Kingston HyperX 120GB Upgrade Kit Review (Page 2 of 10)

Page 2 - A Closer Look, Installation, Test System

Now I am not sure if looks alone have sold any solid state drives in the past, but the Kingston HyperX 120GB is a real looker in my personal opinion. A brushed metal finish that resembles a large 'X' covers most of the front, with a blue background to keep the design language consistent with the enthusiast HyperX brand. It features an aluminum housing to enhance heat dissipation, with a side benefit of being relatively lightweight for what you get. On top of the unique, stylized design is a the HyperX logo embossed at the top left corner; followed by Kingston's branding at the bottom right to ensure the user will make no mistake this is a Kingston HyperX solid state drive. Measuring in at 100 x 69.85 x 9.5mm, these are pretty much standard dimensions for a 2.5" internal drive. It is also quite lightweight, but a bit heavier than the competition at 94g. Kingston HyperX solid state drives will have no problems fitting into your laptop hard disk bay if you want to boost mobile computing performance, but if you want to use it in your desktop and your chassis has no 2.5" mount, a slick blue 3.5" adapter bracket is included right out of the box, so you can easily install this SSD in any standard desktop internal drive bay. This makes the HyperX 120GB quite convenient to deploy in either environments for the end user. My only complaint is that the screw holes on the 3.5" adapter bracket is slightly smaller compared to the ones found on standard 3.5" hard drive, so if you need to use any other screws other than the ones provided by Kingston (Such as, if your are installing the HyperX SSD into a 3.5" drive bay that require screws provided by your chassis manufacturer due to use of vibration dampeners) then you will need to find your own solution.

Turning the SSD around reveals a dark grey metal backplate. This is something users will come to expect from a solid state drive, as there are no exposed printed circuit boards like you would normally see with a traditional hard disk. The only thing that is common between the Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD and a traditional hard disk drive is its SATA 6Gb/s and corresponding power connector at the end. As shown in our photo above, you will find a large label with the usual series of certification logos, along with information on the brand, capacity, and serial number. In case you missed it, our particular unit is the Kingston HyperX 120GB, haha. Like many SSDs we have reviewed in the past, the Kingston drive is made in Taiwan.

The Kingston HyperX 120GB's shell is attached to the metal backplate by four security screws at the top. Being me without any proper equipment, I was unable to disassemble the drive for a better look inside. Also, there is a warranty seal over one of the security screws as shown in our previous image above, so in order to take a peek inside the SSD, you will have to inevitably void your warranty, even if you have the right equipment. That said, although we were unable to take it apart, we still know what is inside -- so this is not really a big problem at all. The heart of Kingston's HyperX 120GB SSD is the latest SandForce SF-2281 controller (I stole the image above from one of my product shots of the OCZ Agility 3 240GB, haha). As the drive controller is fundamentally very important to any SSD, what makes it so special is that it is capable of doing real time data compression to make extremely fast I/O performance possible without the need of external cache memory.

The second generation SandForce controller used in the Kingston HyperX 120GB has been updated in several areas compared to its predecessor. Other than the obvious performance increases -- we will have lots of time to talk about that in just a second -- major updates include on-the-fly data encryption using a 256-bit AES algorithm, rather than an 128-bit AES algorithm by its predecessor. This cannot be disabled, but it lacks a password by default; it therefore functions as an unencrypted storage unit to the end user. As with the SF-1222, the SF-2281 also focuses on increased wear performance as part of the DuraWrite scheme. This has also been updated with better Error Correcting Code, or ECC. In the past, SandForce controllers used the Reed-Solomon algorithm -- it works well for correcting scattered errors, but has a high processing overhead, and therefore does not work very well for correcting concentrated errors. To overcome this problem, it is replaced by the Bose-Chaudhuri-Hocquenghem algorithm. Other than improved efficiency due to its straightforward implementation, it also works well in correcting both scattered and concentrated errors across the drive.

SandForce's DuraWrite system is especially beneficial to multi-level cell (MLC) based flash drives like the Kingston HyperX 120GB. Unlike single level cell (SLC) flash memory, MLC flash memory stores four states, or two bits, per cell. It is cheaper to manufacture; unfortunately it also has significantly less write cycles before it wears out -- not to mention flash memory comes in different grades. There are two main ways to resolve this problem. The first one is to use a technique called wear leveling. Wear leveling manages data in a way that erasures and rewrites are evenly spread out across the drive, so not a single area experiences a high concentration of write activity. Secondly, unlike traditional magnetic hard drives, data cannot be directly overwritten in the world of flash memory. The write area must first be erased before new information can be written. This brings onto the topic the second technique, which relates to a phenomenon called write amplification. Write amplification is calculated by the data written to the flash memory divided by the data written by the host. Optimally, you will want this number as low as possible -- and it is probably makes sense to think the lowest value possible is 1. That is, until the SandForce controller rolled along earlier this year and changed the rules of the game. By doing on-the-fly compression, this results in a write amplification of an astonishing low value of 0.5 according to the company. Intel SSDs have a write amplification of 1.1, and magnitudes as high as 10 are not out of the ordinary in the industry.

As aforementioned, pages of flash memory need to be first erased before it can be written to again. Traditional magnetic hard drives do not exhibit this characteristic, so normally when you hit the delete button, the operating system simply marks the corresponding data blocks as free with the data still physically intact. All this means is new data is permitted to overwrite existing data in that area. This poses a problem for solid state drives, because it will significantly decrease write performance if the user needs to wait for the system to clear an area before new data can be written. With native TRIM support, it allows the operating system to tell the SSD which blocks of data are no longer needed. The SSD can then do garbage collection overhead, and make it available for new data to be directly written without delay. Kingston's HyperX 120GB SSD has native TRIM support, but it will not work once you pair it with another drive in RAID. This is no different than any other solid state drive in the market today.

Lastly, the new SandForce SF-2281 controller has updated toggle-mode and ONFi 2.2 flash memory support in conjunction with processor power throttling. The former improves compatibility with different flash memory for improved NAND supplier flexibility for the drive manufacturer; whereas the latter increases power efficiency like SpeedStep on your desktop CPU. All in all, the SandForce SF-2281 controller does have a small microprocessor and a few undisclosed megabytes of memory inside to handle all the dirty work -- but with the elimination of the external cache, SandForce based SSDs have unprecedented random read and write performance. This adds on to the already excellent sequential data rates across the board makes it a winning combination -- but we're not talking about just about just barely edging out SF-1222 drives in benchmarks. What we are talking about here is rated performance of a smashing 555MB/s max read, 510MB/s max write, and up to 95,000 input/output operations per second. This is nearly twice as high as drives based off its predecessor! Not only that -- Kingston claims it is actually faster than the epic OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB we have reviewed back in June. At press time, the Kingston HyperX 120GB's price is just above the Vertex 3 Max IOPS 120GB. But is it actually better than OCZ's flagship? This is why benchmarking this drive is actually very exciting to see how it really performs. Oh yeah, you will need a SATA 6Gb/s port, and you will want a native Intel one while we are at it.

A total of 16 NAND flash chips are found on the Kingston HyperX 120GB solid state disk, with 8 on each side. The chips used are Intel 29F64G08ACME2 NAND flash memory, with a capacity of 8GB per integrated circuit chip. These are multi-level cells manufactured on the 25nm fabrication process. 8GB out of the 128GB total capacity (Just under 7%) is provisioned for the SandForce drive controller for garbage collection and wear leveling algorithms, so the actual usable space is 120GB, as advertised. You will see 111GB in Windows. This is a small amount compared to other SandForce based SSDs; which can range anywhere from 7% to 28% in 34nm units for what the company refers to as Redundant Array of Independent Silicon Elements, or RAISE. SandForce claims RAISE is similar to a RAID 5 array within the drive that redundant data can be used to recover entire pages of corrupt or lost data within the drive, should problems arise with its memory cells over time. This is implemented in conjunction with a powerful error correction system and cyclic redundancy check protection to improve its uncorrectable bit error rate.

So what makes an upgrade kit, an 'upgrade kit'? There are two parts to the package; namely, the hardware and the software. On the hardware side, we have a 2.5" enclosure, and a Philips head screwdriver with multiple sized tips. The enclosure is, in some ways, quite similar to the SilverStone Raven RVS02 my colleague Jeremy reviewed last week. For one thing, it is entirely tool-free. Just slide open the back cover, put in the drive, and that is it. Secondly, it feels quite flimsy, because it is made completely out of plastic. Of course, it looks nowhere as sophisticated as the slick carbon fiber finish seen in the Raven, nor does it support USB 3.0 -- which is rather unfortunate. The purpose of this enclosure is probably for users to plug in their Kingston HyperX SSD and copy all the data over using the included Acronis cloning utility on the software side, and that is about it. I am not saying it is a disposable product per se, since you can always reuse it with other hard drives, and it is really lightweight.

We just thought it was a cool photo, but this is not the actual computer used for testing, haha.

Our test configuration as follows:

CPU: Intel Core i5-2500K @ 4.50GHz (Overclocked, Turbo Boost disabled)
CPU Cooling: Noctua NH-D14
Motherboard: ASUS P8P67 WS Revolution
RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws-X DDR3-1866 4x4GB @ 9-10-9-28
Graphics: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 570 1280MB SOC
Chassis: Fractal Design Define R3 (Noctua NF-S12B FLX)
Power: NZXT HALE90 750W
Sound: Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD
Optical Drive: LiteOn iHAS224-06 24X DVD Writer
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Professional x64 SP1

Compared Hardware:
- Kingston HyperX 120GB
- G.SKILL Phoenix EVO 115GB (25nm)
- OCZ Agility 3 240GB
- OCZ Vertex 2 160GB 25nm
- OCZ Vertex 2 60GB 34nm
- OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB
- Patriot Pyro 120GB
- Western Digital Caviar Blue AAKS 500GB

Page Index
1. Introduction and Specifications
2. A Closer Look, Installation, Test System
3. Benchmark: AIDA64 Disk Benchmark
4. Benchmark: ATTO Disk Benchmark
5. Benchmark: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0
6. Benchmark: HD Tach
7. Benchmark: HD Tune Pro 4.60
8. Benchmark: PassMark PerformanceTest 7.0
9. Benchmark: PCMark Vantage
10. Conclusion