VisionTek Gets In On The mSATA Trend

The mSATA rush is officially on as desktop PC usage plummets and laptops, especially ultra-portables are the hot sellers. These devices are cramming more and more hardware into an ever shrinking space so why use a 2.5" x 1/4" drive when you can use an mSATA drive that's roughly the size of a matchbook. VisionTek, best known for their graphics card products, has dipped their toes in the SSD pond and what better controller to start out with than the über-popular SandForce SF-2200 series controller that has been used by nearly every SSD maker on the planet. We also saw them leverage this same controller paired up in their PCIe SSD recently. They sent us over a 120GB version to test out so we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.

VisionTek mSATA

We pretty much know what to expect out of this drive having tested similar configurations before but every maker has the opportunity to customize the firmware and tweak performance to their liking. Per their specifications, the drive can hit read speeds of up to 540MB/s and writes up to 425MB/s. The writes number may seem a little low to some but we know how the SandForce controller write performance varies with the type of data being written so it appears VisionTek took the marketing road less traveled and gave a more real-world performance expectation of the writes where most tout the absolute best case scenario figures.

VisionTek mSATA SSD Series:

When it comes to the cost per GB, you get the most for your money right now with the 240GB capacity drive, but the 120GB drive that we are looking at today is right around a buck per GB as well.

VisionTek mSATA SSD Features and Specifications:

VisionTek mSATA

Being an mSATA drive, the only thing obscuring the good bits is a pesky sticker that's a heck a lot easier to remove than many of the parts on drives we review.

VisionTek mSATA

What we find are four NAND modules and a SandForce SF-2241 controller which we saw on the Kingston mS200 drive. The NAND chips are virtually devoid of identification marks so all we can really say is that it's MLC and almost certainly 2xnm architecture. The SF-2241 controller is a four channel controller whereas the SF-2281 controller is an eight channel controller. The benefit is that it uses less power which is optimal for portable devices which are likely to use this part.

Test System & Comparison Drives

All tests were performed on a fresh and up-to-date install of Windows 8 Pro x64 with no other applications running while using AHCI mode set through the BIOS. Synthetic Benchmarks were run with the OS loaded on a 120GB Corsair Force SSD. In between every test, the test drive was secure erased using an instance of Parted Magic. As such, all results should be indicative of optimal performance. All components were set to their default speeds and are listed below.

Z77 Test Bench

LR Bench

Intel LGA 1155 Test Platform
ComponentBrand/ModelLive Pricing

Processor

Core i5 2500k

Motherboard

ASUS Maximus V Gene Z77

Memory

Kingston HyperX KHX16C9B1RK28 8GB

OS Drive

Corsair Force 120GB (FW 2.4)

Power Supply

Antec Basiq BP550W Plus-EC

Operating System

Windows 8 Pro 64-Bit

Comparison Drives And Other Models We Have Tested

Since there are so many SSDs out there now with different controllers, we started a reference table of which controllers are used by each drive to help you compare results. Different controllers definitely perform differently and each has various strengths and weaknesses. Like CPU's, even identical drives will have variations in performance and part of that variance may be attributable to the NAND flash used. Since the tests of the drives listed have spanned different test benches and represent different interfaces, we have listed the most recent ones for easy reference.

SSD MODEL CONTROLLER Interface
VisionTek PCIe 240GB SSD SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) x2 PCIe
WD Black² Dual-Drive 120GB SSD + 1TB HDD JMicron JMF667H SATA III
OCZ Vector 150 240GB Indilinx Barefoot 3 M00 SATA III
Kingston SSDNow mS200 120GB SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2241) mSATA
Corsair Force LS 240GB Phison PS3108 SATA III
Samsung Evo 500GB MEX S4LN045X01 SATA III
Plextor M5M 128GB Marvell 88SS9187 mSATA
Seagate 600 240GB LAMD LM87800 SATA III
OCZ Vertex 450 256GB Indilinx Barefoot 3 M10 SATA III
Crucial M500 480GB Marvell 88SS9187 SATA III
Transcend MSA720 128GB SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) mSATA
OCZ Vertex 3.20 240GB SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) SATA III
Mushkin Atlas Deluxe 30GB SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) mSATA
Intel 525 Series SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) mSATA
Samsung 840 Pro 240GB Samsung MDX SATA III
Sandisk Ultra Plus 256GB Marvell 88SS9175 SATA III
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB LAMD LM87800 SATA III
Intel 520 Series 240GB SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) SATA III
OCZ Vector 256GB Indilinx Barefoot 3 M00 SATA III
Kingston SSDNow V300 120GB SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281) SATA III
Samsung 830 Series 256GB Samsung S4LJ204X01-Y040 SATA III

CrystalDiskInfo 6.0.4 Readout:

For the VisionTek mSATA SSD, the readout on CrystalDiskInfo shows that both NCQ and S.M.A.R.T. are enabled as well as TRIM. This is a great free tool to see lots of detailed information about the drive such as the firmware version for which we are running the latest available at the time of testing - 522ABBF0.

VisionTek mSATA 120GB CrystalDiskInfo

Let's have a look at the performance with some synthetic benchmarks followed up by some real world tests.

ATTO & AS-SSD Benchmarks

ATTO v2.47

ATTO is one of the oldest drive benchmarks still being used today and is still very relevant in the SSD world. ATTO measures transfers across a specific volume length. It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and places the data into graphs that can be very easily interpreted. The test was run with the default runs of 0.5KB through 8192KB transfer sizes with the total length being 256MB.

ATTO - Intel Z77 Platform:

VisionTek mSATA 120GB ATTO

Benchmark Results: As usual, the ATTO benchmark is where the SandForce controllers shine as they take full advantage of the compressible nature of the data being used. As such, it fares very well in the comparison.

ATTO Grid

AS-SSD (1.6.4237.30508) Benchmark - Intel Z77 Platform:

We have been running the AS-SSD Benchmark app for over some time now and found that it gives a broad result set. The programmer has worked very hard on this software and continues to make updates often so if you use it, show him some love and send him a donation. There are now three tests that are found within the tool and we'll show the results from two of them.

VisionTek mSATA 120GB AS-SSD

AS-SSD Grid

Benchmark Results: The AD-SSD benchmark is where the wheels come off a bit as is the case with the SandForce controllers and be limited to the four channels doesn't help either. The writes drop off considerably but still fast enough to rank midway in the comparison.

VisionTek mSATA 120GB AS-SSD Compr Benchmark

Benchmark Results: This is the typical slope we see when data compressibility plays a role in how the drive performs.

CrystalDiskMark & Anvil IOPS

CrystalDiskMark is a small benchmark utility for drives and enables rapid measurement of sequential and random read/write speeds. Note that CDM only supports Native Command Queuing (NCQ) with a queue depth of 32 (as noted) for the last listed benchmark score. This can skew some results in favor of controllers that also do not support NCQ.

CrystalDiskMark 3.0.2 x64 - Intel Z77 Platform

VisionTek mSATA 120GB CrystalDiskMark

Benchmark Results: More or less the same results we saw with the AS-SSD benchmark which again drops it in the middle of the pack in the drive comparison grid.

CrystalDiskMark Grid

Anvil Storage Utilities 1.050 RC6- Intel Z77 Platform

Along with the move to a new platform, we decided to make a change in one of the benchmarks. There's a relatively new benchmark called Anvil Storage Utilities that is in beta but close to production. It's a very powerful tool that measures performance through a variety of tests which can be customized. Since some of the tests more or less duplicate what we get from other benchmarks we use already, we decided to use the IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) testing on 4kb file sizes at a queue depth of 32. IOPS performance is something SSD makers tout quite a bit but we generally don't do a lot of IOPS testing because frankly a lot of users can't relate to IOPS metrics as well and it tends to be more meaningful to the enterprise/server crowd. Still, it is another performance indicator with relevance and while some drives post good MB/s numbers, their IOPS scores aren't always commensurate which this test will prove out.

VisionTek mSATA 120GB IOPS Reads VisionTek mSATA 120GB IOPS Writes

Benchmark Results: IOPS writes are actually very strong with the reads coming in just under half the score - a better ration than we saw with a good chunk of the other drives.

IOPS Chart

Real World Copy & Boot Tests

File Copy Times Via Teracopy 2.27:

One of the most common operations performed on a PC is moving/copying files. Using a free application called Teracopy, we copied large numbers of two file types from one folder to another on the same drive. Teracopy allows us to objectively measure the time of transfer and using the same drive prevents other devices from tainting the outcome. The operation requires the drive to perform both sustained read and writes simultaneously. The first set of files is a 5GB collection of JPG's of variable size and compression levels with a few movie (.MOV) files thrown in for good measure since most cameras now take video as well as stills. The second is a collection of MP3 files of various sizes which totals 5GB collectively. These file types were chosen due to their wide use and mixture of file sizes and compression levels.

VisionTek mSATA 120GB JPG Copy

Benchmark Results: Copying large amounts of data over yielded pretty good times when compared with other drives of the same capacity.

FileCopy Chart

Windows Boot Times Via BootRacer:

Windows start up/shutdown time is always something people are interested in and we haven't done it in a while because there was little variation with the majority of the SSDs. We recently began using an application called BootRacer to objectively measure the startup times of the drives. All of the instances of Windows were identical and freshly installed with only the video driver installed.

VisionTek mSATA 120GB Boot

Benchmark Results: Boot time margins between drives are always slim so not a huge variance in the times between the drives but it's good to see that it was the third fastest drive overall.

Windows Boot Chart

Final Thoughts & Conclusions

As with all SSDs now, there's some over-provisioning used to help maintain drive health and overall endurance. Usually in the case of SandForce, this is about 7% which is also the case here. For the VisionTek 120GB (1GB byte = 1,000,000,000 bytes) mSATA drive, the user ends up with 111GB (1GiB = 1,073,741,824 bytes) to use as they see fit which takes the OP into account along with the bit that Windows takes when formatted.

VisionTek mSATA 120GB Properties

There's nothing groundbreaking with the VisionTek 120GB mSATA drives. We’ve seen the processor in a similar drive and mSATA drives are pretty commonplace now although not every manufacture has one available yet. VisionTek took the more conservative road when listing their specifications of 540MB/s reads and 425MB/s writes as we saw each exceeded in the sequential performance on the ATTO benchmark but that was offset with lower numbers on the tests that used less compressible data. Performance is hampered a bit by the four channel SF-2241 controller but those with mobile devices will appreciate the extra power savings likely more than any noticeable performance difference. Really, no complaints with performance overall given that this is not intended to be a screaming high-end enthusiast part so for the intended use model, it’s certainly more than up to the task.

VisionTek mSATA

VisionTek has four different capacities available in this mSATA form factor – 60GB, 120GB, 240GB and 480GB. Currently this 120GB version is available for $124.42 shipped. There actually aren’t a ton of options for 480GB mSATA drives on the market right now as just Crucial, Mushkin and VisionTek offer 480GB capacity drives, so it’s nice to see VisionTek filling a bit of a void there. It won’t be long until we see 1TB mSATA drives but it will be awhile before those become affordable for the average consumer. All of the mSATA drives offered by VisionTek are covered by a two year warranty which is a year shorter than what we see on average and many manufacturers are rolling out the four and five warranties and we hope that is where the trend lies.

VisionTek mSATA

All in all, VisionTek is doing a nice job with their foray into the SSD realm with products covering the SATA III, PCIe and mSATA models available. It remains to be seen how long it will be viable for them to remain in this space given the hardships others have encountered when not have an in-house fabrication for NAND and controllers which makes them dependent on third parties. This keeps margins thin and harder to justify the continuation of products that aren't their bread and butter.

Legit Bottom Line: If you are looking for an mSATA SSD solution, VisionTek has a variety of capacities with solid performance to meet the needs of most any user.