Introduction, Design Performance (Part I)
These days, you’ll find seemingly endless kinds of solid-state drives (SSDs) for sale, from high-end PCI Express add-in cards that are so speedy they need heat sinks, to drives the size of a stick of gum that slot into little M.2 ports on recent motherboards and slim laptops. You’ve also got SSDs that use different types of memory, including multi-level cell (MLC) and triple-level cell (TLC) NAND flash, as well as SSDs with increasingly cavernous capacities, thanks to the emerging ability to stack dies vertically, one atop the other. (See our review of the 4TB Samsung SSD 850 EVO.)
When we look through this lens of “an SSD for every type of consumer,” we can see the reasoning behind Toshiba’s new entry-level SSD, the OCZ TL100. This is an SSD that’s about as basic as it gets, designed primarily for people looking to upgrade from a hard drive, who just need a decent solid-state replacement. The OCZ TL100 is Serial ATA-based (which means it can be a plug-in replacement for any modern 2.5-inch hard drive), and it’s available in just two capacities: 120GB and 240GB.
What’s really compelling with this drive, though, is the pricing: It’s pretty close to rock-bottom.
At this writing, the 120GB OCZ TL100 drive was selling for $50, and the 240GB for $70. That’s just about the lowest price tier at each capacity we’ve seen for any SSD that’s not on sale or marked down to make room for an incoming replacement model. You can find other SSDs quite near this price range, however, so the Toshiba OCZ TL100 isn’t all by its lonesome—SSDs such as the SanDisk SSD Plus, PNY CS1311ADATA Premier SP550Crucial MX300OCZ Trion 150 sell for roughly the same price at their matching capacities. However, Toshiba is hoping that its own brand name (the company has now subsumed the OCZ name as an SSD sub-brand) and excellent warranty program will entice shoppers to choose its model over the competition.
Not surprisingly, the OCZ TL100 resides at the bottom of Toshiba’s OCZ-branded SSD stack, just below the Toshiba OCZ TR150 (how Toshiba now refers to the Trion 150), and both those drives use Toshiba TLC NAND modules to store data. TLC is a type of memory that’s extremely advantageous in the low-cost SSD market due to its “good enough” overall performance and affordable pricing. It has become the de facto standard memory type for entry-level and even many midrange SSDs over the past few years, ever since Samsung first brought the tech to market with the SSD 840 EVO. Though Samsung and Micron/Crucial have since brought an even more technologically advanced TLC memory to the market, in the form of “3D” or vertically stacked NAND dies, the TLC NAND in the OCZ TL100 is good, old-fashioned planar TLC, which means the dies are laid down in one horizontal plane.
That’s likely at least one reason why, as we wrote above, the OCZ TL100 is available only in the two small capacities of 120GB and 240GB. The drive’s rated specs are basically as fast as the Serial ATA interface allows, at least when it comes to sequential-read and -write speeds. For reads, the OCZ TL100 is designed to deliver up to 550MB per second, and for writes it’s rated for 530MB per second. So general performance shouldn’t be a concern (at least in theory) with these drives, or any late-model SSD, for that matter.
The only area where these drives could be considered “low spec” is their endurance ratings, but that label really only applies to the 120GB drive, which is rated for 30TB of write endurance. Still, Toshiba notes on its Web site that this degree of endurance translates to 27GB of writes every single day, throughout the drive’s three-year warranty period, which is a heck of a lot for the average consumer to churn through.
That said, we have, personally, been able to exceed that much action on an SSD in just two years, but we are also power users relying heavily on our system for work and play. 30TB should be sufficient for more-casual users. The 240GB drive is rated to handle up to 60TB of writes, which is 54GB of writes per day. We doubt anybody would be able to exceed that level of activity within the drive’s three-year warranty period, unless you’re using this drive in some kind of server. Just like a Nissan Versa isn’t built to compete in the Indianapolis 500, the Toshiba OCZ TL100 isn’t built for the rigorous demands of 24/7 multi-user access.
Toshiba offers this drive with its Advanced Warranty Program, which is designed to streamline the “my drive has failed and I need a new one” process. Instead of waiting for you to send the drive back to the company before deciding if its problems are covered under warranty (which, of course, costs you downtime, and maybe money if the drive is in your main work PC), Toshiba says it will just ship you a new drive along with a return label right away, should you have a problem. Though we’ve never had to make use of this particular program, it’s the correct way to handle drive RMAs. We have had to endure the standard type of return process, and it’s a giant pain in the…ahem…boot waiting two weeks without a drive just to find out if the maker will send you a replacement.
The only other “feature” worth discussing with these basic drives is that they include better-than-average software, cleverly named “SSD Utility,” that you can use to monitor the drive and perform certain functions, such as a triggering a manual trim command or a secure-erase. We’ve covered this software numerous times in the past, so we won’t dwell on it here. If you’re interested in a rundown of the SSD Utility details, check out the Software section of our review of the Toshiba OCZ RD400 drive.
Performance (Part I)
If you’re new to the world of SSDs, a few things are worth noting when it comes to performance.
For starters: If you’re upgrading from a standard spinning hard drive, any modern SSD will be a huge improvement, speeding up boot times and making programs launch faster. Today’s high-end 2.5-inch SSDs make use of a specific interface, SATA 3.0 (also called “6Gbps SATA”), to achieve maximum speed versus older, but still common, SATA 2 ports, which top out at 300MB per second. We test all our SSDs on a SATA 3.0-equipped test-bed PC to show their full performance abilities. To get the most speed possible from modern drives, you’ll need a system with SATA 3.0 capability, as well.
If your system is based on an Intel chipset later than those supporting 2nd-Generation “Sandy Bridge” processors (or one of the newer AMD chipsets), your laptop or desktop probably has this interface. Be sure before buying, though. If your system is creaky and doesn’t have SATA 3.0 support, there’s little point in paying a premium for a drive with the maximum possible performance. SATA 3.0-capable drives will work just fine with previous-generation SATA ports, and there’s scant reason to pay extra for drive speed that your system can’t take advantage of. Any basic current SSD will work just as well, in that SATA 3.0-less scenario.
PCMark 7 (Secondary Storage Test)
The Secondary Storage Test is a subtest under Futuremark’s larger PCMark 7 benchmarking suite. It employs a different approach to drive testing than pure speed tests like AS-SSD, which we’ll get to next. PCMark 7 runs a series of scripted tasks typical of everyday PC operation and disk accesses. It measures app launches, video-conversion tasks, image import, and more. The result is a proprietary numeric score; the higher the number, the better.
This score is useful in gauging general performance versus other drives. Note that we secure-erase all SSDs before running PCMark 7’s Secondary Storage Test.
Right off the bat, we can see just how “entry level” this SSD is—it placed at the very bottom of our benchmark chart, albeit not by a whole lot. Still: Ouch. It’s difficult to parse the exact reason for the poor showing, since we don’t examine a breakdown of all the individual tests that were run to achieve this aggregate score, but we’re sure we’ll find out more information in the remaining tests.
AS-SSD (Sequential Read Write Speeds)
The benchmark utility AS-SSD was designed specifically to test SSDs (as opposed to traditional hard drives). This setting within AS-SSD measures a drive’s ability to read and write large files. Drive makers often quote these speeds, as a theoretical maximum, on the packaging or in advertising.
Sequential speeds are important if you’re working with very large files for image or video editing, or you play lots of games with large levels that take a long time to load with traditional hard drives. We secure-erase all SSDs before running this test.
The Toshiba OCZ TL100 held its own in our first straight-line test, averaging 503.7MB per second. This is not quite the maximum amount of bandwidth allowed by the SATA interface, but it’s close. Generally speaking, most modern drives can hit around 500MB per second these days, so we’ll rate the OCZ TL100’s performance here as “acceptable.”
TLC drives are known for having “write issues,” in that they often cannot sustain high write speeds either for a prolonged period of time, or for very large files. In these situations, their buffer eventually gets full, and when it does, you get to see the “real” write speed of TLC flash, which generally ain’t pretty.
That doesn’t quite seem to be the case in this test. But regardless, the OCZ TL100 ranked second-to-last in our benchmark chart of recent SATA drives. It wasn’t slow enough to be shocking—446MB per second is still decent—but versus its competitors the OCZ TL100 is slower, obviously.
AS-SSD (4K Read Write Speeds)
This test, also a part of the SSD-centric AS-SSD benchmark, measures a drive’s ability to traffic small files. Often overlooked, 4K performance, particularly 4K write performance, is important when you’re talking about boot speed and program launch times.
When booting up your system or launching programs, many tiny files get accessed and edited frequently. The faster your drive can write and read these kinds of files (especially dynamic link library, or DLL, files in Windows), the faster your OS will “feel.” Since these small files are accessed much more often than large media or game-level files, an SSD’s showing on this test will have a greater impact on how fast it feels in ordinary use.
Stop the presses! The OCZ TL100 was able to outperform almost every other SATA drive we’ve tested in this benchmark of small read commands. Its score of 42.4MB per second was fast enough for the number two slot on our scoreboard, making it seem like a very competent SSD for daily OS duties.
Though the OCZ TL100 performed quite well in the read portion of this test, the same cannot be said for the write portion, as it ranked as the second-slowest drive we’ve tested recently. To its credit, the OCZ TL100 places alongside many other totally acceptable drives, including the higher-end Toshiba OCZ VX500Crucial MX300, and the WD Blue SSD so it’s at least in decent company.