Terabyte SSD Showdown: Corsair's Biggest 2.5" SSDs Against Three Competing Drives

 

Introduction

Over the past couple of years, the solid state drive market has been turbulent, with consolidation and acquisitions. In the intervening period, we’ve taken our SSD product lineup and streamlined it into a series of drives that leverage different types of flash to produce different levels of performance for each stage of the market. These drives are all based on Phison’s controllers, with the Force LE and Neutron XT both entirely based on the Phison S10. The 960GB Force LS we’re talking about here today also uses the Phison S10, while lower capacities may employ an S9.

The Phison S10 is a remarkably powerful controller for consumer-based applications, a quad-core chip that offers class-leading sequential performance and solid consistency and reliability. It’s also incredibly flexible in terms of the flash it supports, and that’s allowed us to spider it out across our product lines. Its only major weakness – as you’ll see below – is in mixed I/O, but you’ll see that only really materializes in specific tests.

The Competition

We tested the 960GB versions of the Force LE, Force LS, and Neutron XT against three major competing drives that all hover around the same price point as the 960GB Force LE.

960GB

960GB

960GB

TLC NAND

MLC NAND

MLC NAND

 

1TB

960GB

960GB

TLC NAND

TLC NAND

NAND Unknown

 

Our test platform consisted of:

  • Intel Core i7-6700K @ 4.6GHz
  • 32GB (4x8GB) Dominator Platinum DDR4-2666
  • ASUS Z170-DELUXE Motherboard
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980
  • 240GB Force GT System Drive
  • Windows 10 64-bit

We’ve employed a healthy range of SSD tests, including PCMark 8’s incredibly extensive Enhanced Storage suite. The Enhanced Storage suite can take upwards of 24 hours to complete on particularly slow drives (like Competitor 2).

ATTO Peak Performance

The time-honored ATTO benchmark is used to measure peak throughput on drives. You’ll notice most of these drives basically saturate the SATA 6Gbps bus. The Neutron XT takes a minor hit to peak write bandwidth owing to performance differences between the flash it employs and the flash used in the Force LS and Force LE,  but you’ll find this is one of the rare occasions where the Neutron XT doesn’t finish first among our drives.

CrystalDiskMark Performance

Sequential performance is the S10 controller’s bread and butter, and it shows. Read and write speeds are both best in class – across all three of our lines. Two of the other drives in the Force LE’s class can’t keep up.

When we switch to 4K random accesses, the Neutron XT’s more powerful flash shows its power. All three Corsair SSDs are mostly competitive, though this is one of the few points where the S10 controller has a little trouble keeping up.

IOMeter Performance

This is one of the few points where Phison’s S10 controller does stumble, but you’ll notice the Force LE – with its newer firmware – doesn’t take the hit in mixed mode operations that its siblings do. The S10 controller is very powerful, but you’ll want to keep the firmware updated to get the best performance. These numbers are already substantially better than the Neutron XT was when it first launched, and will only improve going forward.

Note also that IOMeter is traditionally an enterprise-heavy benchmark; the S10 was geared as a consumer drive benchmark, and you’ll see when we get to the more practical traces PCMark 8 runs that it’s very capable in that space.

PCMark 8 Enhanced Storage Suite

PCMark 8’s Enhanced Storage suite conditions the drive before measuring its performance, and then runs storage traces based on common applications (like Battlefield 4 or Microsoft Excel) to determine overall performance of the drive.

What we found with the three Consistency tests has been that all three drives in our lineup are very competitive. The Neutron XT’s faster flash gives it an advantage in our steady state test, but the Force LS’s slightly less powerful MLC still keeps it competitive. It’s only the TLC in the Force LE that really hurts performance, but even then it still bests two of its three competitors by a comfortable margin.

The Corsair SSDs put in a very strong showing when they’re degraded and then put through the wringer. Force LE isn’t far behind its more expensive siblings. Even in a degraded state, our drives offer consistent performance.

The Recovery trace test gives the drive controllers a chance to recover performance in between benchmark runs; since the Corsair SSDs don’t really take a hit in the degraded test, they don’t require a whole lot of time to get back to a prime performance state.

When we move over to the Adaptive test, the Corsair drives remain fairly consistent across their benchmark runs except for the Force LE, which loses a little steam because of its TLC NAND.

Ultimately, the Force LE, Force LS, and Neutron XT all provide very competitive performance in the Adaptive test and especially in the Consistency test.

Conclusion

Modern SATA SSDs have a habit of running directly into the limits of the interface and the AHCI protocol. This has both good and bad effects; on the one hand, that means that you’re interface-limited for performance. The flip side of that is the performance ceiling is still quite high, user experiences are quite good, and a certain compression occurs where most of the drives are hanging out in the same performance ballpark. At that point it’s really just a matter of what performance profile you’re optimizing the drive for to get the most you can out of it.

The Force LE series of SSDs use TLC flash, but don’t let that stop you: the Phison S10 controller makes up a lot of the performance deficit, and even modern TLC can still be quite fast. If you’re looking for a fast SSD on the cheap, the Force LE is really the way to go, although I do recommend spending up for the 480GB or 960GB versions, as the 240GB version does lag somewhat behind the other two.

If you want a little more performance, the Force LS line gives you the benefits of MLC flash for a little more money. I primarily recommend the 960GB Force LS here; Force LS is available in capacities all the way down to 60GB, but I’d strongly advise against buying any drive smaller than 240GB at this point, as the price per GB goes up at the low end.

Finally, our fastest drive for users that must have the best continues to be the Neutron XT. Note that in the 240GB and 480GB capacities, there’s a Neutron XT and a Neutron XT (2015 Edition), and you can tell the difference between them by the part number (the 2015 Edition ends in a “B” suffix). Performance wise these drives are nigh identical, but the XT-B uses slightly different flash that allowed us to reduce the cost of the drive. Unlike the difference between the Neutron XT and Force LS, though, the two versions of Neutron XT are almost indistinguishable in performance profile.

The sweet spot for our Neutron XT drives is really the 480GB version, although the 960GB one still offers stellar performance. But the 480GB seems to be the most efficient of the lot, though even a 240GB drive is mighty fast.

On the warranty and support side, all three of these drives see regular firmware updates through our SSD Toolbox application, and the Force LE and LS drives feature three year warranties while the Neutron XT bumps the warranty up to five years. If you’re looking for fast storage, Corsair has you covered.

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Comments

  • Michael J Smith's gravatar Michael J Smith said:
    2/3/2016 8:32 PM

    I have a big problem with an RMA. The ticket number can be found by using my email address. The problem is that this RMA was an advanced RMA where you shipped me a replacement power supply and I gave you my debit card information and a hold was placed, but when I sent in the defective power supply I didn't get my money refunded. As a result of this situation, I can't purchase food for my family. I was told over 10 days ago that I would get my money refunded. Please look into this situation as soon as possible. I am not a rich man who has unlimited funds and Corsair is holding up my funds. I will contact an executive director or the CEO of Corsair. This is down right a bad way to do business with your customers.

  • Michael J Smith's gravatar Michael J Smith said:
    2/2/2016 8:56 PM

    I have a big problem with an RMA. The ticket number can be found by using my email address. The problem is that this RMA was an advanced RMA where you shipped me a replacement power supply and I gave you my debit card information and a hold was placed, but when I sent in the defective power supply I didn't get my money refunded. As a result of this situation, I can't purchase food for my family. I was told over 10 days ago that I would get my money refunded. Please look into this situation as soon as possible. I am not a rich man who has unlimited funds and Corsair is holding up my funds. I will contact an executive director or the CEO of Corsair. This is down right a bad way to do business with your customers.

 
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