Introduction

Shortly after our Plextor M3 review went live, I received numerous emails asking us to review Corsair's Performance Series Pro. Your voice was heard and we went and asked Corsair for a review sample, and here we are with the results.

There aren't too many Marvell SSDs on the market so the Performance Pro stole my attention immediately. When testing a SandForce drive, you pretty much know what to expect. Only Intel uses an in-house firmware whereas the rest of the SandForce OEMs are stuck with the firmware that SandForce provides. That limits differentiation a lot. When it comes to Marvell, things are a lot more open and interesting. Firmwares are often proprietary and that's why you never know what to expect.

Personally I'm all for differentiation. The more different SSDs there are, the more competition there is, which is always good from a consumer's standpoint. SandForce is competitive for sure, but most SandForce drives can only compete against each other in price. That's where Marvell and others come in; they offer differentiation in performance and compatibility for instance.

Price competition is not a bad thing but especially since most SandForce OEMs are fabless, it's fairly limited. You buy controllers from SandForce and choose NAND from a few sources; every other SandForce OEM (except Intel) does exactly the same. While every OEM can negotiate their own pricing with SandForce and the selected NAND supplier(s), it's unlikely they will get a significant discount. That's why most SandForce SSDs are priced so similarly. If a certain NAND supplier drops their NAND prices, it always affects more than one SSD OEM.

A Marvell based SSD can still stand out even if it's more expensive since there may not be a comparable drive on the market. Performance is only one aspect; especially garbage collection and power consumption should not go unmentioned as firmware can have a huge impact on them, and hence make drives different.

The Corsair Performance Series Pro

Corsair sampled us with a 256GB unit. Below is a specification table of the Performance Series Pro:

Corsair Performance Series Pro Specifications
Model 128GB 256GB
Raw NAND Capacity 128GiB 256GiB
Usable Capacity 119.2GiB 238.5GiB
Number of NAND Packages 8 8
Number of Die per Package 2 4
Sequential Read 500MB/s 515MB/s
Sequential Write 340MB/s 440MB/s
4K Random Write 60K IOPS 65K IOPS

Interestingly, Corsair offers only 128GB and 256GB models. I can understand the lack of a 512GB model because of price and low popularity, but 64GB is often one of the most popular models. Corsair does offer 60GB Force Series 3 and Force Series GT drives, and they recently released Accelerator series aimed at caching. There is no specific reason to why Corsair has decided to exclude 64GB from the Performance Series Pro lineup, but it's possible that 64GB was not profitable enough.

64GB SSDs are usually the most expensive in terms of price per GB because the share of NAND in the bill of materials is smaller. In other words, all the other expenses such as controller and manufacturing are the same as in bigger drives. Moreover, 64GB isn't exactly a performance category either. Users who buy such small SSDs are already making a compromise in performance, so they are more likely to grab the cheapest drive instead of paying a bit more for a faster drive.

The Performance Pro does well on paper. Sequential write speeds are very good for a Marvell drive. These days I'm more interested in pricing than the actual specifications, though, mainly because the real world performance difference between most SATA 6Gb/s SSDs is so small that paying more for a slightly faster drive may not be worth it unless your workload is heavily I/O bound. Let's see how Corsair's Performance Series Pro stacks up against other drives in a NewEgg price comparison:

NewEgg Price Comparison (5/14/2012)
  64GB 128GB 256GB 512GB
Corsair Performance Series Pro N/A $200 $340 N/A
Plextor M3 $130 $180 $340 $660
Crucial m4 $80 $120 $250 $600
Intel 520 Series $113 $179 $331 $825
Samsung 830 Series $100 $130 $310 $710
OCZ Vertex 3 $165 $110 $250 $650
OCZ Vertex 4 N/A $150 $300 $650

The Performance Pro is definitely not the cheapest drive. The 128GB model is actually the most expensive 128GB drive in our comparison and there is $20-40 premium even over the Plextor M3, Intel 520 Series, and Samsung 830 Series, all of which are considered to be high-end drives. The 256GB version is a bit more reasonably priced at $320, although there are still cheaper, competitive drives such as the Samsung 830 Series.

In any case, I would like to point out that SSD prices fluctuate a lot. The price you see today may be different tomorrow. I borrowed the pricing table from our Plextor M3 review and nearly all prices had changed, some even dramatically. If you're buying an SSD, my advice would be to follow the prices for at least a couple of days before pulling the trigger as you may be able to catch a hot sale that way.

Corsair Performance Pro Packaging and Internals, Test Setup
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  • Kristian Vättö - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    I've had Plextor M3 Pro for a couple of weeks now and review should be up next week at the latest. I didn't have all data yet so couldn't include it in the charts, plus it might have stolen the spotlight so I decided to save all data for a dedicated review. Reply
  • Mathieu Bourgie - Friday, May 25, 2012 - link

    Any update on this? I'm dying to see a AT's review of the M3 Pro :D Reply
  • jwilliams4200 - Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - link

    Well, "next week" has come and gone.

    I see that you have the M3P data in the benchmark database, but where is the review article?
    Reply
  • Voldenuit - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    Hi Kristian,

    Thanks for the review. Could AT please post the physical measurements of the drive? Some laptops are moving to the 7mm thick form factor and will not accept standard 9.5mm thick 2.5" drives.
    Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    It's 9.5mm thick, like most 2.5" drives. I added it to the article so it's no longer unclear :-) Reply
  • Voldenuit - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    Thanks!

    How's that for awesome-fast service!
    Reply
  • GrizzledYoungMan - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    With the Samsung 830 going for nearly a dollar a gig at the critical 128 gig capacity, I really can't imagine why someone would buy a competitor's SSD. They're already way ahead of most on performance and reliability, for much less than the vast majority of alternatives.

    Interesting how that old Intel controller in the 320 is still kicking ass where it counts (random reads, latency, IOs at low queue depths). I really feel like most SSDs - all of them, really, besides the 830 and 320 - are designed more to score well in benchmarks than to meet the performance needs of desktop/workstation users.

    Really glad we have Anand and his colleagues working on understanding this stuff.
    Reply
  • zcat - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    Indeed. I finally sprung for the 256G Samsung 830 last Friday, since it was on sale for only $235 w/ free shipping, and because it's still "best in class" overall. The Crucial m4 was a close 2nd choice due to its reliability rep as well, but the write speeds suffer a bit. (Thanks for the SSD comparison benches AT!) Reply
  • GrizzledYoungMan - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    Trust me, you'll be really glad you didn't go for the M4. After my old Vertex (first gen, Indilinx! haha) was dying, I replaced it first with a 128gb M4, largely because of its reputation for reliability.

    Man, was that a mistake. I was on FW 0309 (which had been issued in a hurry to correct a BSOD issue created by the last FW update) and the thing had major issues. Stuttering, hanging, inability to resume from sleep and so on. The Windows event manager was lit up red like a Christmas tree, and this was with a fresh install on a Lynnfield based machine that worked beautifully with my old Vertex.

    Turns out the thing had major, unacknowledged (outside of some hard to find forum posts) compatibility issues with Intel's RST an a number of power management features in Windows 7. I guess Intel and Microsoft are really obscure little companies whose products don't merit compatibility testing? Beats me.
    Reply
  • zcat - Monday, May 14, 2012 - link

    Hah. I'm also replacing a 1st gen OCZ Vertex. :)

    SMART says it has only 39% of its (writable) life left after about 2.5 years of use:
    209 Remaining_Lifetime_Perc 0x0000 --- --- --- Old_age Offline - 39
    Reply

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