Review: Austria’s Angelbird laptop SSD

This drive isn’t cheap, but its performance in some areas is impressive

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Typically, when I review a solid-state drive (SSD) it comes from one of the half dozen or so big name manufacturers, such as Toshiba, SanDisk, Intel, Micron, Samsung and Seagate.

But recently, I received a marketing pitch from Angelbird, which refers to itself as "Austria's Premium SSD Manufacturer," so I figured I'd give one of their flash drives a whirl.

The Angelbird 2.5-in. SSD wrk drive, which became available in North America back in August, is available in 128GB ($110), 256GB GB ($190) and 512GB ($370) sizes. The prices aren't terrible, but they don't come close to some larger manufacturers such as SanDisk. For example, SanDisk's Ultra II SSD retails for $80 for a 120GB drive, $115 for 240GB, $220 for 480GB and $430 for 960GB.

For people who care about such things, the drive comes in a matte black, anodized aluminum case. It comes with a three-year limited warranty.

The Angelbird wrk SSD is 7mm thick (about a quarter of an inch) , which means it can be used in ultrabooks as well as full-sized laptops. It is positioned in the entry-level segment, meaning consumers. Its spec sheet shows a sustainable read speed of 561MBps and a sustained write speed of up to 450MBps for the 512GB model that I reviewed.

By comparison, the SanDisk Ultra II has a maximum sequential read/write speed of 550MBps and 500MBps, respectively.

However, the Angelbird SSD wrk's write speed drops significantly depending on the drive model. A 256GB model has a sustained write speed of 297MBps and the 128GB model's speed drops to 149MBps.

The SSD's has a random read/write performance of up to 72,000 I/Os per second (IOPS) and a data access latency time of about .1 milliseconds.

Unlike many other flash makers, which use the number of data writes an SSD can sustain over a set period of time to determine endurance, Angelbird uses the hard disk drive metric known as mean time between failures (MTBF). The company claims an MTBF of 2 million hours.

For comparison purposes, Samsung's 850 Pro SSD, designed for workstations and high-end PCs, also claims a 2 million hour MTBF, but the company also claims the drive can endure a 40GB daily write workload, which equates to 150TB of data written to it over 10 years.

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The Angelbird SSD wrk disassembled.

The multi-level cell (MLC) SSD has a standard SATA 3.1 6Gbps interface. It uses a Silicon Motion 2246EN NAND flash controller and NAND chips from Micron built on 20-nanometer process technology. About 7% of the NAND flash is used for overprovisioning, which helps allow data to be moved around without affecting the performance of the drive.

The SSD also utilizes 512MB of DRAM for caching writes.

In general, NAND flash memory automatically marks data blocks for deletion before writing new data, a process known as write-erase cycle. While NAND flash can be programmed or read one byte at a time, it can only be erased a block at a time, meaning data has to be moved around quite often, which can wear out the flash over time.

To address this, SSD makers will overprovision NAND flash that can be used as a type of cache to position multiple writes prior to permanently setting them down on the drive. Wear leveling firmware is also used to more evenly distribute data around the flash so that no one area is used, and worn out, more often than another. Angelbird's SSD wrk comes with such wear-leveling firmware.

Like other SSDs, the Angelbird also has error correction code sent at 66 bits per 1024 bytes.

Benchmark tests

For the benchmark tests, I used an Apple MacBook Pro running a freshly installed version of OS X Mountain Lion. My machine had 4GB of RAM and a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor. To measure data read/write performance, I used Blackmagic Disk Speed Test benchmark software.

The Blackmagic software revealed a top read/write speed of 521MBps and 429MBps. Next, I measured the computer's boot up, shutdown and restart speeds.

After repeated tests, the boot-up time averaged 42 seconds, the shutdown speed averaged 10 seconds and the restart time was 44 seconds. Overall, pretty poor. Most SSDs I test average between 10 and 14 second boot times.

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A look at the underside of the circuit board.

For example, a consumer-grade SanDisk Ultra Plus SSD, which is designed for laptop or desktop retrofits, averaged a 14 second boot time. That drive's shutdown time, however, was 24 seconds. Between the two, I'll take a faster boot time any day.

Next, I tried transferring a 12.29GB file consisting of photos, text files and videos from the desktop to the hard drive. It took one minute and one second. That's actually better than the aforementioned Samsung 850 Pro, which performed that task in one minute and 33 seconds.

I then tried transferring a 1.81GB MPEG file (Star Wars). It took about 8 seconds, the same as the more expensive Samsung 850 Pro.

Overall, this SSD appears solid. I'm wary of its slow boot up speeds, but the overall read/write performance on the 512GB model and the file transfer speeds are right up there with all the other major brands, matching even workstation models in some case. The lesser capacity Angelbird SSD wrk drives suffer a significant write speed loss, compared to other model drives, so I'd recommend getting the higher capacity drive if you can afford it.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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