Pros: Speedy large file writes; Strong zip/unzip times ; Comes with mounting bracket
Cons: Slower reads than competitors; Expensive
Verdict: This solid state drive writes large files quickly, but its read speeds are slower than the competition.
When we reviewed the Patriot Torqx, we were blown away by its blazing write speeds and its industry-leading ten-year warranty. Patriot's Torqx M28 Series--available in both 128GB and 256GB versions--has the same long warranty, but not the same blockbuster read speeds. This new version of the Torqx, however, has a Samsung controller and twice the DRAM cache of its sibling, which provides strong writing performance but reads that are slightly slower than its nearest competitors.
The Patriot Torqx M28 comes in the 2.5-inch industry standard, with the expected SATA interface. (While it claims compatibility with SATA I and II, the same cable is used for both; in general, "SATA II" simply refers to any SATA-interface device with a maximum transfer speed at or above 3 GBps.) Like the Torqx, the Torqx M28 also thoughtfully comes with a 3.5-inch bracket for easy installation in desktop PCs' larger bays. Before purchasing as an upgrade, make sure to check the size of your current drive, as some notebook systems come with 1.8-inch bays that are too small for the Torqx M28.
Given that an SSD should spend most of its life inside your unit, its outward appearance has little bearing on your final purchase. Still, with the price of an average SSD hovering around $300, we always appreciate feeling like we've gotten something for our money. The Torqx M28 feels well worth the cash with a brushed-steel casing that manages to pull off a practical, hardy kind of classiness.
Controller and Cache Memory
The Torqx M28, like the original Torqx and most other SSDs now on the market, uses multilevel cell (MLC) NAND flash memory instead of the more expensive single-level cell (SLC) NAND flash memory. While MLC-based drives used to suffer from subpar performance, recent improvements have made them the industry standard for all but the most expensive tier of SSDs.
The controller chip of an SSD is much like the CPU of a computer: it does all the organization and generally runs the show. Unlike the original Patriot Torqx, which utilizes an Indilinx Barefoot controller chip, the M28 takes a page from the OCZ Summit in using Samsung's S3C29RBB01 controller. The Samsung chip comes bundled with a 128MB DRAM cache, double the 64MB size of those found on the original Torqx and other drives with the Indilinx Barefoot controller, which should boost file write rates. In our tests, however, the cache seems to have only helped with large, single-file copies, not multi-file writes.
TestingIn order to ensure accurate comparisons across different SSDs, we installed the Torqx M28 in a Gateway P-7808u FX, which we use to test all our solid-state drives. This high-performance Gateway has a Mobile Quad Core processor, 4GB of RAM, and Vista Home Premium (64-bit). The Torqx M28 went through our standard array of tests, listed below:
- 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 multitasking.
- Boot Time - Time from power on to last tray icon loaded.
Synthetic Benchmark - HD Tune
HD Tune, our first benchmark test, is a program that provides a fast measurement of a drive's seek time and transfer read rate. The lower the seek time, the faster the drive is at finding specific data; the higher the transfer read rate, the faster the drive can write sequential data files. A low seek time, then, means the drive is usually faster at launching applications (and all of the small files associated with the launch), while a high transfer rate makes copying large files faster.
The Torqx M28's seek time clocked in at a respectable 0.2 ms--a full 0.1 ms behind Intel's X25-M G2 SSD, but right alongside Patriot's original Torqx and most contemporary SSDs. In its read transfer rate, however, the M28 fell behind Intel X25-M by almost 15 ms, and behind the original Torqx by 10.7 ms. While the M28's read transfer rate is about even with the OCZ Summit, it still manages to nearly triple the speed of the fastest standard hard drive we tested, the 7,200-rpm, 320GB Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ.
File Transfer Tests
To test the Patriot Torqx M28's speed in copying files, we ran a custom script to simulate real-world file transfers. The first test transferred 4.97GB of small files--including documents, music, photos, and video--from one folder to another. The second test transferred just one large file, a 3.5GB MPEG-2 video, from one folder to another. We ran both tests three times, and then averaged the results.
In the first test, the M28 failed to do as well as either the original Patriot Torqx or the OCZ Summit, but it still ended up transferring files at an average of 25 seconds faster than the Intel X25-M. Its significant lead is likely due to the differences in cache sizes on the two controller chips; while the M28's Samsung controller chip has a cache size of 128MB, the X25-M's chip only has 32MB. Though a larger cache should mean faster transfer rates, the Torqx M28's speeds trailed several SSDs with a DRAM cache of 64MB, like the OCZ Vertex and OCZ Agility.
Despite a poor showing in our first test, the Torqx M28 rocked the large file copy test. It was second only to the $1,400 OCZ Vertex Ex, and faster than all the other drives we've tested--except the OCZ Summit--by at least ten seconds. The OCZ Summit proved itself to be next closest competition, but the Torqx M28 still beat out its sister drive by an average of two seconds.
In addition to the file copy tests, we also tested the Torqx M28's speed in zipping and unzipping large files. For the zip test, we compress the same 4.97GB of mixed media files we use in the small file copy test. The Torqx M28 finished this test with a strong time of 4:23, which was better than the original Torqx but still trailed the RunCore Pro IV by nearly 20 seconds. In the unzipping test, the M28 kept up its speed and finished at 2:41, which was only 1 second behind the Super Talent UltraDrive ME. On both tests, the M28 was a little faster than the OCZ Summit, which shares its Samsung controller chip and DRAM cache size.
Application Open Times
One of the most tangible benefits of owning an SSD is when launching applications: with blazingly fast open times, you spend more time in the program and less time waiting for it to load. We tested the open times of four applications: Adobe Photoshop CS4, Adobe Reader 9, Firefox 3, and Microsoft Word 2007. Firefox and Word opened to blank pages, Adobe Reader opened to a 7.2MB PDF file (the 9/11 Commission Report), and Photoshop brings up a 398MB TIF photo.
To get an accurate measurement of the time it takes for an application to load, we use a custom timing script that displays the beginning and ending launch times. The load times of each application were tested three times, with the average results appearing below. We rebooted the computer between each test in order to clear out any pieces of the program that were stored in the system's RAM and ensure a baseline starting point. The chart below shows the average load times for all four applications; the table beneath it goes into the specific results of each test on a number of different drives for better comparison.
Across the board, the Torqx M28's open times were neither spectacular nor disgraceful. For Photoshop, it stands between its competitors at 9.0 seconds--just as fast as the Summit and original Torqx, faster than Super Talent's UltraDrive ME, and slower than the OCZ Vertex Turbo. While it's one of the slowest in opening the other applications, it only trails its competition by a few tenths of a second, and it still shaves off a significant portion--just over 12 seconds, in opening Photoshop--from the 7,200-rpm Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ's open times.
Application Open Times Under Stress
If you're the type of computer user who rarely does just one thing at once--maybe you like to listen to music while you write, or perhaps you need a set of diagrams open to reference for a report--the following test is a more accurate benchmark for your needs. For this test, we run the same application-open scripts while simultaneously zipping 4.97GB of small mixed media files in the background. The degree to which the open times slow down separates the SSDs that can take the stress of a busy multitasking environment from those which fail to perform under pressure.
While the Torqx M28 is not as slow under stress as inexpensive SSDs like the budget-minded Kingston V-Series, it does fall well behind its high-speed competitors. In our stress tests, the M28 opened Adobe Photoshop in 26.4 seconds, Adobe Reader in 6.5 seconds, Firefox in 2.9 seconds, and Word in 4.6 seconds. The OCZ Summit, which boasts the same Samsung controller chip as the Torqx M28, opened Photoshop under stress 5.8 seconds faster, while the Intel X25-M G2 managed to do it in just 16.8 seconds--nearly 10 seconds faster.
In general, SSDs claim better boot times than mechanical drives such as the Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ. While some make good on that claim--the OCZ Vertex, for instance, has an average boot time of 49.3 seconds--with others, the shorter boot time is hardly worth the cost. The Torqx M28 has an average boot time of 51 seconds, only 1.6 seconds faster than the Fujitsu mechanical drive. That slight lead might increase, however, if the computer is queued to open a number of programs on start up.
Support and Warranty
As of July 2009, Patriot rolled out new firmware updates for its original line of Torqx SSDs. While the M28 has no firmware updates available as of this writing, the original Torqx now offers a Restore Performance Utility similar to the Indilinx controller's Wiper program, which clears the SSD's memory and prolongs optimal write speeds. (SSDs should not be defragmented like mechanical hard drives, so alternative programs are needed to keep an SSD's memory blocks clutter-free.) A similar firmware update will be necessary for the M28 in order to ensure continued performance, but as Patriot already has a slot for the M28 on its firmware update page, such updates seem likely. You just have to wait for Samsung to provide them.
Firmware updates will become even more useful once Windows 7 hits shelves, since the new OS has built-in support for Trim, which performs the same functions as Patriot's Restore Performance Utility and increases the performance of SSDs. We expect the Torqx M28 will also receive an update that will let it support Trim. (More details on Trim can be found either at the Microsoft Q&A, which goes into the benefits and workings of Trim, or at Anandtech, which provides an easy-to-understand graphical explanation.)
Patriot offers e-mail support and live chat on their Web site (assuming a representative is available), and hosts an active forum to keep customers in the loop about the latest updates and product solutions. Patriot's ten-year warranty (as compared with OCZ and Intel's three-year warranties) looks impressive, and certainly reduces the stress of worrying whether or not your warranty has expired, but is perhaps more marketing than confidence, as few are likely to keep an SSD for a decade.
Value and Verdict
With the 128GB version currently available for $379-- or $1.98 per gigabyte--the Patriot Torqx M28 is about the same price or slightly more expensive than competitors like the OCZ Vertex ($359) or original Patriot Torqx ($385). Its large-file copy times are impressive, and the zip/unzip speeds are right in line with the competition, but drives that use the Indilinx or Intel controllers (such as the Intel X25-M G2, OCZ Vertex, and Patriot Torqx,) offer better overall performance. The OCZ Summit, which also has a Samsung controller but outperforms the Torqx M28 on most tests, is also a better value, as it is quite a bit less expensive at this time ($335). If the street price of the Torqx M28 should drop in the future, its performance is strong enough to make it a good buy. However, right now other drives offer more for the money.