speed was a little over 2,000MB/s in others it said 278.8MB/s, 273.4 and 226.5. Needless to say this just reaffirms our belief that burst speed "performance" numbers are useless. As for the average read speed, there is no denying that this is one F-A-S-T RAID 0 array.


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.



The write performance of this drive is very good for a 40GB SandForce product but because of its physical limitation (i.e. its four missing NAND chips) it does suffer in average write performance compared to the big boys. With that being said, it is nonetheless still impressive numbers and nearly 152MB/s is nothing to sneeze at.

Once again we did see a nice speed boost by going to a somewhat budget-friendly RAID setup. In fact, these drives are capable of MUCH, MUCH more than this so it could be our ICH 9 controller and / or the older operating system holding them back. With that being said, there is NOTHING to sneeze at with a minimum write speed of over a 185MB/s! It will be interesting to see how this setup holds up when we bring our new system online in the new year.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / Random Access Time

Crystal DiskMark


Crystal DiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your hard drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and random read/write speeds; and allows you to set the number of tests iterations to run. We left the number of tests at 5. When all 5 tests for a given section were run Crystal DiskMark then takes the best out of all 5 numbers to give a result for that section.

Read Performance




On the read end of things the Callisto Deluxe is fast at the all important 4K small file performance but does lack the high end torque of the big boys. This is to be expected as it is a 40GB SandForce drive.

"Soft" RAID does impart a performance penalty when it comes to the small (4k) read performance of the drive but the numbers are still absolutely stunning for a sub-$200 solution.


Write Performance




As with the reads, the write performance of the Callisto Deluxe is excellent for a 40GB drive. It may lack the high end performance of the 120GB Force but that crucial small file number is darn close to that of most larger drives. As any Intel X25-M owner will tell you, giving up some high end performance for a small file write boost is a good deal when it comes to OS drives.


h2]Random Access Time[/h2]
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).



Once again, the Callisto Deluxe is just as good as any of the other 40GB SandForce drives and in fact is just as good as the firmware limited 120GB options out there. With that being said it IS lower than the flagship full speed models we have looked at in the past. The reason for this disparity is the missing NAND chips. The Callisto Deluxe may not be limited at the firmware level but it still is limited at the PHYSICAL level.

As you can see the latency penalty for running in (software based) RAID 0 is severe with an additional 140% increase. This IS significant as it is the ultra low latency which makes SSDs feel so “fast”. This does also explain why the small 4K read and write numbers are actually worse than they are in single mode. With that being said it may not be all that noticeable in the real world as 0.24 milliseconds is still a number ANY hard drive manufacturer would kill for,
 
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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.




All in all the power curve of this drive is decent to say the least. It starts out good and while it ends up a little on the low end of things but it is once again slightly better than the other 40GB SandForce drives we have looked at.

Both the read and write RAID 0 performance curve of the Callisto Deluxe is just stunning. This is not all that surprising considering the ATTO benchmark was created by a company who makes RAID devices.
 
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AkG

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IOMETER / IOMeter Controller Stress Test

IOMETER


IOMeter is heavily weighted towards the server end of things, and since we here at HWC are more End User centric we will be setting and judging the results of IOMeter a little bit differently than most. To test each drive we ran 5 test runs per HDD (1,4,16,64,128 que depth) each test having 8 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 8 subparts were set to run 100% random, 80% read 20% write; testing 512b, 1k, 2k,4k,8k,16k,32k,64k size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the 8 subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these 8 numbers add them together and divide by 8. This gives us an average score for that particular que depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.



At this point it was very unlikely that IOMeter would uncover some hidden flaw in this product. It is poised, fast and while not as quick as the big boys the Callisto still does beat (for the most part) the other 40GB drives we have tested.

As expected IOMeter loves RAID arrays. That is just a quirk of IOMeter. Water is wet, the sky is blue and RAID 0 arrays will simply dominate single SSD results in the IOMeter crucible.


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.



It seems the Callisto Deluxe 40GB is darn near unstoppable as it once again proves to be just as good as the competition but at a noticeably lower price point. What’s not to love?!
 
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