SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB Review (Page 2 of 10)

Page 2 - A Closer Look, Installation, Test System

Before we move onto the fancy technical details about SanDisk's Marvell 88SS9175 based solid state drive, let's briefly discuss the physical attributes of the SSD first. The SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB has a very simple appearance -- a plain black cover with a sticker in the middle, and this is it. 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 Ultra Plus 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 Ultra Plus 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 is included out of the box. It is also extremely light to behold. I don't know the exact figures, but it is practically featherweight. SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB drives will have no problems fitting into any 2.5" 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 compatible mount, then you will need to find your own solution. Fortunately, most modern cases have 2.5" drive bays, so this should not be too much of a concern.

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 Ultra Plus 256GB 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 SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB, haha. This SSD is made in China.

SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB'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. But not to worry. To save you some trouble, I cracked mine open to take some photos of its internals for you to see. And by doing so, you will notice why the Ultra Plus is so ridiculously lightweight. A small PCB that occupies less than half the area -- more like a quarter, actually -- inside the casing is all you will get, as shown in our photo above. Commanding a price of approximately $220 at press time, good thing we are not going by the money-to-weight ratio, haha. Lighter the better, obviously. Of course, flash memory is still quite expensive, and there is more than what that meets the eye. The heart of SanDisk's Ultra Plus is a Marvell 88SS9175 controller. Yep, not a SandForce SF-2281. Surprisingly, isn't it? I know, it is weird to find a drive that is not SandForce. As the drive controller is fundamentally very important to any SSD, let's dig more into the details of this chip.

The Marvell 88SS9175 is a modified version of the Marvell 88SS9174 controller; where the latter is found on popular SSDs like the Intel 510 series, Plextor M3, and Crucial M4. The 9175 is 'modified' for four NAND channels rather than eight, but the good news is it is cheaper and more power efficient than its predecessor. As such, it comes at a lower cost than the darling-of-the-industry SandForce SF-2281. Rated at 0.12W active power, this is pretty darn good, too. Marvell also provide manufacturers with access to the firmware source code, so companies like SanDisk is free to optimize the code to their advantage, and this is exactly what they did with the Ultra Plus 256GB.

The SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB's Marvell 88SS9174 controller is paired with 128MB of Samsung DDR2-800 memory. To further improve performance, a portion of the MLC flash array operates in SLC mode, in which Marvell refers to as the nCache (Nothing to do with NVIDIA, really). 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. 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 530MB/s read, 445MB/s write, and up to 82,000 IOPS over SATA 6Gb/s, these figures are pretty competitive. 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 based drives in the next seven pages or so.

A total of four NAND flash chips are found on the SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB solid state disk, with two on each side. The chips used are SanDisk's own eX2 ABL MLC flash memory marked '05131 064G', with a whopping capacity of 64GB per integrated circuit chip. These are multi-level cells manufactured on the 19nm fabrication process. Unlike SandForce based SSDs, there is no over-provisioning, so they all come together and make up for its 256GB storage capacity. You will see 239GB in Windows. One Samsung 128MB DDR2-800 chip is present; it is used with the Marvell 88SS9175 controller to ensure smooth operation.

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: G.Skill Ripjaws-X F3-14900CL9D-8GBXL 4x4GB
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 Ultra Plus 256GB
- G.Skill Phoenix EVO 115GB
- Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB
- Kingston HyperX 120GB
- Kingston SSDNow V+200 120GB
- 2x Kingston SSDNow V+200 120GB RAID 0
- Kingston SSDNow V300 120GB
- OCZ Agility 3 240GB
- OCZ Agility 4 256GB
- OCZ Octane 512GB
- OCZ Vector 256GB
- OCZ Vertex 2 160GB 25nm
- OCZ Vertex 2 60GB 34nm
- OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB
- OCZ Vertex 4 256GB
- Patriot Pyro 120GB
- Patriot Pyro SE 240GB

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