Published on April 29th, 2013 | by Greg0
Fast Solid State Storage: Sandisk 256GB Ultra Plus
The upsides of solid state storage are immense- we’re clearly moving in that direction quickly as prices fall and capacities increase. Older magnetic platter drives will probably be a thing of the past for many purposes, especially mobile computing, where moving and shaking have always been issues for the bulkier and louder hard drives. Of course, you pay more and get less storage space, but the speed boost is well worth it for many applications.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been testing out the Sandisk 256GB Ultra Plus SSD. It’s a SATA III drive, meant for notebook and laptop use, but perfectly fine in your desktop or external storage array.We tried it in both a Macbook Air and a Windows desktop PC, replacing a smaller drive in the notebook and a loud, older drive as a boot disk on our Windows 7 and 8 machine. If you have a laptop with a built-in hard drive that you’ve filled up, you can and certainly should look at external backup drives- but even better will be a more permanent solution for expansion without turning your backup drive into the sole place that some of your files live. Upgrading your hard drive is pretty easy- there are lots of videos out there- and if you’re coming from an older style of hard drive then the performance increase will be substantial and impressive.
Most all SSDs, or solid state drives, look about the same, and they offer fairly similar feature sets. We’ve tested a few, like the latest from Monster. There are technical differences of course- gearheads will want to check out the controller, which here is a Marvell 88SS9175. Sandisk is aiming these drives at mixed and multi-purpose use, with a balanced design offering strong performance, high reliability and good power efficiency. They aren’t the fastest drives on the market, nor the cheapest, but perfect for the general consumer who can appreciate the three-year warranty and two million hour rating (MTBF, or mean time before failure). If you ever get frustrated at iTunes, Photoshop, or other application slowness, or at your computer’s laggard start up and shutdown time, then you need an SSD!
For most use cases, we found that the Sandisk Ultra Plus is a great fit. Thanks to a laundry list of features, like tiered caching, multi-stream capabilities, TRIM and S.M.A.R.T. support, you get a drive that simply works and does so with commendable speed, using very little power. Granted, other parts of your system are likely to be a larger drain, but you might be surprised at a small battery life boost on your laptop with one of these drives. There are plenty of technical sites than can break down these details further (the 19nm NAND is worthy of an article in itself). But we use industry standard benchmarks like PCMark Vantage and ATTO, which simulate heavy use and push a drive fairly hard. We also always try real-world tests, copying a folder of small varied compressed files, and a large single file of over 4GB.
What we found is that the fundamentals are great- 520 MB/s is blazing fast, up to spec for reads and quite good for reads as well, a bit slower at 445 MB/s. File copy speeds were about 10 seconds per GB, over 100 MB/s- not amazing, but competitive. With larger files, though, we did notice a bit of a performance hit, probably due to the caching methods- for video editors, this might be an issue, but others shouldn’t notice. One important thing to note is that this drive is tiny- actually 7mm, but they include a 2mm spacer so that it can fit in the more typical 9mm space that most laptops have. As with most drives, it’s available in other sizes as well, both 64GB and 128GB. We’d recommend choosing the largest size that your budget can afford, since the larger models appear to have slightly better performance, and slightly better value per gigabyte. The Sandisk 256GB Ultra Plus SSD is well worth the price at $176, a great deal at under 70 cents per gigabyte for a stellar SSD. A conversion kit is helpfully available as well!