With SSDs looking like they’re on the rise this year, it’s certainly starting to get a whole lot more interesting in the world of storage. While most of us will continue to stick with cheaper and more voluminous mechanical drives like Samsung’s excellent Spinpoint F1 1TB hard drive for the time being, those looking for the speed boost that an SSD can bring to the general use of your PC now have a lot more options.
The new generation of SSDs based on Samsung MLC NAND flash memory and using dual drive controller chips, such as the G.Skill Titan 256GB drive we looked at a few weeks ago, are really shaking things up. So far, we've been impressed by these drives, as they offer excellent read, write and copy speeds while finally packing in reasonable amounts of storage – Intel’s X25-E might have been fast, but 32GB is a laughable amount of storage for a modern system.
The threat from these new Samsung MLC NAND flash based drives is obviously being taken pretty seriously by Intel, who has since dropped prices of its line of SSDs in recent days from wallet destroying to merely wallet melting.
Click to enlarge
It’s another of the recent crop of Samsung NAND based MLC drives we’re looking at today in the form of OCZ’s Apex 120GB. Boasting read performance of up to a heady 230MB/s and write speeds of up to 160MB/s, let’s see if the Apex is able to further build on what seems to be a very solid SSD platform.
Just like the G.Skill Titan 256GB drive, the OCZ Apex 120GB uses dual JMicron drive controller chips to significantly increase performance above and beyond the previous generation of disappointing Samsung based SSDs, without the need for companies to research their own expensive in house drive controller as Intel has done.
Click to enlarge - On the inside the drive is almost identical to the G.Skill Titan we looked at a few weeks ago
In fact, cracking the 2.5” drive open reveals an almost identical PCB to that of the G.Skill. There are the exact same twin JMicron JMF 602 drive controller chips, connected to the same JMB390 SATA multiplier to produce a setup that’s similar in approach to a traditional RAID0 array. Physically the only real difference between the two PCBs is the size and number of NAND flash chips, with the OCZ Apex 120GB dividing the storage between sixteen 7.5GB NAND flash chips on the top and underside of the PCB.
Click to enlarge - Yet despite the similar hardware, the drive's firmware changes the way each handles data, with the G.Skill Titan on the left and the OCZ Apex on the right
However, what is different here is the drive’s firmware and the way it handles the distribution and access of data, although it’s only really noticeable if you compare HD-Tach graphs. As you can see above, there’s a big difference between the speed of data access across each drive, despite the near identical architecture and hardware in use.
We’re a little concerned though, at the price currently being asked for the OCZ Apex 120GB. At £345, or £2.87/GB it’s only £127 cheaper than the G.Skill Titan 256GB, yet offers less than half the amount of storage. It’s also worth remembering that that £345 can net you four Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB drives with plenty of change left over, although four mechanical drives will obviously draw more power, have a higher failure rate, create more heat and be much noisier . Let’s hope the OCZ Apex 120GB's performance is enough to justify this hefty price tag.