RunCore is a name unfamiliar to most notebook users, but the Chinese company is fast becoming popular with enthusiasts around the world for its collection of blazing fast solid state drives. The RunCore Pro IV is a breakout solid state drive that delivers excellent performance, and is bundled with an incredibly useful upgrade kit. However, at $449, it’s a bit more expensive than other drives that produced similar results.
Design and Form Factor
The RunCore Pro IV comes employs a standard 2.5-inch form factor and 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.
Though you won’t spend a lot of time looking at an SSD, the Pro IV has one of the most attractive cases we’ve ever seen on an internal drive. The dark gray brushed metal case is engraved with RunCore’s snazzy logo. Unless you’re putting the drive in a desktop with a clear window, you probably won’t see it again after you install it, but it’s a nice little touch by RunCore.
Controller and Cache Memory
Like just all but the most expensive server-class drives these days, the RunCore Pro IV 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 deliver poor performance, current-generation controller chips have made it possible to get incredibly strong results.
Just as the CPU is the computer’s brain, the controller chip does all the thinking and makes all the difference in SSDs. Like several other leading SSDs on the market today, the RunCore Pro IV uses an Indilinx Barefoot controller with 64MB of DRAM cache. Barefoot is popular with vendors, because it offers great read and write performance at a reasonable price, and because its firmware is software upgradable.
The RunCore Pro IV comes bundled with an external SATA to USB enclosure that you can use 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 RunCore’s enclosure is particularly sturdy and attractive, third-party SATA to USB enclosures can be purchased and used with any drive for prices as low as $15.
The RunCore Pro IV 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 Pro IV 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 open 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 RunCore Pro IV in 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 most with loading large pieces of data, low seek times allow a disk to quickly launch an application, which is made of many small files.
The Pro IV, like almost every other SSD, had a 0.2 ms seek time. Its transfer rate of 169.3 MBps is pretty much on a par with the other Indilinx Barefoot-based drives. All the Indilinx drives came out slightly ahead of the Samsung-based OCZ Summit and miles ahead of the Imation M-Class, Kingston V-Series, and the fastest 7,200 rpm hard drive we’ve tested, the Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ.
File Copy Tests
To see how well the RunCore Pro IV 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 test, we copied only one large file, a 3.5GB MPEG-2 video, from one folder to another. Both tests were conducted three times, then we averaged the scores.
While the Pro IV did not lead the field in either copy test, it did very well, and was on a par with other Indilinx Barefoot drives. The Samsung-based OCZ Summit did extremely well on these tests, as its controller and cache provided superior write speeds.
In addition to simple file copies, we tested the Pro IV’s ability to zip and unzip large files. In our first test, where we zip 4.97GB of mixed media files, the RunCore Pro IV led the field, averaging 4:03 to complete the archive. The other Indilinx Barefoot-based drives followed closely, with times ranging from 4:21 to 4:37. When unzipping the large zip file we’d created, the RunCore Pro IV was also extremely fast, finishing in 2:43–within a few seconds of the other Indilinx and Samsung-based drives and miles ahead of the slower Imation, Kingston, and mechanical hard drives.
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 using them. 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.
|Drive||Adobe Reader 9 PDF||Firefox 3||Photoshop CS4 TIF||Word 2007||AVG|
|Super Talent UltraDrive ME||5||0.8||9.2||2.1||4.3|
|OCZ Summit Series (120GB)||5.5||0.9||9||2.2||4.4|
|RunCore Pro IV (128GB)||5.3||0.8||9.4||2.2||4.4|
|Patriot Torqx (128GB)||5.8||0.8||9||2.2||4.5|
|OCZ Vertex (120GB)||5.9||0.8||9.1||2.1||4.5|
|Imation M-Class (128GB)||6.1||1.3||11.9||1.6||5.2|
|Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ 320GB (7,200rpm)||8.1||3.7||21.9||5||9.7|
Application Opens Under Stress
To measure the RunCore Pro IV’s 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 like zipping slows down the open times of every application on every drive we test, but the amount of slowdown really separates the contenders from the pretenders. On the fastest drives, open times are still reasonable under stress but, on the slowest, the wait can be exasperating.
|Drive||Adobe Reader 9 PDF||Firefox 3||Photoshop CS4 TIF||Word 2007||AVG|
|OCZ Vertex (120GB)||5.7||1.8||18.2||4||7.4|
|Patriot Torqx (128GB)||5.9||1.9||19||3.7||7.6|
|Super Talent UltraDrive ME||6.2||1.9||19||3.6||7.7|
|RunCore Pro IV (128GB)||6.1||2||18.3||4.7||7.8|
|OCZ Summit Series (120GB)||6.1||2.1||20.6||3.9||8.2|
|Imation M-Class (128GB)||8.6||2.5||31.3||5.5||12|
|Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ 320GB (7,200rpm)||34.3||23.3||130.1||23.9||52.9|
When opening the PDF in Adobe Reader under stress, the Pro IV was barely fazed, returning a time of 6.1 seconds, only 0.8 seconds slower than it took under no stress. Firefox 3 opened in just 2 seconds under stress, a mere 1.2 seconds longer than it took when launching alone. Under stress, the Pro IV opened Word 2007 in 4.7 seconds, which is only 2.5 seconds longer than it took alone, and still quicker than what it took the 7,200-rpm drive to launch Word 2007 alone. However, the stress open time was about 1 second slower than some other Indilinx-based SSDs such as the Patriot Torqx and Super Talent UltraDrive ME.
The Photoshop CS4 open test is the most demanding, and it always shows in stress open times. Here, the RunCore Pro IV showed why it is one of the best we’ve seen, opening the program in a blazing fast 18.3 seconds under stress, which was matched only by the OCZ Vertex at 18.2 seconds. The slower SSDs took between 30 and 60 seconds here, while the mechanical hard drive took a full 2 minutes.
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 be insignificant. Still, the Pro IV bested the 7,200-rpm hard drive’s boot time by a couple of seconds. Perhaps if you’re loading several programs at start up you will see an even greater difference.
Support and Warranty
Firmware updates have enabled OCZ and Super Talent to give users who bought their drives months ago the same performance as those who buy the new drives today. These updates will be even more useful in the future, as they will be necessary for users to take advantage of Windows 7’s built-in support of Trim, a set of commands designed to improve SSD performance. (For a detailed explanation of Trim, see Microsoft’s Q & A or this graphical representation from Anandtech.)
Because the Indilinx controller supports Trim even without Windows 7, OCZ provides Vertex users with a wiper tool that purges pages of flash data that have been marked for deletion, allowing it to maintain fast write speeds. Unfortunately, RunCore has yet to introduce such a utility for the Pro IV.
Like other Indilinx Barefoot-based drives, the RunCore Pro IV is firmware upgradable. However, RunCore has yet to issue any firmware updates.
The drive is covered by a two-year warranty on parts and labor, which is less than the three-year warranty offered by OCZ, and pales in comparison to Patriot’s ten-year warranty for its Torqx SSD.
Verdict on the RunCore Pro IV
The RunCore Pro IV is one of the fastest SSDs we’ve ever tested. Its excellent performance on our most important test—opening Photoshop under stress—shows that it is a great drive for anyone who does a lot of multitasking. However, with a current MSRP of $449, it is anywhere from $75 to $100 more expensive than the OCZ Vertex, which offers similar performance and even edges out the Pro IV by a hair on many of our other tests.
It’s currently available from just one retailer—which could explain its higher price—but RunCore said that it’s looking to expand to other online stores, which could bring down its price to something more competitive. Regardless, the RunCore Pro IV’s top-notch performance, great looks, and upgrade kit make it a compelling addition to your notebook.