After something of a rocky start, it really feels like SSDs are coming of age recently. Not only are we seeing prices starting to drop into a somewhat affordable price range (from their previous levels of wallet melting financo-fury), but with the newer ARM drive controllers from Indilinx and Samsung, as well as the uptake of decent sized onboard cache, SSDs are now convincingly faster than their mechanical brethren in every single circumstance.
The fact is that an SSD is now a worthy addition to a high performance system. Furthered by the evidence that a number of bit-tech and CustomPC staffers are in the process of, or have already upgraded to a few dozen GBs of solid state speediness – an endorsement that perhaps from now on is the time to consider replacing you’re systems boot drive.
The G.Skill Falcon 128GB is then a possible candidate for that ever more tempting SSD upgrade, as it’s based around the same Indilinx drive design as the OCZ Vertex that so impressed last month, yet manages to weigh in at a good £50 cheaper. We’ve seen previously that despite identical hardware, drives from different companies can produce surprisingly different results, so let’s hope that the Falcon hasn’t sacrificed any performance to undercut the OCZ by such a margin.
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Inside the Falcon
The drive ships in a plain black 2.5” casing - for which you’ll need a 3.5” to 2.5” adapter if you want to mount it into the hard drive fittings of your current chassis - although as it’s a solid state drive and therefore requires no real cooling or specific mounting orientation, you can just as easily tuck the drive away anywhere in your system.
Inside the plain exterior though the Falcon is quick to show its pedigree, packing identical internals to the OCZ Vertex. There’s the same banks of Samsung MLC NAND flash memory using sixteen 8GB K9HCG08U1M modules, the same Indilinx IDX110M00 ARM “Barefoot” chip and the same Elpida S51321CBH-6DTT-F 64MB SDRAM cache. If you put the two PCBs together it’d be near impossible to tell the difference and, where it counts, the Falcon is identical to the OCZ Vertex. Which is no bad thing.
There is a very minor difference though and it’s in the form of two jumper pins recessed inside the drive (they’re flush with the exterior on the Vertex). These are for use with an (included) 2-pin jumper for putting the drive into a state where its firmware can be flashed, using a simple windows based installation program. As we’ve seen before, SSD performance is almost entirely dependent on firmware, with bug fixes and performance tweaks needing to be easily rolled out for users to keep their SSD up to date.
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However, you cannot update the firmware on the drive if it's your primary system drive - you have to plug it into another system and boot from that to flash it. In addition, the G.Skill update wipes the whole drive, whereas the OCZ does not. OCZ abandoned the use of the Indilinx design’s jumper in favour of a DOS based installer able to run from a bootable flash drive, but to be fair neither approach is perfect.
Updating its drive firmware is one area where Indilinx really seems to have the edge over the competing drives from Samsung right now, releasing two firmware updates for its drives in the last month. In comparison we informed Samsung via Corsair of a bug with the Samsung S3C29RBB01 ARM processor used in the Corsair P256 and OCZ Summit drives over two weeks ago and are still waiting for a firmware update (and utility to do it!).
It certainly seems that Indilinx is in closer contact with its partners at present, and that means better support for you, the customers. It’s also interesting to note that as Indilinx drive firmware is developed by Indilinx and not the drive partner, a G.Skill Falcon will run the exact same firmware as an OCZ Vertex, or, in fact any other drive that uses the same Indilinx Barefoot ARM drive controller and architecture. The most recent update is v1571 (or v1.3 if you’re OCZ), but we’re testing today using v1275 (v1.1 if you’re OCZ) so to offer some direct performance comparisons to the OCZ we’ve looked at in the past. Needless to say that more up to date firmware will allow for even faster speeds, as well as reduced performance degradation and numerous bug fixes.
It certainly seems as though the Falcon and Vertex are almost identical, from the hardware inside to the firmware running the show. Let’s see if this is mirrored in our testing.