With the SandForce SF-2281 SATA drive controller having proved itself to be the performance king of this generation of 6Gbps SSDs, plenty of SSD manufacturers are forging agreements to produce drives based around the chip. At present OCZ, Corsair, ADATA and Patriot have all signed up, with more to come, but it’s the latter we’re interested with today, as Patriot’s 120GB Wildfire aims for the very top of the SandForce tree.
According to Patriot, the switch to older 32nm NAND should see random read/write performance increase slightly, but it also sees a slight re-jig of the drive’s NAND layout. This is because 32nm NAND dies top out at 4GB, whereas 25nm MLC NAND supports up to 8GB per die. This means that whereas the Vertex 3 240GB used 16 16GB 25nm MLC modules (with two 8GB dies per module), the Patriot Wildfire 120GB uses 16 8GB 32nm MLC modules (with two 4GB dies per module). As the SF-2281 drive controller addresses eight separate NAND channels, this means the Wildfire, despite its switch the 32nm, still places two NAND modules on each channel.
Despite boasting 128GB of NAND, the Wildfire, like most SandForce SSDs, is slightly more over-provisioned than non-SandForce drives. With a formatted capacity of 112GB, 14 per cent has been handed over to spare area.
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The switch to 32nm NAND also sees the price of the drive increase, as production yields for 32nm are lower. This sees the Wildfire retail for £230, or £2.05/GB. This is £30 more than the similarly sized Vertex 3, but roughly the same as the Vertex 3 120GB Max IOPS, which also makes use of 32nm NAND.
Other than the difference in NAND, the Wildfire is still a SandForce SF-2281 drive, and so retains the performance caveats of that controller. Making use of SandForce’s DuraWrite technology, the drive actually writes less data than it's given by performing on-the-fly data compression, saving NAND write cycles and providing a key performance advantage.
However, this advantage is most useful when dealing with uncompressed data. Heavily compressed data, such as video, photo or music files - and in some cases game files - read and write at a slower speed. Patriot rates the drive’s peak sequential speeds as 555MB/sec read and 520MB/sec write under optimum conditions.
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A word on firmware
As we published our Vertex 3 240GB review, a storm was brewing in the world of SandForce SSDs. A small number of OCZ Vertex 3 users reported continual BSODs, and Corsair was forced to recall a number of its Force 3 drives which were based around the same SF-2281 controller. Apparently this was for an unrelated problem to those suffered by OCZ customers.
OCZ told us that the issue affected less than 1 per cent of users, and we ourselves never experienced any of these issues. Regardless, many SandForce partners promptly delayed the release of their drives in order to fully test new firmware. The Patriot Wildfire was shipped to us with the 319ABBF0 firmware installed, which at time of writing was the most recent. For fairness, we’ve also updated the Vertex 3 240GB to v2.09 of its firmware (the most recent at time of writing) and re-tested it for this review.