We recently reviewed the Intel 520 SSD and were mightily impressed by its performance. At that time we compared the Intel 520 with the Kingston HyperX. Both drives use a SandForce controller with 25nm Intel flash memory and both drives deliver impressive performance that, unfortunately, comes at a steep price. The 240GB Intel 520 costs £400 (£1.79 per formatted GB) and the 240GB HyperX comes in at £300 (£1.35 per formatted GB).
We were intrigued to see that Kingston has brought out a new budget SSD that continues to use a SandForce controller with 25nm Intel flash memory.
Our sample of the 90GB Kingston SSDNow V+ 200 costs £95 as a kit that is aimed at the business sector while the slightly more basic retail kit is available for £88. Using that second figure we arrive at a cost of £1.05 for each formatted GB, which represents a significant discount over the 520 and HyperX.
The standard Kingston packages consists of the SSD, a pair of drive rail adapters, SATA and power cables and the Kingston software disc, which includes Acronis drive cloning software. The business kit adds a USB caddy and USB cable so you can pop the SSD in a portable caddy and use it as an external drive when you're on your travels. We're not entirely sure why a USB caddy should transform an SSD into a business product. There's no doubt that a caddy makes the drive more useful, however the addition of a USB 2.0 interface kills performance, as you'll see from our testing figures.
We're going inside
Kingston makes great claims for the SSDNow V+ 200 with a stated sequential read speed of 535MB/sec, which is only slightly lower than the HyperX at 535MB/sec.
Sequential write speeds are slightly more complicated as the baby 60GB drive has a claimed speed of 460MB/sec while the 90GB-480GB models come in at 480MB/sec. The 120GB and 240GB HyperX drives have a write speed of 510MB/sec so what we're seeing here are claims that the new SSDNow V+ 200 uses the same components as HyperX and delivers the same performance yet it costs substantially less.
Something didn't quite add up there.
The next step was to take a look inside the drive. Kingston has used four tamper-resistant Torx screws to hold the two halves of the casing together which delayed us for a few seconds. Once the casing was open we could see that the PCB has spaces for eight flash chips on each side of the board as well as the all-important SandForce 2281 controller.
This 90GB drive uses 12 Intel flash chips (7.5GB each) compared to the 240GB HyperX, which is fully populated with 16 chips that come in at 15GB each. Allowing for some redundancy we can assume the chips have respective true capacities of 8GB and 16GB.
Getting down to business
With our curiosity satisfied it was time to see the new Kingston drive in action. The test system consisted of a Foxconn H61M-S motherboard with Kingston HyperX DDR3 RAM, an Intel Core i5 processor and 64-bit Windows 7.
The first step was to check for a firmware update. This involves a visit to Kingston's website where you download the appropriate update file for your particular SSD.
Unzip the file, run the updater (there are two versions for Windows 7/Vista/XP and Linux), select the correct drive (if you have more than one) and the software installs the attached firmware file.
The update was completed in a matter of seconds, but the approach is not quite as sophisticated as it might be. Provided you download the correct file you're on easy street but Intel has a better approach. With an Intel SSD you download the latest version of its SSD Toolbox management software. The Toolbox is loaded with the latest firmware for every model of Intel SSD, in much the same way that you only need iTunes to manage your iPod, iPad or iPhone. While we were happy with the way that Kingston handles the update process we feel there is room for improvement.
Our suite of tests ran without a hitch and the numbers were impressive. You can copy 2GB of files within the drive in 3.2 seconds and Iometer figures of 22,158 and 15,067 for 4KB Read and Write are impressive. The fact of the matter is, however, that the SSDNow V+ 200 consistently loses out to the Intel 520 and Kingston HyperX drives in terms of performance.
Take the CrystalDiskMark Sequential Read test as an example. The Intel 520 scores 469.0MB/sec and the HyperX achieves 490.5MB/sec while the SSDNow V+ 200 trails behind at 215.5MB/second. That's a respectable turn of speed that's right there in the mix with drives such as Intel X25-M and anything with an Indilinx Barefoot controller but there is clearly something amiss.
We mentioned that the USB 2.0 caddy kills performance. In that same CrystalDiskMark test the speed drops to 32.6MB/sec and it takes two and a half minutes to copy 2GB of files within the drive. If you need proof that the interface can throttle drive performance then we feel this illustrates the point superbly.
The reason for the difference in performance comes down to the type of flash memory that has been used. All three drives use 25nm Intel NAND however the 520 and HyperX use synchronous flash while the SSDNow V+ 200 uses asynchronous memory which is significantly slower. Asynchronous flash moves data once for each tick of the clock while synchronous moves data on both the rise and fall parts of the signal. This makes synchronous equivalent to the DDR technology that is familiar in system memory.
In addition we understand that the memory in SSDNow V+ 200 is rated for 3,000 P/E (Program/Erase) cycles while the 520 and HyperX memory is rated at 5,000 P/E and should have a longer life.
Kingston's SSDNow V+ 200 is impressively fast however the slower asynchronous flash memory takes a significant edge off the performance. This drive is a natural choice for a PC or laptop upgrade as it offers excellent value for money but you need to be clear that it is not a HyperX drive with a budget label.
Pros: Decent performance, sensible price, good bundle and a useful 90GB capacity.
Cons: Performance doesn't match the fastest SandForce drives.
Price: £95 with caddy. £88 bare drive.