Corsair Neutron XTi 480GB SSD Review
For the past little while Corsair has been rather quiet on the solid state drive front. Part of this is because the Link-A Media Device (LAMD) controller never caught on with consumers the way they had hoped - despite being highly lauded by reviewers - and part of it is because SandForce is now a division of Seagate, which appears to have very little desire to 'share' controllers. Also, up until fairly recently, there was also some difficulty in obtaining cutting-edge NAND at a profitable price point. Thankfully, Toshiba has stepped up in this regard.
This is not to say that Corsair has given up or left the SSD marketplace, instead they have simply focused on providing the most competitive SSD that they could and that was worth having a Corsair name on it. The result of this inward focus is the all-new Neutron XTi series. The Neutron series may no longer be powered by a LAMD controller, but that is not to say that this is a model intended for the budget or entry-level crowd. Rather, the opposite is true as the Neutron XTi is meant to compete against the Crucial MX300, Toshiba OCZ VX500, and other top-notch mainstream/enthusiast grade drives.
That certainly is a tall order as Corsair does not 'own' a controller design company, nor are they backstopped by a NAND manufacturer. Make no mistake though, this new model is a serious competitor at a serious price point. The 480GB model that we will be looking at has an online asking price of $180 (or 38 cents per GB) and comes with Corsair's legendary 5-year warranty. On the performance front, with an IOPS rating of 100K/90K, this is new series promises to be as potent as its new – and bold – red color scheme suggests!
So how have Corsair done this? They have done it by rethinking every part of the design process, and learning from other companies. Since Corsair were in no rush to enter the fray, they have sat back and learned from other 'early adopter' manufacturers and then put this priceless knowledge to good use. For example, they have not jumped on the 3D NAND bandwagon, and have instead opted for tried-and-true 128Gbit Toshiba 15nm Toggle Mode NAND, just like the Toshiba OCZ VX500. This planar '2D' NAND is arguably the best NAND available right now in mass quantities. and has powered many excellent mainstream options since it became widely available.
Perhaps the best example of thinking outside the box is the controller/RAM combination that powers this fiery SSD. To be specific Corsair have opted for the quad-core eight-channel PHISON S10 controller. This controller is well-known, and has garnered one hell of a reputation for both its short-term and long-term performance abilities. However, unlike other manufacturers that rely on this stellar controller, Corsair made an interesting observation: the amount of RAM that PHISON says should be paired with the S10 controller can actually bottleneck its performance! That is why Corsair has doubled the amount of onboard RAM. This combination of excellent NAND and a proven controller tweaked to perfection is precisely how Corsair intended to make up for lost time and lost to the Crucial MX and OCZ VX juggernauts.
Further helping differentiate the Neutron XTi as a unique model is the chassis that Corsair has opted for, which is not nude silver, nor basic black, and harkens back to the old days when manufactures actually cared about how the case of the SSD looked. Specifically, this 7mm 2.5" form-factor drive is drop dead gorgeous and even comes with a red adapter bracket. To be honest, this drive looks fast even when sitting on a desk next to a system. The only minor nitpick is that Corsair did not included a 3.5" adapter (preferably in red), but they do include a free copy of Acronis True Image HD so that does help make up for this minor misstep.
Internally, Corsair have gone with a clean dual-sided layout on a half-length PCB. While we would have preferred to have seen a full-length PCB with 16 lower density NAND ICs for reduced NAND operating temperatures, the NAND interleaving in this higher density eight IC design is the same and is pretty decent for an eight lane controller. The only nitpick is neither the NAND ICs, nor the controller (or even the RAM) are covered in heat pads. This is a touch disappointing and a missed opportunity, we will see whether it affects performance.
As mentioned above, Corsair have doubled the RAM capacity to a whopping one gigabyte via two 512MB Nanya-branded ICs. This RAM is not only cavernous in its capacity, but also fast clocking in at DDR3-1600 speeds.
The one main area we would have liked to have seen improved was in the data loss protection side of the equation. Instead of improving upon the stock PHISON models, and using as many onboard capacitors as Crucial does, Corsair have decided to simply rely on the PHISON S10's built-in data loss abilities. Basically, this level of protection is similar to how Toshiba and their OCZ VX500 does things and is mainly firmware based. As such, it is a good backup, but does not reach the Crucial MX and Intel 5 or 7 series way of doing things. Hopefully, Corsair listens to criticism and future designs will improve upon the 'good enough' stock way of implementing data loss protection. In the meantime, it is better than nothing, and it will protect precious data in most common scenarios. However, if physical data loss protection is important to you, we still prefer Intel and Crucial's overkill method to PHISON's merely adequate method.
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