SanDisk Extreme SSD Storage Review

The SanDisk Extreme 240GB is SanDisk's SandForce-powered SSD. Featuring Toggle Mode NAND and the SF-2181 with the latest firmware we give the SanDisk Extreme a spin. How does it stand up to its enthusiast competitors in terms of steady state and out of the box performance?

SanDisk Extreme Basics

SanDisk has a long history in the OEM market with many different types of flash devices; from USB flash sticks to memory cards and embedded memory modules in many of today's hottest products. SanDisk is now expanding their presence into the consumer realm with the SanDisk Extreme SSD.

SanDisk only has one previous consumer oriented SSD line to its credit, the Ultra series. This series of SSDs utilized an SF-1200 processor and a SATA 3Gb/s connection.

The new SanDisk Extreme Series sports a much more powerful controller from SandForce, the SF-2181. This is the venerable processor that is utilized in a wide range of SSDs from many different manufacturers and is currently the flagship client controller offering from SandForce.

One of the key strengths that SanDisk can leverage with its devices is its direct access to Toggle Mode NAND. Commonly referred to as "Toshiba Toggle," this type of NAND is considered the premium NAND for SSDs because of its high speed and resistance to performance degradation.

What many aren't aware of is that Toggle NAND is actually manufactured by both Toshiba and SanDisk. These two industry juggernauts combined forces to generate NAND under the Flash Forward Ltd. name in September of 2010. SanDisk owns 49.9% of this venture, and Toshiba owns 50.1%. This venture competes directly with the IMFT (Intel-Micron Flash Technologies) partnership, which consists of the other two large NAND suppliers, Intel and Micron.

Competition between these two has been stiff, and this is good for the consumer as it leads to much lower prices for the end products. As we see more OEMs entering the consumer SSD market we can expect to continue to see prices drop as dramatically as these have recently.

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The only component that SanDisk doesn't manufacture on the Extreme SSD is the controller, so keeping the price of this SSD low is relatively easy since these aren't subjected to the wild variances of the NAND market as much as the competition is.

For companies that utilize SandForce processors the firmware has very few parameters that are configurable by the manufacturer. While this eases the amount of firmware work that the companies need to do, there can also be some unexpected problems. With several previous revisions of SandForce firmware the TRIM function has not been working correctly, leading to a loss of long-term steady state performance. For manufacturers this was a source of dismay, as there was little that the companies could do other than wait for SandForce to release newer reference firmware to fix the issue.

Luckily, SandForce has provided the new 5.04 firmware and SanDisk has recently made this available via the R211 update.

Many consider the SF-2181 to be getting a bit older, especially since SandForce and Samsung have both recently released updated controllers. The reality of the situation is that the SF-2181 is featured in more SSDs than any other processor today, and with newer firmware revisions this line of SSD controllers continues to mature. While many of the competitor’s newest offerings offer large increases in performance at higher Queue Depths, this is very rarely beneficial to desktop users.

Enjoying the benefits of producing its own NAND allows SanDisk to keep healthy profit margins while still easily beating other competitors on price. We will provide a bit of a spoiler here, and note that the SanDisk Extreme is priced lower than all of the SSDs that we will test it against today. Paired with Toggle Mode NAND the SF-2181 is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

The SanDisk is sporting the new R211 firmware, and today we will take it up against the flagship offerings from the other manufacturers to see just how well it measures up.


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