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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

Installing an SSD in your computer is becoming common in high-end and even mainstream systems. Many motherboards nowadays are coming with an M.2 slot, so we can expect that SSD units that use this form factor will become more and more common in a near future. Today, we are testing an M.2 SM2280S3 120 GiB SSD from Kingston, and comparing its performance to a very popular 2.5” SATA SSD, the Kingston SSDNow V300 120 GiB SSD.

The M.2 form factor, formerly know as Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF), comes to replace the mSATA form factor. However, the M.2 format is more flexible and can be used with different types of connection, such as SATA-600, PCI Express 3.0, and USB 3.0.

An M.2 module is 22 mm wide and can be found in lenghts of 30, 42, 60, 80, or 110 mm. (More sizes will likely be released in the future.) The module we are testing is an M.2 2280 SATA-600 model, which means it is 22 mm wide and 80 mm long, but keep in mind that there are M.2 SSD modules that use a PCI Express connection rather than a SATA port, and, at first sight, they look the same.

The Kingston M.2 SATA SSD can be found in 120 GiB or 240 GiB capacities. The part number of the 120 GiB model, which is the one we are testing, is SM2280S3/120G. It has 128 GiB of memory inside, but is sold as 120 GiB, since 8 GiB is reserved for overprovisioning, used by the garbage collection and wear leveling mechanisms of the unit.

In our tests, we will compare the performance of the M.2 module against the Kingston SSDNow V300, with the same capacity but using the traditional 2.5” format, which is one of the best-sellers in the martket.

Before proceeding, we highly suggest that you read our “Anatomy of SSD Units” tutorial, which provides all the background information you need to know about SSDs. Both of the SSDs featured in this review use MLC memory chips.

In the table below we compare the Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB with the Kingston SSDNow V300 120 GiB. Both units use a SATA-600 interface, despite of the different form factor.

Manufacturer Model Model # Nominal Capacity Form Factor Price
Kingston M.2 SATA SM2280S3/120G 120 GiB M.2 2280 USD 89
Kingston SSDNow V300  SV300S37A/120G 120 GiB 2.5” SATA USD 65

We researched the prices on the day that we published this review. In the table below, we provide a more in-depth technical comparison between the two drives.

Model Controller Buffer Memory
Kingston M.2 SATA SSD PHISON PS3108-S8 2 Gib Nanya NT5CB128M16HP-CG 4x 32 GiB Kingston FA32B08UCT1-BC
Kingston SSDNow V300 SandForce SF-2281 None 16x 8 GiB Kingston FT64G08UCT1-8B

[nextpage title=”The Kingston SM2280S3/120G”]

The Kingston SM2280S3/120G M.2 SSD 120 GiB comes in a small package, similar to the one used by Value RAM modules from Kingston, as shown in Figure 1.

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiBFigure 1: package

Figure 2 presents the SM2280S3 M.2 SSD. As explained, it is 22 mm wide and 80 mm long, and hence its part number. On the component side, there are two flash memory chips (covered by the sticker), one buffer memory chip, and the controller chip.

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiBFigure 2: the SM2280S3/120G

On the other side of the module, there are another two NAND flash memory chips.

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiBFigure 3: solder side

[nextpage title=”Components”]

The controller used by the SM2280S3/120G is the PHISON PS3108-S8, which supports the SATA-600 standard.

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiBFigure 4: controller

The SM2280S3/120G uses one Nanya NT5CB128M16HP-CG DDR3 1.333 MHz chip as a data buffer. This chip has 2 Gib (256 MiB) of capacity.

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiBFigure 5: buffer

The NAND flash memory chips are Kingston FA32B08UCT1-BC, with 32 GiB of storage space each.

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiBFigure 6: memory chips

[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]

During our testing procedures, we used the configuration listed below. The only variable component between each benchmarking session was the SSD being tested.

Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

  • Operating System: Windows 7 Home Basic 64-bit using NTFS File System

Benchmarking Software

Error Margin

We adopted a 3% error margin in our tests, meaning performance differences of less than 3% can not be considered meaningful. Therefore, when the performance difference between two products is less than 3%, we consider them to have similar performance.

[nextpage title=”Compressible Data Test”]

As you will have gathered from the previous page, we measured the performance of each drive using two different programs: CrystalDiskMark and Iometer.

It is important to note that we connected the SSDs to a SATA-600 port on our motherboard rather than a SATA-300 port, which could cause performance limitations.

We set CrystalDiskMark to “All 0x00 Fill mode” to evaluate the performance of the SSD when dealing with compressible data.

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB 

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB

In the sequential read test, the SM2280S3 was 11% faster than the SSDNow V300, but in the sequential write test, both units presented the same performance level.

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB 

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB

In both read and write tests using 512 kiB blocks, the SM2280S3 showed similar performance level as the SSDNow V300 120 GiB.

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB 

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB

In the random read test using 4 kiB blocks, the SM2280S3/120G was 232% faster than the SSDNow V300, probably due to the DDR3 cache. But in the random write test with 4 kiB blocks, the SM2280S3 was 11% slower than the V300.

[nextpage title=”Incompressible Data Test”]

For this test, we set CrystalDiskMark to the default mode, which uses incompressible data.

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB

In the sequential read test with incompressible data, the SM2280S3 was 19% faster than the Kingston SSDNow V300. In the sequential write test, the SM2280S3 was 143% faster than the V300.

 Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB

 Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB

Moving on to the random read test using 512 kiB blocks, the SM2280S3 was 13% slower than the SSDNow V300. But the write test using 512 kiB blocks, the SM2280S3 outperformed the V300 120 GiB by 142%.

 Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB

Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB

In the random read test using 4 kiB blocks, the SM2280S3 was 23% faster than the SSDNow V300. However, in the random write test with 4 kiB blocks, the SM2280S3 was 7% slower.

[nextpage title=”Iometer”]

Iometer is an open-source benchmark which lets us synthetically test the input and output operations per second of a storage drive. We will be looking specifically at random read and write scores using 4 kiB blocks.

 Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB

 Kingston M.2 SATA SSD 120 GiB

In the random read test using 4 kiB blocks, the SM2280S3 reached 87% more I/O operations per second than the SSDNow V300 in the read test. In the write test, there was a tie.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

While 2.5” units are most common by now, M.2 SSDs will be popular in a near future, since most motherboards are coming with a slot that complies to this new standard. The flexibility of this format is a plus, since is compatible with devices that use other standars than the SATA-600, such as as thr PCI Express.

The Kingston SM2280S3/120G is one of the first M.2 SSDs on the market, and our tests showed that it is not bad compared to the more popular 2.5” counterpart.

Actually, the fact this unit comes with a memory chip as a buffer and uses a controller that does not rely as much on data compression as the SandForce controller used in the V300 makes the SM2280S3 faster than its more popular cousin in some tests, specially on write tests with uncompressible data.

Since the Kingston M.2 SSD model SM2280S3/120G is faster than the entry-level traditional 2.5” SSD from the same manufacturer, we can say it is a good deal if your motherboard provides an M.2 slot.