There was a time, early to mid 90s, when the PC gaming was under going a revolution. In fact the entire gaming industry was going through one. The Sega Genesis and Nintendo’s SNES were about to retire. Everyone was looking forward to Sega’s next killer console called the Saturn. But an unknown entity (unknown in console gaming), spoiled both Sega’s and Nintendo’s party. The company was called Sony and the weapon was Playstation. Rather than rely on 2D sprites, the Playstation would immerse you in a 3D polygon world. There was a revolution in the way games were looked at and programmed.
The revolution came to the PC in the form of Voodoo graphics from the now defunct 3dfx. There were accelerator cards available before it, but Voodoo graphics was the first “serious” effort at uniting the industry under one API –GLide. 3dfx not only created the hardware but the software middleware that helped programmer control the power Voodoo graphics processor.
Everyone wanted one. It was the must have hardware of its time. Obviously not everyone could have one. You had to part with precious cash to get your hands on a Voodoo graphics accelerator.
Today even entry level Intel boards have some form of 3D acceleration. Mainstream market is flooded with ~US$150 cards that provide decent performance. Not all accelerators are created equal, but they have reached out to all market segments.
A similar, but a more muted revolution is going on in the computer storage realm. The voices might not be loud, but the implication of the voices is. The revolution is called Solid State Drives or SSDs for short.
We are at a stage, with SSDs, where we were with graphic accelerators in the early 90s -Great, but at a cost.
Every new technology comes with its own set of issues. This was also true of SSDs. The technology was in its nascent phase, no one was sure which performance numbers to target.
Workarounds have been developed for these problems, most of which are controller based.
Today we will be looking at the G.Skill Phoenix Pro series SSD. This is powered by silicon from the latest and the hottest SSD controller manufacturer -Sandforce. The current king of the hill in terms of performance is Intel. Will G.Skill challenge or will run out of steam? Read on to find out.
In order to better understand SSD construction, function, problems and workaround I strongly urge you to read Aanadtech’s article linked here. For those who want a more accessible article (less tech jargon) look here. The latter is my effort based on the excellent work done by Anand Lal Shimpi.
THE G.SKILL SSD -EXTERNALS
The G.Skill drive comes in a card board box. The front of the box features the “Phoenix Pro” and “Sandforce” logos. The latter shows that the drive is powered by the Sandforce controller.
The back of the box describes how the Sandforce controller helps the drive achieve best random 4KB read/ write speeds (the most important indicator of a SSD performance today). The drive also supports the TRIM command
The spec box is below the description. It lists environmental thresholds together with performance characteristics.
Inside, the drive comes in a black foam packing. The foam packing enshrouds the drive.
Lifting the flip reveals the drive, a metal adapter to fit the 2.5” drive in a regular 3.5” bay and a instruction leaflet.
The drive comes in a standard anti-static bag. A set of screws is also provided to fix the drive to the adaptor and then into the computer case.
The drive itself is a standard affair 2.5” SSD. The phoenix pro sticker adorns the front of the drive.
The back lists, among other things, various safety regulations that the drive meets as well as the maximum sequential read/ write speeds.
The packaging is sound and despite the relative “toughness” of a SSD compared to a HDD, it comes in protective foam packing. Everything needed to install the drive is included including screws and 3.5” drive bay adapter.
THE G.SKILL SSD –INTERNALS
Opening the drive reveals several components:
- The Sandforce Controller:
- The Flash Memory ICs:
Outlined in red this is the SF-1200 controller found in all consumer level drives. There is another Sandforce controller –the SF-1500 which is meant to go in enterprise grade SSDs. The controller feature several innovations which will be looked into detail in the next section. Sandforce also sells a SF-1000 controller.
The drive features 8 Intel NAND memory ICs. The total capacity of the drive is 64GB (which includes about 13% over provisioned area). Thus each IC has a capacity of 8GB. The memory chips are outlined in blue
The power green and data purple interfaces are the same as found on any present day SATA device. The unit draws power primarily from the +5V line.
Notice the lack of any DRAM chips. Sandforce based drives don’t have any cache chips. They simply don’t need one.
The back of the circuit board is relatively bare. There are a couple of labels from the testing and validating department, but that is about it.