Silicon Power Bolt B10 USB SSD Review

Silicon Power Bolt B10 USB SSD Review

It’s no secret that the advent of solid state drives (SSDs) has irrevocably changed the technology landscape. Quite simply, SSDs eliminated what has been the largest bottleneck in computing performance for quite some time – the spinning disk. With SSDs, performance metrics on workstations such as latency, throughput and input/output operations per second (IOPS) are nearly irrelevant, as other system components such as the SATA interface become the limiting factor.

There are other attributes of SSDs that aren’t often emphasized, however, such as size, weight and portability. This is likely owing in large part to the fact that drives typically conform to a standard 2.5″ or 3.5″ form factor to maintain backwards compatibility. However, crack open a typical 2.5″ SSD and it becomes pretty obvious that SSDs could be significantly smaller than the standard dictates. And though hard disk drives (HDDs) have also packed more and more data onto their 2.5″ and 3.5″ platters, it is stated that SSD storage density surpassed that of HDDs in 2016, and is expected to continue to out-pace advances in HDD recording technologies.

Portable Drives

When I travel, I always like to have some sort of portable storage with me. And, to be frank, portable is a term that’s thrown around pretty loosely these days. My mobile phone is “portable,” yet it barely fits in my front jeans pocket, and I certainly can’t climb into my buddy’s Tundra with it in there. This, it seems, has been the unfortunate trend in portable devices these days – as performance demand increases, so does the size. Often times, I simply grab a USB thumb drive or two when I’m on the road. But when it comes to thumb drives, even the best performing of the bunch leave a little to be desired. I could carry a 2.5″ external drive in my laptop bag, I suppose, but the added bulk becomes cumbersome, especially when competing for space with a mouse, extra batteries, an assortment of cables, and the laptop’s AC adapter. What I really want is something small, light, and fast. I want something easy to carry, but not limited with respect to capacity or performance – you know, like an SSD.

Silicon Power Bolt B10

Having been a longtime fan of Silicon Power’s wallet-friendly line of SSDs for our lab server OS drives, I was delighted when Silicon Power sent me a Bolt B10 portable SSD to review. This is the first portable SSD I’ve intimately used and, spoiler alert, I won’t be going back to thumb drives when I travel any time soon. Now let’s dig into the details of this little gem.

Form Factor

Conceptually, one of the things I like most about portable SSDs is that we’re finally capable of breaking existing form factor molds. Before SSDs, 2.5″ and 3.5″ hard drives defined the size and shape of portable mass storage. This meant relatively large, clunky, and generally unattractive boxes. Since internal SSDs only conform to these form factors to remain relevant in server, desktop, and laptop applications, design can take a front row with portable SSDs. Portable SSDs tend to possess sleeker lines, smaller packages, and generally more attractive aesthetics. They don’t even have to be rectangular – some manufacturers like Silicon Power even offer round flavors of portable SSDs.

The Bolt B10 conforms to a traditional rectangular shape, though by no means is this a bad thing. The drive is understated, yet attractive, and it’s credit card sized form fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. The drive is featherweight at 25g, almost too light, though not cheap feeling, and the smooth plastic just feels right. It’s the kind of combination that makes you want to fidget with it, like the satisfying click of a well-made ball point pen. You can see here that the drive has a smaller footprint than a Logitech M325 wireless mouse.

Inside the drive you’ll find the PCB that occupies about half of the actual drive enclosure volume, which is to say it’s quite small. Directing the show, you’ll find the Phison PS3111-S11 controller, which gets generally favorable reviews. We’ve had nothing but luck with Phison-controlled SSDs, so we’ve got no complaints here. You can also see the 4 x 32GB NAND chips as well as a micro-USB 3.1 Gen1 connector soldered to the PCB.

Power, Heat & Noise

One of the numerous benefits of small form-factor 2.5″ hard drives is that their enclosures can be driven solely from USB power. The Bolt B10 is no exception. It’s a USB 3.1 Gen 1 device, but is also 2.0 backwards-compatible so it’s power draw cannot exceed the USB 2.0 specification of 5 power units of 100mA, or 500mA total. At 5V this equates to a maximum power consumption 2.5 W, though I suspect the B10 draws about half of that, even when continuously reading or writing.

In fact one of the more interesting use cases (for me) of portable hard drives is slinging lossless music around when I’m on the go. Specifically, I like to be able to plug a drive into an after market stereo head-unit with front-panel USB. Unfortunately, the front-panel USB just doesn’t deliver enough power to spin up most standard 2.5″ USB drives. The B10 works flawlessly in this application, giving you up to 512 GB of easily transportable lossless music for your commute.

Additionally, solid state drives generate less heat and noise than their spinning counterparts, as one might expect. The SP Bolt B10 makes no discernible noise during operation and the tiny case feels cool to the touch even after long continuous writes.

Specifications & Features

Included in the box is the Bolt B10 and a Micro USB 3.0 cable as shown here.

Now let’s take a look at the manufacturer specifications for the B10:

Power supply DC 5V
Cable Micro-B (B10) to Type-A (PC/NB)
Capacity 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
Dimensions 80.0 x 49.5 x 9.4mm
Weight 25g
Material Plastic
Color Black
Interface USB 3.1 Gen1 / USB 3.0, USB 2.0 compatible
Performance Read(max.)400MB/s
Performance Write(max.)400MB/s
Supported OS Windows 10/8.1/8/7/Vista/XP, Mac OS 10.5.x or later, Linux 2.6.31 or later
Operating Temperature 0℃~ 70℃
Storage Temperature -40℃~ 85℃
Certification CE/FCC/BSMI/Green dot/WEEE/RoHS/EAC/KCC/RCM
Warranty 3 years

Performance and Features

Ultimately, performance is probably what people care about most in a portable SSD. The USB interface has a long history of offering underwhelming performance. USB 2.0 offered pretty measly transfer rates of 480 Mbps or 60 MB/s. Due to bus limitations, real-world speeds were closer to 35 MB/s, however. Even in 2000 when USB 2.0 was introduced, an average spinning drive could easily saturate the USB link. It wasn’t until the advent of USB 3.0, nearly 10 years later, that the USB interface was no longer the bottleneck. With transfer speeds of 5 Gbps (625 MB/s), USB 3.0 suddenly made spinning drives feel slow, and the thought of portable SSDs began to make a lot of sense.

In this case, the Bolt B10 tested was a 128 GB model and testing was performed on a modest Dell Laptop: a Latitude E6430, Core i7-3720QM CPU @ 2.60 GHz, 8 GB RAM, Silicon Power S60 120 GB SSD. Given that the Bolt B10 has theoretical maximum throughput of 400 MB/s, we should not be bottlenecked by the USB 3.0 interface.

With the queue depth set to 4, ATTO Benchmarks showed write speeds very near the claimed 400 MB/s, peaking at nearly 360 MB/s, while read speeds exceeded the listed specifications, reaching speeds of approximately 430 MB/s.

CrystalDiskMark’s numbers weren’t quite as glowing, but were still quite good overall.

Some real-world file copies yielded satisfactory results. Large file copies were generally characterized by peaking at over 280MB/s then leveling out to ~130-150MB/s for the duration of the copy.

Small file copies can be quite taxing for any storage media. The results here were also on par with other similar drives we’ve tested. Here you see the copy of the WinSXS Folder – 5.96 GB (6,405,198,876 bytes) containing 76,348 Files, 23,163 Folders.

Finally, Silicon Power lists the drive’s features as follows:

  • Ultra-compact and lightweight for great portability
  • Clean and smooth exterior design
  • Large storage capacity of up to 512GB
  • Superfast transfer rates of up to 400MB/s read & write speed*
    *The transmission speed will vary depending on system performance, such as hardware, software, file system, usage and product capacity. Speeds are tested by Silicon Power with FAT32 (for cross-platform sharing) or NTFS (for single file over 4GB) file formats using CDM or ATTO tests.
  • Supports LDPC error correction and Wear Leveling
  • Free download of SP Widget software for data backup & restore, AES 256-bit encryption, and cloud storage
  • One thing to note is that out of the box the Bolt B10 was formatted to FAT32, which is an interesting choice. As such, I could not initially copy files larger than 4 GB to the drive. Now to someone who’s been in IT for 20 years, this isn’t a big deal, and a quick reformat to NTFS resolved the issue. However, I can easily see how this might confuse someone a bit less technology savvy. Additionally, one of my pet peeves about many external hard drives are the hordes of autorun software that come pre-loaded. Most people simply want to drag and drop files to their USB drives, so this software is ordinarily just a nuisance. On a positive note, the SP Bolt B10 contains very little on the drive out of the box. In fact, the only files present on the drive were there to remind you to register your product with Silicon Power.

    Conclusion

    It should be no surprise that SSDs are now the logical choice when it comes to no-compromise portable storage. And though you’re certainly not going to tote around 4TB SSDs anytime soon (unless you have really deep pockets), affordable, portable SSDs are now large enough to meet most users’ needs. Silicon Power offers just such a drive in the Bolt B10. Are there faster portable SSDs out there? Sure, at least on paper. Considering that you’ll be tossing this in your bag and possibly leaving it on the table at the coffee shop, I’m not sure I can justify the extra cash for a few arbitrary MB/s. Additionally, it seems that many manufacturers rate their products in the lab, and under conditions that are hard to replicate in the real-world. It’s been my experience, however, that Silicon Power’s products usually meet or exceed claimed specifications. Frankly, realistic product specifications are a breath of fresh air, and make you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth, all while patronizing a company that clearly wants to earn your trust.

Silicon Power S60 60GB SSD Review

Silicon Power S60 60GB SSD Review

As we’ve mentioned in a previous article, choosing the correct hard drive for each application is critical to the performance and longevity of the drive. Different types of drives may be well-suited for some applications, but much less so for others.

Server OS Drives

One area that’s becoming somewhat challenging is finding drives to serve as operating system drives in our lab servers. On the surface, the requirements for such a drive do not seem too difficult to fulfill – we need drives that work well in a RAID1 array, display good read characteristics, are durable, and are inexpensive. Incidentally, modern consumer drives fit this bill quite well – with one caveat. You see, finding good consumer SSDs is an easy task. There are excellent options from Samsung, Crucial/Micron, Western Digital, SanDisk, Silicon Power, Toshiba/OCZ and many others. In fact, if we were looking for a 500GB SSD, the hardest part might be choosing between what seems to be an endless number of similarly performing drives.

If we were looking for a 500GB SSD, that is. In selecting a server OS drive, a 500GB drive would mostly be wasted space. A Windows Server OS might use 20GB – 30GB, unless you run a large database locally. Domain Controllers typically stay under the 15GB mark. Linux servers are considerably smaller, yet – a storage server with a few applications might consume 10GB – 15GB of disk space including swap. And it would be pretty egregious if a mail server used beyond 6GB -7GB. Obviously, this is where virtualization and shared resources becomes so advantageous. And while we firmly believe virtualization is a key component of any good home or work IT lab (which we’ll discuss in great detail later), you may not either be at the point where you need to virtualize or may not have the resources to do so. Furthermore, even if you virtualize, there are still several use cases where physical boxes are desirable or even necessary. And physical boxes need OS drives.



The Silicon Power S60

While in the hunt for a small, inexpensive, consumer SSDs, we’ve run across a few models that have worked well. Initially, we employed several of the Mushkin ECO2 60GB SSDs, as they were inexpensive, sized right, and, though they never got dreamy reviews, seemed pretty solid. In the end, however, these drives have appeared to be phased out by the manufacturer, and we have admittedly had about a 20% failure rate over a few years. So, in an effort to find a suitable replacement to the now defunct Mushkin ECO2s, we stumbled upon the Silicon Power line of SSDs. Like many SSD manufacturers, Silicon Power offers a number of SSD model ranges, and it can be sometimes hard to discern significant differences among the models. From entry-level consumer “laptop upgrade” S55 and S60 models, to “prosumer” gaming models like the S85 with a five-year warranty, as well as the TLC 3D NAND-based A55 model, Silicon Power has an offering for most applications. This ultimately led us to the Silicon Power S60. The S60 is a “consumer plus grade” SSD, which means it’s designed to fit the inexpensive laptop upgrade niche. And while it’s quite suitable for such duties, we like the fact that it’s available in a 60GB model – perfect for operating system drives. Best yet, it can be regularly found for under $35 per drive, making it a relative bargain given it’s small capacity. Consumer reviews of the S60 drive are solid as well, with nearly 200 reviews averaging 4.3 stars on Amazon at the time of this post. Since, we run a double-digit number of these drives, I always keep a couple cold spares on hand, but it’s still nice to know I can have a replacement at my door in two days if necessary (shameless Amazon Prime plug).

From the Silicon Power site, the S60’s specifications are listed as follows:

Capacity 32GB, 60GB, 120GB, 240GB, 480GB
Dimensions 100.0 X 69.9 X 7.0mm
Weight 63g (max.)
Interface SATA III
Performance Read(max.) ATTO:
480GB: 560MB/s
240GB: 550MB/s
120GB: 520MB/s
CDM:
480GB: 520MB/s
240GB: 500MB/s
120GB: 420MB/s
Performance Write(max.) ATTO:
480GB, 240GB: 500MB/s
120GB: 490MB/s
CDM:
480GB: 460MB/s
240GB: 300MB/s
120GB: 170MB/s
MTBF 1,500,000 hours
Operation Voltage 5V
Vibration Resistance Test 20G
Shock Resistance Test 1500G Max
Warranty 3 years
Note Performance result may vary, depending on system platform, software, interface and capacity.

Performance and Features

Though Silicon Power doesn’t list the performance specifications of the 60GB model, we tested the drive performance with both the manufacturer’s software, SP Toolbox, as well as ATTO Disk Benchmark and Crystal Disk Mark. These tests were performed in Windows Server 2012 R2 on a Supermicro A1SRI-2558F’s SoC SATA3 (6Gbps) ports.

As you can see, we found that this drive performs quite well for a smaller drive, and our read performance numbers in CDM actually exceeds the manufacturers marks for a 120GB drive by ten percent at 472MB/s. ATTO read numbers fell in line with what we’d expect – just shy of the numbers cited for the 120GB model at around 475MB/s.  Likewise, the write performance numbers for ATTO fell inline with expectations, though somewhat lower than 120GB model at around 265MB/s, while we exceed the listed speeds for the 120GB model in CDM by over 50% at 262MB/s!

Additionally, one might notice that the SSD controller is conspicuously absent from the drive specifications. There has previously been some concern that drive manufacturers may use multiple controllers in budget drives such as the S60. It would seem that this is indeed the case with the S60, which has been known to contain a SandForce or Phison controller. It doesn’t seem that Silicon Power is trying to hide this fact, however, as some manufacturers have been accused of, nor do they claim that it is one controller vs. the other. In fact, one can easily see that they reference both controllers in the SP SSD Firmware Update User Manual, indicating that your SSD may contain one or the other. To be truthful, we’ve had success with both controllers, though we ran the Firmware Update just to satisfy our curiosity. Unfortunately, we were not able to get the SSD Firmware Update to recognize the S60 in multiple systems, and were therefore unable to confirm whether the drive we tested contained the SandForce or Phison controller. Again, the drive performs as expected in both RAID and single-drive configurations, so this is not a major concern to us.

Finally, Silicon Power lists the drive’s features as follows:

  • Adopts MLC NAND flash and “SLC Cache Technology” to improve overall performance
  • 15 x faster than a standard 5400 HDD*
    *Based on “out-of-box performance” using a SATA Revision 3.0 motherboard. Performance result may vary, depending on system platform, software, interface, and capacity.
  • 7mm slim design suitable for ultrabooks and ultra-slim laptops
  • Supports TRIM command and garbage collection technology
  • NCQ and RAID ready
  • ECC (error correction code) technology to guarantee reliable data transmission
  • S.M.A.R.T. monitoring system
  • Low power consumption, shock and vibration-proof, noiseless and low latency
  • Free SP ToolBox software download for disk information such as self-monitoring analysis report, extent of consumption, and SSD diagnostics

It is heartening to note that RAID is specifically listed as a feature. It’s worth noting that all of our S60s are in RAID1 arrays, so while we cannot comment on stability or peformance of the S60 in parity arrays, we have successfully tested them with numerous disk controllers such as the HP P410i, LSI/Avago SAS 92xx HBAs in IT/IR modes, Adaptec SATA HostRaid, and software RAID via numerous onboard SATA controllers. All seem to work flawlessly with the S60, though controllers like the HP P410 will not report SSD Wear Status, which is not unexpected from a consumer drive without HP firmware. In a few cases, we even replaced failed Mushkin ECO2 60GB drives with an SP S60, and now have mixed RAID1 arrays with one 60GB Mushkin and one 60GB S60. Though the S60 reports slightly larger capacity than the Mushkin, rebuilds proceeded quickly and without issue.

Conclusion

All in all, we’re quite pleased with the the Silicon Power S60. And though we’re probably not using it in a capacity that Silicon Power ever intended, it seems to fill this niche nicely. Heck, we’ve even used a few of the larger S60 models for their intended purpose: to breathe new life into old laptops to throw around in the garage as dataloggers (we’re occasional drag racers) or machines for the kids to beat on. Regardless of the application, the S60 has thus far dutifully served it’s purpose. And though it may not be as fast as the latest generation of drives out there, it’s not hard to make the case that the S60 is one a heck of a value.