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Corsair Nova Series V128 128GB SSD

Date: July 14, 2010
Author(s): Robert Tanner

Over the past six months, Corsair has been phasing out its older SSD line-up and replacing it with new series’ with catchier names, such as Reactor, Force and Nova. The latter is what we’re taking a look at here. The goal of the Nova series is to offer huge bang for the buck, and as we’ve seen throughout our testing, Corsair has hit its mark.



Introduction

For long-time enthusiasts, Corsair’s name still invokes pictures of memory modules or even perhaps a variety of indestructible flash drives. It wasn’t until the company’s highly successful foray into the power supply market that it began to be regarded as more than just a memory company. By offering from the start power supplies targeting that sweet spot of quality at an affordable price, the company quickly won over many consumers and seemingly changed its brand image overnight.

Since then, Corsair has even launched a line of well-received quality enthusiast computer cases. As the SSD market began to expand and develop, the company saw the burgeoning opportunity and launched a variety of SSDs using controller technologies from several of the major industry players.

As far as users are concerned there can never be enough competition in the SSD market, but not all solid-state drives that have been introduced are created anywhere near equal, either. The Corsair Nova series has nothing to worry about however, as it utilizes Indilinx’s famous Barefoot controller which has already proven itself as one of the more venerable controllers on the market. If anything, the Nova series is remarkably similar to Corsair’s previous flagship Extreme series of SSDs, with the only notable difference being a different choice of NAND venders (Micron NAND).

This means the Nova series effectively supersedes the Extreme models that can still be found at various retailers. Corsair’s Force series is the current flagship model and as the name implies it uses a SandForce controller along with a price to match. Instead the Nova series will ensure consumers have the option of last-years flagship model (and its performance) at a lower to mid-range price today, something we find quite agreeable given the solid, all-around excellent performance from the Indilinx Barefoot controller.

Corsair Nova V128 128GB SSD

Corsair Nova V128 128GB SSD Corsair Nova V128 128GB SSD

To make it easier to discern the key differences between Corsar’s SSD models we created a quick chart below using current street pricing from various online vendors. Curiously the Nova series receives higher throughput ratings than the Extreme series it replaces, likely due to firmware optimizations and the use of Micron instead of Samsung NAND. If you noticed something unusual about the pricing, we will address this in the conclusion.

Series
NAND
Controller
Read/Write
Price
Density (GBs)
Warranty
Performance
MLC
Samsung 2nd-Gen
220/180 MB/s
$275 (AMIR)
64, 128, 256, 512
3 Years
Force
MLC
SandForce SF-1200
285/275 MB/s
$309
60, 100, 120, 200, 240
3 Years
Reactor
MLC
JMicron JMF-612
250/170 MB/s
$270 (AMIR)
60, 120
3 Years
Nova
MLC
Indilinx Barefoot
270/195 MB/s
$319
32, 64, 128, 256
3 Years
Extreme
MLC
Indilinx Barefoot
240/170 MB/s
$380
32, 64, 128, 256
3 Years

Corsair utilizes a plastic tray to secure the SSD from possible shipping damage. Hidden inside the box was a familiar looking 2.5″ to 3.5″ solid-metal mounting tray that will securely mount the SSD into the majority of desktop 3.5″ drive bays. This drive adapter is the simplest design we have seen and makes it very quick to mount or change SSDs as needed.

Some notable features worth mentioning is the use of a 64MB DRAM cache, TRIM support if the operating system supports it, SMART, and NCQ capabilities. As with all Corsair SSDs the Nova series carries a full three year warranty. This warranty period is standard for the majority of both SSDs and HDDs alike. The Nova series drive uses a SATA 2 connection, but due to SATA 3’s backwards compatibility any SATA 2 device may still be plugged into a SATA 3 port just as with USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports.

SSD & Packaging; Test System & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate and real-world applicable as possible. We list most of the steps and processes involved in setting up and conducting our benchmarking process below, but in the interests of brevity we can’t mention every last detail. If there is any pertinent information that we’ve inadvertently omitted or you have any thoughts, suggestions, or critiques, then please feel free to email us or post directly in our forums. This site exists for readers like you and we value your input.

The table below lists the hardware used in our current storage-testing machine, which remains unchanged throughout all of our testing, with the obvious exception of the storage device. Each drive used for the sake of comparison is also listed here.

Component
Techgage Hard Drive Test System
Processor
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 – 2.4GHz Quad-Core
Motherboard
Gigabyte GA-EP35-DS4
Memory
4GB Corsair 800MHz CAS 4
Graphics
Foxconn 8800 GTS 320MB
Audio
On-Board Audio
Storage
Corsair Nova V128 128GB
Intel X25-M G1 80GB
Kingston SSDNow V Series 40GB
Kingston SSDNow V Series 128GB
Kingston SSDNow V+ Series 128GB
OCZ Summit 60GB
OCZ Vertex Turbo 120GB
OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 320GB
Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue 256GB
Power Supply
PC Power & Cooling Quad Silencer 750W
Cooling
Arctic Freezer 7 Pro
Et cetera
Lite-on DVD-RW
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit


Our Windows 7 Desktop for SSD Testing

When preparing our SSD testbed for testing we follow these guidelines:

All solid-state drives start in a factory fresh or HDDErase fresh state prior to testing. Windows 7 is manually installed and then SYSmark 2007 Preview is installed. Due to the nature of SYSmark, Windows 7 must be reinstalled upon completion of testing in order for many programs to function normally and benchmark consistently. As not all SSDs support TRIM technology, this process is important and ensures all of the drives are in a “dirtied” state before we collect the benchmark results.

For the time-being, cloned test images are not used as these can result in non-aligned partitions, which if it occurs will result in degraded SSD performance. Just as with Windows XP’s default sector offset causing degraded SSD performance, non-intelligent cloning software can have the same effect.

For testing, we ran all tests five times, dropping the highest and lowest results to finally average the middle three. And who said that college statistics class wouldn’t prove useful? If any anomalous results were seen, the test was run again. Given the complexities of modern computers, and especially today’s operating systems, we feel this provides the most accurate results possible.

Finally, we are seeking to constantly improve and expand upon our SSD testing methodology. We are activity seeking real-world workload scenarios that are bottlenecked by hard drives, so if you have any suggestions whatsoever or there is a program you would like to see included in our SSD content, then please drop by our forums and let us know! We are always looking to expand our SSD benchmarks and provide more useful and real-world results, and not just synthetic numbers.

Synthetic: PCMark Vantage

There are few PC enthusiasts who are unfamiliar with the name “Futuremark”, as the Finland-based developer has been producing quality benchmarks to help us gauge our computer’s worth for years. Originally known as Madonion, Futuremark has expanded its focus to go beyond its bread and butter, graphics and gaming, and tackle other areas, such as full system performance. That’s where PCMark comes into play.

The company’s most recent addition to the PCMark family is Vantage. For most users, a full suite would be run, but because we’re focused on storage performance only, we instead run only the storage-specific tests. Fortunately, Futuremark makes this easy for us to do as it has split up the entire suite into seven separate sub-tests, one being the aptly named “HDD Suite”.

PCMark’s HDD Suite may look simple on the surface, but it’s actually quite exhaustive. While the benchmark does deliver a simple “overall” result, it actually tests I/O performance based on a variety of scenarios, from adding music to Windows Media Player, to loading applications in succession, to editing video, to running a malware scanner, and more. It even includes metrics to evaluate a simulated Windows Vista boot time, so Futuremark has done a fine job of combining many useful scenarios into a single button press.

Before jumping into the results, keep in mind that the SiliconEdge Blue uses the identical JMicron drive controller as the SNV425. The only difference is Western Digital wrote its own custom firmware. To date all other SSD manufacturers that use JMicron’s controllers use the firmware supplied by that company. Therefore while it would be easy to dismiss the controller outright, the SiliconEdge Blue results do show what optimized firmware can do with this controller.

With that over with, onto the results!

The Corsair Nova 128GB drive overall slots in exactly where we would expect to see it, hot on the heels of the Vertex Turbo. The Vertex Turbo features a slightly overclocked but otherwise identical Barefoot controller and the same NAND memory, as such we can expect to see this pattern continue for the most part in the rest of our tests.

Focusing solely on the final HDD Suite sub-score, we can clearly see that the Indilinx Barefoot controller surpasses all the other SSDs we have tested, save for the Sandforce SF-1200 powered Vertex 2 which is in a league of its own. To be fair the Vertex 2 is a whole new generation ahead of the older, venerable Barefoot controller and as such Sandforce drives tend to carry a price premium.

Synthetic: Iometer & AS SSD

Iometer 2006.07.27

Originally developed by Intel, and since given to the open-source community, Iometer (pronounced “eyeawmeter”, like thermometer) is one of the best storage-testing applications available, for a couple of reasons. The first, and primary, is that it’s completely customizable, and if you have a specific workload you need to hit a drive with, you can easily accomplish it here. Also, the program delivers results in IOPS (input/output operations per second), a common metric used in enterprise and server environments.

The level of customization cannot be understated. Aside from choosing the obvious figures, like chunk sizes, you can choose the percentage of the time that each respective chunk size will be used in a given test. You can also alter the percentages for read and write, and also how often either the reads or writes will be random (as opposed to sequential). I’m just touching the surface here, but what’s most important is that we’re able to deliver a consistent test on all of our drives, which increases the accuracy in our results.

Because of the level of control Iometer offers, we’ve created profiles for three of the most popular workloads out there: Database, File Server and Workstation. Database uses chunk sizes of 8KB, with 67% read, along with 100% random coverage. File Server is the more robust of the group, as it features chunk sizes ranging from 512B to 64KB, in varying levels of access, but again with 100% random coverage. Lastly, Workstation focuses on 8KB chunks with 80% read and 80% random coverage.

Because these profiles aren’t easily found on the Web, with the same being said about the exact structure of each, we’re hosting the software here for those who want to benchmark their own drives with the exact same profiles we use. That ZIP archive (~3.5MB) includes the application and the three profiles in an .icf file.

Scenarios such as these are pretty much the bane of hard drives and illustrate why 15,000RPM SCSI drives exist. Ironically, despite Iometer and these tests being created well before SSDs began entering the desktop market, the nature of the tests are going to inherently favor them due to their rapid, near-instantaneous random access times. While we do not have a 15,000RPM or VelociRaptor drive to use for reference, the numbers generated by them would only be little better than the desktop drive here due to the large number of tiny reads and writes to be made often randomly across the platter surface.

If looking for a perfect test to illustrate the potential strengths of random access, this would be it. That said, the large number of 512B to 4KB mixed reads and writes in the File Server scenario will also be the anathema of any SSD controller that was designed primarily for large sequential read & write performance. We can gauge which candidates have the highest potential to suffer from performance stuttering with these tests. Very small, random file operations are the worst offenders as they stress the controller the most.

If the SSD controller becomes backlogged, it will exacerbate the stuttering, causing file operations that should take milliseconds to instead take up to a full second or more to complete, thereby only compounding the problem. Unfortunately, the Summit happens to use a Samsung controller optimized solely for large, single sequential writes and makes for a good example as a warning of what to look for.

Results here still favor the newer second-generation Intel G2 controller in the discontinued Kingston 40GB drive (not to mention the SF-1200), but the Nova puts out a surprising performance here above that seen from the Vertex Turbo. Both drives feature NCQ, so we suspect firmware changes made since our Vertex Turbo review may of played a difference here.

AS SSD

As the name might hint, AS SSD is a nifty little program written exclusively for SSDs. It can be run on mechanical hard drives, but be warned that what should take minutes will take over an hour to benchmark! This handy little tool provides several read/write tests at important file sizes, but also includes a benchmark to simulate the transfer of three types of large files.

We selected this program for its precision, ability to generate large file sizes on the fly, and that it is written to bypass Windows 7’s automatic caching system. The tool does not bypass any onboard cache.

The Corsair Nova and OCZ Vertex Turbo again are neck and neck in read throughput, although the Nova does walk away with the edge in the write throughput test. Access times are excellent with the Nova posting some of the lowest latencies. In the final tally the Nova just edges out the Turbo, which is impressive given the Turbo has a 14MHz controller overclock advantage.

Access times like these are the reason why a mechanical disk RAID array can never be the equal of any good quality SSD, because adding mechanical drives together in RAID does not decrease the initial access latency involved. Concurrent file accesses in RAID can better hide the latency penalty, but it doesn’t actually remove it.

Synthetic: SYSmark 2007 Preview

Synthetic benchmarks have typically been favored for performance testing, but the results they provide can be fairly abstract, and the methods they use to assign their scores can be dubious at times. By contrast, real-world application benchmarks provide performance metrics that apply directly to real-world usage, and we endeavor to apply both in our performance comparisons.

SYSmark 2007 Preview from BAPCO is a special case, because its synthetic scores are derived from tests in real-world applications. However, we still believe that synthetic benchmarking scores are best used to directly compare the performance of one piece of hardware to another, and not for developing an impression of real-world performance expectations. SYSmark is more useful than most synthetic benchmarking programs in our opinion, because its tests emulate tasks that people actually perform, in actual software programs that they are likely to use.

The benchmark is hands-free, using scripts to execute all of the real-world scenarios identically, such as video editing in Sony Vegas and image manipulation in Adobe Photoshop. At the conclusion of the suite of tests, five scores are delivered: an E-learning score, a Video Creation score, a Productivity score, and a 3D Performance score, as well as an aggregated ‘Overall’ score. These scores can still be fairly abstract, and are most useful for direct comparisons between test systems.

A quick note on methodology: SYSmark 2007 requires a clean install of Windows 7 64-bit to run optimally. Before any testing is conducted, the hard drive is first wiped clean, and then a fresh Windows installation is conducted, then lastly, the necessary hardware drivers are installed.

SYSmark’s exhaustive battery of recorded real-world usage tests is an important factor when trying to precisely gauge drive performance. According to BAPCo, differences of 3 points in the final scoring should be considered meaningful. Given the age of this test suite, the “Preview” part of the benchmark’s name, however, is definitely not.

Both the Nova and Vertex Turbo lead the pack in performance with the Vertex 2 showing a slight edge. All in all this is a very realistic measurement as if each one of these three SSDs was used normally in your PC the performance differences would simply be imperceptible outside of benchmarking programs or another type of workload that is partially bottlenecked by the storage medium it utilizes.

Synthetic: HD Tune Pro 3.5, HD Tach RW3

HD Tune Pro 3.5

HD Tune has long been one of our favorite storage benchmarks, thanks in part to its ease-of-use, and its ability to deliver consistent results (which is obviously important). Since we are using HD Tune on storage devices that also house our OS, we’re unable to test the write performance, so here, we stick to both Read and Access Times.

Once again the Nova edges out the Vertex Turbo with higher read results, likely due to additional firmware optimizations done since the Vertex Turbo was evaluated. Again the Barefoot controller in those drives posts slightly better results with the 4KB and 512B file sizes over the Vertex 2, at least with this one program.

Yet again we show access times as these are the hallmark of solid-state drives, and I can’t underscore this point enough. The dirty state of the G1 leaves it with a particularly high result here, but even the G1 and other SSDs all put in results an order of magnitude better than the platter-based drive with small file reads.

HD Tach RW/3

HD Tach is a program similar to HD Tune, and although it hasn’t been updated in a few years, it’s still decent for testing SSDs. It offers a different method for calculating burst rates, as well as offering access time measurements below 0.1ms, which is unfortunately the limit for HD Tune. With a massive new program rewrite in the works, we look forward to seeing what the upcoming new version can do.

HD Tach’s age might be showing here, and we can only hope that the announced future rewrite of the program brings it up to date with storage technology. The Vertex 2 ranks in just above the old Summit drive, but given the best read results are held by a JMicron based drive and other similarly fast drives also fared poorly we aren’t going to give this test too much credence.

HD Tach is another program designed to measure platter-based drives (hence the downward curve in the image) but is capable of measuring access times below 0.1ms if the platform is up to the challenge. For the hard drive, the 13ms access latency is typical for a standard mechanical drive, but even a VelociRaptor would only decrease the latency to 7ms, a far cry from 0.1ms any SSD typically achieves. This clearly illustrates the drawback to RAIDing traditional mechanical drives.

Real-World: File Transfers, Adobe Lightroom

File Transfers

With this we reach the first of our real-world tests where there are no unusual testing or scoring algorithms to leave us scratching our heads! First we start with a simple file transfer from one part of the same drive to another. Please note that straight file transfers to a different destination would post even higher results.

For this test we took a 7.16GB Dual-layer DVD image and timed how long was required to transfer it to a different 10GB partition created on the same drive. Keep in mind with a hard disk, this requires the actuator arm to seek back and forth between the source and destination sectors of the disk platter, while any SSD can instantly read and write to multiple flash chips at once. Still, this is not a test of the raw write speeds of a SSD as the SSD controller cannot read & write to the same parts of the NAND flash simultaneously.

Finally we have verification that the synthetic programs have been claiming. The Nova transfers the file an average of six seconds quicker than the Turbo, illustrating the Nova does have the edge in file writes. This is an impressive feat given that the Turbo was already utilizing highly optimized firmware and a higher clocked disk controller.

Adobe Lightroom 2.5

For this test we utilize 500 large RAW files, and import them into Lightroom. We time how long it takes the program to import the files, cache them, and build the image library.

Somewhat interesting is that the results are split into two main groups with the Summit only able to tie the hard drive, while the other SSDs clump together around the 3 minute mark. It appears the Lightroom test is not demanding enough, and another system component (likely the CPU) has become the bottleneck here rather than the storage. Remember, Lightroom only utilizes two cores when loading and creating its image library, so it is not fully utilizing our slower quad-core CPU.

This should go to show that not all workloads are bottlenecked by storage, and that to get the most out of a fast SSD it will require an equally matched processor and system as to avoid any system (or in this case software) bottlenecks. Here the Nova again manages to somehow squeak a few more seconds off of the Vertex Turbo’s results.

Real-World: Batch Tests

This test is perhaps the most important in our battery of benchmarks as it gives us truly real-world results. It is designed to simulate three kinds of multi-tasking scenarios in order to see how well the storage drive can cope with concurrent workloads. The better a drive performs here, the quicker and more responsive it should feel in everyday tasks. It shouldn’t need to be said that this is where SSDs shine and where traditional HDD bottlenecks are most directly experienced.

In addition to stressing the controller with a demanding, large queue to sort through (NCQ support helps here), this test will give any weak controller a complete panic attack by overwhelming it with simultaneous random read/write operations to juggle with large sequential writes, which is the Achilles’ heel of many cheaper SSDs.

Queue depth and IOPs optimizations have long been a strength of Intel’s own SSDs, however, there is enough differing types of workloads here that regardless of drive, every SSD should see some part of the workload playing to its own unique strengths and weaknesses in some fashion. A good-quality SSD should allow the system to remain responsive as the tasks are carried out in the background at all times. (Please for your own safety don’t try this at home on your HDD!)

Our Medium test consists of the following:

Our Heavy test consists of all-the-above in addition to a full Anti-Virus scan running concurrently in the background with the start of the test. The AV scan uses a static, unchanging 5.1GB test folder that contains 19,748 files and 2,414 sub-folders created from the Program Files directory.

Granted, even with a Core i7 processor, no computer user would be performing all of these tasks concurrently unless they wish to see their computer go unresponsive for up to 30 minutes at a time, but with an SSD, this is almost child’s play! If you think we are exaggerating then just look at what a fairly typical SATA HDD is able to offer, which is a representative sample for any other desktop HDD.

Last but not least, the Light test changes things slightly. This test is a batch file dropped into the Startup folder designed to load several programs as soon as Windows 7 reaches the desktop. This light test will open four websites in Firefox, load five images in Photoshop CS4, start playing our favorite 8 minute (56MB FLAC) music file in Winamp, and open a single large Word, Excel, and PowerPoint document, in addition to a single PDF file. For this specific test in particular, we start measuring from the moment the power button is pressed to the moment the last program and all files have been fully loaded ready for use.

In the time required for a regular hard disk drive computer to boot, it is possible for an SSD to boot and have fully loaded a multitude of programs and files that you regularly use, as the nearly two and a half minutes for the HDD clearly illustrates. Keep in mind we are talking about booting both the OS and several frequently used programs, the base boot time for the best SSDs in this platform is a rather sedate 55 seconds. While loading these programs only requires an extra twelve seconds, for a mechanical drive they in fact double the time required to boot.

What should make the light batch results all the more impressive is to realize that a motherboard featuring one of the latest chipsets, with the proper tuning should be capable of dropping the best 67 second boot times down to as little as 35-50 seconds depending on the overall system configuration.
For the medium scenario the results are unfortunately beginning to clump together around the seven minute mark. This shows that once again the platform itself is beginning to bottleneck the faster SSDs in our tests, these drives are just fast.

The Corsair Nova performs admirably (did you honestly expect anything less?) here. Although it required a few extra seconds for the light test it required an average of five seconds less for the Medium batch scenario, and finally was five seconds slower in the heavy scenario. While the overclocked Barefoot controller may have had something to do with this back and forth of results we believe them to be just the natural variation between test runs and would consider the medium and heavy runs to be a tie.

In a roughly over four-and-a-half minutes, the Nova and Vertex drives complete the entire workload while keeping the system responsive and stutter-free. Requiring close to double the time (7:27), the Intel G1 drive is clearly showing the write bottleneck of 80MB/s and its lack of TRIM support, yet the competition fairs even worse. The discontinued 40GB V series drive only has half of the normal 10 flash channels and this, as well as the small drive capacity, limit it to a time more than double that (9:11) of the V+ series 128GB SSD. For those like me that are too lazy to do the math, the outclassed mechanical hard disk drive completes the identical scenario in not quite 14 minutes. That’s nearly 10 minutes of time saved just by upgrading to a good quality SSD right there.

As mentioned above the heavy test uses the exact same scenario as the medium test, but includes a concurrent anti-virus scan of a static test folder. If you needed further proof that choice of SSD does matter, take note that the Corsair Nova (and the Vertex Turbo which uses the same underlying controller) complete the heavy workload scenario in the same time tha the X25-M G1 requires just to complete the medium workload scenario! Oh, and for those wondering, while the Indilinx Barefoot controlelr completed the workload in roughly seven and a half minutes, the platter-based drive required an eye-watering 23 minutes and 42 seconds to do the same.

One thing not shown by our graph is that with the medium scenario the Vertex 2 performed all five runs with results that fell within seven seconds of each other. This level of consistency is another sign of a good controller, and the Indilinx Barefoot is second to only the SF-1200 in its consistency. Weaker controllers such as the “V” drive’s JMicron controller by comparison had some results differing by as much as several minutes, which is clear evidence the controller was becoming overwhelmed from the workload.

What to take away from this is even with the most brutal of scenarios, it is that SSDs that are best suited for heavy multi-tasking and quite capable of handling any sort of workload you wish to throw at them. Or simply every type of workload at once, it is up to you. It isn’t drive throughput that matters as much as small, random read/write throughput which is a completely different animal. And you are using an SSD, there is no longer any excuse for not having an active anti-virus program installed. ;-)

Real-World: Windows Experience, Boot Times, Game Level Loading

Windows Experience

This is a test that any Windows 7 user can perform on their own system without needing to download anything. For those curious, Vista should allow the same, but we can’t guarantee the results will be directly comparable due to changes made in the WinSAT program. To run the program, hit the Windows Key + R at the same time, and type cmd into the run box. In the command prompt window type (or right-click and paste) the following without quotes: “cd c:windowssystem32” and hit enter. Once there input, again without quotes: “winsat disk -drive c -ran -write -count 10” and enter again.

This command runs a small portion of the Windows Experience Index’s drive assessment, specifically it uses small random writes and calculates how fast in MB/s the drive can sustain it. As we mentioned before with the HD Tune results, regardless of what drive is in question, its actual performance depends on what file size is being referred to. The smaller the file size, generally the lower the performance for a hard disk drive. So again, the small random file writes will be brutal.

This result more than any other perplexed us as we don’t have any plausible explanations for the Nova’s aberrant result here. Even after rerunning this test several times the results were consistent. We maintain that the Corsair Nova should place very close to the Vertex in this test.

Boot Time

For the boot test, we perform a cold boot, with the stopwatch starting the moment the power button is pressed until the last systray icon has finished loading. A large number of factors can change how fast a computer boots, from motherboard to just the BIOS configuration, so these times should not be used as an expectation of how fast the SSD will boot in your respective system. With some newer motherboards condensing the time taken in the boot process, boot times could reach significantly lower than these.

Mirroring the trend we saw in our Light batch boot test, a plain cold boot results in an extra two seconds of startup time here. This is far better than the almost twenty second difference as seen by the lone mechanical hard drive.

Results like this clearly show that as we reach the 55 second mark, the storage medium no longer becomes the source of the bottleneck. As we touched on in past articles, a modern chipset and motherboard combination will make it possible to drop boot times even further below these results.

Game Level Loading

Last, but certainly not least, are the game level-loading times. SSDs tend to improve application load times significantly over their mechanical brethren, and games are no exception.

Crysis is still infamous for how well it could stress the entire PC, and although Crysis Warhead was a significant improvement and much better optimized than its predecessor, it still makes for one of the better gaming benchmarks to use. For this test, we timed how long it took to load the first level, Ambush. We also figured we would use the newer Left 4 Dead 2 game, for its slightly longer-than-average load times. Here, we timed how long it took to load the final chapter in the Hard Rain campaign.

While the difference between the best SSD and the typical HDD almost exactly halves the game loading time, that 15 seconds really doesn’t seem like much in L4D2, or 30 seconds in Crysis Warhead. At least until considering that each level load is one of many, then halving the load time really starts to add up. Some games involve quite a few load points or build them directly into the level (Half Life 2 being a good example), and smoother, more fluid transitions will greatly preserve game the immersion. In which case, for some gamers the answer becomes a definite yes.

Finally, we reach the most important of our benchmarks! Okay, maybe those were actually the batch workload tests, but still games are admittedly more interesting! Choosing almost any SSD results in an immediate near-halving of load times over a mechanical drive, but the truth is most games are not demanding enough to see any improvement between a good quality SSD and the best SSD available. If this was the case most games would become intolerable to play for the majority of gamers that use mechanical drives, which is something no game developer is going to want.

That said, after having made the transition personally to an SSD in my gaming system I can attest those differences of ten seconds (or more) are definitely noticed and I could never go back to a mechanical drive for gaming.

Final Thoughts

On the first page, we spent quite a few words on exploring the various model SSDs Corsair sells on the market, and for one simple reason. Out of all the models listed there are only two worth considering, either because the others were superseded or because they are utilizing controllers that should be avoided.

If looking specifically at Corsair SSDs then the choice between the remaining two is a simple one to make. For the very best performance it is unquestionably going to be a model from the Force series. For the more cost-effective SSD the choice would be the Nova series which delivers above average performance at a below average price.

The Nova series replaces the Extreme models and utilizes faster Micron NAND. While users can save a few bucks on the Reactor series we strongly recommend spending the additional $40 as the performance and consistency of the SSD will be well worth it.

Where things get tricky is that for some bizarre reason the Corsair Force CSSD-F120GB2 SSD as of the time of this writing can be found for a few bucks less than the Nova series, no rebates involved. Perhaps a blast of cosmic radiation has affected Newegg’s severs or SSD manufacturers are suddenly getting a sweeter deal on SF-1200 controllers, but whatever the case it is impossible to beat the Sandforce SF-1200 Force series for less than a Nova series drive. As long as this pricing trend continues we will strongly recommend the Corsair Force series of SSDs.

To keep the article focus back on the Corsair Nova V128, the drive performs admirably as we have come to expect. The Indilinx Barefoot was the first controller to truly challenge and eventually beat Intel’s own controllers in several areas, and while they do not match the performance of today’s SandForce equipped SSDs they can usually be found at a much better value. The controller in this drive is exemplary and is a more robust, well-rounded controller than the others seen in our tests.

These drives are so good to the point that a computer user would be unable to notice the difference in everyday tasks. Unless searching for the very best we can easily recommend the Corsair Nova series SSDs, as long as they are found at a lower price than SandForce offerings such as the Corsair Force series SSDs.


Corsair Nova V128 SSD

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