Date: September 19, 2011
Author(s): Robert Tanner
Kingston may of been fashionably late to the SandForce party, but its explanation for wanting to avoid the issues that have (and still) plague other manufacturers is sound. Its first SandForce offerings appropriately fall under the HyperX branding, and offer speeds to take full advantage of the new SATA 6Gb/s bus.
It is with great pleasure that we are now reviewing the Kingston HyperX SSD. Kingston has for several years offered one of the most expansive lineups in SSDs by utilizing controllers from almost every manufacturer – with one sole, notable exception: SandForce.
The HyperX branding is Kingston’s enthusiast grade memory brand, but it now also signifies Kingston’s enthusiast SSD offering. In the past we have generally found Kingston’s SSDs to be quite favorable, in particular the value-friendly offerings that utilized Toshiba controllers, so it is great to see the company now stepping in to the enthusiast market. More competition in the SSD market from a reputable technology company is always a good thing.
When it comes to SSDs, SandForce literally has become a household name and it isn’t hard to see why. While the first generation of SF-1200 drives delivered very good performance, the second generation SF-2200 controller simply dominates the market with read performance capable of exceeding 500MB/s in some usage scenarios, with writes and heavy I/O equally well-covered. The HyperX is Kingston’s first SSD to utilize a SandForce controller, and as one might expect it is the SF-2281.
It’s never a good idea to judge an SSD by its cover, but in this case the HyperX is already shaping up to be a nice SSD. It’s a welcome departure from the usual matte gray or black plastic housings found on other drives, but it goes beyond just the aesthetics. Out of the dozens of SSDs we have handled this one actually has heft; it feels solid. We’ll mention why further down. Unlike a very well-known competitor we could mention, there isn’t any cheap-form plastic not fully seated to the housing to be found.
|Kingston HyperX SSD|
Sustained Random Read (IOPS)
Sustained Random Write (IOPS)
Peak Random Reads (IOPS)
Peak Random Writes (IOPS)
There has been a wave of new SandForce-powered SSDs over the past few weeks, and ordinarily while any SandForce controller is like any other, the NAND they are paired with is another matter entirely and does affect performance. To keep things simple and straight-forward when attempting to compare SSDs to one another, SandForce SSDs typically can be split into one of these three categories: Value, Performance, and Extreme.
Value SF-2281 drives will use lower cost (and slightly lower performing) asynchronous NAND, while Performance drives will go with synchronous NAND. Extreme variants will utilize a Toggle-based NAND setup to eke out every edge in performance, but will be priced accordingly. To date I’m only aware of three “Extreme” models that exist (Vertex 3 Max IOPS, Patriot WildFire), so obviously most SF-2281 drives will fall into either the Value or Performance label.
All of that said, the Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD we are reviewing fits squarely in the Performance category. Under the hood it is packing 25nm IMFT synchronous NAND (correction: it’s in fact Intel 25nm Compute NAND) mounted on a custom PCB design. However, that is not all. Out of all the SSD’s we have seen Kingston is the first and only company to include thermal pads in its HyperX SSDs. Although they are not required, it is great to see a company taking extra care in the design of its products. (Of course, attempting to open the drive invalidates the warranty, and in this case, also requires a special hollow/security hex driver). Kingston offers a full three year warranty on the HyperX SSD family.
Kingston includes quite a few extras in the upgrade bundle kit. There is a single-piece 2.5″-3.5″ bay adapter, a USB 2.0 enclosure for converting any SSD into a mobile flash drive of sorts (included mostly for the sake of transferring your OS to the SSD), SATA & USB cables, screws, and lastly an aluminum screwdriver “pen” with changeable magnetic tips.
Also on the CD (not pictured) is a copy of Acronis’ migration software. Given the SSD in question this is bundled with we would like to see a USB 3.0 capable enclosure. Also we would prefer that the SATA cable was actually rated for SATA 6Gbps and was of the latching variety. Overall the package includes some good extras, but these changes would make the upgrade kit significantly better and more appropriate given the extreme performance the Kingston HyperX SSDs can deliver.
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
Intel Core i7-2600 – 3.50GHz (Locked) Quad-Core
ASUS P8P67 Deluxe
4GB Kingston DDR3-1866
AMD Radeon HD 5770
Hitachi 7200RPM 2TB Hard Drive
Corsair Force F90 90GB
Kingston V+ Series 128GB
Kingston HyperX 240GB
OCZ Vertex Turbo 120GB
OCZ Vertex 2 120GB
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB
OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS 240GB
Antec NeoHE 550W
Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64-bit
Our Windows 7 Desktop for SSD Testing
When preparing our SSD testbed for benchmarking we follow these guidelines:
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.
Futuremark’s PCMark benchmarking suite should need no introduction as it has been a staple of PC benchmarks for the better half of a decade. PCMark offers a range of tests to gauge every aspect of a computer’s performance and presents it in a neat simple final result. Thankfully it also breaks down the overall score with individual subsystem scores (such as Memory, Storage, etc) in addition to given individual test results.
With the latest 2011 release of PCMark 7 we should hopefully see quite a few changes to how SSDs are handled, and the resulting scores computed, as previously, results were biased towards sequential read and write performance. With its Windows 7 focus PCMark 7 offers a variety of storage system tests, such as simulating a Windows Defender scan and using Windows Media Center to using other built-in programs for video and music file manipulation. But for those that just want a nice overarching score, it has those too.
PCMark 7 is a welcome refresh of the well-known PCMark series and brings with it optimizations to better handle SSDs when computing scores. This results in a much flatter spread of SSDs in both the overarching score and the final storage system score.
Right off the bat the Kingston HyperX is making waves as it delivers performance above even the V3 Max IOPS. We will have to attribute at least some of such strong results to updates in SandForce firmware that have been made since our V3 review, but regardless of why this is top-notch performance from the HyperX.
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.
Iometer may be a hard program for users to translate into real world performance, but it is one of the few programs that can truly stress this new class of SF-2281 powered SSD and illustrate what the differences are between them, let alone show what they are truly capable of. Any SSD that does well here is capable of the toughest load conditions found in server racks, so suffice to say it can withstand any usage scenario a desktop user might throw at it.
The Kingston HyperX 240GB slots in where we would expect, just behind the Max IOPS but ahead of the vanilla V3. Even so results are pretty close to the Max IOPS which is impressive given the difference in NAND technology, and the HyperX has no trouble outperforming the synchronous NAND-based V3 here either.
As the name hints, AS SSD is a nifty little program written exclusively for solid-state drives. It can be run on a mechanical hard drive, but be warned what takes a few minutes will require the better part of an hour to complete! 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 comparisons 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. With version 1.6 a compression benchmark was also added although not utilized here. 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.
4K-Thrd is similar to the 4K test but spawns multiple requests; basically this tests how good the SSD is at handling multiple file actions at once, aka queue depth. Queue depth wasn’t an issue with HDDs as they were generally too slow to handle more than a few simultaneous IOPS at a time, but with SSDs it is important to have a good controller with a high queue depth. Fortunately this is another strong suit for SandForce controllers.
The Kingston HyperX does very well here, delivering some of the best all-around performance seen yet in this program. Although the HyperX doesn’t take the final overall score, it delivers a better average of write performance in the battery of tests, which is why it achieves the highest score in writes out of the three drives.
Since we included a program designed to benchmark SSDs, we will include HD Tune as it benchmarks both hard disks and SSDs. Because the test drive houses the OS itself, HD Tune will not perform any write tests; we will have to be content with both the Read and Access times. HD Tune 4.6 added a new quick benchmark that we will include for users that wish to make a quick comparison with their own drives.
Kingston’s HyperX upsets the deck again by going toe-to-toe with the Max IOPS and raking in the pot with a clean sweep of the tests. Particularly surprising is that the HyperX leads the Max IOPS by ~5Mb/s in the 4KB write test, which is the same difference seen between the V3MI and the vanilla V3! Whatever mojo Kingston is feeding these SSDs, it is clearly working.
For the uninitiated, what makes SSDs so effective is the nearly instantaneous access times, which is best illustrated by the last graph. A typical HDD requires around 14ms to access data, which is a literal eternity for a modern computer. A typical SSD on the other hand will need about 0.1ms. To add perspective, a 3GHz processor will run 300,000 clock cycles in the same 0.1ms. By comparison to a mechanical HDD, 42,000,000 clock cycles would have elapsed in that 14ms before the drive had even begun reading data to memory!
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 archive and timed how much time was required to transfer the file to another destination 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 of the disk platter, while any SSD can concurrently read and write to separate flash chips at once.
The Kingston HyperX 240GB has no trouble shaving a few seconds off its closest competitor’s time, and comes fairly close to the toggle-NAND based V3MI in the process. Considering SandForce drives are already in a league of their own, it makes for a very strong showing.
With Adobe Lightroom, importing image files with “Copy” simply acts like a file transfer, exactly like our previous test. Rather than simply time how long it takes to create a duplicate set of 500 RAW files we elected to choose the “Copy as DNG” import option. This will convert the NEF files (Nikon’s equivalent to RAW) into the Digital Negative standard while importing them to its image library.
This test was not particularly effective as Adobe Lightroom 3.4 only spawns two threads, meaning that even with the power of a Core i7 that has eight threads available, the CPU was still the main bottleneck. When Adobe deems fit to update Lightroom to take advantage of more threads we will see a real need for faster storage here, as such a task as this is perfectly suited for high thread parallelization.
Interestingly the HyperX edges out a narrow victory here, and regardless of the Lightroom thread count, still shaves well over two minutes off the completion time compared to a mechanical drive.
These tests are perhaps the most important in our battery of benchmarks as they give us a wide range of real-world results. They range from very light to downright grueling, and will showcase which drives can shine under the most demanding scenarios they might encounter in your personal system. Few computer users run their tasks in a vacuum; often several programs are in use concurrently while others are running in the background.
To excel in these tasks the SSD controller and firmware will need to be well-balanced. It will need to have excellent random read, small random write capability, and still have enough sequential writes to get the job done quickly. It is admittedly hard for an SSD controller to be optimized for all three things at once, and typically some SSDs are only optimized for sequential writes at the expense of everything else. Still, fast access times will give any SSD an inherent advantage over a mechanical hard drive.
First up is our light batch test. This test is a simple batch file placed into the startup folder, which Windows 7 will automatically execute at startup. This is perhaps the most directly relevant test to our readers, as almost everyone has to endure boot times and then the additional time it takes for their usual or favorite programs to load before they can start using their system.
The batch file will open four websites in Firefox, load five 5MB or greater images in Photoshop CS5, and open a document in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint each, which adds an additional 15MB. As a final measure, a few small system monitoring applications are started, a 3MB PDF file and zip archive are both opened for viewing, and while everything proceeds to load, an old, favorite FLAC music file (56MB) is loaded into Winamp for playback. If it sounds like the light batch file needs to go on a diet, then the results should surprise!
Our Medium batch test is similar although timers are built in to space out the user commands. Time begins counting from the launch of the batch file and ends when all tasks have completed. The medium test consists of the following:
To keep things simple, the heavy batch test is identical to the medium test in all respects save for one key difference. Computer users should be familiar with the slowdown or even molasses-like feel that occurs from an anti-virus scan running in the background. 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. Because it is otherwise identical, results from the medium & heavy batch tests are directly comparable.
Granted, even with a Core i7 processor, no computer user using a hard drive 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. For a good quality SSD, the above isn’t even enough to make the system crawl or go unresponsive. Playing a game with an anti-virus scan in the background without losing FPS is very possible. So if this sort of system abuse, or “multitasking” sounds vaguely like your daily routine when you sit down at the PC, then an SSD may be of interest to you.
So after a few lengthy paragraphs and just a single large graph, how does the HyperX perform? Well from the press of the case power switch to the very last image loading into Photoshop CS5, the HyperX sets a new light batch test record of 39.1 seconds. In other words, the HyperX can load Windows 7, images in Photoshop, documents in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and still have the browser open to your favorite webpages and your music playing within a mere 39 seconds.
If that all sounds like child’s play, well that’s because it is for an SSD. The real work begins with the medium batch test. Once again the HyperX delivers a new quickest time in our test, just edging out the V3MI. At 3:14 the time to complete our medium batch test is just astonishing. By comparison, a first-gen SandForce SSD required an additional two minutes! The hard drive required a total time of well over ten minutes, over three times as long as the Kingston HyperX.
Things get even more interesting with the heavy batch test. Remember results are directly comparable to the medium batch times as only a background anti-virus scan was added to the workload. The HyperX is just edged out by two seconds here, but remember that the V3MI is supposed to be using faster toggle NAND. The HyperX does not disappoint and delivers a heavy batch time twelve seconds quicker than its true competitor, the V3.
To try and put that in perspective, the HyperX only required an additional 18 seconds to complete a full anti-virus scan of 5GB spread across 19,748 program files, while it was busy running the medium batch test in the background. One thing is for sure, there is no longer any excuse for not having anti-virus installed!
For those curious how the first-gen SF-1200 powered V2 stacks up against the second-generation SF-2281 powering the Kingston HyperX, the HyperX works out to be 60% faster in the medium test and a full 64% quicker in our heavy test. Where the HyperX required a time of 3:32 to complete the heavy batch test, the 2TB hard drive required well over fifteen minutes to complete the same task.
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, from the motherboard to the BIOS/EFI configuration, so these times should not be used as an expectation of how fast the SSD will boot in your respective system. Thanks to motherboards replacing the BIOS with UEFI boot times have dropped significantly in many cases.
The HyperX achieves a respectable boot time of 32.1 seconds, but is just barely edged out by the other SandForce drives in our graphs. With Microsoft recently announcing that Windows 8 should deliver near ten second boot times with a fast SSD, the HyperX should definitely be on the short list. All SSDs here will boot Windows 7 in about a third the time of a mechanical drive.
Last but certainly not least of our benchmarks are the game level-load times. SSDs are great at decreasing load intervals, and having an SSD can appreciably improve game immersion by minimizing load delays. It may not seem like much, but after a few levels, having the load times decrease by even a third compared to a hard drive adds up fast.
For our new regimen we chose Portal 2 and Civilization V. Portal 2 is already a very well optimized game and isn’t particularly demanding, and Civilization V is anything but either of those. For Portal 2 we chose to load the larger sp_a3_03 chapter, while with Civ V we loaded a save game file from late in a large game.
With game load times the HyperX is good, but not quite at the top of the charts. But when it comes down to a fraction of one second, it’s pretty clear any SSD will tangibly decrease load times for most games and subsequent level loads within the game as compared to a hard disk drive.
The HyperX’s performance credentials are undisputable. Whether you are a first time SSD buyer or looking to upgrade an early model SSD, it is pretty clear that the Kingston HyperX ranks amongst the top elite SSDs on the market today. In the majority of our tests it outperformed its nearest rival, and several times even challenged or exceeded the performance we have seen from a rival toggle-based NAND SSD.
Prices on SSDs tend to fluctuate weekly even before factoring in weekly retailer sales and mail-in rebates. Still, as of this writing the Kingston HyperX 120GB is slotting in at a respectable $245 ($215 AMIR) for just the bare drive, while the SSD upgrade kit pulls in at $265 ($235 AMIR). Whether the kit is worth the $20 difference will depend on your specific needs, but with the rebates taken into consideration the HyperX offers solid pricing either way.
That brings us to the only dark horse in the room, the nebulous BSoD issues SandForce SSDs have been suffering from. The problem affects a disproportionately small number of users, but those that do run into problems are understandably not happy. The issues are rather hit and miss, with any and all manner of factors apparently in play with seemingly random combination required to cause problems. Probably the strangest is that at least for one case simply swapping the PSU made the problem go away.
Kingston is one of the most recent manufacturers to have just now launched a SF-2281 SSD, and Kingston states that they have spent this time rigorously testing the HyperX SSD design specifically to weed out any such issues. As we mentioned before Kingston (as with many others) utilizes a custom PCB of its own design, and the company is confident enough in the HyperX to release it despite the ongoing consumer issue other manufacturers utilizing SF-2281 SSDs are having to endure.
Incidentally as we were conducting the review Kingston had even released the KC100 SandForce part for business and enterprise customers featuring a full five year warranty. It’s hard to get more confident in an SSD than that! While we cannot make the claim that a chance doesn’t exist for users to run into an issue, the chance is small enough that we have no qualms recommending (and personally adopting) SandForce SSDs in our own systems.
The most interesting detail about the HyperX’s spec sheet (besides the rather extensive list of OS’s and service packs tested) would have to be the mention of 5K P/E cycles. I’m not aware of any manufacturers that list the program/erase cycles for their SSDs, so to see Kingston listing it must mean it is very confident in the lifespan of its HyperX SSDs. A P/E ratio of 5,000 is the best rating Intel’s 25nm NAND can achieve, and it is great to see a manufacturer like Kingston willing to include such data in the product specs.
I know this conclusion is getting lengthy, but we would be doing our readers a disservice to not cover all the bases. Before considering any SF-2281 drive, potential buyers need to make sure they have a native SATA 6Gb/s port to take advantage of the full speed of the drive. Marvell’s SATA 6Gb/s ports should be avoided altogether due to performance issues, as well. If this means only SATA 3Gb/s ports are available, then less expensive SSDs are a better option.
Now that all the angles have been covered, it is pretty clear Kingston has endeavored to create not just another boutique SSD, but an SSD the company can stand solidly behind. Just handling the HyperX and opening it up revealed Kingston has put some careful thought into the design, but the impressive performance is really what cinches the deal. The HyperX is certainly not the lowest cost synchronous NAND SF-2281 SSD on the market, yet it performs on par with the even more expensive toggle-based NAND SSD in our testing.
With that in mind, and the quality of the SSD itself, we have no trouble awarding Kingston’s 240GB HyperX SSD our Editor’s Choice award. Kingston may have been one of the last to market with a SF-2281 SSD of its own, but it made sure to launch with a solid offering when creating this drive.
(For those wondering, the HyperX was using the SandForce 320ABBF0 firmware revision for this review.)
Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD
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