Zalman S Series 128GB SSD Review

Geekspeak411 - 2010-12-12 21:08:17 in Storage / Hard Drives
Category: Storage / Hard Drives
Reviewed by: Geekspeak411   
Reviewed on: December 21, 2010
Price: $250

Introduction:

With the ever-accelerating expansion in the SSD industry as prices plummet and speeds multiply, no one company has been able to corner the market and knock out the competition. Many companies have seen value in the SSD sector and have decided to jump into the open fray and try its hand at the game. You may now add Zalman to that list. Most people know Zalman for its very numerous and popular cooling solutions, as well as itsr cases and smaller accessories. Zalman has never really done anything major in the storage market until this new SSD push.

To begin with, Zalman is pushing out two fairly cookie cutter SSD lines - the N Series and the S Series. The N Series is its higher end, higher priced, SandForce-based line, with drives up to 256GB. The S Series is a bit more mainstream with a lower price and a JMicron controller. The S Series is offered up to 128GB and is what this review focuses on. Glancing at the specs (read up to 260MB/s, write up to 210MB/s, TRIM support), everything looks like a solid SSD, but will Zalman's first push into the market succeed? I intend to find out!

Closer Look:

Being the budget minded series, I would expect Zalman to refrain from putting too much fluff into such minor things as packaging. The drive comes in a very small, basic white box that foregoes the frills in favor of simplicity and economy. The packaging is not ugly, but it is very plain and simplistic. It effectively conveys a good amount of information in a small amount of space, so for that I'll say that Zalman is on the money here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the box, Zalman redefines the meaning of the words "Bare Minimum." The SSD slides out in a basic clear plastic tray with a USB cord and a folded quick start guide below it. That's it. It's okay though since it's the drive we're after here and technically, with the USB cord, everything needed to access it is included. As for the bare necessities, as long as the performance is there, I say go for it if it keeps the price down in the budget sector.

 

 

Pretty basic, so let's take a look at the drive.

Closer Look:

The Zalman S Series 128GB drive is a 2.5 inch drive that will feel right at home in either a laptop or a desktop. The S Series offers 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB variants, the last of which I will be testing. The drive is moderately attractive in its black brushed aluminum casing that maintains the drive's durable, but lightweight feel. The top of the drive is covered with a large sticker with a S Series graphic and some basic specs on it. At the bottom of the sticker is a hole allowing the drive's blue activity indicator light to peek through. The back of the drive is very basic with standard mounting holes allowing you to fit the drive in conversion or hotswap bays, such as the ones in Corsair's Obsidian 800D chassis. With a JMicron controller and 128MB of RAM as cache, the drive's rated speeds of 260MB/s read and 210MB/s write make this sound like quite the mainstream competitor, but will it measure up? Only time will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The drive supports standard SATA II connections on the business end of the drive as well as a bonus mini-USB port to allow the drive to essentially be used as a giant flash drive. This is a nice touch for people who need to transfer large files between computers, but still wish to maintain mobility. The SATA II 3Gbps specs should leave plenty of overhead for the drive to operate at full speeds, but the USB 2.0 port will leave you a bit hungry. The drive has standard screws all the way around, and has all the mounting holes you could ask for in a 2.5 inch form factor.

 

 

As with pretty much any piece of hardware out there, opening up a manufactured product almost always voids your warrenty. Because of this, we take out the stress and just do it for you! Unfortunately, the insides of a SSD are not nearly as juicy as those of a new graphics card or the like, but that may just be personal opinion. Nevertheless, the Zalman S Series 128GB SSD is packed with a single PCB that hosts sixteen 8GB Intel MLC chips that are run by JMicrons standard JMF616 controller. The drive's 128MB cache buffer is present in the the form of a single Elpida chip. Right up next to the SATA II connections is the USB 2.0 port in all its periphrial glory.

 

 

 

 

The drive is fairly attractive and everything seems to be in order so far, so let's see how the drive performs.

Specifications:

Size:
128GB
Sequential Read:
Up to 260MB/s
Write Performance:
Up to 210MB/s
Controller:
JMicron
NAND Flash: MLC Intel
Write Mode Max (mA):
688
Write Mode Min (mA):
441
Write Mode Avg (mA):
614
Read Mode Max (mA):
360
Read Mode Min (mA):
205
Read Mode Avg (mA):
330
Idle Mode (mA):
213
Suspend Mode:
.001
Write Mode Max (W):
3.440
Write Mode Min (W):
2.210
Write Mode Avg (W):
3.070
Read Mode Max (W):
1.800
Read Mode Min (W):
1.030
Read Mode Avg (W):
1.650
Idle Mode (W):
1.070
Suspend Mode:
.005
MTBF:
1,000,000.00 Hours
Voltage DC 5.0V+ 5%
ECC Function:
16 Bit / 512 Bit
Endurance:
10,000 Program/Erase Cycles
Operating Temperature:
0-70 degrees celcius
ROHS Compliant
Yes

 

Features:

 

 

 

All information courtesy of Zalman @ http://zalman.com/ENG/product/Product_view.asp?idx=421

Testing:

To find out how the Zalman S Series 128GB SSD performs, I will run it through the OverclockersClub benchmark suite, which uses both synthetic benchmarks and a few real world tests to see how this drive stacks up against drives using competing controllers, as well as a pair of traditional mechanical drives that use both the SATA 3GB/s and SATA 6GB/s interface. Each drive tested will be the only drive in the system and will have a fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit with the latest Intel Rapid Storage Technology driver package and the drive running in AHCI mode set in the BIOS. The only programs installed will be the benchmarks used in this review. This gives a more realistic expectation of performance versus running the drive as a bare slave drive, which would show higher results.

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. PCMark Vantage

 

The benchmarks will give a broad picture as to how each of the drives performs, so you can make your conclusions based on the performance of each drive. Most benchmarks are not yet optimized for solid state drives, but included in the benchmark suite is a new benchmark designed for testing SSDs, AS SSD.

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 not only measure drive performance as a whole, but also more precise file benchmarks, and a random access benchmark as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Benchmark:

 

 

 

File Benchmark:

 

 

 

 

 

Random Access Benchmark:

 

 

 

The S Series drive sits right in the middle where it should be. Its firmware seems to be running quite swiftly.

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

 

 

Again, this JMicron-based drive performs well, right underneath the SandForce-based drives, and shows significant gains over the older spindle types.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Zalman drive gives a great showing in these tests, giving out great write speeds, and even outpacing the SandForce-controlled drives in some of the read tests. That is excellent for a midrange drive.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Zalman drive does not give a spectacular showing here, but it does still give good performance numbers in general.

Testing:

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 as well. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The S Series 128GB drive gives great numbers where all but the SandForce drives fall short. It seems that Zalman has been able to overcome some of the issues that plague other test drives in this benchmark.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basically, what you are looking at here is a huge boost to your PCMark Vantage HDD scores over spinning hard drives. The numbers coming out of this Zalman drive are great - they are all way above the traditional hard drives and in some cases they are even beating out the technologically-superior SandForce drives. That is pretty good bang for your buck.

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.

 

 

4k Read & Write Tests

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Startup:

The Startup testing tracks the time it takes to load the operating system to the desktop on a cold boot. The time starts when the power button on the chassis is pressed and the time stops when the last program has loaded into the task bar.

 

 

 

 

 

Shutdown:

The shutdown testing consists of tracking the time that it takes for the computer to shut down completely once the operating system is shut down using the shutdown function in the operating system. Time starts when the shutdown button is pressed and time stops when the computer has shut down with the computer powered down completely.

 

 

 

 

Throughout all the tests, this drive performed either at or above where it should be. I am very impressed overall with the refinement Zalman has given to the S Series as it is showing in these tests.

Conclusion:

Generally speaking, the midrange is nothing to scream about. In the SSD industry, there are a lot of new companies trying its hands at SSDs that have traditionally stayed avay from hard drives. Zalman is one of these companies and it is coming out swinging with both its N Series and its S Series. Although I looked at an S Series drive today, I see nothing that denotes its status as midrange because the price to performance to capacity ratio here is very potent. At $250, it is not very difficult to pick one or two of these babies up, and from what I've seen, if you do, you will not be dissappointed. The drive supports all the new technologies such as TRIM, and it has a MTBF rating of 1,000,000 hours. Couple that with Zalman's three year warranty and you've got yourself a pretty sweet deal. I also like that the drive has an onboard USB port, as it opens up a lot of possibilities. Being that the drive is so lightweight, I can see someone using the drive as 128GB external hard drive. The accessory bundle that came with this drive was a bit of a disappointment at first, getting only a USB cable and a quick start pamphlet, but the drive definitely makes up for it between the performance and the price.

In my opinion, the biggest attraction to SSDs right now should be for notebooks and other portable devices. The attributes of SSDs all point toward lean mean number crunching machines. That said, the biggest issue with SSDs right now is their capacities. Most people have 250GB to 2-3TB drives in their computers and sit quite comfortably. When you nuzzle that down to 128GB, however, you may need some slim fast. The difference between this drive and the 30GB or 60GB drives is that the slimming is doable. By carefully picking and choosing what you want on your laptop, you can fit your life on to this super-fast drive. And it's really worth it. I cannot explain to you how nice it is to have my laptop instantly come back from sleep, and not only be back, but be instantly usable. The difference is huge. The entire system just feels snappier and don't get me started on boot times; they are much improved as well. If you are looking for a bridge to join the SSD colony, here is your chance. The Zalman S Series 128GB SSD gave good performance numbers for its price range, and is great for anyone looking to get rid of a bottleneck.

 

Pros:

Con: