Solid State Drives (what’s an SSD?) offer speed, reliability, but at a higher cost, compared to regular hard disk drives. While everyone knows about the big player’s drives, in the budget segment, there’s lots of cheap drives you may not have heard about. Today we’re taking a look at the OLALA CS820 SSD for just under $60. Does the CS820 deserve your hard-earned cash? Read on to find out – and at the end of the review, we’ve got one to give away to a lucky reader.
Aesthetics and Design
The OLALA CS820 features the OLALA logo on its back, rather than the standard placement on the front of the drive. The 7mm metal chassis includes white plastic stoppers on both ends of the SSD. The metal chassis itself comes with a brushed aluminum finish, which comes coated with black paint. Overall, it’s a slick looking drive with good quality for a budget design.
Like a few modern SSDs, the OLALA consists of three main components, instead of four. All of these parts inhabit the same Printed Circuit Board (PCB). The CS820 consists of a: (1) controller, which often contains a multi core ARM processor, among other custom components; (2) a variety of NAND memory modules, which contain the writeable memory of the SSD; (3) chassis, which comes in 7mm and 14mm thicknesses, with a composition of either plastic or metal. The PCB also contains a small amount of RAM (it’s actually DRAM), which manufacturers either place on a stack above the controller or separately on the PCB. Here’s what I found inside the CS820:
- Controller: Silicon Motion SM2246XT
- Chassis: 7mm brushed metal body with plastic sliding PCB holder
- NAND: 8x 16GB 20nm IMFT NAND modules (29F16B08LCMF)
I started this review under the initial suspicion that OLALA simply rebranded a reference design from Silicon Motion or an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). However, after a cursory check of Silicon Motion reference designs, I couldn’t find any half-sized PCB with both IMFT 20nm modules and the SM2246XT controller paired together. It could be an original design, although given OLALA’s reputation as a backup battery manufacturer, it seems a stretch to believe that they now produce their own hardware. That said, let’s take a look at OLALA’s design.
Modern SSD guts look similar to what you’d see inside of a smartphone, including sub-components like processors, flash memory, and RAM. These parts, and their quality, effectively contribute to the overall performance, battery efficiency, and write durability of the SSD.
Like many other half-sized SSDs, such as the OCZ Onyx series, the reduced PCB real estate results in less space for other components, such as NAND memory modules. OLALA compensates for this by placing four NAND packages per side of the circuit board, for a total of eight memory modules. While most controllers can read and write near simultaneously from each modules, the Silicon Motion controller suffers from a four channel maximum—meaning, it can only simultaneously write to four NAND modules. So while the CS820 possesses eight NAND modules, it writes to these as if there were only four.
Many budget SSD controllers include a not insignificant amount of RAM. However, a RAM stack doesn’t appear anywhere on the CS820 mainboard (see picture below). After reading the specification sheet of the SM2246XT controller, it appears to be a DRAM-less variation of the SM2246EN controller. I would hazard a guess that the controller includes its own onboard DRAM, which should decrease the unit’s power consumption.
The NAND memory modules hail from Intel Micron Flash Technologies (IMFT), one of the biggest names in memory that you’ve never heard of. IMFT started off as a joint venture between Intel and Micron—two of the largest names in the SSD industry. IMFT’s manufacturing process—which is around 20nm–purportedly uses High Potassium Metal Gate (HKMG) technology.
HKMG first showed up in Intel processors, which enabled the 45nm production process on Penryn CPUs. On SSDs, it allows for more robust flash memory at smaller manufacturing sizes. In effect, HKMG technology allows for smaller nanometer production processes with the same write durability as larger production processes.
I could not determine whether or not the NAND modules in the drive were synchronous or asynchronous. However, out of the three kinds of flash memory within markets (Single Level Cell, Multi Level Cell, and Triple Level Cell), the memory modules are certainly MLC. MLC memory offers better performance than TLC, without suffering from its numerous problems. MLC certainly costs more than TLC, but given its robustness and performance, it’s more than worth the marginal price increase. It also doesn’t suffer from the teething problems of TLC NAND memory.
Overall, the internal components of the CS820 seem purpose-designed for low power consumption and low cost. It by no means offers the kind of performance enthusiasts want, but rather carves out a niche within the low-cost, mobile market segment.
While what we have inside the CS820 is good, there’s some distinct shortcomings: there’s no mounting bracket for use with desktops and there’s also a lack of a width expander, which helps to fit laptops into larger than 7mm drive bays. This means if you mount it in a larger drive bay, it may rattle around, unless screwed into place. Not all laptops will allow the drive to fit securely, so keep this in mind.
It’s clear from looking at the internal components that OLALA didn’t design the CS820 for raw performance. The half-sized PCB, with eight memory modules paired to a four channel controller, suggests that the CS820 offers glacial write speeds. For reads, like most SATA3-based SSDs, the drive is bottlenecked by the SATA interface.
Within its own price range $50, the OLALA CS820 goes up against the Kingston V300, the SanDisk Plus and the Silicon Power S60. Of these, the OLALA offers the slowest writes (140MB/s compared to 180MB/s for sequential writes), although its power consumption should be much less than its competitors.
Those familiar with SSDs know that Trim (what’s Trim?) provides instrumental support to your drive’s speed and reliability. Without Trim, a SSD begins slowing down to the point where it suffers from awful performance. Getting Trim working properly requires support from the operating system, the drive itself, and the motherboard (specifically, the ATA version of the onboard chipset). Even with support from all components, it’s always been difficult finding whether or not Trim actually works.
Fortunately, there’s an easy, although less precise, method of checking if Trim functions on an SSD. Fernando from Win-Raid.com created a tool which writes a small amount of data to the SSD, erases it, and then checks to see if the data got removed by Trim. Users can also use a hex editor for greater precision. After running the test, it seems that Trim does function on the CS820, without any additional hassles.
On the other hand, a feature known as Garbage Collection allows an SSD to self-optimize, without requiring an operating system, or supported hardware. I could not determine whether or not GC works properly on the CS820, but judging from the specification sheet on the controller, it appears not to possess GC technology. This isn’t an overwhelming issue for Linux, or Windows users, as Trim should optimize the drive. However, the lack of GC remains a black mark against the CS820.
Silicon Motion controller’s design targets energy efficiency. A recent revision of the technology used to connect drives to the computer (SATA3.2) enables a feature known as DEVSLP (or DevSleep), which allows drives to consume very little power while idle. The controller’s power consumption during operation appears to hover around 1 watt—this places it among the more energy efficient of SSDs on today’s market. While I lacked the hardware tools to accurately measure the power consumption of the CS820, judging from the internal components alone, it’s obviously a low power consumption device.
Out of all the parts inside an SSD, the controller consumes the most power. Because the SM2246XT is a cheaper, lower power version of the SM2246EN, we can examine other analyses of the drive and conclude that the power consumption is at least as good. Anandtech did power consumption analysis on the SM2246EN controller, with the results falling typically in the middle of the pack.
- Idle wattage consumption: .28W
- Active consumption: 1.28W
- Max consumption: 3.18W
Note: The maximum rated power consumption runs a little high, although this refers to power consumption while being benchmarked.
Read and Write Performance:
As with most SSDs, the read performance of the CS820 reaches speeds that are faster than the SATA3 interface, which makes read performance less interesting than write performance. I tested the performance on an Intel Core i3-4000 series, 4GB of RAM, and a Kingston HyperX SSD as the boot drive. For comparison’s sake, I will include some performance benchmarks for the Kingston HyperX.
The CS820 writes at around 140MB/s, which places it among the worst modern SSDs in write performance. However, real life workloads tend to require read performance, over write performance. In activities like video encoding and compressing files, the CS820 showed performance about equal to other budget drives, although a few seconds slower (~8% slower).
I also performed an AS-SSD benchmark:
The Z-Zip (a file compression program) performance of the CS820 for compressing a single 1GB file came out to 2:13. For an older, but faster, drive like the HyperX, the speed came out to 2:03, 8% faster.
Handbrake is one of the premier tools for encoding video. The CS820 weighed in at 5:01. For the Kingston HyperX, it took 4:39, a difference of 7.8% faster.
Durability (Write Endurance)
Like many other budget drives, OLALA gives the CS820 a two-year warranty. The NAND packages used in the CS820’s write durability is estimated at around 3,000-5,000 writes per cell, which places it at the top of the write-durability for budget SSDs. Some controllers use what’s called “compression”, meaning they crunch down compressible data to smaller sizes before writing it to disk. This reduces the total number of writes, which increases drive longevity.
I could not verify whether or not the Silicon Motion controller uses compression. Judging from S.M.A.R.T. data drawn from Anvil Storage Utilities, the CS820 appears to reduce the number of writes made to disk when writing highly compressible data.
The CS820’s main proposition to potential buyers: most budget laptops can receive a decent increase in battery life, while at the same time speeding up boot times considerably. On the other hand, the CS820’s Silicon Motion controller performs poorly, although most users won’t notice the difference, as most computing tasks depend on read speeds for snappiness. And the read speeds of the CS820 max out the bandwidth limitations of the SATA3 interface.
The CS820, while energy efficient and inexpensive, suffers from a number of shortcomings:
Slow write speeds: The maximum write speeds for the CS820 aren’t good. They’re about half the speed that one might expect from a budget SSD, at around 140MB/s for random 4K writes.
No toolkit: This effectively means that the drive isn’t firmware upgradeable. While MLC SSDs require fewer firmware (or no firmware updates) than comparable drives with TLC NAND, I would still feel more comfortable with some means of upgrading the firmware.
Asynchronous NAND: Given its performance limitations, I’m fairly certain that the MLC NAND isn’t synchronous NAND, although the MTBF ranges around 2 million hours of operation before failure. This suggests that the CS820 uses the 20nm IMFT NAND packages, which are rated for around 3,000-5,000 writes per cell before failure.
No hardware-accelerated encryption: Unlike the SM2246EN controller, there’s no obvious indications that the SM2246XT supports hardware accelerated encryption. For the privacy minded, the CS820 falls short.
Should You Buy an OLALA CS820?
Those looking to upgrade their budget laptops will benefit from the CS820’s low power consumption and low cost. Everything works, including Trim, and it’s supported by Linux. Those wanting a powerful SSD should look elsewhere.
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