The price of solid state drives has dropped dramatically in the past year, but budget-conscious upgraders still face a difficult choice: Spend well over $300 for a 128GB SSD, or spend less for a much lower capacity (64GB or 32GB), or a much slower 7,200-rpm hard drive instead. At $249, the Kingston SSDNow V-Series offers what would seem like the best of both worlds: the increased durability and high read speeds associated with solid state technology at an affordable price. However, this drive lacks the faster write speeds and better multitasking performance provided by more expensive alternatives.
Design and Form Factor
The V-Series comes in a standard 2.5-inch form factor and uses a traditional SATA interface. Most notebooks made in the past couple of years support SATA drives, though some ultraportable and thin-and-light systems such as the Lenovo ThinkPad T400s use 1.8-inch drives instead. Before you upgrade, be sure to check your manual.
You won’t spend a lot of time staring at an SSD, so the appearance of its casing isn’t critical, but after you spend a couple hundred dollars on a drive, you don’t want it to look cheap. The solid gray plastic of the Kingston V-Series won’t win any design awards, but it does inspire confidence in the drive’s durability.
The Kingston V-Series comes bundled with an external SATA-to-USB enclosure that allows you to attach the SSD as an external drive while you use the bundled cloning software to copy your data over. Then you can take your old hard drive out, stick it in the enclosure, and turn it into an external hard drive. While Kingston’s black and red enclosure is sturdy and attractive, third-party SATA to USB enclosures can be purchased and used with any drive for prices as low as $15.
Controller and Memory
Like all but the most expensive server-class drives these days, the Kingston V-Series drive uses multi-level cell (MLC) rather than pricey single-level cell (SLC) NAND Flash memory to store its data. Where MLC-based drives used to offer slow speeds, current-generation controller chips have made it possible to get incredibly strong performance.
Just as the CPU is the computer’s brain, the controller chip does all the thinking in SSDs. The Kingston V-Series uses a Toshiba-branded controller that is based on the infamous JMicron JMF602 controller. Those unfamiliar with SSD controller technology probably haven’t heard of the JMF602, but it has developed a negative reputation among reviewers and enthusiasts because many drives with this controller have a tendency to “stutter”—literally freeze in their tracks—in the middle of writing large files.
For example, the OCZ Core Series, an earlier JMicron-based drive we tested last summer, took nearly 21 minutes to complete our zip test, while 5,400-rpm hard drives took less than half that time. Kingston assured us that they have worked extensively with Toshiba and JMicron over a six-month period to solve the stuttering issues through firmware updates. As you’ll see below, the V-Series is no speed demon when it comes to write speeds, but it does not stutter or freeze.
The Kingston V-Series was placed into our standard testbed, a Gateway P-7808u FX with a Mobile Quad Core processor, 4GB of RAM, and Vista Home Premium 64-bit. We use this high-performance system with all of our drives so we can see their full potential. The V-Series was put through our standard suite of tests, which include:
Synthetic Benchmarks - Measures read transfer rate and seek time under ideal conditions.
File Transfer Tests - Time to copy files from one folder to another.
Zip/Unzip Tests - Time to create and extract large zip files.
Application Open Tests - Time to launch popular applications, both alone and while multi-tasking.
Boot Time - Time from power on to last tray icon loaded.
Synthetic Benchmark – HD Tune
To get a baseline idea of what to expect, we tested the V-Series using HD Tune, a program that measures both seek time (the time it takes for the drive to locate data) and read transfer rates (the average amount of sequential data read to the computer per second). While high transfer rates should help the most when loading large pieces of data, low seek times allow a disk to quickly launch an application, which is made of many small files.
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The V-Series provided a strong 0.3 ms seek time. Its average read transfer rate of 92.5 MBps trailed other SSDs we’ve tested, but was still 67 percent speedier than the fastest 7,200-rpm hard drive we’ve tested, the Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ.
File Copy Tests
To see how the Kingston SSDNow V-Series was able to read and write data in real-world situations, we conducted two file copy tests. In the first test, we copied 4.97GB of mixed media files—music, video, photos, and documents—from one folder to another. In the second, we copied only one large file, a 3.5GB MPEG-2 video, from one folder to another. Both tests were conducted three times, and the results were averaged.
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The V-Series trailed other SSDs we’ve tested in both multi- and single-file copies. While its single file copy speed was 41 seconds faster than the 7,200-rpm Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ, the Kingston’s multi-file copy time was 58 seconds slower than the mechanical hard drive. While not speedy, both of these tests were void of any stuttering or freezing associated with other drives that have JMicron controllers.
In addition to simple file copies, we tested the V-Series’ ability to zip and unzip large files. In our first test, where we zip 4.97GB of mixed media files, the drive notched a completion time of 6:45—a couple of minutes slower than most other SSDs, and 30 seconds slower than the 7,200-rpm hard drive, but still faster than the Imation M-Class SSD. When unzipping, the Kingston’s time of 4:42 was faster than that offered by both the 7,200-rpm hard drive and the Imation M-Class, though it was still minutes behind more expensive SSDs such as the OCZ Vertex.
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Application Open Tests
Perhaps the most important benefit a high-speed SSD can provide is faster application and file open times. The less time you spend waiting for programs to launch, the more time you can spend being productive. To measure this benchmark, we use custom scripts that display time stamps when apps start and finish launching.
The four programs we used were Adobe Photoshop CS4, Adobe Reader 9, Firefox 3, and Microsoft Word 2007. Firefox and Word were timed opening to blank pages, while Adobe Reader was opened to a large PDF (the 7.2MB, 567-page 9/11 Commission Report) and Photoshop was opened to a 398MB TIF file.
To ensure the accuracy of these tests, we disabled Windows Vista’s built-in SuperFetch service, which preloads frequently used applications into memory and affects open times. We tested each application three times, rebooting between tests to clear the system memory, and then calculated the averages. The chart below shows the average open time for each drive across all four apps, while the table shows individual open times for each app on each drive.
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In opening each application, the V-Series stayed within striking distance of more expensive SSDs, and blew away the 7,200-rpm hard drive. The Kingston SSD provided strong open times of 5.6 seconds for Adobe Reader, 1.1 seconds for Firefox 3, and 2.5 seconds for Word 2007. Photoshop CS4 opened in a reasonable 13.0 seconds, which trailed the other SSDs, but was nearly 9 seconds faster than the 7,200-rpm hard drive.
Application Opens Under Stress
To measure the V-Series’ ability to handle multitasking situations, we ran the same application open tests while zipping 4.97GB of mixed media in the background. The stress of performing an input/output-intensive task such as zipping slows down the open times of every application on every drive we test, but the amount of slowdown really says a lot about a drive’s ability to multitask.
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Unfortunately, the stress of running a write-intensive application such as a file zip in the background significantly degrades the V-Series’ performance. When opening the PDF in Adobe Reader under stress, the drive took a full 19 seconds—13.4 seconds longer than when it opened the PDF alone. Firefox 3 opened in a more reasonable 3.6 seconds under stress, though it was still more than three times as long as it took when launching alone.
Under stress, the V-Series opened Word 2007 in just 14.1 seconds, an increase of 11.6 seconds. Photoshop CS4, which opened in just 13.0 seconds by itself, took more than a minute under stress—63.4 seconds. As disappointing as these times were in comparison to the blazing fast speeds offered by more expensive drives such as the OCZ Vertex, the V-Series was more than twice as fast as the 7,200-rpm Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ, showing that it is still much faster than the fastest mechanical hard drive we’ve ever tested.
One common belief is that SSDs speed up boot times, but our tests show that’s not always the case and, when it is, the improvement may not be significant. Still, the V-Series bested the 7,200-rpm hard drive’s boot time by a slight 1.6 seconds. Perhaps if you’re loading a number of programs at start up you will see an even greater difference.
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Support and Warranty
At present, Kingston does not yet provide downloadable firmware updates for the V-Series, though a representative told us that the drive supports them. By contrast, vendors selling drives with the Indilinx Barefoot controller—the OCZ Vertex, Patriot Torqx, Super Talent UltraDrive ME, and RunCore Pro IV—have either already issued firmware updates or told us that they plan to.
Firmware updates will be even more useful in the near future, as they will be necessary for users to take advantage of Windows 7’s built-in support of Trim, a set of commands issued by the operating system that improves SSD performance. A Kingston rep told us the company is investigating Trim support but does not know if it will be able to implement it on the V-Series. (For a detailed explanation of Trim, see Microsoft’s Q & A or this graphical representation from Anandtech.)
The Kingston V-series is covered by a three-year manufacturer’s warranty on parts and labor, which is better than the two-year warranties offered by vendors such as Super Talent, Imation, and RunCore, though it trails the ten-year warranty from Patriot for its Torqx drive.
The Kingston SSDNow V-Series isn’t the fastest SSD on the market, but at $249, it’s much less expensive than its competitors, and offers a significant improvement over 7,200-rpm hard drives. The bundled upgrade kit adds even more value, as it allows you to turn your old hard drive into an external backup device. If you don’t plan on pushing your drive to the limit by running lots of applications in the background while you work, the SSDNow V-Series is a compelling choice.