Two SSD Options: SandForce and SanDisk

Like many OEMs, ASUS sources SSDs from two vendors for its Zenbook line: ADATA and SanDisk. Unlike Apple however, the division isn't random. ADATA supplies all 128GB drives while SanDisk handles the 256GB drives. The explanation is simple: ASUS needed a drive that could fit all of its NAND on a single side. SanDisk had a 256GB offering that met those needs; ADATA/SandForce did not.

ASUS didn't specify what SanDisk controller was in use on the 256GB drives, but I suspect it's the U100. ASUS supplied the following test data comparing the two SSDs:

Performance is actually comparable between the two, which is surprising. I'm going to see about getting my hands on a 256GB SanDisk model for comparison to verify for myself. The sample laptop we received comes with the 128GB ADATA drive, which performed quite well in our tests:

Granted you're looking at highly compressible datasets, but being able to break 500MB/s puts this drive up there with the standard desktop SF-2281 offerings.

If you caught our Zenbook teardown you may have noticed a firmware label on the ADATA drive indicating it was using SandForce firmware revision 3.2.2. Uhoh! SandForce just recently announced that there is a known bug in all version of the SF-2281 firmware prior to 3.3.2 that can cause BSODs. I asked ASUS when we'd see an updated firmware and why on earth it chose to ship a drive with a widely known bug.

During development, ASUS tested 100+ Zenbooks with 100+ samples of the ADATA drive. The testing included over 50,000 accumulated reliability tests including rapid sleep/wake cycles, 3DMark and other application based tests. In addition to pre-production testing, ASUS conducted additional testing on mass production units. Throughout this entire process ASUS didn't see any reliability issues with the SandForce drives and thus felt comfortable shipping with them. I should add that we have seen many cases where the SF BSOD bug simply won't appear on certain platforms, lending credibility to ASUS' claims that the SandForce drives proved stable during testing.

That being said, I'd still feel more comfortable with an upgrade to 3.3.2 if it turns out that this firmware revision does in fact fix a known issue with the drive.

I pointed out the obvious rework on the ADATA SSD to ASUS engineering. The team responded by saying the rework was implemented to reduce EMI, which was a bit too close to the margins before the change. The rework has since been incorporated into a surface mount component design which will ship in a future spin of the drive. I'm not a huge fan of reworks on shipping products but from time to time they do appear. The nature of the rework and quality of the workmanship are also important to keep in mind, both of which are less alarming in this case than others.

The Zenbook The Keyboard & Trackpad
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  • Fastidious - Sunday, October 23, 2011 - link

    Seems like a lot of sacrifices for thinness. If they were cheaper it would have more appeal but I'd rather get something like a M11x for that kind of price. I wouldn't mind the price staying the same if they had a real GPU. Reply
  • Dennis Travis - Sunday, October 23, 2011 - link

    Excellent review Anand. Watched the Video also. It very MBA like but I guess the Air is still a bit better in a few ways, but still nice first attempt by Asus. Reply
  • guste - Sunday, October 23, 2011 - link

    Anand, there are probably more of us Windows folk buying the MacBook Air, than you think. I just bought an 11" Air, last week and I've enjoyed it. I just hate that I have an OS on here that I'll never really use (I've tried, but there are much less options for control!). I was fairly certain the Aspire S3 would be a cost-cutting dud (and it is), but I was excited about the Asus. After reading your great review, I'm going to stick with the MBA, but I'm sure that Asus will nail it on the second go round.

    I really hope you take a look at the upcoming Lenovo U300S. If I hadn't needed a new machine right now, the Lenovo would have been at the top of my list. According to Lenovo's websiste, it's launching in November.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Sunday, October 23, 2011 - link

    "(I've tried, but there are much less options for control!)"

    Are you talking about Unix over Windows or Unix over Linux? I can't imagine there isn't much you can't control in Mac OS X.
    Reply
  • coolhardware - Sunday, October 23, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the nice review Anand. I'm looking forward to seeing one of these systems in person.

    Here is something (free) that might help with some aspects of the trackpad:
    http://www.jdhodges.com/2011/09/smooth-two-finger-...
    I would be very curious if it works with the UX21, because it DEFINITELY helps with my Dell V131 and M6500.

    Thanks again for all the hard work you and the crew do bring us tasty tech reviews!
    Reply
  • arnavvdesai - Sunday, October 23, 2011 - link

    Anand, do you feel that there is a compromise being made when going to the 13" model which has a much higher Resolution compared to the Air? If using as your main computer, I would prefer to have the highest resolution possible.
    Also, because it is at higher resolution is the panel configuration different compared to the Air?
    Reply
  • bludragon - Sunday, October 23, 2011 - link

    Hmm, if this had been around when I was shopping I might have been tempted. An IPS display would have done it... As it is, I'm still quite happy with a Thinkpad X220 with am mSSD, IPS display, and a 320Gb 2.5in mechanical drive for media and backing up the SSD :-) The only thing missing on that is a higher res display. 1366x768 feels a little vertically challenged.

    The U300s looks nice, but suffers the same vertically challenged display. They say it's 'HD', does that mean IPS? It would be nice if they at least offered an upgrade to IPS option like the X220. If it's TN then the 13inch ASUS is looking better for the extra resolution.
    Reply
  • mrboonmee - Sunday, October 23, 2011 - link

    The only 1600x900 option so far is on the UX31, I wonder how much better that panel is? still not matte of course.

    hopefully the trackpad improves.
    Reply
  • adrien - Sunday, October 23, 2011 - link

    0.3MP webcam, why are laptops stuck at such low resolutions? =/ Reply
  • Darkstone - Sunday, October 23, 2011 - link

    You commented on the lack of a second USB 3.0 port, probably routing issues... However, i have a different theory. The USB 3.0 port requires a driver to work. Installing windows on a device with no working usb ports, nor a dvd drive would be a total nightmare. I'm glad that USB 2.0 port is there. Reply

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