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Apacer AS720 480GB SATA / USB 3.1 SSD Review

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Author: AkG
Date: July 7, 2016
Product Name: AS720 480GB SSD
Part Number: AP480GAS720
Warranty: 3 Years

Regardless of someone’s experience level, there is one question that constantly pops up when running through a general system upgrade: how do you transfer the data from an outgoing storage drive to a new HDD or SSD? In a perfect world, all systems (even UltraBook)s would come with two ports and it would just mean plugging in the new drive and letting a backup program work its magic. Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world and many otherwise high performance systems simply don’t have the room necessary for more than one storage device needed to transfer critical system information. Needless to say this has led to many frustrating moments for a lot of people – ourselves included.

The usual system migration option typically boils down to pulling the original drive, installing it and the new drive in a secondary rig or use a USB-based adapter. Since very few users have multiple systems, option B is the most common solution. This issue is so prevalent that many SSD manufacturers actually have “upgrade kit” versions of their drives. Some like Kingston use USB enclosures, while others like Crucial include a special USB adapter that just plugs into the SATA power and data ports.

Both solutions do work, but because the kit versions cost more than the bare-bones models or the
With their AS720 Apacer offers a rather elegant work-around for this upgrade problem. Instead of including an external option, they have baked a very elegant solution right into the drive itself – and it is easily the best answer we have seen to date.

What Apacer has done is to create a drive that offers native SATA and USB interface options without the need for external controllers. This is not the first time we have seen a SATA/USB hybrid Solid State Drive, but it truly is a “World’s First” since Apacer has opted for a cutting edge, high bandwidth USB 3.1 Type-C port. The brilliance of this approach is that USB 3.1 is not only fast enough that (in theory at least) the bus won’t be the bottleneck, but dual headed cables aren’t needed since the interface provides more than enough power by itself.

Past the obvious benefits to folks transferring their system files, the AS720 could also be used as an awesome little external drive for on-the-go users. It provides that aforementioned high bandwidth connection and plenty of capacity without the bulk normally associated with and external drive. For videographers this could be extremely beneficial since they’re always trying to balance storage space with portability.

Now to be honest Apacer didn’t design this thing to win any speed contents. As a matter of fact, as far as SSDs go it is performance numbers sit within the lower level of the mid tier but you have to remember this product is all about situational adaptability, not speed.

This drive certainly represents a brilliant engineering approach, but no device exists in a vacuum and certain market realities have to be taken into account. Thus, this dual interface model will be competing against ‘bare-bones’ options and not everyone needs USB abilities. This means that in order to be competitive other areas beyond the feature set had to be scaled back so to keep the overall price in check.

The first and most obvious of these cost saving measures is the AS720’s chassis. Instead of an all metal case that has become the de-facto standard, Apacer has opted for a plastic and metal hybrid affair. OCZ and other manufacturers all abandoned this cost saving measure since some questioned the durability, and EMI shielding abilities of the design. Unfortunately, unlike most SSDs this model is meant to be used externally and as such using not only a plastic topper but a thin and almost flimsy feeling case is going to cause some potential buyers to pause before purchasing – even if the bronze plastic makes the AS720 look drop dead gorgeous.

After carefully opening up this plastic chassis it becomes evident that every inch of the full length PCB has been used, but in order to simply find room for another controller Apacer’s engineers had to limit the number of ICs this model could use to eight, instead of the normal sixteen. This in turn means more layers of NAND had to be stacked in each die and each IC will run hotter than some other models.

The AS720 also uses older Micron ‘L95B’ NAND rather than TLC modules like some of the competition. This 128Gbit, 16nm MLC NAND is very similar to what Crucial/Micron have been rolling out, and is supposedly quite durable.

The only minor hiccup here is the NAND’s relative speed. It is slower than what Crucial drives now come with, being rated for only 166MT/s and as such is a bit on the slow side. Luckily, the controller Apacer uses has built in pSLC capacities – or what IMFT calls ‘FortisFlash’ technology- so a small portion of the NAND is set aside to act as a write buffer in pseudo SLC mode. This not only boosts overall performance but increases the longevity of the NAND.

Also on the positive side, since Apacer has opted for a four channel SATA controller the layer of NAND interleaving is excellent (8 layers per channel). This combination means that the lack of individual NAND speed should be a non-issue for most consumers as the overall performance should not be noticeably impacted.

While we doubt the ASMedia ASM1351 USB 3.1 controller or the two ASMedia ASM1542 passive signaling switches (one is needed per interface) will ever get hot enough to require a heatsink, the lack of a heatpad on the JMicron JMF670 is a touch worrying. Once again this is because Apacer opted for a plastic enclosure that simply can’t be used as an effective heatsink. For the intended market this is a non-issue as most first time SSD buyers will never stress their system long enough for it matter, but it is rather obvious why other manufacturers stopped using plastic.

While JMicron is still trying to overcome their earlier reputation of offering relatively poor initial performance the JMF670 controller has gained a reputation for being both reliable and able to offerdecent performance levels. Arguably the newer SM-2256 from Silicon Motion has proven itself to be a more optimal and more widely used choice, but as ADATA and the XPG SX930 series proved the JMicron JMF670 still is a very good controller in its own right.

One thing that is puzzling however is why Apacer felt the need to cut the RAM buffer capacity in half. Usually with JMF670-based models the smaller 120 & 240GB versions use 256MB buffers and the larger 480GB is paired with 512MB. Apacer on the other hand only uses 256MB – via a single NANYA DDR3 RAM IC- for this larger 480GB version. This may impact overall performance at deeper queue depths and should not prove to be too big a handicap, but it still is a puzzling corner to cut.

Interestingly, while Apacer does talk about “Sudden Power Off Recovery” in their AS720 literature, this is not the same as saying this drive has true data loss protection as there is simply no room on the PCB for capacitors. Instead Apacer relies upon the JMF670’s built in ECC and other firmware based protections to guard against data corruption. Only you can decide if this is a deal breaker but we do consider it a big handicap considering other drives in this price range include hardware-based true data loss protection.

All in all the AS720 looks like an interesting drive that has a few unique tricks up its sleeve that will eventually differentiate it from the competition. But will that be enough?

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