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Kingston SSDNow V300 120GB SSD Review

Date: February 5, 2013
Author(s): Robert Tanner

Looking for an affordable SSD but demand a high-performance controller? Kingston’s SSDNow V300 is shaping up to be just that. Powered by a SandForce SF-2281 controller and paired with Toshiba’s 19nm Toggle-based NAND, it’s an aggressive entrant for its price-point. Let’s check it out.



Introduction

Note: Since the publication of this review, Kingston has changed the NAND used in the V300, rendering our results inaccurate. Please refer here for more information.

Kingston is no stranger to SSDs; in fact, over the last five years the company has offered the most diverse repertoire of drives available. Specifically, it’s utilized one or more generations of controllers from Toshiba, Marvell, JMicron, Samsung, and even SandForce, with its high-performance HyperX SSD series. To add to that list, it also has the unique distinction of being the only company ever authorized to sell SSDs with Intel controllers inside. With such a history behind it, it should be clear that Kingston isn’t just another name floating around the SSD market; rather, it’s one of the major players.

To start off  the New Year, the company has ushered out a new line of budget SSDs, called SSDNow V300 – but there is something different about this one. It’s been a little over a year since Kingston introduced its flagship HyperX brand to the SSD market using the well-known LSI SandForce SF-2281 controllers – what’s new, is that the same controller can now be found inside this value-branded V300 offering as well.

The SSDNow V300 offers all the same SF-2281 features one has come to expect, including SATA 6Gbps (3.0) support and high performance with compressible data, although with the usual Kingston extras such as tweaked SandForce firmware, the use of thermal pads on drive components, and a three-year warranty. Actually, the only real distinction between the HyperX and the V300 is the NAND itself. To produce a budget-friendly SSD Kingston is pairing the V300 with newly-launched 19nm Toshiba Toggle NAND. Out of the three common varieties of NAND, Toggle-based NAND is the best type for performance, so our test results may prove interesting.

Kingston SSDNow V300 120GB SSD

The SSDNow V300 is available by itself and in desktop and laptop upgrade kits. The desktop kit includes the usual 3.5” brackets, data and power cables, a disc containing Acronis True Image cloning software and an installation video. The laptop kit differs in that it features a small pocket-sized USB enclosure that the SSD slips inside for easy transport and portable use as an external USB drive. The laptop kit replaces the desktop bracket for a 7mm to 9.5mm adapter, as the V300 follows the current trend toward the 7mm form factor.

Kingston SSDNow V300 120GB SSD Kingston SSDNow V300 120GB SSD

 Kingston SSDNow V300 Series
 60 GB120 GB240 GB
Sequential Read + Write450 MB/s
Maximum Random Reads85,000 IOPS
Maximum Random Writes60,000 IOPS55,000 IOPS43,000 IOPS
NAND19nm Toshiba Toggle NAND
InterfaceSATA 3.0 6Gbit/s
Power Consumption0.640W Idle / 1.423W Reads / 2.052W Writes
Endurance (Minimum)32 TB64 TB128 TB
Warranty3 Years

The performance numbers are a little peculiar given that the smallest SSD offers the highest IOPS rating, but even if the ratings were accidentally reversed in the spec sheet, the differences are minor. The results are also highly generalized, but we have listed what is included in the datasheet. Performance should instead be closer toward the listed specs with the larger capacity models, especially given this is what the reference PCMark Vantage numbers would indicate.

Something else worth pointing out are the endurance figures. While SandForce controllers rely on data compression to achieve top performance, this has a beneficial side effect of minimizing the writes to the NAND and thereby increasing the actual endurance rating. The 128GB OCZ Vector may have a five-year warranty for example, but interestingly Kingston rates the smaller 60GB V300 SSD with a nearly equivalent minimum write rating (32TB vs 36.5TB). With 64TB and 128TB ratings for the larger capacity SSDs, it’s most likely one will be replacing their SSD to a SATA Express-capable drive before it ever has a chance to wear out. If that wasn’t enough, these are not even finite lifespan limits, just the bare minimum of writes the NAND is expected to perform reliably – the SSDs should last even longer.

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.

 Techgage Solid-State Drive Test System
ProcessorIntel Core i7-2600 – 3.80GHz (Locked) Quad-Core
MotherboardASUS P8P67 Deluxe
Memory4GB Kingston DDR3-2133
GraphicsAMD Radeon HD 5770
StorageHitachi 7200RPM 2TB Hard Drive
Crucial m4 256GB
Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB
Kingston SSDNow V300 240GB
OCZ Vector 256GB
OCZ Vertex 4 256GB
Power SupplyAntec NeoHE 550W
CoolingNoctua DH-14
Et ceteraDell 2407WFP (1920×1200)
Lite-on DVD-RW
Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit

Our Windows 7 Desktop for SSD Testing

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

General Guidelines

Windows 7 Optimizations

For our new Sandy Bridge storage testbed we have migrated to using test images for our drives. All drives are imaged with the cloned test image to ensure all drivers, programs, and settings remain identical for testing purposes. We feel disk cloning software and SSD controller technology has matured to the point where potential issues such as non-aligned sectors are no longer a potential issue.

For testing, we run all tests five times dropping the highest and lowest results, then take the average of the middle three. And who said that college statistics class wouldn’t prove useful? If any anomalous results are seen the test will be run again. Given the complexities of modern computers, and especially today’s operating systems and the software that runs on them, 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 always actively 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 7

Futuremark’s PCMark benchmarking suite should need no introduction; it has been a staple of PC benchmarks for the better half of a decade. It includes over 25 individual workloads designed to measure all aspects of system performance and gives individual scores in each test as well as an overall system performance score for easy system comparisons.

PCMark 7 offers a more accurate measure of performance as compared to its predecessor, PCMark Vantage. The storage scoring metrics especially were significantly re-tuned and optimized with SSDs in mind to give a more balanced disk subsystem score.

PCMark 7 Professional

Despite the capacity difference, which will put the V300 at a disadvantage in our benchmarks, the 120GB V300 has no problem hanging with and in many cases offering performance equivalent to the other SSDs in our graphs. This is even more noteworthy given most of these SSDs are still considered to be at or near the top in SSD performance and that the V300 is being positioned as a budget SSD.

In several subtests the V300 is able to surpass the m4 and even the Vector in a few cases, but behind the other SSDs in the Importing Pictures test. Given that Jpegs are already naturally compressed this would be one of the few subtests that would highlight the drawbacks with relying on compressible data for top performance. All-in-all the overall PCMark storage system score places the V300 about on par with the m4.

Synthetic: Iometer

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 test a drive with, you can easily accomplish it here. Secondly, it bypasses the Windows disk subsystem entirely, meaning it bypasses the OS drivers and writes directly to the storage media. This has important implications, such as it means Windows 7 cannot correctly align Iometer to match the SSD or HDD sector alignment.

We have updated our test suite to the latest stable 1.10 rc1 build of Iometer, which was released in December, 2010. This version makes some changes to be aware of; specifically, it gives the option for three types of data sets used during testing. 2006 and earlier versions used a pseudo-random dataset for testing, while the 1.10 build will default to a “repeating bytes” test pattern. A full random test mode was also added. To avoid giving SandForce drives an unfair advantage (they rely on data compression to achieve their performance), we will stick to the pseudo-random test pattern for all of our testing.

We have configured Iometer for correct 4KB disk alignment using a single 8GB test file from within Windows, meaning they are acting as the host OS drive with no other drives in the system. We run individual random 4KB read and write tests at a queue depth of 3 and again at 32. Then we run the 128KB sequential read & write tests using a queue depth of 1. In addition, all drives are in a dirty state prior to testing – this means results will not be comparable to advertised manufacturer results. Our goal is to measure end-user performance under real-world conditions, and so our testing reflects typical SSD performance after it has been used for some length of time in a system. Each test pattern is run for 5 minutes to achieve an average result.

In addition, we have created three Iometer disk usage scenarios that should roughly approximate database, file server, and workstation usage patterns. These scenarios are run individually for 10 minutes each within an 8GB file on the drive, which is an unusually harsh scenario for any sort of SSD. Drives that are able to offer better sustained performance over time and those that favor certain file size accesses will do well here. All three tests are configured for a queue depth of 32 to show which drives are best capable of dealing with heavy workload scenarios.

“IOPS” is simply the measure of performance relative to a certain disk access size, specifically 4KB or 512 bytes, or any size desired. Typically with SSDs when speaking about IOPS it is referred to on the assumption of 4KB accesses. With this in mind, it is easy to convert between IOPS and MB/s. Iometer provides both types of results to us and for the sake of concise graphs, brevity, and easily understandable results, we have elected to use MB/s for the 4KB and 128KB tests. For reference: IOPS = (MBps Throughput / KB per IO) * 1024 and MBps = (IOPS * KB per IO) / 1024.

Iometer is not a kind test to run on lower capacity SSDs and the results bear that out in the Read performance chart. Even so it’s still an all-around upgrade over a mechanical disk drive. Looking at writes however, the V300 is able to offer anywhere from 16-28 times the random 4KB performance of a large capacity HDD. The V300 even trumps the m4’s random results by a factor of three in the QD3 test, and up to five times the 4KB performance at a higher queue depth of 32.

The budget V300 may not be able to hang with the flagship SSDs in the three workload scenario tests, but surprisingly it is able to easily supersede the results of the m4 by a comfortable margin in all three scenarios.

Synthetic: AS SSD

As the name implies, AS SSD is a nifty little program written exclusively for solid-state drives. It can still be run on a mechanical hard drive just for fun, but be warned: what takes a few minutes on an SSD will require the better part of an hour on an HDD! It is freely available for download here.

This handy tool measures sequential reads and writes in addition to the important 4KB random reads and writes, then ranks the results with a final score for quick comparison with other SSDs. In addition to the main test there is a secondary benchmark that simulates the type of data transferred for ISO, Program, and Game files. We selected this program for its precision, ability to generate large file sizes on-the-fly, and because it is written to bypass Windows 7’s automatic caching system.

The SSDNow V300 has a steep bar to meet but performs well for an SSD targeting the value market. Read results are mixed with the V300 edging out the V4 sequentially, and roughly tying the HyperX 3K in the 4KB test. Probably due to its lower capacity, the V300 120GB struggles more in the write tests but still delivers respectable performance. As expected, latency results closely match those of its larger, premium relative, the HyperX 3K.

Synthetic: HD Tune Pro 5.0

HD Tune is still primarily an HDD benchmark, but we include it as an alternative for those consumers that prefer it for one reason or another. The free version does not perform write tests, but otherwise is available for free here.

Curiously, as opposed to AS SSD, HD Tune seems to like the V300 for a reason we can’t identify. As we can see, the V300 delivers both better average and minimum results than the HyperX 3K in the sequential read test, and does so again in the various random read tests. While this is a good showing, we are more inclined to recommend the AS SSD results.

Real-World: File Transfers, dBpoweramp R14

Finally, we reach the first of our real-world tests where there are no unusual testing or scoring algorithms to leave us scratching our heads, just simple tests to see how an SSD changes actual system performance.

For the File Transfer test we took a 4.5GB compressed archive and measured how much time was required to transfer the file to another folder on the same drive. Keep in mind that with a hard disk, this requires the actuator arm to seek back and forth between the source and destination sectors on the disk platter, with the destination sectors often not sequentially aligned. In contrast, any SSD can concurrently perform read and write operations simultaneously on any NAND chip without regard to spatial considerations of bits strewn randomly around a disk platter, which gives them a large advantage here.

In line with the sequential write results we’ve seen previously the V300 slots in fifth, or 11 seconds behind that of the HyperX 3K. As mentioned in the setup page we run all tests five times, which while providing accurate results, also leaves the SSD in a thoroughly dirty state. Through the final runs the transfer time increased by five seconds as the SSD reached its dirty state of equilibrium. This is a normal part of how all SSDs operate, and simply illustrates how the SSD will perform after it is no longer in its factory-new state.

dBpoweramp R14

Either you’ve heard of FLAC, or it is an integral part of your digital life. But iTunes and Apple devices do not support FLAC files, leaving those with discerning ears forced to use Apple’s Lossless codec. dBpoweramp makes it possible to convert between them utilizing as many threads as are available to the system.

In this test, we take 10 albums amounting to 4GB of FLAC files and convert them to Apple’s lossless format. This creates exactly 3.96GB of new data. This scenario is even more applicable for those users with six or more physical CPU cores available, because as the core count increases, the more the storage system will become the actual bottleneck. Our test rig is limited to only a quad-core processor, but even then we can see clear differences amongst the various contenders.

Kingston’s V300 drive performs well, slotting in two seconds behind the time of the m4. Even a value-branded SSD is a huge improvement over the results seen from the mechanical drive here.

Real-World: Batch Tests

Real-world results are surprisingly hard to come by when testing SSDs. It is extremely easy to showcase just how much faster any SSD on the market is compared to even a modern mechanical disk drive. However, when we try to compare SSD to SSD, differences can amount to just a few seconds or even a fraction of a second, often well inside the margin of error (and human reflexes), making any results obtained meaningless.

We are always eager to hear about any demanding storage workloads our readers may have, but in an effort to get around this problem, we have put together three batch test files that target three levels of intensity.

Firstly we have our light batch file, which we drop into the Windows Startup folder. Windows 7 will execute and load various programs and commands as it boots, making it perhaps the most easily pertinent of our three tests. Almost everyone has an array of programs that starts with their OS, ranging from background applications like anti-virus to programs like a browser or music player.

This batch file will load four websites in Firefox, start Photoshop CS5 and load five 5MB or greater images, and load 15MB of data in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents. Several background utilities will also load; a PDF file and compressed file are opened for viewing, and of course, since nobody likes to work without listening to some music, we have our favorite 56MB FLAC file playing the entire time. Obviously, all of this takes place while Windows 7 itself is still loading. We start timing from the moment the machine is powered on to the moment the last program finishes loading – and it isn’t as long as you might think. (We provide raw cold boot times on the next page for direct comparison).

Our medium batch test is similar although we apply the use of timers to space apart the commands. Instead of booting, time begins from the moment we execute the batch file until the moment all tasks have completed. The medium test also consists of the following:

To keep things simple, the heavy batch test is identical to the medium test in all respects, save for one important addition. Computer users coming from HDDs will be familiar with the slowdown or even molasses-like feeling that occurs from having an anti-virus or anti-malware scan running in the background. SSDs scoff at this sort of thing however, and the typical SSD user wouldn’t think twice about running an anti-virus scan at the same time as playing a fullscreen game since framerates will remain relatively unaffected.

The heavy test will capitalize on this by running an anti-virus scan from Microsoft Security Essentials on a static, unchanging 5.1GB test folder that contains 19,748 files and 2,414 sub-folders copied from the Program Files directory. Also worth noting is that because the medium and heavy batch tests are identical save for the AV scan, results between them are directly comparable.

Results are as we would expect, with the V300 performing closely with the other premium SSDs but not quite at their level. That said, the V300 edges half of a second faster average time in the light batch test, proving it still has the occasional surprise to give.

Although small, it’s worth noting is that the V300 narrows the margin between it and the m4 when moving from the medium to the heavy batch times. As the m4’s controller was never optimized for high queue depth workloads the SF-2281 controller is able to regain some a few seconds here. It is also able to complete all the light and heavy tests in less than a third the time required by the mechanical disk drive.

Real-World: Boot Times, Game Level Loading

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 starts; whether the motherboard uses a BIOS or the newer UEFI; if a RAID controller has to be initialized; to delay timers or other motherboard optimizations. In other words, individual results will vary depending on the system hardware.

Boot results are normal with the V300, keeping pace with even the premium, pricier SSDs in this test.

Game Level Loading

SSDs deliver some of the most benefits to games. Not only can the game load significantly faster so users can hurry up and wait to get through various advertisement screens, but they also boost level or map load times. For games where player immersion into the new world is important, the difference between 15 and 25 seconds can seem huge when waiting for the next part of the level or world to load.

For our new regimen we chose Portal 2 and Civilization V. Portal 2 is already a very well optimized game, but it’s immersive, so we time how long it takes to load the sp_a2.bts6 custscene. With Civilization V’s recent overhaul to game storage files to help decrease load times, and the new option to disable the intro movie trailer, it becomes possible to time how long it takes to start the game.

Again Kingston’s V300 is able to keep pace with the best SSDs on the market in both game tests. A fun fact is that once migrating to an SSD, often the bottleneck will become some other part of the system or even the software itself as in the case in these tests.

Final Thoughts

As with any value-oriented product, the largest issue comes down to price. At the time of this writing, the bare 120GB drive can be had for $101 from a of couple retailers, with the various kits adding another $10-15 onto that. This gives it the distinction of not only being the lowest-cost SF-2281-powered SSD around, but for the present time also the highest performing SSD at its price-point. Cheaper options either use a cut-down budget Marvell controller with lower performance, or use TLC NAND which suffers from both lower write performance and lower NAND endurance. As always, prices change daily, but Kingston has priced the V300 aggressively against its direct competition and other well-regarded brands.

It wasn’t that long ago that SF-2281 powered SSDs could only be found in flagship and mid-range drives that fetched a price premium, yet today it is one of the most widely used controllers still on the market with even Intel still releasing new consumer drives based upon the controller. With the SSDNow V300 family, Kingston is introducing a high-performance controller it is already familiar with and packaging it with leading 19nm process NAND to deliver a low-cost budget SSD. At its given pricing, the V300 is competing directly against several SSDs that are utilizing the first generation SandForce controller (SF-1200) as well as several partially cut-down Marvell controllers – neither of which would come close to the V300’s performance.

Kingston_SSDNow_V300_120GB

That said, there are a few points to mention regarding SandForce controllers. They rely on data compression to achieve best performance, so things like compressed files, Jpegs, MP3s, or some videos won’t benefit well, but then again, not many consumers buy SSDs to clutter them up with those kinds of files. They also rely on over-provisioning in order to maintain drive performance, which has the most notable impact in that SF-2281 drives are sold at 60/120/240GB capacities instead of 64/128/256GB – the user loses a few gigabytes of capacity that other controllers don’t hog.

Lastly, even though LSI bought up SandForce and several years have been devoted into firmware updates and controller revisions, there is simply no denying that SandForce is still stuck with the old stigma about device stability that it originally created for itself. Given the wide diversity of controllers and system configurations that exist, there’s a slim chance the occasional consumer may run into a problem however unlikely that may be. Even so, we have no qualms recommending SF-2281 based drives and I personally have been using a pair of them for some time in my own desktop. I have not experienced any issues a firmware update and changing the port to a native Intel controller did not resolve.

Kingston_SSDNow_V300_Notebook

Kingston’s SSDNow V300 series delivers mid-range solid-state drive performance at budget solid-state drive prices. When in the market for a budget-friendly SSD, we would definitely recommend the V300 as long as it maintains its aggressive price positioning. For example, at the moment the Kingston flagship HyperX 3K 240GB slots in cheaper than the 240GB V300 on Newegg, so there isn’t any reason to not just upgrade to a HyperX 3K – but that just goes to show prices are everything in the budget SSD market and that it pays to look around.

Given Kingston’s extensive history in the SSD market and its aggressive prices yet strong mid-range performance, the V300 should certainly be at the top of your SSD list when searching for a new affordable SSD.

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