This is primarily a video project that revisits our popular SSD Architecture post from 2014. All of that content remains relevant to this day – SSD architecture has not substantially changed at a low level – but it's been deserving of a refresh. NAND Flash comprises the actual storage component of the SSD, and impacts more than just capacity; endurance, speed, and the cost-per-GB metric are all impacted by NAND Flash selection. The industry has slowly reached parity between TLC and MLC NAND devices for the mainstream and gaming segments, with VNAND getting a steady push through Samsung's channels. As for how MLC and TLC actually work, though, we turn to our content.
With this update, we've introduced a 3D animation to help visualize the complexities of voltage states and program/erases occurring on the disk actively. The original graphics and text of our architecture article can be found on this page.
Memory manufacturer Corsair has signaled its re-entry to the solid-state drive market with an updated Neutron series of SSDs. The new Neutron XTi SSDs operate on the Phison controller that's been going around – and has seemed to replace most of the fading SandForce market dominance – to enable SATA III transactions at maximum interface allowance. Corsair uses MLC NAND (two bits per cell), which offers better endurance to TLC alternatives at a rough 30% price-hike per gigabyte.
The Neutron XTi ships in 240GB, 480GB, and 960GB capacities. Corsair also notes in its release to the press that the drive will “become Corsair's first 1920GB SSD,” meaning that there's a ~2TB model forthcoming. Price is not yet determined for the 2TB model, but the 960GB (~1TB) model lands at $330.
U.2 (pronounced Udot2, lest Bono exercise legal force) has made a major appearance on PC platform updates from motherboard vendors, including Gigabyte with new X99 and Z170X motherboards at PAX. The form factor used to be called SFF-8639 (SSD Form Factor) and was targeted almost entirely at server and enterprise markets. In a move toward greater user-friendliness, the interface has rebranded as “U.2,” easier to remember with the M.2 interface also proliferating across the market.
This “TLDR” article explains the U.2 vs. M.2 vs. SATA Express differences, with a focus on PCI-e lane assignment and speeds or throughputs.
PAX is always surprisingly full of PC gaming hardware, and we’ve run across a couple more items that aren’t yet available – but will be soon. PNY brought the newest addition to their red-and-black gaming suite, an overclocked Nvidia GTX 960, and OCZ came with an M.2 SSD, the RD400 NVME. Both devices are set to release sometime in May.
The last week's worth of computer hardware news contained a few disappointments – the removal of non-K overclocking from some boards, for one – and a few upshots. One of those upshots is on the front of VR, headed-up by Epic Games in a publicly released video reel of unique implementations. Virtual reality's use cases also expanded this week, as developers Epic Games have learned new means to utilize the technology (something we think needs to happen).
Our weekly hardware news recap is below, though the script has been appended for the readers out there. Topics for this week's round-up include Intel's crack-down on non-K overclocking, editing games within VR, AMD's Wraith, a Sony SSD, and some new peripherals.
Plextor has been making SSDs since 2008, but their presence in the PC gaming market is nearly unrecognized. They are the third-largest OEM SSD manufacturer behind only Samsung and SanDisk, and Plextor's drives are used in Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, ASUS, Microsoft, and Samsung computers. The company is working to change its consumer recognition as it continues to manufacture high-throughput PCI-e and SATA SSDs. At CES 2016, Plextor announced the M8Pe on the PCI-e side and the M7V on the SATA side, two drives which we think are of serious note for the consumer and gaming audiences.
The M8Pe is a PCI-e Gen 3 x4 M.2 SSD running the NVMe protocol. The drive will be available in the 2280 form factor or as an M.2 stick, then mounted on an HHHL PCB with a styled heatsink (similar to the HyperX Predator). The new M8Pe uses the Marvell 88SS1093 controller to handle Toshiba 15nm MLC NAND. The M8Pe will have 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB of flash memory with up to 1GB of DDR3 for caching, which acts as a sort of pre-buffer to speed-up storage transactions. The drive is a welcomed competitor in a market which consists of a whopping 3 competing companies: Intel (750 SSD), Kingston (HyperX Predator), and Samsung (950 Pro). At the moment, Samsung is king according to published, raw numbers. These numbers aren't really representative of all aspects of drive performance, though, and that's for a number of reasons we define in our SSD Architecture & Anatomy article. There are other discrepancies as well, but we'll look into those in future posts.
Two new SSDs piqued our interest from Kingston Technology at this year's CES: the Kingston UV400 and unnamed PCIe HyperX SSD. The second drive comes from the gaming side of the company – badged under its HyperX branding – and is a high-performance, NVMe drive set to champion the Predator SSD.
Kingston's UV400 SSD is the manufacturer's first foray into TLC Flash NAND. The drive isn't really new, though – it's just new to the US. The product was first tested in a few foreign markets to see how buyer response would be; in India and Russia, for instance, a price delta of a few bucks can be the swing needed to crush or propel a product into its market position. Following the company's international experiments, the UV400 is being brought to US e-tailers near the end of 2Q16. TLC will drive price down to a yet-unnannounced, but predicted, "very affordable" class.
Samsung's vertically stacked NAND was introduced in June of 2014, heralding an era of increased capacity with (theoretically) reduced endurance concerns when compared against TLC. The NAND type takes a page from Intel's 3D transistor book and stacks NAND vertically, making for greater density in “apartment high-rise” fashion.
The SSD market has grown exponentially over the past few years, the product of reduced NAND cost and increased capacity at affordable prices. TLC and VNAND saw rapid gains in drive capacity at the cost of some endurance, though controller advancements have offset this downside considerably; TLC and VNAND also both offer the endurance required for the majority of consumer use case scenarios. As SSD cost has plummeted to below $0.50 per gigabyte, we've seen inclusion of SSDs in most system builds within the mid-range or better categories.
Samsung's 850 EVO and 850 Pro have been around for a little while now, with the 850 Pro debuting 3D NAND (also called “VNAND”). The company's 850 Pro capped at 1TB of storage, but has been refreshed in 2TB capacities as of today; the 850 EVO – a cheaper alternative for consumer-class usage – has also been refreshed to 2TB.