PNY CS1311 & XLR8 CS2211 SSDs Review
The current SSD market has entered into a period of stagnation as high end drives transition to new, faster interface standards. Though the number new halo products launched in the last 6 months can be safely counted on two hands, mid-tier offerings continue to get better and better. We’ve seen drives from Crucial, OCZ, AData and many others continually push the boundaries of value, performance and capacity. Now PNY is entering into the game with the CS1311 and CS2211 SSD series, each of which offers a combination of features well suited for its target audience.
It may seem strange, but of all the companies who have started to offer SSDs as of late, the one that we have been paying close attention to is PNY. On the surface this is certainly an odd statement since PNY has never been a heavyweight in the storage industry but their presence in the system builder community is beyond reproach. They seem to always offer a great combination of value alongside excellent customer support. While these new CS-series drives aren’t PNY’s first, bringing those ideals to the SSD market is bound to make some competitors sit up and take notice.
Not that long ago PNY took the extra step that most SSD “makers” do not: they opened RMA centers in Canada as well as throughout the world. This greatly increases the chances of the typical consumer not having to deal with duties, international shipping, and the other sundry hassles that usually goes hand in hand with a RMA. Samsung’s SSD division needs to sit up and take notice of this. However, a good RMA path is all well and fine, but when Crucial, OCZ, Intel, Samsung, and even SanDisk offer noticeably “better” drives there is not much sense looking past those options. With the release of the CS1311 and the XLR8 CS2211 series this missing half may finally have been taken care of.
At the end of the day it is really the price to performance ratio that matters most to typical consumers and it is here that PNY have focused most of their attention. To accomplish this they opted to use the very impressive Phison 3100 eight channel controller instead of the more common – at this end of the marketplace – four channel alternatives. Both are priced to be extremely competitive against their direct competitors.
From a raw performance standpoint the XLR8 CS2211 offers on-paper specifications that almost mirror options like the Kingston HpyerX Savage and Crucial’s ubiquitous MX200 series. Meanwhile, the budget-focused CS1311 seems to offer an excellent alternative to Crucial’s BX200.
To many folks looking for a good price / performance / capacity choice, PNY’s CS1311 series costs a mere $48 to a very reasonable $272 (120GB and 960GB respectively), with the 240GB we will be reviewing today only setting back consumers $70 - or 29.2 cents per GB. Essentially, it is looking to be a perfect option for anyone transitioning away from traditional Hard Disk Drives.
The XLR8 CS2211 on the other hand costs between $71 and $310 (240GB to 960GB) with the 480GB model being tested only requiring a $154 (or 32.1 cents per GB) investment. This too is quite reasonable and places it in the hotly contest mainstream arena where it will have to compete against several industry stalwarts.
Externally both are very similar, albeit the XLR8 is obviously the more robust of the two; however, to our eyes the less expensive CS1311 is the more esthetically pleasing model. In either case, both are reasonably good looking in our subjective opinion, and make use of standard 2.5” form-factor with the now standard 7mm z-height. More importantly both use full metal chassis, re even built in the USA (albeit using components made in other countries).
Since both of these models make use of the same controller and an identical form-factor, some will likely wonder what makes one an entry level model and the other an ‘XLR8’ mainstream model. Firstly, the less costly CS1311 comes with an industry standard 3-year warranty, while the XLR8 branded CS2211 comes with a four-year warranty which happens to be full year longer than most of its competition.
It is only when you crack them open that the differences become readily apparent. Both may indeed use the same controller and similar cache type (Nanya DDR3) but this is about the only two things these two models share in common.
The largest difference is rather obvious in that the less expensive CS1311 uses a half-length PCB, while the more expensive XLR8 CS221 uses a full length layout. Hence, the CS1311 can only make use of up 8 NAND ICs but due to the NAND type only four 32GB modules are needed to reach 128GB. This does not mean however that the Phison controller’s eight channels are fully populated. All eight are accessible but are only connected to one layer’s worth of NAND. This will negatively impact the overall performance of the drive, but the NAND type itself will have a larger impact.
Thankfully the ‘Built by Experts’ XLR8 CS2211 can use up to 16 NAND ICs and in the 480GB’s case all are populated which maximizes interleaving. The CS1311 also uses one 128MB RAM IC whereas the CS2211 can accommodate two for a total of 256MB. In all likelihood the larger CS1311’s would have more onboard cache than 128MB and PNY simply feels the smaller capacity models do not need the extra buffer capacity. With that being said, 128MB is the minimal amount we would want to see backstopping this particular controller while 256MB more optimal for heavier usage scenarios.
Moving on, while both have a decent to good amount of RAM cache backstopping the 3110 controller, the less expensive CS1311 pairs it TLC NAND while the XLR8 CS2211 uses cutting edge 15nm Toggle Mode NAND. These are Toshiba Toggle Mode NAND ICs, and not SK Hynix branded like some others are using. This really, really makes the 2211 special and rather exciting as not that long ago Toggle Mode NAND was only used in enthusiast grade drives - yet this rather inexpensive model has them. Brilliant stuff indeed!
Unfortunately, as you can see there is no true hardware based data loss protection on either model. While we were not expecting to see rows upon rows of capacitors on the CS1311, on the XLR8 were expecting to see - at the very least - some of these abilities offered. This missing feature will certainly hinder the more expensive XLR8 CS2211 when compared to the likes of the Crucial MX200 series - which does have power loss data protection built into its design. Essentially, Crucial’s drive grants a relatively secure ecosystem which avoids data corruption in the event of a power failure.
To be fair relying on any Solid State Drive that does not have enterprise grade ‘Flush In Flight’ data protection abilities is a risky proposition and consumers are much better off ensuring their system in on a battery backed UPS than relying upon the drive itself to protect the data in these scenarios.
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