Corsair Neutron 240GB & Neutron GTX 240GB SSDs Review
Currently, the SSD market has stagnated with every manufacturer trying to beat the competition on price rather than focus upon innovation to differentiate their products. Corsairís new Neutron and Neutron GTX series dare to do things differently by incorporating a new controller architecture from Link A Media Devices alongside the same aggressive pricing stance that has defined this generation of SSDs.
With a few notable exceptions, the majority of current mass market SSDs are powered by LSIís SandForce SF2281 controller. This simply due to the SF2281ís combination of excellent performance and stable firmware has shown to be a safe choice for manufactures. Unfortunately, this makes for a rather homogenized industry with most companiesí drives looking very similar those introduced by their competitors. Usually when a new high performance drive is released the only way it can possibly distinguish itself is by the NAND it uses. However, there is only so much a company can do to keep its products from being ĎJust Another SandForce Driveí (or JASFD as this phenomenon is more commonly referred to as) and even new NAND has a way of finding itself into competitorís products pretty quickly.
At this point in the game, SandForce based drives are simply too common to be noteworthy. If a company wants to truly push the envelope they have to look for greener pastures elsewhere or risk fading into the background. Luckily, new non-SandForce controllers are starting to trickle on to the marketplace and while opting for one is a bit more risky, the potential rewards are significant. Thankfully, Corsair is not one to shy away from taking a risk and is pushing the envelope here which is precisely why the $210 Neutron 240GB and $240 Neutron GTX 240GB are real stand-outs.
From the outside, the 7mm form factor does make these two drives slightly thinner than their Force or Performance series counterparts, the aesthetics may be a miss for anyone that wants something eye-catching in their case. Compared to the red clad Force GS, the gray color scheme does seem rather drab and more inline with what we have come to expect from Corsairís value orientated drives rather than their high performance models.
(Neutron GTX on left, Neutron on right)
Fortunately, there is no possible way of mistaking these drives for JASFDs once their internals are revealed. Unlike the Force series which relies upon the SF2281 controller, or the Performance series which uses the aging Marvellís second generation architecture, the all new Neutron series houses the Link A Media Devices (LAMD) 'Amber' LM87800 chip. Even though ĎLAMDí are not all that well known in the consumer marketplace, neither was Indilinx when they released their Barefoot controller and Link A Media has already earned some serious street cred in other storage-related areas.
From an architectural standpoint, the Neutron series shares more in common with Corsairís Performance and Performance 3 drives as the PCB is much smaller than most and requires off controller caching solutions. To be precise, along with 8 to 16 NAND ICs and the LM87800 controller Ė covered with a heatpad in both models - there is also a pair of 128MB DDR2 RAM chips. This gives each drive a total of 256MB external cache which should provide smooth and stable performance across a wide range of scenarios.
(Neutron GTX on left, Standard Neutron on right)
There arenít all that many internal hardware differences between Corsairís standard Neutron 240GB and the higher performance Neutron GTX 240GB but the NAND type and number of ICs used in each design varies. Corsair has opted for 16 modules of high performance Micron 3k ONFi 2 NAND for the Neutron, but only 8 Toshiba branded ultra high performance Toggle Mode NAND ICs for the GTX. It is curious as to why Corsair opted for 24nm Toshiba NAND and not the same 24nm SanDisk branded Toggle Mode NAND found inside the Corsair Force GS. Never the less these chips are extremely well regarded in enthusiast circles.
Unfortunately, there are only 8 instead of all 16 of the IC slots filled within the GTX we do wonder what performance impact this will have. SandForce controllers typically do better when more of their channels are populated but the LM87800 controller may behave differently so this review could certainly be interesting.
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