Mtron Professional Series 16GB Solid State Drive
Author: Dominick V. Strippoli
Worlds fastest consumer based SATA drive? Fact or Myth?
I was lucky enough to get my hands on a sample of the latest and greatest Mtron Solid State SATA Drive. NeoStore.com is Mtron's main United States Distributor and had overnighted me a few drives recently for a series of reviews I will be completing. Initially both Anandtech.com and MaximumPC Magazine had reviewed the first Mtron SATA SSD, model MSD6000 and the results were very promising. Random access time on the drive thanks to NAND non volatile technology was a staggering .1ms. Both Anand, and MaximumPC had also achieved a sustained read of 95 MB/s using an NVidia 680i chipset.
The latest iteration of the original MSD, is called the Professional MSP7000 series. Mtron had improved the firmware and increased claimed sustained read to 120 MB/s and sustained write to 90 MB/s over the original MSD units putting out an already impressive 100 MB/s read, 80MB/s write. Combined with almost zero latency and .1ms access time, you can imagine that this drive might as well be called the "Worlds Fastest Consumer Based SATA Drive". To find out just how fast this new Solid State Drive is, we chose to use a rotating mechanical Western Digital Raptor 150, which currently holds the performance crown in the SATA hard drive category. This will really make it faster for gamers addicted to Costa Bingo and free bingo games.
Just a Side Note -This article is sponsored by both Costa Bingo and Cheeky Bingo, by supporting these sites, you are supporting NLH!
Taking a quick peek at the unit, we can see that it is an
Ultra Slim 3.5" Aluminum Casing Design with standard SATA connectors:
The test unit for the review consists of:
Intel QX9650 Processor
Gigabyte X38T-DQ6 Motherboard
Corsair Dominator 2X1GB DDR3 1800 Ram
Sapphire HD 2900 XT 512 Video Card
Western Digital Raptor 150 GB
Mtron Professional Series 16GB Solid State Drive
Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit
Upon initial boot up of the computer, the drive was instantly recognized on my X38 motherboard. I had configured boot up preferences in the bios and went ahead to install the operating system. After the installation was complete I went ahead and ran a standard synthetic benchmark called HDTach to measure file system performance. Just as I had been forewarned about by Anandtech.com, the Intel ICH Southbridge actually throttles Solid State Drives above 80 MB/s. I contacted an Mtron distributor about this issue directly and he had also confirmed the known Intel SSD throttling issue. For some strange reason, current SSD technology is actually performing up to 80% stronger on the Nvidia 680i chipset so keep that in mind after reading my review. It appears that Intel is currently working on a solution. So, as you can see in this screenshot I had a theoretical bandwidth cap on my X38 motherboard at 80.7 MB/s average read, and 84 MB/s burst.
Since Anandtech had also ran into the same issues during his original MSD benching I had decided to try something rather simple. Since my motherboard has a total of 6 SATA ports, 4 on the Intel Matrix ICH, and 2 on the Gigabyte Onboard Raid Controller I had simply unplugged my SATA cable from the Intel ICH port and tried out the GIGA2 controller. Well, what do you know? I had completely eliminated the bandwidth cap and was able to complete my testing on the drive. Here are the true SSD results of 111 MB/s sustained read, much closer to the claimed 120 MB/s read:
Now lets start testing out the performance of this new drive by comparing it to a Western Digital Raptor 150 in both synthetic benchmarks and real world timed testing. Again, with all of my testing in the past I use the old fashioned stop watch method of "real world" analysis so although my results will be as close to perfect as humanly possible, you always have to factor in a slim margin of error.
Our first test will be booting Windows Vista Ultimate Edition 32-bit. The timed reading you see in the screenshot is the average of 5 startups and shutdowns on the drives. Vista boot time is measured from as soon as you see the first bar move on the Vista screen and timing is stopped when the mouse on the hourglass stops loading services/resident programs on the desktop.
As you can see, the sheer access time on NAND Solid State, especially this Mtron drive totally dominates current rotating HDD technology. We are seeing a boot performance increase of 130% on the Mtron Unit over the WD Raptor. To show you how incredible fast this drive really is you can click on this movie link as I have taken a quick Vista Boot video here: http://www.nextlevelhardware.com/ssdnew.mpg
Our next series of tests will all be based on Synthetic Performance Testing. The first measurement will be recorded using a program called HDTach by Simpli Software. It is a tool to measure raw hard drive sustained read and access time.
As you can see, the raw power of the Mtron Solid State Drive is apparent using HDTach. It displays an average read increase of almost 30 MB/s over the rotating "old fashioned :)" Raptor 150. And the most important number that you should be looking at right now, is random access time. NAND Solid State will increase the snappy feeling of random file reads by over 80 times faster than the WD Raptor 150.
Just to confirm these numbers, I have also used Lavalys Everest Diskbench and ATTO Diskbench.
Again we see the performance difference measured in Everest Diskbench to display a full 90% increase in random read performance and a 40% increase in Linear Read from the middle benchmark.
ATTO Diskbench is a widely known benchmarking tool to find specific holes in your file system and test the sustained read/write performance by having the capability to adjust different transfer sizes, as well as transfer lengths. For the read/write benchmark I chose to use a 1024K transfer size at a 32mb length. This stresses both drives to the max under read/write conditions. For once, the Raptor comes ahead of the Mtron unit in Write Performance. The Raptor has a 17% edge in write performance using SATA. But, again we see a confirmed sustained read of 114 MB/s on the Mtron unit confirming an additional 35% performance increase over the Raptor 150. NAND flash architecture on the Mtron unit is currently known for the most part to have either a slower or equal too write capability when compared to the Raptor 150. And this is widely known with current flash technology as well. We will begin to decipher the real write performance differences between these drives later on in this review.
The next synthetic benchmark is the PCMark2005 Hard Drive Test Suite. For this test, Anandtech had performance margins of up to 55% better with his older MSD unit compared to the new professional MSP unit in this review. The only difference was Anand used the Nvidia 680i chipset which Mtron recommends. I really hope Intel works out the solid state Southbridge bugs ASAP so I can get ultimately a cap free test suite. But, because of my Intel Gigabyte X38 Motherboard I am pretty sure these PCMark scores are capped.
Even without using the Nvidia 680i chipset we still see an average HDD performance increase on this test suite of 65% over the WD Raptor 150.
We will now move on to non synthetic "real world" testing. The first test is going to be gaming load testing. Each of the games were timed for three separate readings, with a windows reboot between each reading. The times you see are the average between the three readings.
Crysis and Call of Duty 4 were not available at the time of the article on the raptor due to registration/unlock issues with direct2drive.com and EAstore.com digital download and re-activating. As you can see in all of the other games, we are averaging a load speed increase of 68% over the Western Digital Raptor 150. The speed increase is truly incredible with this solid state drive. From my experience working with this drive in a single user environment so far, it almost turns the OS into a fluid like and instantaneous experience.
The next loading test will be based on the well known application Adobe Photoshop. I am using an older version 7.1 and we are double clicking on a 2MB Jpeg file from the Windows Vista Desktop to start timing, and we stop timing when the file ceases loading operation, and Photoshop is fully idle.
Again, here you can see a 50% increase in performance using the Mtron 16GB solid state unit. This is exactly what I was talking about. The operating system environment feels instantaneous. You initiate a file operation, and its done! We are not talking cheap competition either, we are comparing this drive to a Western Digital Raptor 150, the king of current SATA performance.
As I promised previously, we are now moving on to more write intensive real world testing. The next test is a combined read/write operation. Various applications are timed for total installation time using the progress bar indicator. The install programs are launched from the desktop and installed to the program files directory measuring both read/write performance at the same time.
Again, with the exception of Photoshop 7.1, the Raptor handles file system write operations much cleaner than the Mtron NAND based unit. There is an apparent 23% write speed boost from the Raptor 150 in this combined testing.
Our last real world test will be a standard Windows Vista 1 gigabyte folder copy (from drive to drive) test. We take a folder with over 100 individual files totaling a 1 gigabyte folder capacity and we simply copy and paste to a new location on the drive. Read/write performance was identical on both drives in standard vista file copy.
Another difference with these new Solid State Drives is SILENCE. Since you are using a non rotating device, as compared to a 10,000 RPM rotating Raptor, there is absolutely no noise using NAND Solid State Technology. The raptor produces an ugly 36 db's at full seek capacity and up to 48 decibels using other review domains testing procedure.
Power consumption is another incredible feat with these Solid State Drives. The Mtron unit uses a maximum of 2.95 watts (update, chart correction) to power the drive compared to the 10 watts full seek load of the WD Raptor.
In conclusion, we see that the raw power and non existent latency of the new Mtron 16GB Professional SSD is enough to take the SATA single drive performance crown right off the WD Raptor 150. Not only will this drive promise over 76,500 IOPS (input/outputs per second) in a server level configuration, but this drive is hands down the gamer/overclocker's most powerful SATA choice available today. Using a true hardware raid card, these Mtron Pro SSD's have been tested by various distributors to scale in perfect multiples with up to 8 drives, and 860 MB/s throughput using Raid 0. The only current downside to obtaining this technology is #1 Write performance is not yet a perfect and refined process using NAND flash and you will not have a drive that is going to write file operations as good as a high end SATA drive. Although by my real world testing, write performance decrease is very slim and marginal as compared to the Raptor 150. And #2 The biggest downside currently to using this technology is price to gigabyte. This drive currently retails for around $799 at NeoStore.com and this is the lowest MSRP allowed straight from Mtron. If you factor in cost per gigabyte you are looking at $50 a GB. Ouch! So, if you have the money by all means this is "THE DRIVE TO HAVE" at the current time, but my personal opinion is to wait it out another year or so for SSD price to drop. The technology is here ladies and gentleman, and this is just the beginning. Be prepared for a new era in Storage Technology.