SanDisk Extreme PRO 480GB Review (Page 2 of 10)

Page 2 - A Closer Look, Test System

The SanDisk Extreme PRO 480GB, like its predecessor, the Extreme II, is based on Marvell's 88SS9187 controller with a custom firmware. The chocolate version of the Extreme PRO shown on the side is based on some kind of milk, cocoa, and sugar. But before we dig down into the ever so important technical details, let us briefly discuss the physical attributes of the SSD first. The SanDisk Extreme PRO 480GB has a very simple appearance -- a plain black cover with a sticker in the middle, and this is it. In fact, it looks almost identical to the Extreme II, except for the text shown in front. However, once you pick it up, you will notice where the difference is. Rather than the usual aluminum housing in most SSDs, the entire enclosure is made out of plastic. Usually, aluminum is desirable because it is lightweight and dissipates heat well, but I don't see the Extreme PRO running too hot during operation, haha. On top of the flat plastic finish is a large label across the center to ensure the user will make no mistake that this is a SanDisk Extreme PRO drive. Measuring in at 100.5 mm x 69.85 mm x 7.0 mm, its thickness -- or lack thereof -- will ensure wide compatibility. If, for some reason, a full 9.5 mm is needed for installation, a rubber spacer will be included out of the box. The SanDisk Extreme PRO 480GB is also extremely light to behold at 58g.

Turning the SSD around reveals more plastic. Again, there is no metal backplate, but a fully enclosed design is something users have come to expect from a solid state drive. As always, 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 SanDisk Extreme PRO 480GB 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. This SSD is made in China, just like how in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the rest was made in China.

The SanDisk Extreme PRO 480GB's shell is attached to the backplate by four small screws behind the label. None of the screws has a warranty seal over it, so you are probably able to get away with opening up the drive without voiding anything. Please do not quote me on it though. Personally, I would not put the lengthy ten year warranty at risk. But not to worry. To save you some trouble, I cracked mine open to take some photos of its internals for you to see. Knowing the Extreme II, we have exactly what the doctor ordered once again: A full sized PCB inside. However, a closer look indicates while they are functionally very similar, the layout has been reworked. There are some of what appears to be thermal pads between the enclosure and flash ICs. The enclosure is plastic, which is not thermally conductive. On a second look, it is probably more to keep the PCB in place than anything else.

At the heart of SanDisk's Extreme PRO is a Marvell 88SS9187 controller. It is the same one as last year's, but this one operates at a slightly higher clock speed for a small performance bump. Paired with SanDisk's custom firmware developed in-house, they can be sure even if someone else has the same hardware under the hood, competitors won't be manufacturing Extreme PRO clones by any means. This SSD is rated at 0.15W active power and 0.10W in sleep mode. The maximum read and write operation power consumption is rated at 2.7W and 3.5W, respectively, which is reasonably efficient.

The SanDisk Extreme PRO 480GB's Marvell 88SS9187 controller is paired with 512MB of Micron D9QNS DDR3-1600 memory. To further improve performance, a portion of the MLC flash array operates in SLC mode, in which they refer to as the nCache (Nothing to do with NVIDIA, really). The Extreme PRO features a slightly updated version of the nCache, dubbed nCache Pro, which is more optimized for user data caching than simply data integrity. MLC allows bits to be stored in four states, whereas SLC only allows two. This improves performance for small file writes by moving more complete chunks of data into the MLC storage later on, as most operating systems access storage devices using small -- majority being 4KB -- access blocks. It is rather interesting how they have both DRAM and flash cache on board; usually you will only need one of two. With this two tier caching approach, SanDisk aims to provide decreased write amplification in conjunction with improved speed. Of course, the advantage of having flash as the cache is it is non-volatile, unlike DRAM.

Rated at 550MB/s read, 515MB/s write, and up to 100,000 IOPS over SATA 6Gb/s, these figures are extremely competitive figures. To see how it translates to numbers in our benchmarks, we will pit them against the big boys of this game to see how this new flagship from SanDisk steps up against SandForce and Indilinx based drives in the next seven pages or so.

A total of eight NAND flash chips are found on the SanDisk Extreme PRO 480GB solid state disk, with all eight on one side. The chips used are SanDisk's own 1Ynm series eX2 ABL MLC Toggle MLC synchronous NAND flash memory, with a capacity of 64GB per integrated circuit chip. These are multi-level cells manufactured on the 19nm fabrication process. 32GB out of the 512GB total capacity (Just under 7%) is used for overprovisioning, just like many SandForce based drives in the market today. You will see 447GB in Windows. One Micron D9QNS 512MB DDR3-1600 chip is present; it is used with the Marvell 88SS9187 controller to ensure smooth operation, as aforementioned.

Our test configuration as follows:

CPU: Intel Core i5-2500K @ 4.50GHz
CPU Cooling: Thermaltake WATER2.0 Pro (Noctua NF-F12)
Motherboard: ASUS P8P67 WS Revolution
RAM: Kingston HyperX Beast KHX21C11T3K2/16X 4x8GB
Graphics: Gigabyte Radeon HD 7870 2GB OC
Chassis: Lian Li PC-B12
Power: PC Power & Cooling Silencer Mk III 1200W
Sound: Auzentech X-Fi Bravura
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Professional x64 SP1

Compared Hardware:
- SanDisk Extreme PRO 480GB
- G.Skill Phoenix EVO 115GB
- Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB
- Kingston HyperX 120GB
- Kingston SSDNow V+200 120GB
- Kingston SSDNow V300 120GB
- 2x Kingston SSDNow V+200 120GB RAID 0
- OCZ Agility 3 240GB
- OCZ Agility 4 256GB
- OCZ Octane 512GB
- OCZ RevoDrive 350 480GB
- OCZ Vector 150 240GB
- OCZ Vector 256GB
- OCZ Vertex 2 160GB 25nm
- OCZ Vertex 2 60GB 34nm
- OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB
- OCZ Vertex 3.20 240GB
- OCZ Vertex 4 256GB
- OCZ Vertex 450 256GB
- OCZ Vertex 460 240GB
- Patriot Pyro 120GB
- Patriot Pyro SE 240GB
- SanDisk Extreme II 240GB
- SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB

Page Index
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. A Closer Look, 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 8.0
9. Benchmark: PCMark Vantage
10. Conclusion