Sunday, August 19, 2012

Zalman N-Series 64GB SSD

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: SandForce controller, decent performance; mail-in-rebate made for an outstanding deal
Cons: "Decent" performance, not a whole lot of capacity

When I assembled this last budget computer build I hadn't planned on including a solid-state drive. They do cost quite a bit and you don't get a whole lot of storage capacity for the price compared to conventional platter-based hard drives. However, after picking up all of the parts necessary there was about $45 left in the budget, and Newegg happened to have a good deal on a solid-state drive that could be picked up and still keep us under budget.

This build:
AMD FX-4100 Quad-Core Processor
Cooler Master GX-450 Power Supply
G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 16GB DDR3 1600
Gigabyte GA-970A-D3 Motherboard
MSI Radeon HD 6450 1GB Video Card
Rosewill Challenger Gaming Case
Rosewill 40-in-1 Internal Card Reader
Samsung Spinpoint F4 EcoGreen 2TB Hard Drive
Zalman N Series 2.5" Solid-State Drive

The price of the Zalman N-Series 64GB Solid-State Drive was cut down to $79.99, and then there was a $40 mail-in-rebate on top of that bringing the total cost down to $39.99. For forty bucks I couldn't think of a good reason not to grab the drive, so it got added to the build at the last minute. I'm pretty happy with the results.
This is a standard 2.5" SATA II solid-state drive. It supports the Windows 7 TRIM command and is optimized for AHCI mode. The drive features the SandForce SF-1222 controller and advertises 280MB/s read speeds and 270MB/s write speeds, which were faster than the other Zalman S Series solid-state drive that was on sale for the same price. It features built-in ECC and wear-leveling technology and is fast, silent and resistant to damage from jarring because it has no moving parts.
I was actually kind of surprised when it arrived since it came via the postal service in a lightly padded manila envelope. I actually thought it was another flash drive that I ordered at the same time because I'm used to my hard drives arriving in big plastic clam-shell packages wrapped in bubble wrap and stuck in a box surrounded by crumpled paper or other packing materials. Even the little retail box inside the envelope felt cheap and was made of thin cardboard.
The tiny drive is really light, weighing just a few ounces. It appears to be made of aluminum and has an attractive dark, brushed metal appearance. While the drive did come with 4 small screws for installation, it did not come with an SATA cable so you'll have to pick one up separately if necessary. The motherboard we picked up only included 2 SATA cables, which we used for the DVD burner and the 2GB conventional hard drive, we had to use a spare to complete the installation. Luckily I have piles of things like that lying around that were extras from previous builds, so I just used one of those.
The Rosewill Challenger case that we used also came with a plastic 3.5" to 2.5" adapter, and we made use of that to install this drive into a standard 3.5" hard drive bay. Most cases do not include such things and one is not supplied with the drive, so make sure to pick one up if required. This will not be an issue with laptops or netbooks because they use 2.5" hard drives to start with. The shock resistance of the solid-state drive is of even more benefit in a mobile computing platform, as you're less likely to damage the drive if the laptop gets tossed around in your bag or knocked off of a table.
Installation was easy enough; I just set the drive onto the adapter and inserted the four screws into the bottom. After that I attached the drive rails to the sides of the adapter and slid it into an open 3.5" drive bay. You may have four more screws to use instead to attach the adapter to the drive bay, or even small clips or some other type of tool-less installation in your case, but it's all about the same and it takes very little time or effort. The final part of the installation was plugging in an SATA power connector and then running an SATA cable from the drive to an available SATA port on the motherboard.
Keep in mind that the rated read and write speeds are best-case scenarios under ideal conditions. The actual numbers are going to vary drastically depending on the other components in the computer and it's setup. To benchmark the performance of this drive I used CrystalDiskMark with a 5x 1000MB test, and AS SSD. AHCI is enabled in the BIOS and Windows 7 is using the AMD_SATA driver. Here are the results:
CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1c
Seq Read: 191.8MB/s
Seq Write: 66.56MB/s
512k Read: 180.0MB/s
512k Write: 65.67MB/s
4k Read: 18.6MB/s
4k Write: 64.67MB/s

AS SSD 1.6.4237.30508
Seq Read: 194.48MB/s
Seq Write: 58.17MB/s
4k Read: 16.10MB/s
4k Write: 43.37MB/s
4k-64Thrd Read: 97.86MB/s
4k-64Thrd Write: 59.15
Read Access Time: 0.231ms
Write Access Time: 0.294ms
Read Score: 133
Write Score: 108
Overall Score: 310

Not terrible, but also not spectacular and certainly nowhere in the same ballpark as what is advertised. That seems to be about par for the course these days though, with manufacturer's claims for all sorts of products bordering on false advertising. I'm still pretty happy with the drive though and it's significantly faster and more responsive than a conventional hard drive. If you've got the big bucks to spare on a larger, faster drive then by all means get one; otherwise this is a solid choice.
I didn't time the installation of Windows 7, but it was noticably faster than installing to a conventional hard drive. After it was completed, the drive showed a 55.8GB total capacity (60,019,437,568 bytes). You'll notice that this is about 4GB shy of what it should be, and this is because solid-state drives keep a small amount of capacity set aside for wear-leveling to ensure that your drive remains functional for as long as possible. This particular drive is rated for 5000 program/erase cycles and should last the average person for many years.
The computer starts up much faster and shuts down much fast. In addition, the computer comes out of hibernation mode almost instantly which is a drastic improvment over conventional hard drives. Usually I turn off hibernation mode because I'm too impatient to wait 10 or 15 seconds for it to get back to normal, but with this SSD I'm presented with the Windows login screen almost instantly when I press the power button. The fact that this makes it worth using hibernation mode for me means some sort of savings to the electric bill in addition to the savings attributed to using the SSD over a conventional hard drive in the first place.
This ROHS compliant drive uses MLC NAND flash and has a 1,000,000 hour MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures). It has a standard operating temperature of 0ºC to 70ºC and a storage temperature of -40ºC to 85ºC. It is made in Taiwan and is backed up by a 3 year limited warranty. I certainly recommend picking up a solid-state drive, at least for your main Operating System drive, and this is a good one for the price.

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