An Update on SandForce

Before we get to the topic at hand today I wanted to give a brief update on SandForce. In our last SSD article I mentioned that I'd been able to replicate the infamous SF-2281 BSOD bug. In my testing the issue never appears as a full on BSOD, instead I either see periods of very high IO latency (multiple seconds) or a hard lock requiring a reset. The problem doesn't appear with any amount of regularity in most of my testbeds, however I can get one specific test system (the ASUS P8Z68V-Pro I mentioned in the earlier article) running the right workload to exhibit this issue at least once in any 72 hour period. I don't know whether or not this issue is related to the BSOD bug that many complain about, but I do know that the behavior isn't desirable and doesn't appear to impact other comparable SSDs. At the same time, the issue doesn't appear to be present and/or as severe on all platforms. Since the last article I've deployed two more drives in separate systems, neither of which has come back with any serious issues yet.

I still believe whatever issue plagues these drives to be limited in scope, but without a way of predicting whether or not the problem will occur it's still a thorn in SandForce's side. Contrary to what you may have heard, I believe this issue impacts all SF-2xxx based drives and I've reproduced it on drives from multiple vendors.

SandForce is going to be flying down a representative to take a look at my test system to help determine the root cause of the issue.

The Crucial m4 Update

When we first reviewed Crucial's m4 SSD we came away with mixed feelings on the drive. In some cases it was the first or second fastest drive we'd reviewed, while in others it struggled to outperform last year's C300. While Crucial has been diligent in updating the m4 to fix compatibility issues, we haven't seen any of the performance increases Crucial promised at the drive's introduction.

That all changed last week as Crucial posted the latest 0009 firmware for the m4 and Micron C400. The firmware updates drives that shipped with the original 0001 firmware as well as those with the previous 0002 version. Crucial supplies a bootable ISO that you can either burn to a CD or image to a USB drive.

The firmware update process went smoothly for me. I tested on an Intel DH67BL motherboard with the SATA ports set to AHCI. I used a USB stick imaged with the ISO via UNetbootin.

Crucial's release notes indicate improved performance as a major feature of FW0009:

Release Date: 08/25/2011
Change Log:

  • Changes made in version 0002 (m4 can be updated to revision 0009 directly from either revision 0001 or 0002)
  • Improved throughput performance.
  • Increase in PCMark Vantage benchmark score, resulting in improved user experience in most operating systems.
  • Improved write latency for better performance under heavy write workloads.
  • Faster boot up times.
  • Improved compatibility with latest chipsets.
  • Compensation for SATA speed negotiation issues between some SATA-II chipsets and the SATA-III device.
  • Improvement for intermittent failures in cold boot up related to some specific host systems.

The Test

CPU

Intel Core i7 2600K running at 3.4GHz (Turbo & EIST Disabled) - for AT SB 2011, AS SSD & ATTO

Motherboard:

Intel DH67BL Motherboard

Chipset:

Intel H67

Chipset Drivers:

Intel 9.1.1.1015 + Intel RST 10.2

Memory: Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1333 2 x 2GB (7-7-7-20)
Video Card: eVGA GeForce GTX 285
Video Drivers: NVIDIA ForceWare 190.38 64-bit
Desktop Resolution: 1920 x 1200
OS: Windows 7 x64
Random & Sequential Read/Write Performance
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  • iwod - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    I am one of the few,( or many ) who don't want a Sandforce based SSD and cant afford the Intel SSD. Crucial provides a very good balance SSD for a competitive price with m4. And the 0009 Firmware just sweeten the deal. Reply
  • landerf - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    This drive has on a few occasions, and as recently as yesterday, had 15% codes at newegg. I got mine for $350 with one, and for a few days there you could get it as low as $333. Nuts deal for a drive that not only offers more usable space but none of that random BSOD shit you get with SF. Wait for another 15% off code, grab one, profit. Reply
  • Marlin1975 - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    You always use intel for testing SSDs. How about compare a 950southbridge SATA 6gb to a Z68 Intel SATA 6gb? Reply
  • dac7nco - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    That might be interesting; From what I've seen from some reviews, AMD's chipsets have improved their SATA-III throughput to a near-parity with Intel's... I don't remember specifics about random I/O.

    Daimon
    Reply
  • zsero - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    What is the Kingston HyperX drive in this test? Is it just me, who missed it? It is faster than EVERYTHING else, yet not a single article about it? Reply
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    It's the representative SF-2281 SSD. Presumably it didn't get a full article because another SF2281 with identical flash chips had already been reviewed.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4390/kingstons-hyper...
    Reply
  • Holly - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    Running Vertex 3 on P67 chipset (ASUS board)... since firmware 09 release I had two hard locks requiring shut down computer (disconnect from UPS, wait, reconnect, run)... so the situation was much better... instead of few locks a day to one per month... given the machine runs 24/7.
    Installed firmware 11 today, curious if it solves the issue completely.
    Other than that starting visual studio 2010 and opening project below 2 secs is just epic. Though as long as my machine runs without issues for 3 monts at least, I can't recommend the drive to any customer or friend.
    Reply
  • gamoniac - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    I saw on newegg that Crucial m4 SSD 128Gb is on newegg's Shell Shocker today, in case you plan on buying one. Reply
  • Nakecat - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    I been doing some research regarding of C300 TRIM with RAID 0 or RAID 5, most of the answer i found are tell ing me that TRIM doesn't work in RAID Array even with TRIM OS. Is this true? Reply
  • MarkLuvsCS - Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - link

    TRIM commands cannot be passed to a raid array. TRIM can be passed to drives on systems that have an nonraided SSD alongside raided standard drives (this has only happened a few months ago).

    Some drives do not require trim because they have an internal garbage collection built into the firmware such as the sandforce drives. Although Crucial has garbage collection as well, it does not occur aggressively to recover if the drive performance gets murdered by random writes. It WILL eventually recover its performance but TRIM makes sure this is never a problem.

    Sandforce seems the only way to go for RAIDed drives but I would say you're better off buying a larger SSD to begin with to avoid these problems.
    Reply

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