Kingston A1000 SSD review: Being budget isn't easy

A nice upgrade from SATA, but at this point, not much cheaper than much faster drives

kingston a1000 nvme ssd 1
Melissa Riofrio/IDG
At a Glance

While faster is always better when it comes to storage, all things are relative. Even a slower M.2 NVMe SSD, such as the entry-level Kingston A1000 NVMe reviewed here, offers a noticeable boost in performance over SATA SSDs. Quite noticeable.

The problem for Kingston and other entry-level SSD vendors is that Samsung and WD are playing hardball with the pricing of what are essentially top-tier drives. The 970 EVO, WD Black NVMe, and Sandisk Extreme Pro all offer twice the performance of the A1000 for about the same price. For smaller vendors using third-party NAND, that’s really bad news.

Design and specs

The A1000 follows the the usual M.2/2280 (22mm wide, 80mm long) form factor. That’s about the size of a stick of gum, to borrow the usual analogy.

Where the A1000 and some other budget NVMe SSDs vary from the top performers is in the PCIe implementation. The A1000 uses only two PCIe lanes, rather than the four a drive such as the Samsung 970 EVO, Samsung 970 Pro, and WD Black NVMe use. Assuming PCIe 3.0, that means you’re dealing with just under 2GBps maximum throughput, as opposed to just under 4GBps with four lanes. It shows when it comes to large data transfers. 

a1000 Kingston

Kingston’s A1000 could be a bargain—if the price drops. At the time of this writing it cost about the same as drives with twice the speed.

A Phison 5008 controller wielding Toshiba 3D TLC (3-bit) NAND lies at the heart of the A1000. The drive is available in 240GB (MSRP $146), 480GB (MSRP $266), and 960GB (MSRP $524) capacities. We tested the latter.

A variable percentage of the NAND, up to 24GB total on any of the capacities, is used as cache by simply writing a single bit to it, often referred to as putting it into SLC mode (Single-Layer Cell). The TLC as SLC acts as a secondary cache to the 256MB of primary DRAM cache on the 240GB model, 512MB on the 480GB model, and 1GB on the 960GB model.

All capacities of the A1000 are are warrantied for five years and/or 150 TBW (TeraBytes Written) per 240GB of capacity. That’s about average for the industry at this point, and twice what you used to see. Vendors are now more confident in the lifespan of the NAND and their techniques for managing it. 

Performance

The A1000’s performance can’t compare to that of the competitors I’ve already enumerated, but it is a shot in the arm compared to older SATA drives. If you’re upgrading from a hard drive, or even a SATA SSD, the A1000 will be a pleasant surprise. Windows will boot and operate significantly faster, and applications and files will open much faster. Note that your system must support booting from NVMe for a drive like the A1000 to be truly effective.

That said, the CrystalDiskMark 6 benchmark, show below, neatly illustrates the A1000’s (in blue) slower performance.  

cdm 6 kingston a1000 IDG

Small file performance from the A1000 is decent. It’s the sustained throughput that’s the issue. Longer bars are better.

Our large 48GB copy tests (the A1000 is in blue) show roughly the same pattern: good, but not great, with small files, and mediocre with large transfers. Again, this is compared to other M.2 NVMe drives, not SATA. 

48gb copies kingston a1000 IDG

As you can see, the A1000 doesn’t lag that far behind the competition when small files are in play. However, when transferring large files, it’s lack of bandwidth comes into play. Shorter bars are better.

The AS SSD 2.0 test showed the same basic results as the other drives, but was even harsher in its judgment of the A1000 (again, in blue).

as ssd 2.0 kingston a1000 IDG

AS SSD didn’t think much of the A1000. While it’s a substantial upgrade over SATA, there are much faster M.2, NVMe drives available for about the same price. Longer bars are better.

Overall, the A1000 performed simply okay. A nice upgrade from SATA, but far from showing off the true capabilities of M.2 NVMe. The smaller capacities may not perform as well as the 960GB version I tested, though according to Kingston’s data sheet, the dropoff is relatively minor. Such is not always the case with lower-capacity drives due to fewer chips and less cache. For instance, Samsung’s 970 EVO drops off mightily in the 250GB capacity.

If you get a really good deal

The A1000 NVMe is a decent NVMe drive, though not a great one. At the time of this writing, you could get a great one, such as the WD Black NVMe/Sandisk Extreme Pro (they’re the same drive), or the Samsung 970 EVO for about the same price. 

However, the price may drop. If you find a great deal on one, the A1000 is a worthwhile upgrade from SATA.

Note: As of 08/03/2018, the 960GB A1000 was available for about $220, less than half what it was when we reviewed it. At that price, it's well worth considering. As we said, if you get a great deal...

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At a Glance
  • You'll get a nice boost in storage performance over SATA from this M.2 NVMe drive, but you can get about the twice the boost from similarly priced drives.

    Pros

    • Affordable upgrade from SATA
    • Five-year warranty and high TBW rating

    Cons

    • Only PCIe x2 and a slow performer for NVMe
    • The same price as much faster competition at the time of this review
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