When SanDisk announced the arrival of its Ultra Plus solid-state drive (SSD) at CES two weeks ago, the company made no bones about whom it was targeting: the consumer retrofit market. In other words, this SSD was made specifically to replace that old hard drive in your laptop or desktop.
SanDisk Ultra Plus SSD
Right off the bat I liked two things about this drive: It's extremely light (it only weighs 1.37 oz.) and it's cheap -- as in very inexpensive. The Ultra Plus comes in 64GB, 128GB and 256GB capacities. On SanDisk's site, they sell for $75, $110 and $210, respectively, but you can find them in retail outlets for even less. For example, the 256GB Ultra Plus -- which is the one I tested for this review -- can be had at Amazon.com for $170.
As I've said in past reviews, there is no single upgrade that will give you a bigger bang for the buck than an SSD, and it's all the better when it's an inexpensive one.
The Ultra Plus is a 2.5-in drive that uses multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash and a SATA 3.0, 6Gbps drive interface. If you don't have the very latest laptop or desktop model, you are likely still using a SATA 2.0, 3Gbps drive interface, so the SSD won't perform quite as well for some applications. (The Apple MacBook Pro I tested the drive on has the latest SATA drive dock; more information about my test machine is in the next section.)
When SanDisk announced the Ultra Plus, the company also announced an upgrade to its NAND flash density: it went from 24-nanometer (nm) lithography to 19nm with the drive, which may account for the low price. The smaller the technology used for the semiconductor, the fewer chips are needed to build a drive.
The Ultra Plus sips power, using just 0.12 watts when active.
SanDisk's specification sheet (PDF) states that the Ultra Plus has sequential read speeds of up to 530MB/s and sequential write speeds of up to 445MB/s. Top random read speed clocks in at up to 82,000 I/Os per second (IOPS) and random write speed maxes out at 39,000 IOPS. As always, those speeds vary greatly depending on the system and apps that are being used.
For the benchmark tests, I used an Apple MacBook Pro running OS X Mountain Lion, with 4GB of RAM and a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor. To measure data read/write performance, I used Blackmagic Disk Speed Test benchmark software.
The Ultra Plus SSD displayed blazing fast read/write performance -- among the fastest speeds I've seen on a consumer SSD. For reads, the SSD clocked in with 433MB/s; for writes, the drive reached 339MB/s., not as fast as SanDisk's spec sheet promised but still very impressive.
With the Ultra Plus installed, my MacBook Pro booted in just 14 seconds, which isn't bad. (Interestingly, the time it took to shut down was a bit surprising. While, in my experience, SSDs typically shut down in under 10 seconds, my laptop took a whopping 24 seconds to shut down with the Ultra Plus installed. )
SSD and HDD performance test results
Read/write speeds tested using Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. Higher numbers are better.
How does that performance compare? Last year, I tested Intel's fastest consumer drive, the 520 Series SSD. The Intel 520 Series clocked in with 456MB/s read and 241MB/s write speeds. That SSD also booted in nine seconds.
However, while the Intel 520 Series is faster than the Ultra Plus, you'll also pay a bit more. For example, prices for the 240GB model start at $245, as compared to the 256GB Ultra Plus that can be found at $170.
I also compared the drive with what would typically come in a laptop: a hard drive. I tested the same MacBook Pro with a Western Digital WD Black 500GB drive, and saw maximum speeds of 122MB/s for reads and 119MB/s for writes. Using the hard drive, the system booted in 21 seconds, nearly double that of the Ultra Plus.
Of course, a hard drive is also a lot easier on your wallet. The WD Black 500GB drive retails for just $64.
Overall, I was impressed with the SanDisk Ultra Plus SSD. The boot times were excellent, as were the data transfer speeds. The shutdown time was a bit disappointing, but nothing that would dissuade me from purchasing this affordable drive.
Moving your data
While SanDisk sells an SSD conversion kit for $35, which includes a USB 3.0 to SATA 6.0 cable and some installation software, I recommend a different route when it comes to moving your data from your old disk to the new.
StarTech's Portable eSATA USB to SATA Standalone HDD Hard Drive Duplicator Dock HDD makes drive duplication a fast, no-brainer process; it's all hardware based. You plug your old drive into one end of a SATA dock and the new SSD into the other end and hit "start." That's it. There's no software, no muss and no fuss. The device sells for $69 .
You can also duplicate your drive by using the SanDisk conversion kit to move data via the USB 3.0 port, but it's far slower than going the StarTech route.
Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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