Wow… Patriot Wildfire 120GB SSD review

Along with the OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS the Patriot Wildfire is one of this year’s super speed storage success stories. Some careful internal design from Patriot along with some interesting component choices means we’ve got a very very fast SSD on our hands.

The Patriot Wildfire uses the newest (but not the biggest and baddest) solid state drive controller from developer SandForce the SF-2281. It’s hard to believe that SandForce has only been around for a couple of years considering the market dominance it has over high-end SSD controllers especially for the consumer market.

It’s usual to see a performance SSD these days with a SandForce controller onboard more often than not. The SF-2281 is the current choice for high-end consumer SSDs with drives from Corsair Kingston and OCZ using the silicon.

The Wildfire is Patriot’s first SF-2200 series based SSD and on paper it has some amazing tech specs. It’s listed as a sequential read speed of 555MB/s and a write of 520MB/s. Considering a high-end mechanical hard disk drive like a WD VelociRaptor around the same capacity is capable of 126MB/s there are significant (potential) performance gains from this new generation of SSDs.

Like the OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS Patriot has made an interesting design choice to maximise speed on the drive. It’s a bit counterintuitive in computing terms but it’s using older Toshiba MLC NAND chips that use a 32nm production process as opposed to newer chips that use 25nm. Here’s where it’s less-than obvious. As the memory chips fit into a certain package design the older 32nm dies only had a capacity of 4GB while the newer ones can fit 8GB.

It may be in most situations that more capacity is better but not when speed is king. The Wildfire uses the 4GB 32nm dies (with two dies per 8GB chip) in its internal storage so for any given capacity (in this case 120GB) there are double the amount of NAND chips in the device than if it used 8GB dies. This lets the Patriot engineers split the capacity over a larger number of data channels increasing throughput. This isn’t truly a scalable design. Once you run out of channels you can’t expand and maintain the same speeds but you can add higher density (newer) 25nm dies which will drive up costs. In this case Patriot is attempting to hit the sweet spot: amazing performance without blowing out production costs.

On the bench the Wildfire performed beautifully though as is the nature of SSDs some situations showed little actual improvement in speeds between models. Where SSDs shine in random access and sequential read and write the drive’s performance was jaw dropping. Using ATTO Disk Benchmark we clocked the Wildfire at its listed specs – sequential reads came through at 551MB/s while writes came in at just under 520MB/s. PCMark Vantage HDD Test Suite showed the drive capable of transfers in the 200MB/s range for application loading up to 380MB/s for the Media Center tasks. Wow.

Available from Patriot retailing for $309.
APC rating: 9/10 (Editor’s Choice)