Mushkin Callisto 120GB SSD Review

jlqrb - 2010-05-15 13:15:38 in Storage / Hard Drives
Category: Storage / Hard Drives
Reviewed by: jlqrb   
Reviewed on: May 24, 2010
Price: 369.99

Introduction:

Mushkin has been a very well known and respected brand in the high end memory market for years. However, memory is not the only segment of the market where Mushkin products can be found, as it also manufactures power supplies, flash memory and, most recently, SSDs. Mushkin's entrance to the SSD market came in the form of the consumer based Io drives. These drives use the the INDILINX "Barefoot" controller and can be found in capacities of 64GB, 128GB and 256GB. SSD technology has been changing at a rapid rate though, and in the few short months since we first took a look at the Mushkin Io SSD, Mushkin is now releasing a new line called "Callisto".

Like the Io series, the Callisto is a consumer grade SSD, which is currently available in 60GB, 120GB and 240GB capacities. However, instead of using the INDILINX controller, the Callisto uses the new SF-1200 controller from SandForce. The use of this new controller adds Mushkin to a growing list of manufacturers that are releasing drives that utilize the SandForce controller. And for good reason - this controller is capable of write speeds of up to 285MB/sec and reads of up to 275MB/sec, and unlike other SSD controllers, the SF-1200 is not reliant on the use of additional DRAM cache to prevent the stutter problems that were prevalent with older SSDs. The SF-1200 instead relies on a technology called "DuraWrite", which uses a real-time compression method, as well as a small amount of internal cache, to eliminate the need for large amounts of DRAM to be used as cache. However, this technology, along with Wear Leveling and SandForces data protecting RAISE technology, requires a large amount of NAND Flash memory to be set aside. This in turn will reduce the strorage area of a 128GB SSD to that of just a 100GB capacity. Setting aside such as large amount of memory would be necessary for enterprise devices, where a high degree of data protection is essential.

In the consumer market though, the cost to GB ratio is a factor that weighs heavy with those that are in the market for a new SSD. The way Mushkin has addressed this is by releasing the Callisto with the 3.0.9 firmware, instead of the standard 3.0.5. This firmware reduces the over-provisioning of the drive from that necessary for enterprise grade products to that of a much lower level. This means that only 8GB, not 28GB, will be set aside for controller functions. This will enhance the cost to storage ratio, adding value to the drive in the consumer market. Also, since this is done via the firmware, and not by adding any additional flash memory to PCB, there is no added cost to the consumer, essentially increasing the storage capacity by 20% with no price increase!

Closer Look:

The Mushkin Callisto comes packaged in a solid black box with the Mushkin Logo at the top left and the drive information in the middle of the packaging. Next to the Callisto name is an image of a crescent moon. This fits with the name, as Callisto is one of the many moons that surround Jupiter. Turning the packaging over, you again have the Mushkin logo, but on this panel you get a short explanation of some of the benefits of using a SSD over a standard hard drive.

 

 

 

 

Inside the box is a protective foam pad that uses cardboard on the outside to surround the foam padding. The cardboard has a flap that can open and close to reveal or protect the inner contents. With the flap open, you first have access to a 3.5" to 2.5" converter that is covered in a thin layer of plastic. Under this is the actual SSD, which is wrapped in an anti-static bag that will protect the drive from any elctro-static damage while in the packaging. There is also a bag included with six screws that are used to secure the Callisto to the 3.5" to 2.5" converter.

 

 

 

Now that we have the drive out of the packaging, we can get a closer look at the drive and see what the SandForce SF-1200 controller has to offer.

Closer Look:

The Callisto comes cased in the usual 2.5" SDD enclosure with the Mushkin logo and Callisto series logo found on the front. The back side contains the product sticker, which lists information such as the model number, series, size, voltage and firmware of the drive. The 2.5" drive enclosure is secured by means of four screws positioned in each corner of the drive. The exact measurements for the drive are 99.88mm x 69.63mm x 9.3mm, and the drive itself is shock resistant, has a temp range from 0°c to 70°C and has a MTBF of 2 million hours. If it does fail though, the Callisto comes with a three year warranty. For installation purposes, the Callisto casing has screw holes on both the sides and bottom of the drive. This will allow for additional means of mounting the drive inside a case or laptop, but it does also come standard with a 2.5" to 3.5" converter if needed. To fully display the internal memory, I will be removing the SSD casing. However, this is not recommended, as it can void the warranty. Interestingly though, unlike other SSD drives, there is no breakable warranty sticker on the seal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The included 2.5" to 3.5" converter provided by Mushkin will allow the SSD to easily fit into any case, even if the case does not support 2.5" drives. There are two ways that the converter can be used (as pictured below), allowing the Callisto to be installed based on the needs of your case.

 

 

The Mushkin Callisto uses a SATA interface for both the power and data connectors. The power connector requires a SATA power cable be used ot meet the modest 5V power requirement for the Callisto drive. The data connector on the Callisto drive utilizes SATA II, which supports speeds of up to 3Gb/s. This will handle the Callisto's max read speed of 285MB/sec and write speed of 275MB/sec, but as you can see, drives with the SandForce controller are getting very close to surpassing the limitations posed by the SATA II interface. With this being the case, we should start to see SSDs adapt the SATA 6Gb/s standard in the near future.

The Mushkin Callisto SSD comes with a standard layout for a drive using the SF-1200 controller. This consists of a green PCB with a total of sixteen 34nm MLC NAND Flash memory chips (eight on the front and eight on the back) that are each 8GB in size, making for a total of 128GB. All the memory used is manufactured by Intel and comes with the model number 29F64G08CAMDB. The SF-1200 controller is found sitting between the Flash memory chips. As you can see, there is no DRAM cache chip located anywhere on the PCB. The SF-1200 controller is very interesting as it comes with an integrated Tensilica Diamond Core DC 570T CPU and offers exclusive technologies, yet still supports TRIM, built-in ECC, NCQ (up to 32 commands) and SMART.

 

 

The Mushkin Callisto uses the SandForce SF-1200 controller, which is the consumer grade model of the SandForce line. This controller, unlike the INDILINX Barefoot, uses a design that eliminates the need for large amounts of on-board DRAM cache and instead sets aside a specific amount of NAND Flash memory for technologies such as Wear Leveling, DuraWrite and RAISE. The amount of memory set aside for drives using previous firmware was a whopping 28GB for a 128GB drive, reducing the drive capacity to that of just 100GB. So, to decrease the over-provisioning to a more consumer friendly level, Mushkin has opted to use the 3.0.9 firmware, which increases the available space by 20%. This increases the capacity to 120GB and is done by limiting the amount of memory set aside for the controller to just 8GB. The extra storage will add additional value to the drive in the consumer market, but it does come at the cost of 4K random write speeds being limited to 10k IOPS. The reason for this is that the SF-1200 and SF-1500 both use the same controller, but are geared toward two entirely different markets by means of the firmware. The SF-1500 is the controller that is used for enterprise grade devices and, as such, a larger amount of over-provisioning is needed for wear leveling and data protection. The Mushkin Callisto drive is said to have user-upgradeable firmware, but as of the time of this review there is no tool available from Mushkin to do this.

 

Now that we have had a good look at the inner and outer portions of the drive, we can take it for a test drive and see how it performs against other popular SSDs.

Specifications:

Capacity
120GB
Dimensions
99.88mm x 69.63mm x 9.3mm
Temp. Range
0-70ºC
Read Speed
up to 285MB/sec
Write Speed
up to 275MB/sec
Shock Tolerance
1500G
Vibration
20G Peak, 10-20kHz, 3 axis
MTBF
2 million hours
Controller
SandForce SF-1200
Warranty
3 years limited

 

Features:

 

 

All information courtesy of Mushin @ http://www.mushkin.com/Digital-Storage/SSDs/MKNSSDCL120GB.aspx

Testing:

To test the Mushkin Callisto SSD, I will put it through our extensive testbed of both synthetic and real-world applications to gauge its overall performance. All testing will be done using a fresh install of Windows 7 Professional. In the comparison charts for the review, the SandForce SF-1200 will be going head to head against the SF-1222 (also a SandForce controller) and the more widely used INDILINX Barefoot controller. For good measure, a standard 7200 RPM HDD from Seagate will also be included in the comparsion.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Modules:

 

Benchmarks:

  1. HD Tune 3.50 Pro
  2. HD Tach
  3. SiSoft Sandra 2009
  4. Crystal Disk Mark
  5. ATTO Disk Benchmark
  6. AS SSD
  7. I/O Meter
  8. PCMark Vantage
  9. Windows Startup / Shutdown

Testing:

HD Tune 3.50 Pro measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers. In the 3.50 Pro version, the user can measure not only drive performance as a whole, but more precise file benchmarks, and a random access benchmark as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Benchmark:

 

 

 

File Benchmark:

 

 

 

 

 

Random Access Benchmark:

 

 

 

In the HDTune benchmark, the Mushkin Callisto performed very well. Although the drive never reached its capable max read and write speeds, it did have the better burst speeds than all other drives and surpassed all but the Corsair Nova in the average read test. In the file benchmark portion of the test, the Mushkin drive easily outperformed the other drives and, even with the 4K small write limitation, performed very well.

Testing:

HD Tach v3.0.4.0: HD Tach is another hard drive benchmark utility, much like HD Tune. This benchmark will measure the average read speed, the random access time, and the amount of the CPU used during operation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SiSoft Sandra 2009 SP3: SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful.

 

Physical Disks

 

 

So far, we are seeing very impressive burst speeds from the SF-1200 controller, as well as great average speeds that are rivaling those of the OCZ Vertex and Corsair Nova drives.

Testing:

Crystal Disk Mark 2.2: Crystal Disk Mark is a hard drive benchmark designed to measure the read and write speeds for the drives in 4k blocks, 512k blocks, and sequential data. For the test we chose the 100MB option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mushkin Callisto was ahead of all the drives in the 4K and 512K read/write benchmarks, but fell behind the Corsair Nova SSD in the sequential read/write benchmark. The sequential speeds, though not as fast as the Nova, were still very fast, but the small write speeds were just amazing!

Testing:

Atto Disk Benchmark v2.34: Atto Disk Benchmark is another aged, but good, hard drive benchmark utility designed to test read and write speeds for different file sizes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the ATTO tests, the Mushkin Callisto SSD outperformed the other drives in all but the 4K and 128K read benchmarks.

AS SSD v1.1.3466.29641: AS SSD is a benchmark designed for the speeds of solid state drives, however it will also work for traditional hard drives. It is designed to measure the read and write speeds and access time for set block sizes. It also assigns a score to the read, write and overall performance of the drive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet again, we see the Mushkin Callisto doing well when it comes to the sequential read/writes, while absolutely dominating in the write portion of the tests.

Testing:

IOMeter is an I/O subsystem measurement and characterization tool for single and clustered systems. It was originally developed by the Intel Corporation and announced at the Intel Developers Forum (IDF) on February 17, 1998 - since then it has become very wide spread within the industry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read:

 

 

 

Write:

 

 

 

 

IOMeter had the Mushkin Callisto drive ahead of all the comparison models in the read tests and just shy of the Vertex 2 in the write tests. However, the max I/O write response time for the Callisto was faster than even that of the Vertex 2.

Testing:

PCMark Vantage: With this benchmark, I will be running the hard drive test suite. The measurement for the hard drive suite will be the total score, then the scoring for each test will be broken down. There are a total of eight hard drive tests within PCMark Vantage and all eight will be run to gauge the performance of each drive tested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mushkin Callisto dominated the PCMark Vantage benchmark!

Testing:

In the world of computing, everyone likes a computer that can start up and shut down quickly. The ability to boot into your system as fast as possible allows you to start the tasks you set out to do that much faster. The sweet spot is about 30 seconds or less. With conventional hard drives it is possible, but very hard to get. With the speed of SSDs it should be easier, but there is only one way to tell and that is test it out. To run these tests, I used a stop watch to calculate the number of seconds it took from pressing the power button on the case, to having a fully functioning desktop. For the shut down test, I timed from the click of the shut down button in the start menu, until power was off to the system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Callisto was just a fraction of a second slower than the fastest drives when it came to starting up Windows 7, putting it in the under 30 second category. The shutdown time was also impressive, and at 6.51 seconds, it was the fastest out of the lot.

Conclusion:

Muskin's decision to use the SandForce SF-1200 controller in its new SSD line has really turned out to be a good call. With this controller, you will not only get a drive that is capable of 285MB/sec read and 275MB/sec write speeds, but one that gives some of the best small write performance available for a consumer-based SSD. This allowed the Callisto drive to stay on par with, or ahead of, the INDILINX Barefoot controller throughout the read performance test, but it also allowed the Callisto to absolutely dominate the other drives when it came to write performance. The write performance will lead to real-life performance increases and is definitely a strong selling point for SandForce-based drives. However, the Callisto also comes with an added bonus that helps set it apart from the majority of other drives that use the same controller - a 20% capacity increase.

The reason for this capacity increase is that most SF-1200 drives use a firmware version that sets aside a large amount of Flash memory to be used for Wear-Leveling, DuraWrite and RAISE technologies. All of these are very important when it comes to longevity and data protection, but the 28GB standard was developed for both enterprise and consumer grade devices. We all know that an average consumer's needs are not going to match the requirement needs of an enterprise-based product, so it only makes sense that the 28GB could be lowered to a more consumer-friendly level. In the end, the amount of memory set aside was reduced to 8GB, effectively changing the drive from a 100GB model to a 120GB model - at no additional cost! This not only frees up more storage area, but also helps eliminate one of the main complaints leveled toward SandForce-based drives - that you pay the same price or more than that of SSDs using alternative controllers and yet receive less storage capacity. So, with Mushkin increasing the capacity of the drive without passing the cost to the consumer, the Callisto ends up in a much more competitive price range.

The fact that drives using the relatively new SandForce controllers can match and even exceed the performance of controllers that have been around for some time is very impressive. And with the controller being new, we can mostly likely expect future firmware releases that improve upon the performance even further. Changes to the firmware would require a utility of some kind from Mushkin though, and as of this review, the company has yet to release such a program. The Callisto drives can be found in either 60GB, 120GB and 240GB capacities, which thanks to the SandForce controller, all have the same amazing level of performance. The only real downside with the Callisto drive is that the firmware caps the 4K random writes at 10,000 IOPS. Even with this limitation though, the small write performance was still amazing when compared to the drives we had available for our side-by-side testing. Overall, the Mushkin Callisto paired with the SF-1200 controller is one of the fasted SSDs that I have tested to date.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: