G.Skill Phoenix 100GB Solid State Drive Review

Author: AkG
Date: June 23, 2010
Product Name: G.Skill Phoenix 100GB Solid State Drive
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A Closer Look at the G.Skill Phoenix 100GB

As with the G.Skill Falcon series of solid state drives, the Phoenix comes in clad in an all-metal black case. The colour scheme of the top label is a continuation of the exterior box’s colour scheme which does make for one handsome looking drive.

One interesting thing to note is the power consumption of the Phoenix. Unlike the Vertex 2 which is rated for .35a off the 5volt line (1.75watts) the Phoenix is rated for 0.55a (or 2.75watts). This may “only” be a difference of one watt, but that is a whopping 36% difference.

It seems like G.Skill has broken with the pack when it comes to not reusing another past generation drive’s enclosure. This is evidenced by the lack of jumper pins next to the SATA connector.

Since this is a SandForce-based drive we were not overly surprised by the layout of the PCB. You get the typical “C” shape layout to the 8 MLC NAND chips on each side of the board (16 total) with the SandForce controller in the middle. Also like all SandForce based drives there is no external cache chip to clutter up the board. What is interesting to note is that this PCB does not appear to be a SF1500 board that has been “downgraded” to the consumer world with the use of the SF1200 controller and MLC NAND. The reason we say this is that there appears to be no room for the typical (but missing) super-capacitor seen on both the Corsair F100 and OCZ Vertex 2.

You can look at this custom PCB in one of two ways: either G.Skill does not intend to ship a SandForce SLC drive (which by perforce would be a SF1500 based drive) and thus a higher end PCB is not needed or they just wanted so save some money. If this is how G.Skill was able to lower the price of their drive we think it was a very smart move. After all, the lack of a super-capacitor and its tracing won’t negatively impact mass market performance.

When it comes to the controller used, the Phoenix of course uses the SandForce SF-1222TA3-SBH (AKA “SF1200”) controller. This is a SATA revision 2, 3GB/s controller which supports native command queuing (NCQ), TRIM support and S.M.A.R.T . Much like Intel licensed the central core of their controller chip from a 3rd party so to did SandForce. The heart of the SF1200 is a licensed Tensilica Diamond Core 570T CPU which is a 32bit RISC processor. However, the SF1200 is more than just a 570T as this is just the building block upon which the 1200 is built.

As you can see in the above photo, the way G.Skill got around the intentionally hobbled performance of the SF-1200 by simple brute force. Every SandForce drive we have had the privilege of cracking open has had mid-grade orientated NAND. Basically, G.Skill went “old school” and opted for the exact same NAND as that which graced our original Falcon drive. To be precise this is Samsung K9HCG08U1M-PCB0 MLC NAND which are most likely based on Samsung’s 51nm engraving process.

The upside to using these older chips is they have been shown to be very effective in the past and are in fact faster then the chips which graced our Vertex 2 (as seen by the Falcon 1 versus Falcon 2 results). So while the Phoenix’s controller may not be able to harness the full potential of these high grade (yet older) chips, the end result is an easy and inexpensive work-around for a firmware limitation imposed by SandForce. Brilliant.

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