Kingston A400 Review (120GB): Affordable entry-level drive
Now this isn’t the most exciting SSD you can get your hands on for testing, and it certainly isn’t among the fastest. What makes the Kingston A400 series interesting is the very attractive price point in relation to the manufacturer’s performance claims.
You can often find the 120GB version that we’re testing here – a capacity fully adequate for installing and running any OS including Windows 10 – for around $25 online, which is a fantastic even for a small and basic drive. It is also available in 240GB, 480GB and even 960GB capacities, out of which the 240GB model comes out on top in the GB/$ calculation at the time of writing.
- Fast start-up, loading and file transfers
- More reliable and durable than a hard drive
- Multiple capacities with space for applications or a hard drive replacement
- Capacity: 120GB, Interface: SATA Rev. 3.0 (6Gb/s) - with backwards compatibility to SATA Rev. 2.0. 120GB - 500MB/s Read and 320MB/s Write
Endurance and warranty
To keep costs to a minimum, the A400 unsurprisingly uses TLC (triple-level cell) NAND memory chips, which are both less expensive and less durable than higher-end alternatives. This is combined with no DRAM or SLCSingle-Level Cell; the fastest type of NAND memory cache, and a controller that Kingston only lists as ‘2ch‘ in the official spec sheet.
This is a short review based on a lent sample, so I won’t pick this particular drive apart to zoom in on its contents. But based on news posts that circulated at the drive’s launch, the controller is supposedly a Phison S11, which is aimed at DRAM-less, low-cost drives in particular.
All of this might not matter to most buyers of the A400 series, but endurance is always important. While Kingston also includes the ancient MTBF standard in the specs, what counts is the TBW (terabytes written) rating. For the A400 series these are:
- 120GB: 40TB
- 240GB: 80TB
- 480GB: 160TB
- 960GB: 300TB
A TBW rating is not equivalent to instant death once your drive reaches the threshold, but it’s an indication of the memory cells’ life span. And more importantly, it is a warranty limitation.
40TB for the 120GB Kingston A400 might not sound like much (and it is a lower rating than the popular Samsung 860 EVO). But over the warranty period of three years, this comes out to 36.5 GB of writes per day. It’s a relatively safe bet that the average user of this drive will never come close to this average. So the warranty terms are more than acceptable considering the price bracket.
What can you expect in terms of performance from a $25 drive? In this case, quite a lot actually, as the claimed performance figures for the 120GB model is ‘up to 500MB/s read and 320MB/s write’. And as it happens, the drive has no problems meeting and exceeding these claims on our test system.
On the left is the CrystalDiskMark using random data (default setting), and on the right compressible (0Fill). Since Kingston is comparing this drive to a 7,200 rpm hard drive on the package, we will add one too, as well as an older SandForce SF-2281 MLC-based Intel SSD.
It comes as no surprise that nether the sequential transfer rates nor, in particular, 4K writes can compete with more expensive TLC drives such as the 860 EVO. But again, this is a low-cost drive and it actually delivers more than its claimed sequential performance. The SF-2281 Intel drive used to be a reasonably high-end drive a few years ago, based on more expensive MLC NAND. It apparently has trouble keeping up even with today’s budget SSDs though.
In the AS SSD benchmark, which tends to be a bit inconsistent, the Kingston A400 comes closer to its listed specification. Sequential reads don’t quite reach the advertised 500 MB/s, but writes are faster here also.
As for the ’10x faster than a 7,200 rpm HDD’ claim, it is unclear what this is based on, but its not sequential read speed (less than 3x faster) or random writes (about 80x faster).
The smaller capacities of the Kingston A400 (120GB and 240GB) will likely appeal to a different target audience than the larger variant. These come across as very affordable means of breathing some new life into an old system – replacing the hard drive as a boot device, while keeping the old hard drive for spare capacity.
It would make little sense, however, to purchase a 960 GB A400 and use it as a system drive as you can get a smaller but considerably faster drive for the same price. So this and perhaps also the 480GB model may be more interesting for those who need lots of speedy storage space for e.g. video editing.
In either case, the A400 series offers more than adequate performance over the SATA interface at prices that are currently hard to beat.
The 120GB (and 240GB) Kingston A400 is an exceptionally affordable way to breathe new life into an old computer, or install a secondary OS for a smooth dual-boot experience. It can't compete with high-end SSDs in terms of warranty and endurance, but neither should it have to.
- Surprisingly good overall performance
- Fantastic price/performance ratio
- Lower-than-average TBW rating
- No DRAM or SLC cache