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KiD0M4N 08-01-13 07:16 AM

ADATA XPG SX900 128GB SSD Review

Today we are going to look at the ADATA SX900 SSD (specifically the 128GB version.) We were very apprehensive when Ashu from ADATA India contacted us a few weeks ago and wanted [E] to have a look at the drive. We have looked at various 128GB drives before (many with the now common Sandforce 2281 controller) and had a feeling that any serious user would easily (and quickly) run out of usable space on the cramped SSD. As for me, the perfect size lies somewhere in between 256GB to 400GB (this is plenty to store a LOT of work data + games unless you are working on the next block buster movie recorded at 48 FPS!)

The overall package was quite impressive and complete. The SSD already had the most recent firmware available installed (that makes it difficult for newbies to shoot themselves in the foot while updating it.) The included 2.5" to 3.5" bracket would also come very handy if the drive was being installed into a desktop cabinet. A big+ for that.

What really stood out though was the price and the promise that the ADATA derivative of the venerable Sandforce controller based SSD would give the end user more usable space than every other 120/128 GB drive in the market. How did ADATA achieve that feat without compromising long term data integrity and speed? Lets go on and find out...


Raw NAND Capacity64 GiB128 GiB256 GiB512 GiB
User Capacity59.6 GiB119.2 GiB238.4 GiB476.8 GiB
Number of NAND Packages8161616
Number of Die per Package1124
Sequential Read550 MBps550 MBps550 MBps540 MBps
Sequential Write510 MBps520 MBps530 MBps465 MBps
4K Random Read15K IOPS20K IOPS39K IOPS55K IOPS
4K Random Write87K IOPS88K IOPS90K IOPS47K IOPS
PriceRs 4600Rs 7100Rs 13250Rs 29500

7% more data

RAISE. One word.

Actually I lied. RAISE stands for Redundant Array of Independent Silicon Elements (quite a mouthful!)

All Sandforce drives have RAISE marked as optional. What it essentially does is use one full die of NAND (which comes to around 8 GiB when dealing with 2x nm silicon) for parity data. This allows you (actually your drive) to loose a full NAND die worth of data and still have the ability to have it reconstructed back. Every manufacturer thus far has been releasing Sandforce based SSDs with RAISE enabled on their > 120GB models. ADATA is simply the first manufacturer to ship a drive with RAISE disabled, thus allow for that extra NAND space to become available to the user.

We have to allow the OS to grab some space during the formatting process, and we end up with approximately ~119 GB of user space in Windows. Compared to what we would get with the so called 120GB Sandforce RAISE enabled drives, this is quite impressive.

This was ADATA’s methodology in 1-uping every other manufacturer. No special firmware, no added NAND, no controller tricks. But how did it manage to pull the same claim of in its 64 GB version. Every other manufacturer disables RAISE because there is not enough NAND to go around. If a full 8 GiB die is dedicated to RAISE, then you will be left with too little user accessible space (even before formatting.) What ADATA did is simply reduce the space available to over provisioning (a spare area which every SSD must have to do its self maintenance; a process which is critical to enabling a long healthy performant life.)

All in all, this is a calculated gamble which ADATA has taken by disabling RAISE. Although Sandforce doesn’t require it to be enabled for consumer drives, there is always the odd chance that you end up with a lemon NAND die which passed through Q/C? (more on this in the conclusion)

How we tested?

Real world testing

We decided to subject the SSD to a variety of real world and synthetic benchmarks. For real world scenarios, we decided to do the following:

Game Loading Performance

The recently launched (and getting immensely popular Counter Strike : Global Offensive) has acquired a reputation of taking ages to load up levels and launch. Even the best of hard drives (like the 10,000 RPM 300 GB Western Digital Velociraptor) can be left wanting for more speed by this game.

We decided to give the responsibility of hosting the game files to our dear little SX900 and see how it fared.

OS Bootup Performance

Unless you have jumped ship to Windows 8, it is very likely that you are still on Windows 7 (and for good reason :)) However, we all know how dog slow the bootup process of Windows 7 can get once loaded up with real software (any software developers out there? Oracle Database server installed? Ring a bell?)

If there is one thing a power user hates the most, then it has got to be the OS taking minutes (I kid you not) to boot up. It totally throws your work on a slow moving auto rickshaw. It is almost impossible to recover from an OS reboot unless you have a coffee machine nearby and can take a quick walk while the OS goes through its motions. A SSD can definitely help there. We loaded up a busy Windows 7 image onto the SSD (the image is used for active development on the .NET platform and has a lot of “servers” installed on it.)

We benchmarked the time it took for each SSD to go from “Press the Power button” to “Waiting for login credentials” at the Windows 7 bootscreen.

Virtual Machine Performance

This is the easiest thing you can demonstrate to the hard core hard disk drive fan to convince them to do the right thing and come over to the “fast” lane. If you ever had to do any sort of active development on a virtual machine, you know exactly where I am coming from. In the real world, a lot of development takes place on virtual machines. It is not unusual to see a developer actively running 3-4 VMs at the same time to host various software services (like Redis on a Linux node, IIS application server on a Windows 2008 R2 node, etc.) While we can always add more RAM to allow the virtual machines to boot up, its the HDD which becomes the biggest bottleneck once they do get up and running. HDD is to virtual machine nirvana as were German U-boats to the British Empire. We think you get our point now.

To test the performance of the SSD on this platform, we decided to build a large codebase of on a few drives (one of them obviously being the SX900) and benchmark the time taken to complete a full build. We repeated the tests 4 times and averaged the closest three instances (to get rid of any unwanted deviation.)

Synthetic Tests

We subjected the SSDs to the usual suite of SSD benchmarks:
  • ATTO
  • AS-SSD

To give you an idea of how the SSD performance, we repeated the tests on a Samsung 840 Pro (the best of the best among SSDs) and on a MacBook Pro Late 2011 (which was factory fitted with an Apple branded 256GB SSD.)

Performance Continued (Synthetic)

Game Loading Performance

Note: We rebooted the OS once after initially performing the game benchmark on the drive to help stabilize things.

The XPG SSD came out with flying colors. While the Velociraptor takes ages to load up the game (around 27 seconds), the SX900 cut that time by almost three. Loading up de_dust2_se is a resource intensive operation, and keeping all other things same, the SX900 managed to load up the game level in just over 10 seconds. That is mighty impressive. Don’t want to be the last one to spawn in game and end up not getting picked up in the match because everyone else joined in before you? Replace your HDD! At just Rs 7,100/- this is the most noticeable upgrade you can do to immediately improve your game + level loading times. And if you play these massive modern FPS games all day long, even more so. Also, in all fairness, the Samsung 840 Pro came out with even more impressive numbers (just under 7 seconds) but that is in a different league altogether and costs a lot more than what the SX900 128GB costs.

OS Bootup Performance

Windows 8 might be many things to many people (yes, new fancy Start button acting like a giant screen - I am looking at you) but it does an awesome job at booting fast. I have seen Windows 8 booting up on my aging (but still capable) ZOTAC Zbox AD02 in under 10 seconds (with a old but still able Intel G2 80GB SSD) whereas Windows 7 used to almost touch 50.

However, we are going to talk about Windows 7 bootup performance, and that too of a fully loaded development VM image with a lot of heavy servers installed and configured to come online during startup.

Testing this on the Velociraptor was almost unbearable. It took over 55 seconds for the login screen to appear and the hard drive was still churning away (We are sure it would have taken another minute or two to fully stabilize and become usable.) The Apple 256GB SSD did a fair job and managed to get Windows up to login screen in just under 26 seconds (note: this includes the time taken from power up, so this includes 9 or so seconds VMware Fusion takes to go through its initialization process.) Performance on the Samsung 840 Pro was nothing short of amazing. Not only did it get the login screen up in just under 20 seconds, it somehow seemed to speed up the non Windows part of the bootup process as well (We reckon it has got something to do with the speed improvements in the host OS, which optimizes the VMware Fusion initialization.) The SX900 (being the new little kid in the block) did a fair job. Completing the task in only 23 seconds, it demonstrated the muscle of the Sandforce 2281 controller underneath. Kudos!

Virtual Machine Performance

Now that the VM was up and running, it was time to get to work; and see how the performance was inside the virtual node. A fast I/O subsystem almost always translates to a fast and snappy VM. And for good reason. Instead of using the native drive for I/O, the virtualization software simulates a virtual drive for the guest OS (in our case good old Windows 7) using a file on the host OS. This obviously translates to more I/O than would have been the case had the OS been running on bare metal. But the flexibility afforded by virtualization is almost always worth the extra overhead. After all, by investing as little as 50 cents per work day (in a given year) you gain almost a 50 - 100 % increase in your productivity.

Building this code base requires a lot of read and write into the virtual disk. A lot of files are read from various folders in the source code hierarchy and an equally massive number of files are written back to the disk (binaries.)

Slowest among all the devices tested was the Velociraptor. Taking over 8 minutes to complete the task, it again proved that SSD is where the future of storage is at. The Apple branded SSD again did a fair job (We have seen the SSD in the new Retina MacBook Pro performing even better, sometimes by a 50% margin) and completed the build in approx. 2 minutes 30 seconds. The Sammy again topped the charts with flying numbers. Its 1 minute 45 seconds bested the SX900’s score by around 15 seconds. A 128 GB Sandforce 2281 based SSD coming within 15 seconds of the king of the SSD hill is a mighty impressive feat!

Performance Continued (Synthetic)

These benchmarks give a very good (but sometimes misleading) idea about the performance abilities of a storage device. If a SSD (say X) is performing better that another SSD (say Y) in a synthetic benchmark, we at least can come to expect similar real world performance out of the unit. They also give us a good idea about how effective the controller is in interfacing us (rather the operating system) to the fast NAND storage it sits atop of.

Note: We did not bother running these tests on the Velociraptor. Either it didn’t apply or the numbers would not have been off the charts, and not in a good way. We also did not bother running these benchmarks on the Apple branded SSD due to obvious reasons.

We tested the SSDs (XPG SX900 128GB and Samsung 840 Pro 256GB) under both 3Gbps & 6Gbps modes.

Disclaimer: We normally wouldn’t have cared for the 3Gbps results, but since we had some initial hiccups getting the ADATA unit to activate 6Gbps, we had to resort to testing it under 3Gbps. However, it turned out as a issued in the host system we were performing the test under, rather than a problem with the unit itself.

SATA 3Gbps

SATA 6Gbps

The numbers speak for themselves. The SATA 6Gbps performance is on par (or slightly better at times) with other Sandforce 2281 based drives. While the Sammy unit was clearly better with AS SSD, the numbers were very close when it came to the ATTO benchmark. We tend to place more importance on the AS SSD benchmark results as they tend to more closely align with what we end up observing in the real world (as evidenced by the previous section.)
(The Samsung 840 Pro AS SSD SATA 6Gbps result, for reference)

Final Thoughts

The first thing we cross checked with Ashu once we completed the benchmarks was the market price of the unit. A random search on eBay gave some very weird numbers which can be misleading to the general consumers. The reason for the online absence of the SX900 128GB SSD is more because of the perceived lack of market in India than anything else. We expected Flipkart to have this little beast in stock but again came back wanting (they are currently listing a discontinued item on their site, marked up with a higher price than actual. ADATA should definitely get it corrected. It is very misleading.)

However, at just Rs 7,100/- this SSD redeems its value and some more.

We have seen worse SSDs being sold in the market for higher prices just because of lack of awareness. Your typical dealer will sell the brand which will fetch them the highest margin (based on what deal he managed to cut with the said brand’s distributor.) He doesn’t care if the thing being sold is the best his customer’s money can buy. So it is up to the manufacturers (like ADATA) to get the word out and for the consumers to know what is best given the budget (a single look at the package content would tell you about the thought put in by ADATA while assembling this unit.)

For the price, we would give this SSD a handsome rating. We would have gone with 4 (as the Samsung 840 Pro gets a 5+ in [E]’s eye) but since the ADATA unit actually gives you more usable space than the competitors on the same platform (Sandforce 2281; long term data integrity issues aside.) If it were solely up to me, I would have kept RAISE enabled because you don’t want to be at the receiving end of a dead SSD. But, Sandforce themselves do not think that RAISE needs to be enabled for consumer devices (and that the build in ECC engine is more than sufficient to maintain data integrity for consumer workloads.) All said and done, we honestly believe that anyone actually needing to use that extra 7% space on this SSD probably has gone for one size too smal. Because a full SSD is not optimal, especially if it happens to be your C:\ or root (if you swing the way of the mighty penguine.) But to each his own.

Regardless, we award the ADATA XPG SX900 128GB SSD our Editor’s choice and a rating of 5 because given the performance gained over a HDD and its Rs 7,100/- price, its money well spent. So what are you waiting for, go get yourself the much deserved performance upgrade.

5 star

[E] Rating: 5 star

Fenix 08-01-13 08:53 AM

Re: ADATA XPG SX900 128GB SSD Review
To the point and a great review. Best part was the OS boot up time and game loading time , But Karan still it is expensive,I have never upgraded to an SSD and currently have a 150 GB VR running in my PC .

manu1991 08-01-13 10:13 AM

Re: ADATA XPG SX900 128GB SSD Review
er... but at just 300 Rs. more, isnt this a much better deal:
OCZ 128GB Vertex 4 SSD

also doesn't have the dreaded sandforce controller.

ManISinJpr 08-01-13 05:34 PM

Re: ADATA XPG SX900 128GB SSD Review
A very thorough and detailed review here, Thanks @KiD0M4N , but speaking on a bystander pov, I still think that RAISE is needed in these ssd's.
Also as the market situation is, there are vertex4 non sandforce ssd's available, specially as the price is not so high for that.

vijayninel 08-01-13 05:52 PM

Re: ADATA XPG SX900 128GB SSD Review
Thanks for the review Karan. The performance is indeed impressive but the price will still keep this as a niche product.

KrAwL1125 14-01-13 09:46 AM

Re: ADATA XPG SX900 128GB SSD Review
Wow I knew SSDs were a lot faster than mechanical drives but I had no idea the difference in performance is this big! Next upgrade - SSD. Nice review

thehardwareguy 20-01-13 06:25 PM

Re: ADATA XPG SX900 128GB SSD Review
Nice review! :-)

Orcrist 21-01-13 07:20 PM

Re: ADATA XPG SX900 128GB SSD Review
Ok, but the price seems a bit high.
I would rather go with a OCZ Vertex 4 or Agility 3.

Revolution 25-01-13 04:35 PM

Re: ADATA XPG SX900 128GB SSD Review
Price is still way too high. :(

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