Introduction, Specifications, and Packaging
Flash Memory Summit 2018 is on, and it's rapidly looking like the theme of the year is 'QLC'. QLC stands for Quad Level Cell, which is a bit of a misnomer since there are actually 16 voltage levels of a QLC cell - the 'quad' actually relating to the four bits of data that can be stored at any specific location.
Doubling the number of voltage states allows you to store 33% more data in a given number of flash cells, but comes at a cost. The tighter voltage tolerances required and higher sensitivity to cell leakage mean that endurance ratings cannot be as high as TLC or MLC, and programming (writing) requires greater voltage precision, meaning slower writes. Reads may also see a slight penalty since it is more difficult to discriminate more finely grained voltage thresholds. SSD makers have been trying to overcome these hurdles for years, and it seems that Intel is now the first to crack the code, launching their first mainstream QLC SSD:
Specifications are not earth shattering but respectable for a budget-minded NVMe SSD. 1.8GB/s sequentials and 250,000 IOPS fall well within NVMe territory. The write figures may be higher than expected given this article intro, but Intel has a few tricks up their sleeves here that help them pull this off:
While not specifically called out in the specs, Intel has implemented a large dynamic write cache to help overcome slower QLC media write speeds. The idea here is that in the vast majority of typical usage scenarios, the user should never see QLC speeds and will only ever be writing to SLC. The dynamic cache is created by simply operating sections of the QLC media in SLC mode (1TB of QLC = 256GB of SLC). Intel could have gone higher here, but doing so would more negatively impact endurance since erasing blocks of cells wears the flash similarly regardless of the mode it is currently operating in.
Simple packaging. Nothing to write home about.
Read on for our full review of the Intel SSD 660p 1TB QLC SSD!
Motherboard manufacturer Biostar is expanding its solid state drive lineup with the launch of the M500 M.2 2280 SSD which appears to be the company’s first PCI-E NVMe SSD (it is not the first M.2 but those drives used SATA). The new Biostar M500 SSD uses 3D TLC NAND flash and supports NVMe 1.2 protocol and the PCI-E x2 interface. The exact controller and flash chips used have not yet been revealed, however.
Biostar continues its gamer / racing aesthetics with the new drive featuring a black heatsink with two LEDs that serve a utilitarian purpose. One LED shows the temperature of thebdrive at a glance (red/yellow/green) while the other LED shows data transmit activity and also shows which PCi-E mode (2.0 / 3.0) the drive is in.
The M500 SSD uses up to 1.7W while reading. it comes in four SKUs including 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, and 1TB capacities with either 256 MB. 512 MB, or 1 GB of DDR3L cache respectively.
As far as performance is concerned, Biostar claims up to 1,700 MB/s sequential reads and 1,100 MB/s sequential writes. Further, the drives offer up to 200K random read IOPS and 180K random write IOPS. Of course, these numbers are for the top end 512 GB and 1 TB drives and the lower capacity models will have less performance as they have less cache and flash channels to spread reads and writes from/to.
|SSD Capacity||Max Sequential Read||Max Sequential Write||Read IOPS||Write IOPS||Price|
|128 GB||1,500 MB/s||550 MB/s||200K||180K||$59|
|256 GB||1,600 MB/s||900 MB/s||200K||180K||$99|
|512 GB||1,700 MB/s||1,100 MB/s||200K||180K||$149|
|1 TB||1,700 MB/s||1,100 MB/s||200K||180K||$269|
According to Guru3D, Biostar’s M500 M.2 drives will be available soon with MSRP prices of $59 for the 128 GB model, $99 for the 256 GB model, $149 for the 512 GB drive, and $269 for the 1 TB SKU. The pricing does not seem terrible though the x2 interface does limit its potential / usefulness. They are squarely budget SSDs aimed at computing with SATA SSDs and enticing upgrades from mechanical drives. They may be useful for upgrading older laptops where a x4 M.2 slot would not be wasted like on a desktop machine.
What do you think about Biostar’s foray into NVMe solid state drives?
Subject: Storage | May 24, 2018 - 01:15 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: toshiba, flash memory, fab, BiCS, 3d nand
Toshiba Memory Corporation (a subsidiary of Toshiba) is expanding its 3D flash memory production capabilities by beginning construction of a new state-of-the-art fab in Kitakami city which is in the Iwate prefecture in Japan. Toshiba Memory Corporation’s a new Toshiba Memory Iwate Corporation subsidiary began preparing for the new fab last September and construction will begin in July.
The new fab will be built with an earthquake absorbing structure and AI powered production lines with an emphasis on energy efficiency. TMIC plans to complete construction in 2019 and will hire 370 new graduates. Toshiba plans to use the new fab to boost its production capacity for its proprietary BiCS 3D flash memory to capture the massive growth market for enterprise and datacenter solid state drives. Further, Toshiba will extend its joint venture with Western Digital to include working together at the new fab.
Toshiba is quoted in the press release in stating:
“Going forward, TMC will expand its memory and SSD business and boost competitiveness by timely investments responding to market needs, and by development of BiCS FLASH™ and new generation memories.”
It is promising to see new fabs being opened and production capacities expanded by Toshiba and others (such as Micron) as it means that flash memory prices should stabilize (hopefully!), and the increased and newer production equipment will help enable the progress of new increasingly complex memory technologies.
Subject: General Tech | April 12, 2018 - 10:20 AM | Alex Lustenberg
Tagged: video, Samsung, podcast, Platimax, micron, KL-G, K68, Intel, icy dock, hp, enermax, corsair, cloudflare, chromebook x2, Byte3, Azulle, amd, AlterEgo, 7nm, 3d nand
PC Perspective Podcast #495 - 04/11/18
Join us this week for ICY DOCK’s 16 bay enclosure, Intel Rumors, and more!
The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!
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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Allyn Malventano, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath
Peanut Gallery: Ken Addison, Alex Lustenberg
Program length: 1:34:25
Week in Review:
News items of interest:
0:35:00 Chris Hook leaves AMD (to where?) and Sasa Marinkovic takes that spot
0:55:40 Intel rumours abound
1:12:05 Computers can now read that poker face you are so proud of (AlterEgo)
Picks of the Week:
Subject: General Tech | April 9, 2018 - 11:20 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: micron, manufacturing, IMFT NAND, flash memory, fab, cleanroom, 64-Layer, 3d nand
Micron Technologies recently began construction on a multi-billion-dollar cleanroom facility for research and development of its 3D NAND technologies. The new facility is being built adjacent to Micron’s existing NAND fabrication complex at 1 North Coast Drive where Micron invested $4 Billion to expand in 2016. Micron did not disclose its exact investment in the new cleanroom space except to say that it was a multi-billion-dollar project.
Micron’s expanded 300mm 3D NAND manufacturing complex is part of its NAND Center of Excellence, and the new facility that is under construction will expand the company’s ability to increase its research and development efforts and allow Micron to push “even more intricate designs” according to Sanjay Mehrotra (Micron President and CEO). for its 3D flash memory. The new facility will be staffed by the new hires which will mainly be engineers and technicians specializing in 3D NAND manufacturing and will include as many as 600 fresh graduates.
Construction of the new manufacturing and cleanroom space is slated for completion in mid-2019 with initial wafer output by the fourth quarter of next year. Unfortunately, this facility is not intended to add additional wafer capacity (at least at this time) so those hoping for increased supply of NAND chips and cheaper SSDs will have to keep waiting. Rather, this facility is going to be used for R&D and its manufacturing will be used to produce more advanced flash and experiment with new manufacturing methods for increasingly complicated stacked and denser die designs instead of beefing up supply of its current memory chips that are being used in current products.
Satellite view of Micron's existing 300mm NAND fabrication facility in northern Singapore.
Along with the new 3D NAND facility, Micron will be adding 1,000 new jobs to its existing workforce in Singapore of 7,500 over the next five years per a deal with Singapore’s Economic Development Board. Business Times and Channel News Asia note that over the past 20 years Micron has invested heavily in Singapore – north of $20 billion.
I am glad to see Micron pushing forward with its 3D NAND especially following the breakup with Intel wherein the two companies have decided to complete the development of third generation 3D NAND together and then to develop 3D NAND independently. Interestingly, Intel and Micron did not totally dissolve the IMFT joint venture as they will continue collaborating on 3D XPoint at the fab in Lehi, Utah which according to Intel is now entirely focused on XPoint memory. That was something I was curious about when first reading of the breakup early this year and happened to come across when writing this story. That press release notes that Intel and Micron are currently producing second generation 64-layer IMFT flash and developing higher density third generation flash which is slated for production next year (after which Micron and Intel will go their separate ways on NAND), so this may be a major reason for Micron building out new multi-billion-dollar fab space for NAND R&D.
Subject: Storage | April 5, 2018 - 03:38 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: toshiba, tlc, phison, NVMe, kingston, BiCS3, 3d nand
Kingston is continuing its push into NVMe SSDs with its new A1000 series. The budget parts are positioned as mechanical drive alternatives. These drives use a lower cost PCI-E x2 interface and are single sided with the M.2 2280 (80mm) form factor. Kingston is using the four channel Phison E8 PS5008-E8 controller with DRAM cache along with Kingston branded TLC 3D NAND flash (SSD Review's sample reportedly used Toshiba's BICS3 256Gb flash).
The A1000 series (PDF) comes in 240 GB, 480 GB, and 960 GB capacities. They offer up to 1500 MB/s sequential reads across all capacities and the other performance characteristics varying according to the capacity and number of flash dies used. The 960 GB drive is the fastest with up to 1,000 MB/s sequential writes, 120,000 random read IOPS, and 100,000 random write IOPS. The 480GB drive is a bit slower at 900 MB/s sequential writes, 100,000 random read IOPS, and 90,000 random write IOPS. Finally, the lowest capacity 240 GB SSD hits up to 800 MB/s sequential writes, 100,000 random read IOPS, and 80,000 random write IOPS. As far as endurance, Kingston rates all three capacities at the same 1 million hours MTBF and 150 TBW for the 240 GB, 300 TBW for the 480 GB, and 600 TBW for the 960 GB solid state drive. Kingston warranties the drives for five years which is nice to see on a budget drive.
|240 GB||480 GB||960 GB|
|Sequential Read||1,500 MB/s||1,500 MB/s||1,500 MB/s|
|Sequential Write||800 MB/s||900 MB/s||1,000 MB/s|
|Endurance Rating||150 TBW||300 TBW||600 TBW|
Kingston's A1000 SSDs use the NVMe 1.3 protocol but they are limited by the x2 PCI-E interface, especially where reads are concerned. Kingston is pricing the drives at MSRPs of $119.99 for the 240 GB, $219.99 for the 480 GB, and $402.99 for the 960 GB drive which does seem a bit on the pricier side of things but we'll have to wait a bit to see how retail pricing shakes out to say for sure. For example, looking on Amazon, the MSRPs of the A1000 drives are close to the retail pricing of Kingston's faster KC1000 SSDs which makes me think the street prices may come in lower than shown above (hopefully). In any case, the A1000 drives should be available soon as reviews have already begun popping up online.
Subject: General Tech | April 4, 2018 - 05:04 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: adata, xpg, NVMe, pci-e, ssd, 3d nand
ADATA recently unveiled a new M.2 solid state drive under its XPG (Xtreme Performance Group) brand that pairs a Silicon Motion SM2262 controller and DDR3 cache with second generation 64-layer 3D NAND flash from Micron (IMFT) to create the XPG GAMMIX S11 SSD that will be available in 240 GB, 480 GB, and 960 GB capacities. Aimed at gamers and enthusiasts, the XPG branded SSD is cooled by a black and red heatsink that ADATA claims keeps the drive up to 10°C cooler than drives without heatshields.
The XPG Gammix S11 uses the M.2 2280 form factor and PCI-E 3.0 x4 interface with the NVMe 1.3 protocol. The drive features a dual package DDR3 DRAM cache on a 32-bit bus as well as a second level intelligent SLC cache. RAID Engine and Data Shaping features along with low density parity check error correction (LDPC) help secure the integrity of data in transit and stored on the 3-bits per cell flash. ADATA rates the Gammix S11 SSD at up to 3200 MB/s sequential reads, 1700 MB/s sequential writes and random 4k read and write IOPS of 310K and 280K respectively. Note that the lower capacity models are a bit slower due to fewer flash dies.
ADATA rates the solid state drive at 2 million hours MTBF and offers up a 5 year warranty. As far as pricing (MSRP), the 240 GB drive is $139.99, the 480 GB is $259.99, and the 960 GB drive is $309.99. Reportedly a 2TB (1.92 TB) PCI-E SSD is also in the works but it's not quite ready yet. If you are turned off by the gamer-focused heatsink, it appears the SX8200 is the same drive with an optional black heatsink.
Subject: General Tech, Storage | March 18, 2018 - 12:20 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: ssd, sata 3, pny, 3d nand
PNY has added a new solid-state drive to its CS900 lineup doubling the capacity to 960GB. The SATA-based SSD is a 2.5" 7mm affair suitable for use in laptops and SFF systems as well as a budget option for desktops.
The CS900 960GB SSD uses 3D TLC NAND flash and offers ECC, end-to-end data protection, secure erase, and power saving features to protect data and battery life in mobile devices. Unfortunately, information on the controller and NAND flash manufacturer is not readily available though I suspect it uses a Phison controller like PNY's other drives.
The 960GB capacity model is rated for sequential reads of 535 MB/s and sequential writes of 515 MB/s. PNY rates the drive at 2 million hours MTBF and they cover it with a 3-year warranty.
We may have to wait for reviews (we know how Allyn loves to tear apart drives!) for more information on this drive especially where random read/write and latency percentile performance are concerned. The good news is that if the performance is there the budget price seems right with an MSRP of $249.99 and an Amazon sale price of $229.99 (just under 24 cents/GB) at time of writing. Not bad for nearly a terabyte of solid state storage (though if you don't need that much space you can alternatively find PCI-E based M.2 SSDs in this price range).
Subject: Storage | February 7, 2018 - 10:03 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: tlc, SK Hynix, enterprise ssd, 72-layer tlc, 3d-v4, 3d nand
SK Hynix has revealed its new enterprise solid state drives based on 72-layer 512 Gb 3D TLC NAND flash dies paired with the company's own in-house controller and firmware. The SK Hynix eSSDs are available in a traditional SAS/SATA interfacing product with capacities up to 4TB and a PCI-E variant that comes in 'above 1TB." Both drive types are reportedly being sampled to datacenter customers in the US.
SK Hynix has managed to double the capacity and improve the read latency of its new 512 Gb 72-layer NAND flash over its previous 256 Gb 72-layer flash which debuted last year. The eSSD product reportedly hits sequential read and write speeds of 560 MB/s and 515 MB/s respectively. Interestingly, while random read IOPS hit 98,000, random write performance is significantly lower at 32,000 IOPS. SK Hynix did not go into details, but I suspect this has to do with the tuning they did to improve read latency and the nature of the 72-layer stacked TLC flash.
Moving up to the PCI-E interfacing eSSD, customers can expect greater than 1TB capacities (SK Hynix did not specify the maximum capacity they will offer) with sequential reads hitting up to 2,700 MB/s and sequential writes hitting 1,100 MB/s. The random performance is similar to the above eSSD with write performance being much lower than read performance at 230K read IOPS and 35K write IOPS maximum. The greatly limited write performance may be the result of the drive not having enough flash channels or the flash itself not being fast enough at writes which was a tradeoff SK Hynix had to make to hit the capacity targets with larger capacity 512 Gb (64 GB) dies.
Unfortunately, SK Hynix has not yet provided further details on its new eSSDs or the 3D-V4 TLC NAND it is using in the new drives. SK Hynix continuing to push into the enterprise storage market with its own SSDs is an interesting play that should encourage them push for advancements and production efficiencies to advance NAND flash technology.
- SK Hynix Launches Its 8Gb GDDR6 Memory Running at 14 Gbps
- SK Hynix has huge stacks of NAND
- Samsung and SK Hynix Discuss The Future of High Bandwidth Memory (HBM) At Hot Chips 28
Subject: Storage | February 5, 2018 - 11:54 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: toshiba, ssd, SM2258, silicon motion, plextor, BiCS, 3d nand
Plextor is introducing a new SATA SSD option with its 2.5” M8VC and M.2 M8VG solid state drives. The M8V series pairs a Silicon Motion SM2258 controller with Toshiba’s 64-layer 3D TLC NAND (BICS flash) to deliver budget SSDs in 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB capacities. Plextor is using its own Plex Nitro firmware and includes SLC cache, system RAM cache support, Plex Compressor compression, 128-bit ECC and LDPC error correction, and hardware AES encryption. Plextor warranties its M8V series SSDs for three years.
Plextor’s new drives are limited by the SATA 6 Gbps interface and max out at 560 MB/s sequential reads. Sequential writes top out at 400 MB/s for the 128 GB model, 510 MB/s for the 256 GB model, and 520 MB/s for the 512 GB drive. Similarly, 4K random reads and 4K random writes scale up as you add more flash which is shown in the table below. The top-end 512 GB drive hits 82K 4K random read IOPS and 81K 4K random write IOPS. The 256 GB solid state drives are only slightly slower at 81K and 80K respectively. The 128 GB M8V SSDs do not appear to have enough flash channels to keep up with the larger capacity drives though as their performance maxes out at 60K random reads and 70K random writes.
|Plextor M8V Series||128 GB||256 GB||512 GB|
|Sequential Reads||560 MB/s||560 MB/s||560 MB/s|
|Sequential Writes||400 MB/s||510 MB/s||520 MB/s|
|4K Random Read IOPS||60K||81K||82K|
|4K Random Write IOPS||70K||80K||81K|
|Endurance||70 TBW||140 TBW||280 TBW|
|MTBF (hours)||1.5 Million||1.5 Million||1.5 Million|
Plextor rates the M8V series at 0.5 DWPD (drive writes per day) and write endurance of 70 TB for the 128 GB, 140 TB for the 256 GB, and 280 TB for the 512 GB model. Plextor rates them at 1.5 million hours MTBF. These numbers aren’t too bad considering this is TLC flash and they are likely to get more life than the ratings (it’s just not guaranteed).
The SM2258 controller appears to be fairly well established and has also been used by Adata, Mushkin, and others for their budget solid state drives. Plextor did not announced pricing or availability and in searching around online I was not able to find them for sale yet. Its previous S2C series (M7V replacement) SATA drives came in at just under 26 cents/gigabyte using the same SMI 2258 controller but with SK Hynix 16nm planar TLC flash though so I would expect the M8V to come in close to that if not better.
I just wish we could get a SATA 4 standard already to at least get consumer systems up to the 12 Gbps enterprise-oriented SAS can hit. While RAM and GPU shopping may make your wallet cry more than a Steam sale, at least it is a good time to be shopping for storage. What do you think about the influx of budget SSDs? Have you upgraded your family’s PCs to the magical performance of solid state storage yet?