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SanDisk Extreme 2 240GB SSD Review

AkG

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Joined
Oct 24, 2007
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5,274
With the release of the $230 Extreme 2 240GB Solid State Drive, SanDisk is proving once again that they were more than just a NAND manufacturer. They’re fully capable of creating a high performance Solid State Drive without the usual high price tag.

SanDisk have certainly been on a role this past 18 months. First they introduced the first Extreme series and then later the Ultra Plus series with its extremely distinctive 19nm eX2 ABL NAND. While both were innovative, neither was able to cement SanDisk’s place in this marketplace and they are still best known as an OEM for other manufactures.

The Extreme certainly helped get a foot in the door with consumers, but its combination of SanDisk 24nm Toggle Mode NAND ICs and a SandForce SF2281 controller was not exclusive. Ironically, it was Corsair and their Force GS who are better known for such a combination. The Ultra Plus on the other hand used distinctive NAND, but due to controller choices it was rather limited on the performance side of things.

The all new Extreme 2 changes all this as it uses a whole lot more of those 19nm eX2 ABL NAND ICs and pairs them to a different high performance controller. SanDisk hopes this unique combination will allow them to further solidify their place in the mindshare of consumers and provide those selfsame consumers with a radically different choice.


Since this is an Extreme branded drive, consumers could easily be forgiven for thinking it used an LSI SandForce SF2281 controller. After all, the SF2281 is still the dominant choice for many and it was what powered the original Extreme series. The Extreme 2 deftly avoided this elder statesman of the SSD world by using Marvell’s new ‘Monet’ 88SS9187. This is the full-fledged ‘bigger brother’ version of the controller found inside the Ultra Plus and is the driving force behind some of the best drives available today, such as the Crucial M500.

One thing the new Extreme 2 shares in common with its predecessor is a reasonable asking price. For $229.99, or 95 cents per Gigabyte, this is neither the most expensive nor the cheapest in the mainstream arena, but it does give the Extreme 2 a real chance at becoming an even better value that the original model.


In keeping with this more budget orientated approach to the mainstream marketplace SanDisk has once again opted for a semi-plastic clad case. We were less than impressed with this combination on the Ultra Plus and are even more so on the higher priced Extreme 2 series. This is not a major issue as the drive is meant to be housed inside a computer chassis and is more than durable enough for its intended task. On the positive side the Extreme 2 is a 7mm form factor device and as such can easily fit inside UltraBooks, something which the full metal original Extreme series could not.


Opening up the Extreme 2, we can see that while the components are radically different than that of the original Extreme, the architecture itself is very similar. Much like the Extreme 1, the Extreme 2 makes use of 8 NAND ICs instead of the more efficient 16 IC configuration. This may impact overall performance slightly, but given the unique nature of the 19nm eX2 ABL NAND ICs this may not be as significant as it was with the original Extreme series.


Unlike the original, the Extreme 2 also uses external ram cache in the form of a Samsung branded DDR3-1600 256MB RAM IC. This is because the Marvell 88SS9187 requires an external cache and is par for the course for all Marvell controller based drives. It is worth pointing out though this cache amount is not set in stone across the entire series. Rather, for approximately every 1GB of NAND SanDisk will include 1MB of onboard cache.
 
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AkG

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Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,274
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 & HDDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for drives to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our test-bed 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 Windows 7 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 an Intel DC S3700 800GB Solid State Drive.

For synthetic tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HD Tune, Crystal Disk Benchmark, IOMeter, AS-SSD, Anvil Storage Utilities and PCMark 7.

For real world benchmarks we timed how long a single 10GB rar file took to copy to and then from the devices. We also used 10gb of small files (from 100kb to 200MB) with a total 12,000 files in 400 subfolders.

For all testing a Asus P8P67 Deluxe motherboard was used, running Windows 7 64bit Ultimate edition. All drives were tested using AHCI mode using Intel RST 10 drivers.

All tests were run 4 times and average results are represented.

In between each test suite runs (with the exception being IOMeter which was done after every run) the drives are cleaned with either HDDerase, SaniErase or OCZ SSDToolbox and then quick formatted to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.

Please note:
Due to the unique nature of the hybrid setup certain tests results have been omitted as they require an unformatted drive to test or gave erroneous results.

Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory: 8GB Corsair Vengeance LP “blue”
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Intel DC S3700 800GB, OCZ 480GB RevoDrive3 x2
Power Supply: XFX 850

SSD FIRMWARE (unless otherwise noted):

OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
: 1.33
Crucial M4 256GB: 000F
Intel 520: 400i
SanDisk Extreme 240GB: R211
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB: M206
OCZ Vector 256GB: 2.00
Intel 335 180GB: 335t
Kingston SSDNow V300 240GB: 505
Crucial M500: MU02
Vertex 4 256GB: 1.51
Vertex 450 256GB: 1020
SanDisk Extreme 2 240GB: R1311


SandForce SF1200 Drives:
OCZ Vertex 2 - ONFi 2 NAND

SandForce SF2281 Drives:
Intel 520 - custom firmware w/ ONFi 2 NAND
Intel 335 - custom firmware w/ 20nm ONFi 2 NAND
SanDisk Extreme - stock firmware w/ 24nm Toggle Mode NAND
SSDNow V300 - custom firmware w/ 19nm Toggle Mode NAND


LAMD:
Corsair Neutron GTX - Toggle Mode NAND

Marvell 'Monet':
Crucial M500 - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND
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Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="67" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Grid 1 Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="68" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Grid 2 Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="69" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Medium Grid 3 Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="70" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Dark List Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="71" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Colorful Shading Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="72" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Colorful List Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="73" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" Name="Colorful Grid Accent 6"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="19" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" QFormat="true" Name="Subtle Emphasis"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="21" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" QFormat="true" Name="Intense Emphasis"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="31" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" QFormat="true" Name="Subtle Reference"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="32" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" QFormat="true" Name="Intense Reference"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="33" SemiHidden="false" UnhideWhenUsed="false" QFormat="true" Name="Book Title"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="37" Name="Bibliography"/> <w:LsdException Locked="false" Priority="39" QFormat="true" Name="TOC Heading"/> </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-priority:99; 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","serif";} </style> <![endif]--> 19nm eX2 ABL NAND

Barefoot 3 controller:
OCZ Vector - ONFi 2 NAND
OCZ Vertex 450 - 20nm ONFi 2 NAND
 
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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 thus we no longer included it. The most 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.



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.


While sequential performance is a terrible benchmark upon which to judge a solid state drive, these results are nevertheless impressive. The Extreme 2 simply leads the pack.
 
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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.



Once again the SanDisk Extreme 2 posts some amazing results. Both the read and write overall performance curves are very good but the small file write curve is downright amazing. It appears that the pseudo SLC mode / ‘nCache’ portion of this drive's eX2 ABL NAND does in fact net positive results and is able to overcome SandForce’s built-in ATTO advantage. If this trend continues, it places the Extreme 2 in very rarefied territory where the OCZ Vector and Intel DC S reside.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7

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 and size at 100MB.





PCMark 7


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark 7, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of numerous tests that try and replicate real world drive usage. Everything from how long a simulated virus scan takes to complete, to MS Vista start up time to game load time is tested in these core tests; however we do not consider this anything other than just another suite of synthetic tests. For this reason, while each test is scored individually we have opted to include only the overall score.


The only reason the Extreme 2 is not higher in the Crystal DiskMark charts is because of its slightly lower deep queue depth performance when compared to most of the other drives in these charts. Either the controller’s firmware has been tweaked for more moderate queue depth performance or Crystal DiskMark’s default file type does not play to this controller's strengths.

On the positive side the PCMark 7 results are much more impressive. Obviously PC Mark 7’s tests play to this drive's strengths. Hopefully these results are more indicative of real world performance than Crystal DiskMark.
 
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AkG

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AS-SSD / Anvil Storage Utilities

AS-SSD


<i>AS-SSD is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and small 4K read/write speeds as well as 4K file speed at a queue depth of 6. While its primary goal is to accurately test Solid State Drives, it does equally well on all storage mediums it just takes longer to run each test as each test reads or writes 1GB of data.</i>
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<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Extreme/asd_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Extreme/asd_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
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Anvil Storage Utilities Pro


<i>Much like AS-SSD, Anvil Pro was created to quickly and easily – yet accurately – test your drives. While it is still in the Beta stages it is a versatile and powerful little program. Currently it can test numerous read / write scenarios but two in particular stand out for us: 4K queue depth of 4 and 4K queue depth of 16. A queue depth of four along with 4K sectors can be equated to what most users will experience in an OS scenario while 16 depth will be encountered only by power users and the like. We have also included the 4k queue depth 1 results to help put these two other numbers in their proper perspective. All settings were left in their default states and the test size was set to 1GB.</i>

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<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Extreme/anvil_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Extreme/anvil_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Unlike the Crystal DiskMark results both AS-SSD and Anvil Storage Utilities have a much more favourable opinion of this new drive's unique NAND and controller combination. In all likelihood, the nCache performance boost is simply more prevalent with these synthetic test suites than Crystal DiskMark. This could be as simple as the <i>file size</i> used or as complex as immature firmware. In either case, all these results are good, but only real world performance testing will tell which test suite is more accurate in its opinion of this new drive's capabilities.
 
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AkG

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IOMETER

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 queue 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 queue depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.


While these results are very good, the SanDisk Extreme 2 240GB drive’s performance is not exactly at the top of the charts. Pseudo-SLC mode NAND abilities or not, the Marvell ‘Monet’ controller was designed with the typical home user scenarios in mind rather than workstation or server environments. This difference in design goals does somewhat limit the Extreme 2’s performance in IOMeter.

Even with the nCache helping to boost performance, once the queue depths get deeper drive’s results have a tendency to flat-line. This flat-lining occurs from controller saturation and it happens faster than either the OCZ Vector or various SandForce-based drives. This makes perfect sense as the average home user will never encounter the deeper queue depth scenarios the second generation SandForce controller and OCZ's Barefoot were built to excel at.

SanDisk could have helped reduce this occurrence by including even more onboard Cache for the controller but even this would have had only limited success. Any controller which is solely meant for home user usages scenarios will have trouble with this test and these results were fully expected.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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5,274
Windows 7 Startup / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Windows 7 Start Up w/ Boot Time A/V Scan Performance


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. Where Windows 7 has become nearly ubiquitous for solid state drive enthusiasts we have chosen Windows 7 64bit Ultimate as our Operating System. In previous load time tests we would use the Anti-Virus splash screen as our finish line; this however is no longer the case. We have not only added in a secondary Anti-Virus to load on startup, but also an anti-malware program. We have set Super Anti-Spyware to initiate a quick scan on Windows start-up and the completion of the quick scan will be our new finish line.




ADOBE CS5 LOAD TIME


Photoshop is a notoriously slow loading program under the best of circumstances, and while the latest version is actually pretty decent, 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. Let’s see how our review unit faired in the Adobe crucible!


Based on both of these real world test results two things are apparent. Firstly, when the nCache is set to an actually reasonable size as it has been here with the SanDisk Extreme 2 240GB – ie ~16GB – it does noticeably boost performance. Secondly Crystal DiskMark was overly pessimistic regarding the Extreme 2's place in our charts.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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5,274
Firefox Portable / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance


Firefox is notorious for being slow on loading tabs in offline mode once the number of pages to be opened grows larger than a dozen or so. We can think of fewer worse case scenarios than having 100 tabs set to reload in offline mode upon Firefox startup, but this is exactly what we have done here.

By having 100 pages open in Firefox portable, setting Firefox to reload the last session upon next session start and then setting it to offline mode, we are able to easily recreate a worse case scenario. Since we are using Firefox portable all files are easily positioned in one location, making it simple to repeat the test as necessary. In order to ensure repetition, before touching the Firefox portable files, we have backed them up into a .rar file and only extracted a copy of it to the test device.




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 10.00GB contiguous file and a folder containing 400 subfolders with a total 12,000 files varying in length from 200mb to 100kb (10.00 GB total).

Testing will include transfer to and transferring from the devices, using MS RichCopy and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found.




Once again we can see a real-world positive performance impact from nCache in write orientated tasks, but almost none in read-heavy scenarios. However, nChache or no Cache performance boost, a third place tie in our Firefox test is rather impressive.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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5,274
Partial and Full Drive Performance

Partial and Full Drive Performance


While it is important to know how a drive will perform under optimal conditions, more realistic scenarios are just as important. Knowing if a solid state drive will behave differently when partially or even nearly full than when it is empty is very important information to know. To quickly and accurately show this crucial information we have first filled the drive to 50% capacity and re-tested using both synthetic and real world tests. After the completion of this we then re-test at 75% and 90% of full capacity.

Synthetic Test Results

For our synthetic testing we have opted for our standard PCMark 7 test.



Real World Results
For a real world application we have opted for our standard Windows 7 Start Up with Boot Time A/V Scan Performance test.



Both of these test results are good, and we consider the Extreme 2 to be an excellent price / performance option. This makes it a good overall drive, but one that does loose more performance than OCZ’s Barefoot controller based drives do. With that being said, the performance loss is lower than what we have come to expect from most solid state drives and obviously this controller and special NAND combination is excellent. Simply put, the SandDisk Extreme 2 is much, much more capable a drive than its predecessor.
 
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