The Korean company ZALMAN is usually most well known for its coolers, cases and power supplies. A few months ago we were surprised by their announcement that they would be entering the SSD market. Now their first product has reached us in form of the ZALMAN N128 SSD. It comes equipped with Sandforce's industry-leading SF-1222 controller and 128 GB capacity. Like on all Sandforce drives, there is some space allocated to the controller's overprovisioning area, in this case 8 GB.
||N128 128 GB
||Intel MLC, 34 nm
||128 GB (111.79 GB usable)
8 GB overprovisioning
Zalman's SSD comes in an appropriately sized cardboard box. The important product highlights like capacity and warranty are immediately visible on the front. Additional product details can be found in smaller print on the front and back.
You will receive:
The drive conforms to the dimensions set forth by the 2.5" form factor. Unlike many other SSDs, the N128 comes in a rugged metal casing that feels extremely solid and high quality.
Like all other Sandforce drives, the Mach Xtreme SSD uses a SATA II (3 Gb/s) interface which is able to handle speeds of up to 300 MB/s. It is compatible with any other SATA standard.
Mach Xtreme is using 16 flash chips and the Sandforce flash controller, which is located in the middle of the PCB. An additional DRAM cache chip, like other SSDs use for additional caching, is not available.
As controller the well-known Sandforce SF-1222 is used.
The flash chips are made by Intel and have a capacity of 8 GB each, they are produced on Intel's 34 nm process node.
||Intel Core i5 2500K @ 3.3 GHz
(Sandy Bridge, 6192 KB Cache)
||ASUS P8H67-M EVO
||2x 2048 MB Crucial Ballistix Finned DDR3
@ 1333 MHz 6-6-6-18
||Windows 7 64-bit Service Pack 1
||SATA: Microsoft AHCI
Display: Intel 15.21.13
- After initial configuration and installation we created a disk image that will be used to test every drive.
- Automated updates were disabled for all programs. This ensures that for every review each drive will get the same starting point without possible pollution from previous testing.
- Our disk image consumes around 25 GB on disk, we resized the partition to fill all available space on the drive.
- Partitions were checked to be aligned.
- In order to minimize random variation, each of the performance tests is run ten times, with reboots in between tests to minimize the impact of disk cache.
- We used the average of the ten runs as final score.
- All application benchmarks run the actual application and do not replay any disk traces.
Windows 7 Startup Time
In this test we measure the time it takes Windows 7 to boot from kernel loaded to Startup programs executed. An internal kernel timer keeps track of this time, so it is more accurate than using a stop watch, for example.
Office 2010 Installation
We installed Microsoft Office 2010 using the standard installation without any customization. The installation source files were located in uncompressed form on the tested drive. (2.4 GB transferred, 72% write).
ISO File Copy
The 3.1 GB ISO image of Windows 7 64-bit (en_windows_7_ultimate_x64_dvd_x15-65922.iso) was copied to a different folder on the same drive. This represents a typical large file usage model. (6.15 GB transferred, 50% write).
This test measures the time it takes WinRAR to uncompress the Linux 2.6.34 Kernel bz2 archive to the tested drive. (865 MB transferred, 86% write).
Avast Antivirus 5 was used to check the C:\Windows\System32 folder of our installation. We enabled full file scans and scan of all files regardless of extension. (2.14 GB transferred, 0.6% write).
Photoshop CS5 Startup
We measured the time it took Photoshop CS5 to start the application, load a 21 MP photo, close the image and exit the application. (73 MB transferred, 1.4% write).
Photoshop CS5 Performance
Heavy Photoshop use can result in a large number of disk accesses when Photoshop is processing its scratch file. In this test we measured the time it takes Photoshop CS5 to open ten 21 Megapixel images at the same time and then process each one by one. The actions applied to each image were crop, move, auto levels, resize to 1024x768 and save for web. (862 MB transferred, 79% write).
Crysis Level Loading
Crysis is well known for its long level loading times. We disabled the rendering path of the engine to take the graphics card out of the equation and measured the time it takes to load the level "island". (188 MB transferred, 0.5% write).
Battlefield 2 Patch
Battlefield 2 uses a typical approach to game patching by integrating the new patch data into the existing game data - as opposed to just dumping a patch file into the game installation directory. This usage model results in a lot of disk activity and generally long patch times. We applied the 500 MB BF2 patch 1.41 to our installation. (18.3 GB transferred, 77% write).
PCMark Vantage is a widely used system performance assessment utility. It runs several gaming and productivity related tests. We ran the "disk" subset of tests for our benchmarks. (6.0 GB transferred, 49% write).
We used the performance data from all our benchmarks to condense the results into a single relative performance score.
Performance per Dollar
In addition to the performance alone, we also present a performance per USD score which will be important if you want to maximize your investment. Please note that this score was normalized to exclude the capacity of the tested drive.
Price per GB
If you are only interested in getting maximum storage capacity for the least amount of money then this price per GB graph should be the one to look at.
Value and Conclusion
- ZALMAN's N128 SSD goes online for around $230.
- Excellent synthetic performance
- Supports TRIM
- 3 year warranty
- Nice looking, rugged metal case
- Current 6 Gbps drives offer higher performance
- Actual formatted capacity 112 GB instead of 128 GB
- Real-life performance not as impressive as synthetic
||ZALMAN's 128 GB SSD delivers the same performance as other 128 GB SandForce drives from bigger and more well known manufacturers. While on one hand this means that ZALMAN does not offer any specific improvements over other companies, it also means that you will receive the same high-quality Sandforce experience, as you would with other companies.|
In terms of performance compared to a traditional HDD you will see substantially reduced waiting times, general system snappiness is considerably increased. The only drives that are really faster, are the new SSDs that use the 6 Gbps SATA interface. For users of motherboard without that interface the gains are not as spectacular, so a Sandforce 1222 drive will still be a good investment. Also it should be noted that Intel's new 510 Series SSD is considerably more expensive than the ZALMAN N128, both when looking at Performance per Dollar and Performance per GB.
Overall ZALMAN's drive is a solid entry into the SSD market and a good choice for all users of SATA-II motherboards.