Super Talent’s UltraDrive ME is one of the fastest solid state drives we’ve ever tested, with blazing fast read and write times that rival any product on the market today, including the OCZ Vertex and Intel X25-M. A highly competitive price of $359 and strong online support make this an outstanding choice for upgrading your notebook to SSD.
Design and Form Factor
The Super Talent UltraDrive ME 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 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 way its casing looks isn’t very important. Still, when you spend more than $300 on a drive, it should have a premium look to it. Unfortunately, the cheap plastic casing on the Super Talent UltraDrive ME makes this otherwise superior product seem flimsy. Luckily, once you install it, you’ll never have to see it again.
Controller and Cache Memory
Like all but the most expensive server-class drives these days, the UltraDrive ME uses multi-level cell (MLC) rather than pricey single-level cell (SLC) NAND Flash memory to store its data. Although MLC-based drives used to be weak performers, 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 in an SSD does all the thinking, and makes all the difference. Like several other leading SSDs on the market today, the Super Talent UltraDrive ME uses an Indilinx Barefoot controller with 64MB of DRAM cache. The Barefoot controller is popular with vendors because it offers great read and write performance at a reasonable price, and because its firmware is software upgradable. In fact, Super Talent has already issued more than two firmware updates, the first of which we installed easily before our tests began.
Testing the Super Talent UltraDrive ME
The UltraDrive ME was placed into our standard testbed, a Gateway P-7808u FX with a Mobile Quad Core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64-bit Vista Home Premium. We use this high-performance system with all of our drives so we can see their full potential. The UltraDrive ME was put through our standard suite of tests, which include:
Synthetic Benchmark – HD Tune
To get a baseline idea of what to expect in terms of performance, we tested the Super Talent UltraDrive ME 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 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.
The UltraDrive ME, like almost every other SSD, had a 0.2 ms seek time. Its average read transfer rate of 172 MBps is only an insignificant 0.6 MBps slower than the Patriot Torqx, and miles ahead of slower SSDs such as the Imation M-Class and Kingston SSDNow V-Series, as well as the fastest 7,200 rpm hard drive we’ve tested, the Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ.
File Copy Tests
To see how the Super Talent UltraDrive ME 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 and the results were averaged.
The UltraDrive ME did very well on both tests, returning strong scores that were on a par with other Indilinx Barefoot-based drives such as the OCZ Vertex and RunCore Pro IV.
In addition to simple file copies, we tested the UltraDrive ME’s ability to zip and unzip large files. In our first test, where we zip 4.97GB of mixed media files, the drive notched a respectable 4:21 completion time, which was on a par with the Vertex and Summit, though a bit behind the RunCore Pro IV. When unzipping the large zip file we’d created, the UltraDrive ME was also extremely fast, finishing in 2:40, the fastest time we recorded on any SSD (though the Vertex, Summit, Pro IV, and Torqx were all within 5 seconds of it).
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.
|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|
The UltraDrive ME provided best-in-class open times of 5.0 seconds for Adobe Reader, 0.8 seconds for Firefox 3, and 2.1 seconds for Word 2007. Photoshop CS4 opened in a lightning quick 9.2 seconds, which was only 0.2 seconds slower than the leaders on this test, the OCZ Summit and Patriot Torqx. In comparison to slower SSDs and the 7,200 rpm hard drive, the UltraDrive ME is as much as 200 percent faster on demanding applications such as Photoshop.
Application Opens Under StressTo measure the UltraDrive ME’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 such as 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 make you want to pull your hair out.
|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 UltraDrive was barely fazed, returning a time of 6.2 seconds, only 1.2 seconds slower than it took under no stress. Firefox 3 opened in just 1.9 seconds under stress, a mere 1 second longer than it took when launching alone. Under stress, the UltraDrive ME opened Word 2007 in a record-fast 3.6 seconds, which is only 1.5 seconds longer than it took alone, and still miles ahead of the 7,200-rpm drive launching Word 2007 alone.
The Photoshop CS4 open test is the most intense, and it always shows in stress open times. Here, the UltraDrive ME showed why it is among the best, finishing in just 19 seconds, which was on a par with the Patriot Torqx and just 0.8 seconds slower than the Vertex. The slower SSDs from Imation and Kingston took 30 and 60 seconds, respectively, while the 7,200-rpm mechanical hard drive took an interminable 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 not be significant. Still, the UltraDrive ME 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 more of a difference.
Support and Warranty
As we mentioned, Super Talent issued a firmware update for the UltraDrive ME even before we began testing. Firmware updates will be even more necessary in the future 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 already supports Trim even without Windows 7, Super Talent provides UltraDrive ME users with a performance refresh tool that purges pages of flash data that have been marked for deletion so it can maintain fast write speeds. OCZ provides a similar utility for its Vertex drive, but neither Patriot nor RunCore have provided a utility for their drives with Indilinx Barefoot controllers as of this publication date.
Super Talent covers the UltraDrive ME with a two-year manufacturer’s warranty on parts and labor, which is pretty standard among SSD-makers; however, OCZ offers a three-year warranty on its Vertex and Summit drives, and Patriot offers a ten-year warranty on its Torqx drive. Super Talent also maintains a very active support forum, where staff members respond directly to user questions.
Value and Verdict
The Super Talent UltraDrive ME is proof you shouldn’t judge a drive by its casing. This SSD provides performance that is on a par with the other leading low-cost consumer drives on the market today, and at $359, its per-gigabyte price of $2.80 is second only to the OCZ Summit ($2.73 per GB). Strong support from Super Talent sweetens the deal even more. However, other Indilinx-based drives such as the OCZ Vertex and Patriot Torqx offer comparable performance, falling to the UltraDrive ME in some tests and besting it in others, so street price at the time you’re ready to buy should be a strong factor in your ultimate decision.