Tigo G5 NVMe SSD: Underclocking The SM2260

Tigo is part of China's largest memory supplier. With that designation, the company can build unique controller and memory combinations before many of the global brands that frequent the pages of Tom's Hardware. Last year, we tested the Tigo T-One with a unique tandem of SM2256 and Sk Hynix TLC planar memory. For early 2017, Tigo set us up with the first SM2260 NVMe controller paired with IMFT's rare 3D MLC flash, but that's just where we start with the Tigo G5.

The G5 is the first SSD we've tested with a user-selectable power mode. Similar technology has been a staple in motherboards and video cards for decades. Tigo didn’t design the feature to overclock the Silicon Motion, Inc SM2260 controller, instead it decreases performance for less demanding workloads. During a media briefing in Asia, Tigo described the feature as an option that provides different modes for gaming, work, or a very low power state for surfing the web and other low bandwidth activities. We see the feature as more of a distraction from our objective today.

The Tigo G5 is the first product to market with the SMI SM2260 NVMe SSD controller and IMFT (Intel Micron Flash Technology) 3D MLC flash. This is the same configuration that Ballistix (By Micron) planned to release as the TX3, but canceled at the last minute. Adata announced the M.2 SX8000, which is similar to the TX3, but we've yet to find one in the wild.

Today we'll finally get to see this elusive combination in action and take in the sights of the best Asia has to offer in this well-built, great looking SSD.

Technical Specifications

Product
Tigo G5
Available Capacities
256GB / 512GB / 1TB
Controller
Silicon Motion, Inc. SM2260
DRAM
256MB / 512MB / 1024MB
NAND
Micron 3D MLC
Sequential Read
2,500 MB/s
Sequential Write
1,100 MB/s
Random Read
Unpublished
Random Write
Unpublished
Warranty
3-Year

Tigo launched the G5 with three capacities of 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB. We have the 512GB and 1TB in-house for testing, but are await final firmware for the largest model. The G5 256GB and 512GB both have mass production firmware, which is industry-speak for the retail-ready code.

As we mentioned, this is the first product we've tested with the SM2260 NVMe flash processor and IMFT's 3D MLC NAND flash. The SMI controller uses an advanced design with low-density party check code for next generation flash to enable high endurance and reliability. This is the same controller Intel adopted for the 600p entry-level SSD with 384Gbit 3-bit per cell (TLC) flash. The G5 uses the 256Gbit 2-bit per cell (MLC) flash that we rarely see in consumer SSDs. To date, Intel has only used its 3D MLC flash on a single enterprise product. Adata's Ultimate SU900 and XPG SX8000 are the only third-party SSDs on the market with IMFT 3D MLC.

The Intel M.2 600p and the Tigo G5 use a different number of channels on the controller. Due to IMFT's odd 384Gbit die and the limited space of the M.2 2280 form factor, Intel could only run the SMI SM2260 controller in 6-channel mode. The Tigo G5 with 256Gbit MLC and a larger PCB uses all eight channels.

The Tigo G5 has several unique features. The first and most obvious is the three-way power selection. We'll show later in this review that the feature is more of a gimmick than something most will actually use. It comes down to the power involved, though. The PCIe G5 uses less than 10W at full speed. In a world of 400W video cards and 60-225W host processors, a switch to shave off a few watts doesn't make a lot of sense. None of these parts use all of that power 100% of the time. Host- and software-initiated low-power states already reduce total power consumption at idle, or while surfing the internet or composing a Word document.

The second feature is just as unique for consumer SSDs, but a little more well known. The Tigo G5 also features host power-fail protection. Tigo doesn’t limit power loss protection to simply protecting data at rest like some other consumer SSDs. The G5 actually intervenes when a power-loss event occurs and provides 100 milliseconds of protection for data in flight. The feature protects against firmware corruption and flushes the data down to the flash.

Pricing And Warranty

We don't have pricing information on the Tigo G5 yet. Tigo doesn’t list the drive on its website either, but both will change over time. The last Tigo SSD we tested made it to North America, but not through Newegg or Amazon. We may see a limited number of these drives sold in the US and Europe as the company expands its distribution channels outside of Asia.

Product Packaging

The Tigo G5 ships in a premium package that must really stand out in its target markets. We haven't seen a premium package like the G5's come to market in several years--even in North America and Europe. The last SSD I've tested with a package this nice was the first Kingston HyperX SSD with the blue on gray color scheme.

Normally I don't care too much about packaging; it's all sort of pomp. For the most part, I just want the package to relay accurate information that makes shopping easier in a retail store. We could say the same about a car key. You just want to use it to start the car, but you have to admire an Aston Martin crystal key when you come across one. The G5 package isn't that exotic, but we can make a case for a similar package with other SSDs.

A Closer Look

The Tigo G5 is really unlike any of the SSDs we've seen over the last couple of years. The Intel SSD 750 Series has more of an industrial feel, and the Plextor M8Pe is gamer-oriented, but the G5 aims for luxury. It's kind of like a supermodel from a faraway land.

A blue plasma glow comes from the triangle diffusers on the side of the Tigo G5 when you power on the system. At first, it detracted from the luxury of the drive, but after I looked closely and noticed the plasma-like glow, I started to appreciate it.

There is one other feature that we can't overlook; the three-way giant toggle switch sticking out of the back. Let's take the cover off and see what it does.

Inside The Tigo G5

The power mode switch is a three-way toggle with the designations S, D and P.

S is full power mode, D is the mid-mode for some power savings, and P is the low-power mode. We're not sure what the letters stand for. The only issue we found was reaching behind the computer to toggle the switch. It would have been better to have a software actuated switch or remote fob, even if Tigo attached it to a wire.

The rest of the G5 add-in card is really nice. There is a large heatsink on one side that cools the controller and NAND flash. A second, much smaller, heatsink rests on the other side to cool the DRAM packages. The second heatsink would also cool the additional NAND on a 1TB G5.

We also notice the copper cover over the SMI SM2260 controller. The cover first appeared on the Intel 600p. At the time, we thought it was an Intel-only feature because we've only seen the controller displayed without the copper liner. It seems this is now a fixture for the SM2260 controller. We reached out to SMI for clarification, and it responded:

The IC industry has used this method of heat dispersion for several years. The material spreads the heat away from the central part of the package to aid cooling.

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