Corsair Force Series LS SSD Review

Like many manufacturers without a NAND fab or controller technology, Corsair’s SSD portfolio has focused a lot on SandForce based SSDs, but Corsair has been exploring other options as well. Corsair has used controllers from SandForce, Marvell, LAMD and even Indilinx if we go all the way back to SATA 3Gbps times. Corsair has released the Force LS series SSD, and we review it. This is the arrival of the new 19nm MLC based Force LS series for consumers. The LS line of solid-state storage units is actually a bit faster than most high-end drives made of NAND chips (Toggle) yet, is intended as the more affordable SSD series within the Corsair lineup. The SSDs are rated with a whopping 560 MB/s sequential read (530 MB/sec write) speed running over the all too familiar SATA 6.0 Gbps connection interface.

Corsair SSD Design & Features

The Force LS was built to try and fit the mainstream performance at a reasonable price role. As the controller is a key cost point of any SSD, the selection of the Phison PS3108 controller, which is supposed to be an economical solution with respectable performance numbers, makes a good deal of sense. Interesting, however, is a relatively unknown controller, a Phison controller is being used. And as our results will show you, Phison can compete just fine with Marvell and Sandforce/LSI. The LS makes use of the normal 2.5-inch form factor and has a thickness of 7mm. TRIM is supported, of course. SSDs are coming now in 500gb and 512gb capacities to fit the escalating demands of regular computer needs. In other words, that’s most of the licensable controllers, although two of them are now out of the licensing game as Indilinx is owned by OCZ and SK Hynix acquired LAMD a while back (technically you can still get a license for LAMD’s controllers but SK Hynix forces you to use their NAND). Corsair has released previous SSDs with a variety of controllers inside including SandForce, Marvell and LAMD. Proving themselves controller agnostic again, they have decided to partner with Phison for the LS.

Specifications: Corsair Force LS 240 GB
Brand: Corsair
Model: Force LS 240 GB CSSD-F240GBLS
Controller: Phison PS3108-S8
Flash Type: Toshiba 19 nm, MLC
Form Factor SATA 2.5″
Thickness: 7 mm (Ultrabook compatible)
Capacity 240 GB (223.6 GB usable)
16 GB overprovisioning
Interface: SATA 6 Gbps
Firmware: S8MF05.8
TRIM supported: Yes
NCQ supported: Yes
Warranty: 3 Years

Corsair SSD history

With fewer controllers available to license, the times for OEMs like Corsair are getting tougher. The SandForce SSD market is still extremely competitive due to the fact that so many OEMs are using SandForce’s controllers and the room for differentiation is more or less non-existent. In order to keep their SSD lineup versatile and competitive, Corsair had to look elsewhere for the controller.

Testing the drive

Corsair is most well-known for their excellent memory modules, but they’ve recently also ventured into several other fields. One of their strongest endeavors was entering the SSD market where they are now a key players, providing solid-state drives covering the whole price and performance spectrum. The Corsair Force LS isn’t the first drive we’ve tested with the Phison S8 controller. We ran the controller in a few other products and went through firmware releases. When you use the best SSD for MacBook Pro you’ll take it to the high level of speed and performance. We’ve even tested the controller with 24nm and two versions of Toshiba 19nm flash. While not as flashy as other controllers, Phison designed the S8 for consumer experience via great low queue depth IOPS performance. Their latest addition is the Force LS Series designed to be a value-oriented alternative without compromising on quality.

Corsair is the newest SSD we know so far

Drive’s Specifications

When it comes to SSD controllers, up until recent times LSI/SandForce and Marvell have pretty much “ruled the roost”. Corsair is using a Phison PS3108 as the controller—a cost-effective solution with decent performance. It is paired with 19 nanometer Toshiba toggle NAND for quick data transfers. Other than a few instances of utilizing proprietary controllers (such as Samsung does in most of their SSDs), and a smaller player in Indilinx (acquired by OCZ), there were no other options for manufacturers to engineer a new SSD with. That has recently begun to change, as other controllers are beginning to appear on the scene. The Neutron XT isn’t just about performance; it’s packed with extreme reliability features to provide maximum stability, reliability and peace of mind for your data. SmartFlush™ and SmartRefresh™ technologies offer enterprise level data management and retention in the event of power failure and advanced wear-levelling and garbage collection help maintain performance over the life of the drive. A five year warranty backs Corsair’s commitment to the Neutron XT’s quality and longevity.

CPU Intel Core i5-2500K running at 3.3GHz (Turbo and EIST enabled)
Motherboard AsRock Z68 Pro3
Chipset Intel Z68
Chipset Drivers Intel + Intel RST 10.2
Memory G.Skill RipjawsX DDR3-1600 4 x 8GB (9-9-9-24)
Video Card XFX AMD Radeon HD 6850 XXX
(800MHz core clock; 4.2GHz GDDR5 effective)
Video Drivers AMD Catalyst 10.1
Desktop Resolution 1920 x 1080
OS Windows 7 x64

Corsair SSD Design

The Pricing

The Corsair Force LS is available in capacities of 60 GB, 120 GB, and 240 GB. Today, we are reviewing the Force LS 240 GB available for $200 online. According to Corsair, the Force LS Series is not available in the United States at this time, but you’ll be able to find it in Europe and rest of the world. The Force LS Series SSD is enclosed by an all-metal top casing, making it a durable drive that keeps the circuit board well-protected from the elements. You can use it as an external USB 3.0 SSD for backup and data storage. The top cover’s label comprises a nice combination of black, white and turquoise and is secured to the bottom cover with four small Phillips-head screws on each corner.

  • Capacities: 60GB, 120GB, 240GB
  • Controller: Phison PS3108
  • NAND: 19nm Toshiba MLC
  • Power consumption
  • Max: 4.6W
  • Idle: 0.6W
  • Sequential Read: 560MB/s
  • Sequential Write: 535MB/s
  • 4KB Random Read: 50,000 IOPS
  • 4KB Random Write: 62,000 IOPS
  • Warranty: 3 years

Speed Test

The controller manufacturers are not limited to the ones we usually see and there are a handful of options if you’re willing to try a not-so-proven solution. As a result Corsair has partnered with Phison for the Force LS. Now, we’ve been testing NAND Flash based storage ever since the very beginning. And I’ve stated it a couple of times already, it really is surprising to see where we have gotten. The SSD market is fierce and crowded though. While stability and safety of your data have become a number one priority for the manufacturers, the technology keeps advancing in a fast pace as it does, the performance numbers a good SSD offers these days are simply breathtaking. A 450 to 550 MB/sec on SATA3 is the norm for a single controller based SSD. Next to that the past year NAND flash memory (the storage memory used inside an SSD) has become much cheaper as well. Phison isn’t a completely unknown player in the mainstream SSD market as Crucial used their PS3105 controller in their V4 SSD, but that didn’t turn out too well. Even the M.2 SSD cannot be a good solution for some people around the world. (In short, the V4 was among the slowest SSDs we have ever tested.) MyDigitalSSD has relied heavily on Phison’s controllers but again performance isn’t particularly compelling. Out of the bigger SSD OEMs, none has given Phison a chance until now.

SSD thickness

Unique SSD Controller

Prices now roughly settle just under 1 USD per GB. That was two to threefold two years ago. As such SSD technology and NAND storage has gone mainstream. The market is huge, fierce and competitive, but it brought us where we are today… nice volume SSDs at acceptable prices with very fast performance. Not one test system in my lab has an HDD, everything runs on SSD while I receive and retrieve my bigger chunks of data from a NAS server here in the office. The benefits are performance, speed, low power consumption and no noise. You can say that I evangelize SSDs, yes Sir .. I am a fan, an SSD addict if you will.

Phison’s big draw is obviously pricing. Licensing SandForce is relatively expensive and there’s not much room left for profit margin if you want to price your SSD competitively (which is what you need to do if you want to get sales). Corsair’s Neutron Series has already demonstrated that not every decently performing SSD must use a SandForce controller. Their new Force LS is based on a Phison PS3108 controller performing decently enough to compete with all but the latest high-end drives. Compared to a typical high-end SandForce drive, we see the Force LS about 5% behind, and older drives, like the Intel 510, OCZ Agility 3, and Crucial M4, are up to 6% slower than the Force LS. Marvell is a more cost efficient option but all you get is the silicon with no firmware or software stack (whereas a SandForce license includes all that). If you have a team of engineers capable of providing a competitive firmware, Marvell can be a good choice; if not, Marvell is not your cup of tea. Only the latest and greatest (and much more expensive) drives, like the Samsung 840 Pro or Toshiba’s recent additions, show a noteworthy real-life performance improvement of up to 14%. Overall, these differences are relatively small, especially when it comes to the subjective user experience. Two years ago, I reviewed a drive based on a Phison PS3105 controller, which had the drive register half the performance of competing SSDs at the time. Now, we see differences of just a few percent, which means Phison is catching up with gargantuan strides. Phison’s business model is similar to SandForce, i.e. they deliver you the whole package, making them a viable option for OEMs without a firmware engineering team. Unfortunately I don’t have any specific numbers but I believe Phison’s solutions are noticeably cheaper than SandForce’s. I don’t think Phison’s silicon itself is very high power, making it cheap to fab and Phison’s controller/firmware as a whole is not as complex as SandForce’s, which reduces engineering and validations costs.

Real-World Test

Sadly, we’ve learned the new Force LS won’t hit the US market. We suspect this has something to do with an existing product with the Phison S8 controller from MyDigitalSSD. MDSSD has a long history with Phison and this is the only reason we can think of for Corsair not to bring the Force LS to the US market. The last Corsair SSDs (the Neutron and Neutron GTX) that we reviewed back in August featured the new Link A Media (LAMD) 6 GB/s controller. Still, Corsair felt they needed a value offering and the Force LS fits the role. With 25nm flash nearly impossible to purchase, the Force Series 3 and Force GT drives are nearing end of life status. Nearly a year ago Corsair released the Neutron GTX to handle flagship duty and the base Neutron to fit somewhere in the middle. LS sits just below both Neutron products. Corsair was one of the first SSD manufacturers to hit the retail market, and although they have proceeded a bit more carefully than other manufacturers, they have earned a reputation as providing some of the top performing SSDs that money can buy. Their success in SSDs has shown with their willingness to explore different controllers in search of the best, as well as bringing out non-standard SSD capacities that few others offer. The Corsair Performance Pro was one of the better SSDs we have tested, and it surprised everyone as it is based on the Marvell 9174 controller, and Corsair truly found the sweet spot in its performance.

SSD Availability

Our last series of synthetic benchmarks compare the hard drives in a series of server mixed-workloads with a queue depth of ranging from 1 to 128. Each of our server profile tests has a strong preference towards read activity, ranging from 67% read with our database profile to 100% read in our web server profile. In all of our mixed workloads, the LS Force ranked last in all of the profiles. Specification wise the Force LS is a close match to MyDigitalSSD’s BP4, although that shouldn’t come as a surprise since the two share the same hardware. The first is our database profile; with a 67% read and 33% write workload mix primarily centered on 8K transfer sizes. In the test, the Force LS clocked in at 3600 IOPS in Q1 and reached 15,672 IOPS by Q128. Corsair is offering the Force LS in only three capacities, topping out at 240GB, which is fairly typical for budget SSDs. The controller can support larger capacities (MyDigitalSSD offers a 960GB BP4) but the idea behind offering limited capacities is to steer buyers of higher capacity SSDs towards the more expensive models (like Neutron GTX).

Benchmarks Results

The Force LS series is interesting in many ways. It is an affordable SSD series, it’s isn’t slow, it isn’t the fastest SSD on the block either. However the Phison controller used in combo with the 19nm toggle NAND did surprise me as the package combined results in a SSD that can keep up very well with LSI and Marvell based products. We’ve seen no oddities and overall the SSD is performing pretty nice. At this time, the Corsair Force LS is not available in the US (why?), but can easily be found in Europe, and other markets. With a price of $200 for the 240 GB version, it is certainly not the cheapest drive on the market; not when looking at performance per dollar or price per GB. Its strongest competitors are the Samsung 840 non-Pro, which, while cheaper and with more capacity due to no overprovisioning, tends to fall behind in write-heavy applications (not an issue for most consumers), and Crucial’s also cheaper M500 offering both strong read and write performance. The Force LS kicks ass at sustained and linear read/writes. Another option is the Mushkin Chronos, the currently cheapest SandForce drive out there. It could be an option if you trust SandForce drives to now be trouble-free. Given this fierce competition, I’d suggest Corsair reduce their pricing to below $190 for the 240 GB version, which would definitely improve things. It won’t set any records in IOPs performance though you sometimes need to wonder why on earth you’d need 80K+ IOPs/sec in a normal PC anyway. We however don’t know much about the controller and can’t say how reliable it really is. But I have no doubts it’ll be fine. based on the specs BTW the drive will last you roughly 10 years if you write 10 GB per day / 365 a year on it.

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