Corsair Force F120 Review

SSDs based on the SandForce SF-1200 controller are practically dominating the market right now – and for good reason. SandForce drives are about as reliable as MLC drives get and outperform both Intel and Indilinx-based drives in most situations. They also come with TRIM support, which helps keep the drives fast and healthy by wiping unused (deleted) blocks to eliminate the overhead in subsequent overwrites.
A handful of manufacturers are making SandForce SF-1200 drives today, including OCZ, Patriot, Mushkin, A-DATA and Corsair. In this review we are taking a look at Corsair’s variant in the form of its Force series, in the most recent F120 revision (120GB, firmware 1.1).

But let’s move on to the interesting part, namely what the drive is capable of. There are some differences between SandForce drives from different manufacturers, but not much in terms of sequential read/write speed.

Neither the packaging or the drive itself are much to look at, but that’s hardly important since it’s going straight into a computer case or laptop. Speaking of which, Corsair has been friendly enough to include a 3.5″ to 2.5″ bracket for mounting the SSD in a desktop PC.

This is not an expensive part, but it’s a nice gesture and saves you some time and a few bucks looking one up separately.

Read/Write (Manufacturer)

Quoting sequential read and write speeds right from the manufacturer is not that risky when it comes to SSDs. Corsair claims the same specs in this department for the F120 as for its main competitor, the Vertex 2 from OCZ. The specifications can of course be verified easily by running ATTO (on the left,) which is the same benchmark that most SSD manufactuers use for testing.

The Corsair Force F120 has no problems matching – and sometimes exceeding – 285 MB/s when reading larger files. Unlike many competing drives, the F120 (and other SandForce drives) is also very good at writing at high speeds, in this case over 270MB/s. The drive also appears to operate extremely well at the important 4K level. This is confirmed by CrystalDiskMark, which yields excellent results in this area.

PCMark Vantage is another popular synthetic benchmark that supposedly mimics real-world performance in various scenarios. Here, the F120 is statistically on par with Micron’s RealSSD C300. As a piece of anecdotal evidence, the F120 boots up Windows 7 on the test system in roughly 25 seconds from pressing the start button until all icons and gadgets are loaded on a fully functional desktop.

Note that the above is not a fair apples-to-apples comparison since the C300 runs over the SATA 3.0 6GBps interface (in this case) while the Corsair Force F120 is a SATA 2 drive. It’s worth mentioning that there are still no laptops available that take advantage of the fastest SATA standard. So far there hasn’t been much reason, but considering that some SSDs are now exceeding the maximum SATA 2 transfer rate it’s time for an upgrade on the mobile front. In desktops you can of course get around the speed limit by using two identical drives in RAID 0.


My expectations were admittedly high with this drive, but it’s worth pointing out that the Force F120 is a great SSD that delivers as promised. It is hard to think of anything overly negative to say about the drive. It is relatively expensive, but so are the competitors–after all, the SandForce drives are among the fastest 2.5-inch SSDs on the market.

The Force series is available in capacities ranging from 40GB up to 240GB. All of them have virtually the same performance specifications – even the smaller drives. With TRIM support, excellent performance and reliability that SandForce drives are known for, Corsair’s Force series is easy to recommend.

Site founder and storage enthusiast.

  1. What’s the difference between this drive and the vertex 2?

  2. Those SSD controllers can be used with MLC, SLC and (most likely) TLC NAND.
    “SandForce drives are about as reliable as MLC drives get ”
    Possibly i misinterpreted that sentence, but that drive is just an ordinary MLC drive with SandForce controller.
    Their reliability actually is limited by the type of NAND memory used (SLC or MLC), however there is a certain amount of difference in reliability in different situations due to RAM caching strategies used by Intel and improved reliability of SandForce controllers at the cost of some data overhead, but the actual limit is the type of NAND used, no controller can go beyond that (however there is a possibility to improve the lifetime beyond that by using a massive on-board DRAM cache (to avoid excessive writing to the same block)). Possibly in some future enterprise products they are going to introduce it, but not in mainstream ones, as it is going to increase the manufacturing costs (more advanced controller, additional wiring and a larger supercapacitor) and power consumption.

  3. MitchFL: As vt mentions it’s the manufacturer, meaning it’s a different PCB and firmware. They both have the same controller though, so there shouldn’t be a noticeable difference in performance. There’s a rumor that OCZ has an exclusive arrangement with SandForce that gives them the option to “unlock” some extra potential in the drives, but Corsair is supposedly on top of this by circumventing any such lockdowns in the firmware.

    vt: You are of course right, lifetime is determined by the NAND. By reliable I meant relative to older controllers. Particularly early JMicron ones that I’ve had the distinct displeasure of experiencing first hand (loss of data, stuttering, performance deterioration).

  4. Nice review and excellent thought using PCMark Vantage scoring.

  5. Many thanks Les! I have to admit though, that PCMark Vantage is a bit unpredictable in my experience. It seems overly dependent on other factors than the drive even on the HDD specific score.


    How can they say the F120 is dominating the market when the OCZ Z-Drive reads and writes up to 1.5GB

  7. Enigma,
    Thanks for your comment, let’s clear this up. The statement is that the SandForce SF-1200 controller (SSD processor) is killing the competition right now, which I stand by.

    Moreover, this is a 2.5″ MLC drive, the Z-drive is an enterprise PCI Express SSD, so it’s a big difference.

    On a side note, the new OCZ RevoDrive uses four Sandforce controllers in each PCI-Express SSD.

  8. ALL the synthetic benchmark numbers are misleading!

    To get a feel for the actual throughput of your SSD in a worst case scenario, try this>

    Partition and format with XP so the partition is not correctly aligned

    DO NOT apply any SSD tweeks!
    (They should be plug and play like hard drives)

    Copy and paste at least 200MB of data of around 1000 files in at least 100 folders to the sam SSD that it was copied from and time it

    Sandforce drives only get good write speeds on compressible data and become slower than molasses with data already on the drive

    On a dualcore ATOM (worst case scenario) a Vertex 2 can only paste data from the same drive at 3.6 MEGABYTES per second

    My 2.5 inch WD laptop drive at 5400RPM BEAT it by 1 second for 200MB of data

    Final results for 200MB of data
    55 seconds for a Vertex 2
    54 seconds for a 5400RPM laptop drive
    17 SECONDS for a 7200RPM WD desktop drive !!!

    Boot time on the ATOM was 12 seconds for the Vertex 2

    Boot time on the ATOM was 12 seconds with a 300X Compact Flash

  9. NOTE:

    300X Compact Flash above was Transcend SLC on the IDE port of a 1st gen ATOM Dualcore with 2GB RAM

    Vertex 2 was on a SATA2 port of a second Gen ATOM dualcore with 4GB RAM

  10. In your “benchmarks” there was an effect of built-in cache of the HDD which reduced the resulting latency of I/O requests by storing them in its internal cache.
    Also, you should keep in mind that such tests would be quite dependent on the filesystem used and additional hardware. For the current SSDs used, they have quite large ACTUAL sector size, in many cases larger than those of HDDs. So, if you run such tests without caching, they naturally would appear quite slow, because writing without caching (for FAT, for example) would require at least 3 write operations – writing to cluster allocation table, writing to directory file and writing to the file itself. With misaligned access the number of actual pages written would be even higher, resulting in worse results for random data writing patterns (worse than those for HDD). But if you use a SSD with some amount of on-board DRAM cache (like Intel X25-E), the results may be better.
    Maybe the whole situation is going to be better for the future SandForce controllers, as it is possible to utilize different channels for different, smaller-sized requests (instead of parallel I/O operations) at the cost of additional space used, more advanced and complex controller logic and (most likely) some DRAM cache. But as of present, it is a weak side of the mainstream SandForce SSDs. Well, even with better controller (better for random access patterns), the theoretical throughput for SSD with this kind of NAND would drop below 30 MB/s on small files because of no benefit from multiple channels (like 8 channels for SandForce SSDs) and higher actual data written.
    As a final word the “benchmarks” used by you are typical rather for enterprise data access patterns, so usual HDDs as a more “universal” solution would naturally perform better than the mainstream SSDs (but not the “enterprise” ones).

  11. A few more words about performance – if you want really a great boost of performance out of your SSD, you could use software disk caching solutions like those made by SuperSpeed (with deferred writing) to use a part of your RAM as a disk cache (which helps to overcome apparently insufficient (even in enterprise SSD and HDD products) RAM cache sizes).
    For optimal performance (which may even exceed the disk limits) it is advised to allocate about 256M of cache per 32GB of your HDD/SDD if you are using software with frequent random R/W I/O operations with small portions of data. The only disadvantage would be an increased risk of losing your data because of software/system failures or power loss (DO NOT RUN ANY LOW-LEVEL DISK MAINTENANCE SOFTWARE ON SUCH DISKS/VOLUMES !).

  12. I run a Corsair F60, 60gb ssd, on my toshiba a305d satellite. It only has 3gb 5300 ram, and a rookie amd turion, but boot speeds are less than 15s and thats stock bios. Running windows 7 ultimate along with free antivirus, the has ssd never given me trouble. Disc clean is lightning fast, deleting 2gb worth of files is fast too. Good for the money, I am satisfied!

  13. Thanks for sharing Jack! It’s pretty amazing what a good ssd can do even for lower-end systems. Watching your desktop load up almost instantly for the first time is one of those moments that makes you never, ever want to go back to hard drives for anything besides backup.

  14. SSDs can give substantial improvement for (almost) any system using slower storage devices except memory, in fact it efficiency with MLC memory used would be greater for portable low-performance (relatively) systems. You can even replace HDDs in some HDD-based PMP to get some better performance and shock resistance.

    Still, for “middle-end” SSDs make very little sense for now. Probably in a few years they will be worth buying though, after a price drop over unreasonably high priced SLC NAND (“MLC” has only 2x capacity over SLC, but still SLC products are usuually over 2x more expensive) and appearance of alternate technologies with greater write endurance (not before they return their money invested in NAND – that is one of the main reasons for not introducing “better” solutions). As of now, NAND doesn’t seem like “memory of the future”, with its low endurance and failure rate.

    In other comments i didn’t mention also one more “bad” thing about NAND memory – its failure rate. The failure rate increases greatly from SLC to other xLC each time 1 bit of capacity is added, thus requiring more error correction circuits for each “next generation” (starting from 3xLC (TLC) can be used probably only for rarely rewritten external media, possibly as a good replacement for optical drives).

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