SanDisk Ultra II SATA III SSD Review

Most of you know that the easiest way to get a performance boost from your old mechanical hard drive is to get rid of it and replace it with a shiny new SSD. SanDisk's Ultra II offers a lot of capacity for the money and comes with a 3 year warranty. Is that enough to compete in a market where prices are falling across every category?

continued...

Features & Software

NAND, Cache, & Controller

SanDisk has a long-standing joint venture with Toshiba that allows them to produce NAND chips carrying their brand name, and as a result the Ultra II is equipped with SanDisk’s second generation 19nm TLC NAND.

Article Image

SanDisk employs Marvell controllers across the Ultra II line, with the 480GB and 960GB versions getting the 8-channel 88SS9189 and the smaller variants getting the 4-channel 88SS9190. These controllers are well-proven in MLC drives, such as the Micron M600, Crucial M550, MX100, and MX200. They’re older parts, but with custom firmware, SanDisk has been able to add some TLC-specific optimizations.

As with other TLC SSDs, the Ultra II is highly dependent on the efficient use of a cache. SanDisk touts its nCache 2.0 technology as a key feature on the Ultra II, which is a two-tier caching solution integrates DRAM and SLC-mode caching in one die. All writes are buffered in DRAM, then hit an SLC-mode cache where they are combined into a TLC block and committed to TLC storage. Caching reduces undesirable write amplification and allows for greater speeds (before the cache is overrun). As with most other manufacturers, SanDisk does not disclose the size of the SLC-mode cache publicly, but confirmed that drives with larger capacities get larger caches. Theoretically, the single-die approach of nCache 2.0 should yield benefits in latency and overall efficiency.

Longevity, Security, & Warranty

SanDisk has been slow to roll out self-encrypting functionality across its product line, and as such the Ultra II sports no encryption features whatsoever. The Ultra II includes a 3-year warranty, which is on the lighter side overall but is standard for mainstream SSDs. MTBF is rated at 1.75m hours, but SanDisk doesn’t specify endurance numbers for the Ultra II. This is somewhat disconcerting, as even though endurance numbers should be taken with a grain of salt and interpreted with a careful eye on the specifications being tested, one has to wonder why it’s being omitted here.

Software

Article Image

SanDisk includes their SSD Dashboard software, which is one of the nicer SSD management utilities we’ve seen in terms of interface. It doesn’t break new ground in functionality, but the included third-party offers are a nice plus. Users can take advantage of software from Apricorn for drive cloning, Trend Micro for antivirus, and Absolute LoJack for theft recovery.

One thing that struck us as odd about the SSD Dashboard software is that we weren’t able to use it to force TRIM on the Ultra II in Windows 7. According to the release notes on SSD Dashboard, manual TRIM is only available on Windows 8 and above.