Memory manufacturer Corsair lists five distinct lines of SSD (Solid State Drive) that use different controller chips and flash memory. The five types of SSD are the Reactor which uses a JMicron JMF612 controller, the Performance drives with a Samsung chip, and the Force range with Sandforce silicon. The final two models both use an Indilinx Barefoot controller, however the flash memory differs, with the Extreme using Samsung flash memory and this Nova using the latest 34nm Intel flash. It is available in 64GB and 128GB models.
Externally the drives look very similar as they all use the same 2.5-inch matt black aluminium casing, with only the model code that is printed on the label in big black letters to guide the customer. The package is rather basic and consists of the drive and a 3.5-inch drive bay adapter.
The cover is secured with four screws and there are four more screws securing the circuit board inside the casing. Once the board has been removed it can be seen that the Indilinx controller, 64MB cache chip and eight Intel chips are located on one side of the PCB with eight more Intel chips on the other side of the board. This is a 128GB model so we assume that the smaller 64GB version would only have flash chips on one side of the PCB.
This is the first time your reviewer has seen a combination of Indilinx controller and Intel flash, as the Patriot Torqx and Crucial CT256M225 drives both used an Indilinx controller with Samsung memory. The Patriot and Crucial both use reference firmware from Indilinx and we have some experience with the updating process. Crucial makes the job easy and allows you to update the software from within Windows. Patriot, by contrast, forces you to install the Torqx as a secondary drive in another PC, connect a jumper to two pins on the back of the drive and then update the firmware.
We don’t yet know how Corsair handles the task as the firmware on the drive is version 1.0 and there is no update yet listed on Corsair’s website. The numbering system suggests the firmware been specifically written for Corsair or at the very least has been tweaked in some respect.
We tested the Corsair Nova using an Intel Core i5 PC with 64-bit Windows 7 Professional and weren’t surprised to see that performance was similar to the 128GB Patriot Torqx. The Corsair Nova was a tad faster in CrystalDiskMark while the Patriot Torqx had a tiny advantage in HD Tach, which is pretty much what you would expect as both drives have 128GB capacity and use the Indilinx controller.
Copying a 2GB folder of files within the test drive showed a larger differential as the test took 28.4 seconds with the Patriot and 26.3 seconds using the Corsair, which is a couple of seconds faster or seven percent.
For the final test we turned to Iometer and this is where things get very interesting. In the 4KB write test the Corsair scored 1,079 compared to 1,002 for the Patriot, which is a win by some eight percent. The big news comes in the 4KB read test where the Patriot’s respectable score of 6,645 was demolished by the 17,414 that was achieved by the Corsair. That’s a colossal difference of 162 percent and the read performance takes the Corsair into a different league.
A league, in fact, that has consisted to date of a single SSD, namely the SATA 3.0 Real C300 from Micron that uses a Marvell controller. When we tested the Micron C300 we saw that different Marvell drivers had a dramatic effect on Iometer test results so we have to wonder whether Corsair has achieved something similar with its firmware.
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