OCZ Trion 100 Series SSD Review

Now firmly in the Toshiba camp, OCZ's Trion 100 Series is the first retail product to ship with Toshiba's new A19 TLC NAND flash.

Introduction

OCZ Storage Solutions first teased a triple-level-cell client SSD at CES 2012 as part of its Everest platform. If it had been released, the drive would have been the first TLC SSD to hit the channel. OCZ wasn't shy about the need for such a product. Even back in 2012, the company claimed it'd see a 30% price reduction compared to MLC flash, while still delivering up to 500 MB/s of sequential throughput and up to 30,000 random 4KB IOPS.

The long delay in bringing a TLC-based product to market wasn't an OCZ issue. Outside of Samsung, triple-level-cell flash wasn't ready for the SSD space. Both Flash Forward (Toshiba/SanDisk) and IMFT (Intel/Micron) have been manufacturing the stuff for years now, but most of it ended up in devices with low endurance like thumb drives and SD cards.

The flash-to-controller relationship also played a role in bringing TLC to market. In order to make the memory technology viable, companies needed a processor with powerful ECC capabilities. Adding an extra level of sophistication increases the controller's cost, and companies don't want to build expensive parts without the flash ready to drop into retail products.

But now we're at a point where the necessary processors and TLC flash are ready. Some analysts claim that TLC will account for 50% of all flash shipped in 2015. That number represents both OEM and channel products, so retail shoppers still have some time left before MLC becomes a premium-only offering.

OCZ Storage Solutions is one of the first vendors with a new drive based on TLC, beaten there only by Samsung and SanDisk. Of course, Samsung first broke through with the original 840 in 2012 and is on its third-gen TLC-based SSD in the 850 EVO. SanDisk, Toshiba's partner in Flash Forward, introduced TLC to the channel in late 2014. 

To usher in this new era, OCZ minted the Trion 100 product name. It's the company's sixth product for the client and workstation markets, and it slides into an entry-level position. Above the Trion 100 is the ARC 100, Vertex 460A, Radeon R7, Vector 180 and the RevoDrive 350.

Technical Specifications

Tagging along with the TLC flash is a new Toshiba eight-channel controller that uses advanced BCH error-correcting code. Interestingly, the processor purportedly manages TLC so well that three of the four Trion 100 SKUs deliver better endurance than OCZ's flagship RevoDrive 350 and Vector 180.

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OCZ plans to introduce the Trion 100 at four capacity points, from 120GB to 960GB. And Toshiba's controller is capable of addressing more CE channels if OCZ ever wants to bring a 2TB model to market. We sure hope it does. After all, performance naturally scales as the capacity increases due to increased parallelization, reading and writing to more dies at the same time.

Today, we're testing the two largest capacities: 480GB and 960GB. Most of our analysis will come from the 960GB model as we compare it to other 1TB-class SSDs.

The Trion 100 notably doesn't support encryption options like eDrive. It does, however, support DevSlp. OCZ tells us the Trion 100 uses just 6mW of power in this idle state, and our own testing demonstrates the drive's ability to deliver an exceptional amount of battery life.

Pricing, Warranty And Accessories

The Trion 100 starts out at just $56.99 for the 120GB model. The 240GB version has an MSRP of $87.99, the 480GB starts at $184.99 and the large 960GB model sits at $369.99. All of those are suggested retail prices though, and it's important to note that OCZ's offerings rarely stay there longer than a few weeks. As of this writing, Samsung's 850 EVO 1TB sells for just a few dollars more than the 960GB Trion 100's MSRP, while the Mushkin Reactor 1TB costs roughly $30 less.

OCZ moved most of its products over to the ShieldPlus Warranty. The only shipping model without ShieldPlus is the RevoDrive 350. This higher-end guarantee includes a few extras like advanced RMA, prepaid return labels and what amounts to a no-hassle return process. The Trion 100s feature three-year protection.

The Trion 100 ships without an accessory package, but OCZ's SSD Guru software (the next evolution beyond SSD Toolbox) does support this series for drive management.

A Closer Look

Trion 100 uses the same basic package as other modern 2.5" OCZ SSDs. The company shows a lot of useful information on the back of the box, though it does lack performance information. We prefer to see some pertinent specs to help guide retail shoppers.

Inside, the Trion 100 is accompanied by an installation guide and a warranty statement with contact information for service.

The drive looks really nice in white, even if the design is a carry-over from existing products. The chassis itself is new; it doesn't use screws to keep the two halves together. Other vendors employ similar a similar shell, and it helps them chip away at cost.

The Trion 100's z-height measures 7mm tall, so it fits in notebooks that require the thinner form factor. Most newer SSDs conform to this size.

OCZ's 960GB Trion 100 is on the left and the 480GB model is on the right. If you look closely, this image makes is pretty obvious what we are looking at: the Phison S10 design is similar. Phison does manufacture drives in a Toshiba factory and has for a very long time.

At the very least, Toshiba's TC58NC processor is a close relative of the Phison S10 quad-core controller designed for MLC and TLC flash.

OCZ chose to use Nanya DRAM for caching the page table data, and the amount of on-board memory increases with each step up in the Trion 100 family.

The Trion 100 is the first retail product to ship with Toshiba's A19 TLC NAND. Over the next month, we'll hear about more products with this flash inside; several announcements are scheduled for Flash Memory Summit in early August.

Data Type Comparison And TLC Sequential Write Speed

Similar to the Phison S10-controlled drives, OCZ's Trion passes compressible and incompressible data through at different rates. Unlike SandForce-based SSDs that write incompressible data slower, Toshiba's controller reads compressible data at a higher speed. 

When it comes to TLC NAND, we're mostly worried about sequential roll-off. This is a new test that we're running on products that use pSLC modes to hide the performance of slower flash technologies. Some MLC products are complemented with pSLC, but for the most part emulated SLC is used to mask the weaknesses of TLC. 

Native TLC write performance is significantly lower than SLC or MLC. In the chart above, we write 64KB blocks to the full user LBA span of the Trion 100 480GB and observe performance right around 110 MB/s. There are mechanical hard drives that are faster.

The key to making TLC useful is to hide its native performance as much as possible. At the very start of the test, we see the Trion 100 480GB writing data at 427 MB/s. Sadly, that performance level is quite brief. Successfully masking the expected behavior of TLC memory means you need a large enough buffer to keep the drive from dropping to 110 MB/s transfers.

Sequential Read

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To read about our storage tests in-depth, please check out How We Test HDDs And SSDs. Four-corner testing is covered on page six.

The Corsair Neutron XT 960GB uses the closely-related Phison S10 controller with Phison A19 MLC flash; it'll give us a good measuring point to compare MLC to TLC. We have an upcoming piece that compares Toshiba A19 TLC, A19 MLC and Micron L95b MLC with the S10 controller and current-gen firmware, but we can't help but to compare A19 TLC and MLC now while we have the opportunity. 

With that said, all of the Phison S10-controlled drives we've tested with MLC have been top performers in sequential reads. The Trion 100 with A19 TLC isn't able to match the Corsair's Neutron XT 960GB, but it's still faster than the MX200. A better comparison would be to Crucial's BX100 1TB, which uses Micron's 16nm MLC that is cost-competitive with Toshiba A19 TLC.

Sequential Write

In this sequential test we use 128KB blocks, which pass through the drive faster than the 64KB blocks from our earlier benchmark. The pSLC buffer works to keep performance higher than TLC flash on its own, but the Trion 100 nevertheless falls to the bottom of the chart with only Crucial's BX100 under it.

With a limited SLC-like buffer available, the amount of time used to test affects the benchmark's outcome. We're running for 30 seconds at each stage. A shorter duration would help the Trion 100, while a longer time frame would hurt it.

Random Read

The Trion 100 falls to the bottom of our performance charts at low queue depths, and it doesn't do much better at high queue depths. Just remember that this is an entry-level SSD though, and many of the products we're comparing are mainstream and premium performance drives. The Crucial BX100 and Samsung 850 EVO are the only two SSDs in the Trion 100's price range.

Random Write

As mentioned previously, our testing uses incompressible data and includes preconditioning to get repeatable results. The settings we use hurt the S10 and Trion 100 products, but as you can see the Toshiba TLC struggles with random data writes.

In contrast, Corsair's Neutron XT 960GB fares well in the low queue depth tests and performs very well at high queue depths, so OCZ can't point to the controller for its lack of random write performance. The TLC flash is to blame here.

Sequential 80% Read Mixed

Our mixed workload testing is described in detail here, and our steady state tests are described here.

In this test we measure sequential performance at 80% reads and 20% writes. We call this consumer steady state because it represents the condition most of us subject our primary SSD (with our operating system) to. Mixed workload testing is good for separating value-focused products from the premium stuff. OCZ's mixed sequential performance lands where we expect it to, and the similarly-priced 850 EVO is right with it as the queue depth increases. 

Random 80% Read Mixed

OCZ manages to coax higher mixed workload random writes from its Trion 100 than Corsair gets from the Neutron XT at high queue depths. Most client workloads involve low queue depths, though. There, you can see how the SSDs are difficult to distinguish, particularly at a queue depth of one and two. Thus, the Trion 100 should deliver enough performance to satisfy most users.

Sequential Steady State

TLC flash is not meant to be used in environments with heavy write loads, which induce the enterprise-like steady state conditions observed in this chart. Some client SSDs do end up subjected to more taxing workloads, but the Trion shouldn't be one of them. Even though it offers class-leading endurance theoretically capable of supporting lots of writes, performance drops to disk drive levels when the Trion is pushed.

Random Write Steady State

We measure sustained 4KB random writes to look for SSDs that might fare well in RAID, and we're looking for high random write performance that is also steady. The less deviation, the more consistent the random write performance. In RAID, latency can increase if two drives both hit low performance at the same time, causing one drive to wait on the other. Simply slapping two SSDs together in a striped array doesn't guarantee a speed-up.

The Trion 100's price may tempt budget-conscious enthusiasts to purchase a pair for increased throughput in RAID 0. These are not good drives for that purpose, though.

PCMark 8 Real-World Software Performance

For details on our real-world software performance testing, please click here.

For the most part, all of these drives are bunched together with only slight variations between one product and another. The OCZ Trion 100s fall to the bottom of the performance charts, and in some cases take more than one second longer to complete their task.

I like to say that a second here and a second there add up over time. If you work long hours on your PC, those little delays do matter. Then again, if you mostly tool around on social media, then a slight increase in latency won't be an issue.


Total Storage Bandwidth

This chart comes from averaging the numbers and presenting our results as throughput. Not surprisingly, based on the data we've seen, the two Trion 100s show up at the bottom. Our issue is that OCZ wants this product family to compete against Samsung's 850 EVO, which leads the client workload charts. The transition to TLC isn't the end of the world, so long as companies leverage pSLC effectively.

PCMark 8 Advanced Workload Performance

To learn how we test advanced workload performance, please click here.

These two sets of tests employ a more demanding workload that represents near-enterprise steady state levels typically only found in workstations or servers writing data full-time.

Even though the Trion 100 480GB and 960GB have nearly identical performance specifications, enthusiasts pushing them hard will notice a difference between the two. You'll also see a difference between the largest Trion 100 and other 1TB-class products.


PCMark 8 Advanced Latency Test

Power users never open an Excel file and exclaim, "Wow, that came up at 100 MB/s". What you will notice is the latency, or how long it takes for an operation to complete. In this test, we look at the latency and specifically focus on the difference between OCZ's 960GB Trion 100 and the 480GB model. There is a big latency gap between both drives in one of this review's most important measurements.

Notebook Battery Life

For more information on how we test notebook battery life, click here.

Despite shortcomings in other area, the Trion 100s perform very well in our notebook battery life test. Using these SSDs in a notebook eliminates some of the performance issues we observed. For instance, you're less likely to network over Ethernet, so file transfers, say, to a storage appliance, take place over Wi-Fi. Even streaming more than one file over Wi-Fi won't expose native TLC sequential write speeds.

In reduced power mode the notebook's CPU, GPU, RAM and system bus operate at lower clock rates to reduce power. Most of the drives we test deliver similar performance in this state. The Trion 100 joins the same group as the comparison products.

Conclusion

It would be easy to dismiss the Trion 100 for its modest performance, lack of innovation and 850 EVO 1TB price parity. But we want to look further into the future and not just tell the tale of day-one availability.

The Trion 100 probably won't be a successful product right out of the gate. I can't think of any reason to buy this drive over a Samsung 850 EVO or Mushkin Reactor in the 512GB or 1TB capacity classes. After all, the Reactor is the lowest-priced SSD at those sizes. Its four-channel Silicon Motion controller delivers ample performance for anyone looking for lots of space for the least amount of money.

Many things have been said about OCZ Storage Solutions, but nobody can claim the company struggles at selling SSDs. So might it be possible that the EVO-like price tag is part of OCZ's strategy? The cost-conscious crowd will see a $369.99 MSRP in black, just above the street price, and voila, value. OCZ didn't tell us what the Trion will sell for once it hits the wild, but I suspect the company will get it down to Reactor levels. It might even undercut Mushkin's offering to move higher volumes. The Reactor seems to be out of stock as often as it's available. OCZ shouldn't have that problem given its guaranteed access to Toshiba flash.

At its MSRP, the Trion 100 doesn't represent a good value. But how would we feel about a 1TB-class SSD selling for $300 to $310? How about a 480GB drive for $140 to $150? In order for OCZ to really sell this product, it needs to cost significantly less than MLC-based drives and be readily available to keep up with demand. 

Compared to most other SSDs, the Trion 100 underperforms. But when you put it up against a hard drive, OCZ's Trion 100 is Juliet in the eyes of Romeo.

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Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware, covering Storage. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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