About SSDs and Firmware
A solid state drive is an amalgam of three main components: a controller, flash memory, and firmware. Almost any manufacturer can source a controller and some flash memory, but when the random/sequential reading/writing begins, tech reviewers rev up, heads turn, and the focus is on firmware.
Firmware is clearly in the catbird seat of these persistent little storage devices. Firmware is also the main difference between SandForce and Marvell-based SSDs since SandForce controllers are prepackaged with SandForce stock firmware.
On the other hand, Marvell produces some of the most highly regarded controllers in the industry, but Marvell requires SSD manufacturers to develop their own firmware. That’s the kind of challenge (and opportunity) that Plextor has been building its reputation on since the Eighties.
Developing technology that does things faster and lasts longer is how Plextor has maintained their leadership position in storage device technology. Their long-standing business philosophy is to the point: “Never compromise, always think quality.”
So it was no surprise that Plextor chose to invest in a more expensive Marvell controller while also developing their own firmware. They call it True Speed. To appreciate the features of True Speed, let’s first do a quick review of how SSDs perform their main functions.
How an SSD Works
SSD data is stored in flash memory chips. The controller executes a read or a write to the Flash and firmware manages and directs the process.
Flash chips consist of thousands of cells, and each 4K byte of cells is called a page, then a number of these pages make up blocks,. When the controller executes a write command, it looks for the first available empty page and writes to that page—continuing to move from one page to the next until it completes the write.
If all of the pages are all available—as in a brand new SSD—it is called a clean state, and the write process is at its best performance.
If there are limited empty pages available and they are scattered in different blocks —as on a used drive—the drive is said to be in a dirty state, and the controller has to search for open pages to write to. This is obviously a much slower process.
This same things happens with the read process: in a clean state, all data are stored relatively “close together,” so locating data and reading it back is quick and easy. However, in a dirty state the controller has to spend extra time to search and collect much more fragmented data, therefore slowing process down.
True Speed Firmware
True Speed Firmware is Plextor’s achievement that prevents performance degradation when SSD enters dirty state. Plextor developed their patented operation process that first manages data before written to flash to minimize data fragmentation. Instant Restore technology is an advanced garbage collection technique as it goes beyond removing junk data or reclaim TRIM spaces. It proactively reorganizes fragmented data to maximize the number of free cells, a Plextor SSD with Instant Restore and its strong data managing firmware will maintain out-of-the-box performance for the life of the product.
Besides maintaining performance, Plextor True Speed technology also has Global Wear Leveling which works by moving static data to more worn areas of the flash to reduce write/erase traffic (Static Wear Leveling) and writes new data strategically to the least worn blocks of the flash (Dynamic Wear Leveling). This operation preserves the life of the drive by preventing premature wear out of specific blocks and ensuring equal wear across all of the flash memory.
And Bad Block Management works to identify blocks within the flash memory that are invalid or unreliable. The drive maintains tables of these unusable blocks and remaps data to reserve blocks elsewhere on the drive.
True Speed sustains like-new performance while minimizing data fragmentation that occurs with other SSDs over the course of time. Obviously, Plextor SSDs are ideal for power users, serious gamers, system integrators, and users who demand fault tolerant performance. It’s also worth mentioning that Plextor SSDs are consistently reviewed by users as “blazingly fast.”