Since my last review of a Renice Technology Mini PCIe form factor solid state disk the company has upped it’s line of Mini PCIe form factor SSDs to include the Renice K3VLAR 50MM mSATA SSD, which adds Renice to the still small but growing list of companies now producing mSATA drives.
Typical of many mSATA drives, the Renice mSATA is compliant with mSATA JEDEC MO-300-B standard. However, not so typically, the Renice K3VLAR mSATA uses a SandForce SF-1222 controller, like the last Renice SSD I reviewed. According to the data sheet for the Renice X3 it should provide performance of 250-270 MB/s for sequential data read, 210-235 MB/s for sequential data writes, a IOPS rating of 30,000 for 4k random read, and access time of 0.1 ms.
So this should provide above average performance compared to other mSATA drives but keep in mind these specs are usually the ideal and actual drive performance varies considerably per system and system overhead.
The K3VLAR is part of Renice’s X3 series, but there are notable distinctions between the regular X3 version of the Renice mSATA drives and the K3VLAR variant. There’s conformal coating on the drive that protects it from deterioration over time, which could be helpful since Mini PCIe form factor SSDs don’t come with casing protection like regular 2.5″ drives.
The drive also comes in a retail package that includes not only a screwdriver and optional screws for installation but also a mSATA to SATA adapter that would otherwise have to be purchased separately. The retail packaging itself is also sturdier than most for better protection during shipping.
So remember that the regular Renice X3 mSATA comes in a blister package with no adapter, no sturdy retail package, and no conformal coating when considering the price difference with the K3VLAR SSDs.
Pricing may also vary a bit depending upon the region and reseller but the Renice K3VLAR 50mm mSATA drives are available from MyDigitalDiscount (MDD) in capacities of 30GB for $119.99, 60GB for $189.99, and 120GB for $259.99.
The 120GB drive might be the most expensive, but it offers a better price to capacity ratio than the cheaper options at about $2.16 per GB for the base price. You can compare that to drives like Intel’s 310 80GB mSATA that resellers like newegg are selling for $199.99, or about $2.50 per GB.
SSDs still have a long way to go before really competing with the price for capacity ratio of hard drives though, which is closer to $0.15 per GB.
While for those not familiar with mSATA, it’s a industry standard developed by the Serial ATA International Organization (SATA-IO). That’s a consortium dedicated to sustaining the quality, integrity and dissemination of serial ATA (SATA) technology. Basically mSATA takes the electrical specifications of the regular SATA interface and incorporates them into the mini-SATA form factor. Physically it looks like Mini PCI Express, but they’re two different interfaces.
For all intents and purposes mSATA is just SATA in a Mini PCIe shaped package — but it’s designed for drive designs much smaller than even 1.8″ size SATA drives.
The specification for mSATA thus allows for the equivalent connectivity of a regular SATA I/II compliant SATA drives and it’s mainly the smaller form factor that imposes any limits on drive performance and capacity. However, the present mSATA specification only supports SATA I and II, which means you won’t be seeing any SATA III (300MB/s or 6Gb/s) drives, but mSATA drives aren’t intended for high end system use yet but rather for mobile devices, tablets, and as optional secondary drives for laptops.
This, however, leads to another issue. The standard is not yet widely adopted and so not many systems are equipped to use mSATA drives. There are also both 50mm and 70mm length card standards. So make sure your system both supports an mSATA slot and make sure you get the length card your system is set to take before purchasing one of these drives.
Fortunately for me, the good folks at MyDigitalDiscount not only lent me the Renice K3VLAR 120GB mSATA SSD for this review but also lent me a Lenovo IdeaPad Y460 laptop that is one of the few models available that is ready to accept 50mm mSATA drives. As I mentioned before, the package also included a Renice made mSATA to 2.5″ SATA adapter board that you can just snap in the 50mm mSATA drive.
The adapter uses a metal spring clip to hold the drive in place so that you can then use it in any system with a regular SATA connector. In addition to the mSATA to SATA adapter, Renice also offers a USB enclosure adapter as an optional accessory.
Installation of the drive is just as easy as installing any other Mini PCIe device, just don’t confuse a regular Mini PCI Express slot with a mSATA slot. In the Lenovo Idealpad Y460 the mSATA slot isn’t well labeled, but fortunately it’s right next to the hard drive and once you remove the bottom panel cover it’s a simple matter of inserting the drive and securing it with a screw or two. Although the screws that come with the Renice mSATA drive were too small for the Lenovo screw points but the correct screw size is common and easily acquired if you don’t already have extras lying about, or in a pinch you can use the screw holding the hard drive in place to hold the mSATA in place for testing purposes.
The Renice K3VLAR mSATA comes pre-formated and the drive I tested was the 120GB capacity version. Note this is actually a 128GB drive but the SandForce controller reserves a small percentage of drive capacity (usually around 7% or ~8GB in this case) for an Over-Provisioning feature that essentially reserves capacity for preventing the drive from slowing down when full and to replace dead cells as they develop over the life of the drive, as well as some wear leveling.
Thus this drive should last much longer and preserve performance for longer than comparable drives of similar capacity that don’t reserve capacity or don’t reserve as much. This is however the unformatted capacity and does mean that once formatted the usable capacity drops to about 112GB, not counting additional partitions that depend on system setup, for those factoring capacity in their decision.
The following benchmarks pretty much speak for themselves, showing that despite the Renice K3VLAR mSATA’s diminutive size that it still provides a level of performance that is across the board above what a hard drive could provide and can be considered one of the better mSATA drives available now.
The first set of benchmarks are for a baseline comparison for the performance of the Lenovo Idealpad Y460’s Seagate Momentus 5400.6 SATA, which you can then compare with the results for the Renice drive to give some idea of the potential performance improvement you could see when using the Renice mSATA drive.
The Seagate Momentus 5400.6 is a pretty good example of the performance range of your typical 2.5″ 5400RPM hard drive. Of course you can see a little better performance from higher end 7200RPM drives but those drives tend to be noisier and consume more power. The big difference is in the small writes and access time that are the biggest differences between hard drive performance and SSD performance.
Note that the HD Tune write tests were skipped for the hard drive because they require a blank drive to test with and I didn’t have a spare Seagate drive to test with that I could safely wipe for the test. However, the other benchmarks still show how much of a improvement the Renice drive could give your system. Given that the Seagate drive never exceeds SATA I (150MB/s or 1.5 Gbit/s) speeds but the Renice K3VLAR drive does push the limits of the SATA II (300MB/s or 3.0Gbit/s) range performance.
Solid State Drives that can actually push the limits of the SATA II interface can actually only offer up to 285/275 MB/s max read/write speed, but 250 MB/s sustained has been seen with the Sandforce 1200 and 1500 controller under ideal conditions. Meaning that there are some diminishing returns as the drive starts to push the limits of the SATA II interface, and everything from the drive performance to the system performance can effect how close it gets to that limit.
The performance of the smaller read/writes thus become increasing more significant as those are the figures that aren’t hampered by the upper limits of the interface and thus can see the most gains in performance. Unless you’re constantly transferring files, the smaller read/writes also are what will determine most of the responsiveness users will associate for drive performance. So keep that in mind when comparing the above hard drive benchmarks to those for the Renice K3VLAR 50mm mSATA below.
Some may want to take note of the temperature difference between the Renice K3VLAR 50mm mSATA and the internal Seagate Momentus 5400.6 hard drive being 9 degrees different. Longer and heavier use of the system should see even a wider temperature difference, which combined with the mSATA drive’s lower power consumption means your system will have to deal with less heat from the mSATA and that can help add to the power efficiency improvement you can gain if you opt to use the mSATA drive only instead of keeping both drives running on the system.
The impact of adding the mSATA should be minimum if using both drives compared to a system that uses two hard drives. Ideally mSATA will primarily be used in systems to promote better portability.
For Solid State Drives the random access read and write test is a important performance area to look at because some controllers have problems with random writes and thus helps indicate how consistent the performance will be.
For the following benchmarks, keep in mind that the results are affected by the way the SSD controller works, so some drive controllers look better than others in the benchmark tests. For SandForce this means that when data is written to the drive the controller attempts to represent the data you’re writing with fewer bits. So what’s stored isn’t your exact data, but a smaller representation of it plus a hash or index so that you can recover the original data.
This results in potentially lower write amplification (helps the drive last longer), but puts greater reliance on the controller and firmware that can result in some benchmarks giving results less than the drive is rated for. So take note of how the following CrystalDiskMark results vary with both the default random mode and the specific fill modes.
The difference in file size setting is to help show the possible differences between possible drive buffer performance and sustained performance.
What many drive reviews fail to mention is that performance results can actually vary a bit depending on the performance of the system’s SATA and memory Controller, along with system memory bandwidth, and other system overhead like how the operating system is optimized, as can be seen when I tested the drive on my 2 year old desktop system with the SATA adapter.
So don’t expect the exact same results in every system but the performance shouldn’t vary too noticeably unless there is something wrong with either the drive/firmware or the system.
You can also check out the extensive review of the same drive done by Storage Review, done with the SATA adapter on a more modern desktop system, to compare my results with and see how some of the other available mSATA drives compare.
Overall the Renice K3VLAR 50mm mSATA SSD is a fast and reliable SSD solution that is comparable to Renice’s other Mini PCIe type SSD’s utilizing the same SF-1222 SandForce Controller, which may not be at the cutting edge of modern SSD performance but still exceeds what is presently usually expected from mSATA drives. Since only the newer drives are starting to advertise for much more than hard drive performance range with read/writes of 80/40 MB/s for comparison and the design limitations the mSATA form factor imposes.
One other notable specification of the Renice K3VLAR mSATA is the 0.5/0.9W for idle/active power, which is significantly less than your average hard drive power consumption. Even the Hybdrid Seagate Momentus 5400.6 only goes as low as 0.61W. By comparison, the idle power for the Seagate Momentus 5400.6 is 1.4W, with average operational power of 1.78W.
In summary, the highlights of the Renice K3VLAR 50mm mSATA is fast 4KB AHCI read performance, while random write performance is not quite as robust as the 2.5″ drive version of the drive but still far faster access times than any hard drive, low 0.9 active power consumption, Win 7 TRIM and garbage collection to maintain write performance, and Over-Provisioning to ensure write performance when the drive gets full and when dead sectors develop over the life of the drive.
That makes this disk an ideal upgrade for those with systems already ready to accept mSATA drives and takes so little space that it will let you still retain the original hard drive for storage capacity.
The SATA adapter can make this drive an option for those who just want the benefits of a SSD with minimal size and weight for regular laptop use or just to help with the considerations of the investment cost with making it possible to use the drive in a wider range of systems. In either case, since the drive is basically SATA means once installed the system will see the drive as just another SATA drive and making it the primary is as easy as changing the BIOS boot order.