Adata S511 SSD Hardware Review

When it comes to computer technology, arguably the fastest growing and most rapidly evolving is the Solid State Drive.  While standard drives have operated at roughly the same ~100megabytes/sec speed limit for about a decade (despite the advent of SATA), in the months since the introduction of affordable SSDs they?ve gone from 200megs/sec to over 500megs/sec.  The best part is they continue to show throughput improvements with no signs of slowing down (pun, what?).

In January I was lucky enough to get my greasy mitts on one of Adata?s newer SSD offerings, the 120gig S511.  S511 series uses the new SandForce SF-2281 controller, meaning it doesn?t suffer from poorer incompressible data performance as much as previous controllers did.  Essentially what this means is that the speed of transfer is more consistent regardless of what type of data is being accessed (compressed or uncompressed.)  This is a good thing, as a lot of games and graphic data is compressed, only decompressing as it?s gets rendered, spewing out of memory and on to the screen… (yes, I know that”s dumbed way down.)

Technical mumbo-jumbo aside, it really is extraordinary how much an SSD can affect your entire system?s performance. After all, it?s like having RAM as your storage, removing one of the biggest bottlenecks in a lot of current computers.  Since I got the drive I?ve become somewhat smitten with SSDs; they?re just that fast.  When connected to an SATA 3.0 (6Gbps) port the S511 was rocking a solid ~530/500megs/s read/write in AJA System Test.  While AJA is a synthetic bench and not very “real-world”, it”s still five times faster than what my 7200rpm drive scored.

Now even though Windows 7 loads in under 26 seconds from POST to Steam Log-in (compared to about a minute with a 7200rpm drive) and the system?s overall snappiness is noticeably better, I was still very curious to find out how super-fast storage affects gaming performance.  So to find out I loaded up a couple of games (and a benchmark) before and after switching drives. Same system and same drivers/software were used, so any differences were caused entirely by the SSD.  Anyway, here are the results:

Test System:
i7 920 @ 4.2GHz (200 x 21)
24gigs of DDR3-1600 (9-9-9-24-1T)
HDD: WD 500Gig 7200rpm SATA2   SSD: Adata 120gig S511

So while fast access seems to give better fps, the slight differences alone probably aren?t enough to warrant a purchase for most people.

Despite the lackluster boost in fps, there are other (anecdotal) advantages that I?ve noticed when gaming on an SSD.  A few games saw tangible image quality benefits with the faster read speeds, specifically games that stream a lot of game data aggressively.  Console ports typically fall into this category and I found the best example to be the PC version of id software?s RAGE, as the game?s megatexture technology has been known to suffer minor streaming hurdles (drivers and game updates have minimized the problem, but it?s still present).  Since installing it on an SSD it?s been a non-issue; whatever it needs to load, it does so faster then is perceptible.

The other obvious advantage, and this is for every game (and every application for that matter), is a decrease in load times.  On titles such as Crysis and Witcher, which have been known to take their time, the differences were substantial (10seconds ).  Similarly, there is far less hitching/stuttering in games that have a tendency to do so.  This phenomenon is far more evident – and exponentially more annoying – when the game otherwise runs at 60fps.  For my system, the only culprit prior to the casino online storage upgrade was Battlefield 3, which used to pause a few times a minute despite clean installs, formatting, or defragging the drive (and no, it wasn?t lag).  Once installed on the S511 however, the hitching I experienced in BF3 magically disappeared.   While these may seem like negligible improvements by themselves, when combined they make your overall PC gaming experience so much more fluid.

All of that said, there is one major problem with SSDs and it?s a simple one: cost.  SSDs currently cost about ~$1.50 per gigabyte (varies greatly depending on the manufacturer and size of drive).  Comparatively, regular platter drives cost ~$0.07 per gigabyte (3TB for ~$200) and prices still haven?t completely settled since last year?s flooding in Thailand (it should be closer to 5 or 6 cents a gig).  The silver lining is that, compared to even 2010, prices of SSDs have been cut by a third in spite of the huge performance improvements they?ve seen since then…  In other words, their prices are coming down even as their speeds go up.  With any luck, 2012 will see the drives become even more affordable.

Having experienced an SSD I won?t be able to go back to traditional HDDs; it?s crazy how slow they feel by comparison after only a few short weeks with the Adata S511.  While gaming performance doesn?t directly improved all that much (essentially the same), the entire system now seems immune to getting bogged down.  So much so that when friends and family complain about their slow computers, I?m going to recommend an SSD upgrade instead of more RAM.  For anyone who has experienced hitching in games or sat watching their hard drive light blink incessantly while they waited for a game to load, you know firsthand the hardships associated with traditional platter HDDs.  Of all the upgrades you can do to a computer, I?d argue that an SSD will be the one that will offer the broadest benefits… It?s a cure-all.