Toshiba OCZ TR200 960GB & 480GB SSD Review
New SSD launches have been few and far between as of late. That shouldn’t come as any surprise since the solid state storage segment has recently seen a reduction its number of market players, pressure from NAND shortages and gradually increasing BOM costs due to supply constraints. There’s also significant separation appearing and new SSDs end up acting like bookends, being either entry level SATA-based models or extremely high end drives. There isn’t really much of a middle ground since most of those budget-minded options are pushing up against the SATA interface’s limits. With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the lion’s share of new devices have come from a handful of first party NAND producers like Samsung, Toshiba and Micron / Crucial whereas previous bellwethers are being increasingly pushed to the fringes.
One example of those new market realities was Toshiba’s purchase of OCZ and that partnership is now beginning to bear some very appealing fruit. We’ve highly praised their enthusiast level RD400 series, mid-level VX500 drives and entry T-series, with the latter being more frequently updated. After the Trion 150, TL100 and TR150 that evolution is now seeing another cycle with the TR200. And like many other lower end SSDs these days, the TR200 experiences mission creep that sinks it deeply into the VX-series’ territory. Luckily with lines blurring so much, would-be buyers can get more performance for their money.
Regardless of anyone’s personal opinions about the long-term forecast for SATA and TLC NAND-based storage in the mainstream marketplace, one thing remains clear: the SATA interface with TLC NAND combination is here to stay in the entry level and value orientated segments. The reason for this is simple. While there is indeed a legion of PC enthusiasts who have been using Solid State Drives for years and years now, the vast majority of buyers have only recently awoken to their hard disk drives. This is the corner of the market the all new Toshiba OCZ TR200 series hopes to conquer and it is the blueprint upon which the TR200 series has been built and in order to keep costs low while still offering great performance metrics, the TLC / SATA combination is being used once again.
Following in the footsteps of many, many… many other OCZ models, the all new TR200 series comes in three sizes for now. A small 240GB drive which has an MSRP of $89.99 USD, a 480GB model with an MSRP of $149.99 USD and a large 960GB drive for those edge case value buyers who really need a lot of fast storage and are willing to pay a whopping $289.99 for the privilege of only needing one SATA port. Today we will be taking a closer look at both the 480GB as well as the 960GB capacity versions. One interesting thing to note is the TR200 240GB is just $13 more than a 32GB Optane module, proving once again that lower-cost SSDs have the capability to really undermine Intel’s plans for a holistic Optane ecosystem.
On the surface another SATA with TLC NAND based drive does not sound all that exciting. After all, every single SSD rebrander and manufacturer has released an AHCI SATA based drive that relies upon 3D TLC NAND of one flavor or another in the past year or so. This market is so saturated that we could dedicate a long review to just going over all the options and we’d likely come up with a dozen drives that performed exactly the same.
In the case of Toshiba’s TR200 series, appearances can be deceiving as this is not 'Just Another TLC Drive'. You see, Toshiba has an ace up their sleeve that they hope will upend the market co-dominance of Samsung and Crucial. This potential ace in the hole can all be summed up in a neat and type acronym package: BiCS 3.0. BiCS is a simple acronym for Bit Cost Scalable. What it actually is… is a bit more complicated; so much so that we have dedicated the next page to going over it in detail. For the nonce it is suffice to say that it is Toshiba’s take on ‘3D' NAND. However, this new third generation of BiCS technology is a potential game changer which modifies how 'fast' TLC NAND is at writing information to its cells. In time as this technology matures it may actually remove the need for pseudo-SLC buffers that have a tendency to fail at the most importune of times.
So what has this change allowed Toshiba’s OCZ arm to accomplish? Well, the TR200’s on-paper specifications pretty much align with those of the TR150 in respects to read / write speeds and even NAND endurance but there are some slight deviations that need to be highlighted as well. Basically, OCZ is sacrificing a bit of low level sequential write and random read bandwidth for better random write speeds. That’s an interesting choice to make but it could be one that ultimately benefits these drives’ real world performance.
When compared against the direct competition, things do look a bit challenging for the TR200. While its pricing aligns with the likes of WD’s Blue series and Crucial’s BX300 drives, it falls behind in some performance categories while offering less NAND endurance. But we still have to remember these are simply on-paper specs and real world performance will be the deciding factor here.
Beyond this critical and potential game changer addition the TR200 series is pretty much a Toshiba drive built to their standards - and make no mistake ,it may be an OCZ branded drive but this is a Toshiba model through and through. Just as with the TR200’s predecessor series the -Trion 150- this means an all metal 7mm 2.5" chassis and a lack of onboard capacitors for data loss protection (it uses a firmware based solution). There’s also a marked change away from the typical OCZ blue color scheme towards a more trendy key lime green.
The TR200 also relies upon a Toshiba controller that is best describes as being ‘extensively tested’. In the TR200’s case it is the TC58NC1010GS9 which is a revised version of the TC58 that has appeared in many Solid State Drive models from Toshiba and OCZ in the past few years. Unfortunately, this controller doesn’t include any external RAM cache to keep performance high when I/O requests get hot and heavy. It does however come with OCZ's 'hassle free' 3 year warranty which is arguably one of the best in the industry and easier that Toshiba's RMA process.
On the positive side this TR200 series may make use of new NAND technology but BiCS 3 was extensively beta tested in the OEM world. Specifically, before Toshiba was ready to release this tech into the consumer market they released the Toshiba XG5 in May of this year to ensure that any bugs or quirks were worked out before home users ever got it.
Since this is an ‘OCZ’ branded drive the TR200 is also fully compatible with the latest version of OCZ’s SSD Utility app. This application allows for easy monitoring, troubleshooting, and even firmware upgrading all in one package. Unfortunately, while OCZ were one of the first to release an ‘SSD Toolbox’ application, they have failed to keep up with changing times. As such, experienced SSD users expecting to find an easy way to change the drive’s over-provisioning or even boost performance via RAM cache will be disappointed – as both are still MIA from this application. It does include a nifty little benchmark utility that will measures read and write performance – and is obviously the tool of choice for OCZ’s RMA department when determining if a drive is in need of replacement or not.
Cracking open the chassis we can see that thanks to TLC 3D NAND, even the largest 960GB model only requires a half-length PCB – just like previous TRION and TL models. Specifically, if you do decide to void your warranty you will find eight Toshiba NAND ICs (of varying capacity depending on TR200 model) and the upgraded Toshiba TC58 controller. As expected there is no RAM IC nor onboard capacitors since the controller claims to need neither. Instead the controller uses Toshiba’s firmware based algorithms to ensure data loss protection in the event of an unexpected loss of power. Basically the drive backs up all data on a fairly regular basis to the NAND and keeps ‘in-flight’ data to a minimum. It does however cost this new model much needed CPU cycles. As we will show you later in the review these are two weak links in the ‘new’ TR200’s chain.
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