SSD Trends To Look For At Computex 2018

Computex is a frenzy of storage related news with consumer SSDs leading the charge. We've identified what to look for when the show kicks off, and even break some news to set the tone of Computex 2018.

Low flash memory prices allow more companies to jump in the SSD market, so we expect more announcements than ever before. Just last week Gigabyte announced its first consumer SSD. Companies that dabble with the technology and got out when when flash was expensive will return with "me too" products that help push pricing down further. Look for these companies to add lighting, extravagant heat sinks, and other accessories to garner attention. Only some of the SSDs will actually ship, but it's always fun to see what companies are capable of producing in limited numbers.

Most of the specific products are under embargo until June 5, but we have the major bullet points for you today. We'll start with the controllers and then move though some trends that will carry over into 2019.

Silicon Motion, Inc. - More SM2262 And SN2262EN

The Silicon Motion SM2262 began to impact the SSD market soon after CES. Intel, HP, and Adata all ship at least one SSD with the controller to the US and Europe markets, and several Chinese companies also sell drives with this controller in that region. At Computex we will see more companies with SM2262 drives ready for the masses with retail availability raining down through the rest of 2017.

Silicon Motion first displayed the SM2262EN at Computex last year, but not a working sample. The flagship controller that delivers even more performance compared to the SM2262 should appear with reference design firmware in a number of booths. We'll learn more at the show about retail products, the release cycle, and performance.

Phison PS5012-E12 - High Performance Without Resources

Just prior to Computex we started testing a reference design 1TB E12 in our lab. The initial performance looks promising. Within minutes we hit 3,200 MB/s with sequential reads and writes. The read performance is roughly 300 MB/s shy of the latest 1TB Samsung 970 Pro, but the E12 scored 500 MB/s more than the 970 Pro in sequential writes.

The PCMark 8 Storage Test results also look promising (image).

Patriot was the first to show a retail E12 SSD back in January at CES. We expect to see more products like the Patriot Viper as companies start to build a buzz for new models coming later in the year.

Plextor M9Pe Extreme - Picking Up The Pace

We were one of the first sites to publish performance results of the Plextor M9Pe NVMe SSDs. That's not always a good thing. Since our review, Plextor has quietly released three firmware updates that improved performance. We mentioned this was a possibility in our review and pointed back to previous products from the company that progressed down the same path.

Just days ago Plextor sent media an email blast to come look at the new M9Pe Extreme. For now, that's all we know about the Marvell Eldora-based SSD. If history repeats itself, this may be a new release that existing M9Pe owners will benefit from. Either way, if you own the M9Pe head over to Plextor's site and download the new firmware that increases performance. We hope to write a new review of the M9Pe SSD in the coming weeks with the new 1.04 firmware installed.

Realtek PCIe 3.0 x8 - Maybe This Year?

Did you know that Realtek makes SSD controllers? The company best known for embedded audio on motherboards has shipped a few different SSD controllers over the last few years. Most of the SSDs outfitted with the controllers shipped in China from Colorful, a company best known for graphics cards. Colorful sells most of its SSDs across Asia. Adata also built a consumer SSD based on Realtek technology, but it largely went unnoticed in the US and Europe.

No one knows the origins of the Realtek 8-lane PCIe 3.0 controller rumors, but they've circled around the drain for two years now. If it's going to happen, 2018 is the year. M.2 SSDs utilize either two or four lanes so a product with an 8-lane design will only come in an add-in card form factor. In theory, a product based on the rumors could be the fastest consumer SSD to date.

QLC and 96-Layer TLC NAND

We first saw working QLC in August 2017 at Flash Memory Summit. The Microsemi room had a board that looked like something from the space shuttle used to test and develop the technology. Toshiba and manufacturing partner Western Digital have made progress with QLC, and Micron and Intel have also made news recently. Micron announced the 7,680GB 5210 ION enterprise SATA SSD rated for less than one drive write per day.

We learned that some SSD manufacturers will display working QLC prototypes at Computex 2018. By the end of the show we should know more about the performance, endurance, and possible capacities of the models slated for 2019.

There is a chance we'll see 96-layer TLC this year. If it doesn't appear at Computex then we should get our first look at Flash Memory Summit in August.

Low-Power DDR4 Infused

Flash has hit its peak and is on a downward price swing due to oversupply, but DRAM pricing is still on the rise with no limit in sight. Most consumer SSDs still ship with DDR3, but with production lines shifting to newer DDR4 the rest of the industry has to follow the tide. DDR4 increases the data throughput between the memory and the controller, and it also lowers overall power consumption. To get around the rising costs of DDR4, some companies are looking at LPDDR4 that doesn't carry the price premium that low power DRAM usually does.

New Form Factors For Consumer Devices

The M.2 specification is very diverse. So far, most consumers SSDs use the M.2 2280 (22mm wide, 80mm long) specification. That will soon change as manufacturers start to shave costs to be more competitive in a buyers market. We expect to see more drives on display in the 2260 and 2242 form factors. Most of these products will fall into the entry-level NVMe SSD class but will help the industry transition away from SATA SSDs.

Portable Storage - Getting Flashy

When companies have a lot of flash on hand and not enough buyers for traditional SSDs they look for other ways to sell it. The current oversupply has already brought a number of interesting designs like the TEKQ Rapide Portable SSD.

We expect to see more flash-based portable storage products at the show. These will come in different forms, from exotic, like the new Silicon Power Bolt B80 shown above, to tame plastic models designed to go in your backpack.

SATA - The Biggest Loser

Analysts predict NVMe will out-ship SATA for the first time in 2018. SATA has reached it's performance peak and largely fallen to the wayside for enthusiasts in primary storage roles. SATA will live on for years to come, but we will see these drives transition to secondary storage and for "legacy system upgrades". Other than a few new RGB gimmick SSDs, we don't expect to see anything exciting with SATA at Computex 2018. 

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  • CalHob
    Chris, your comment about legacy systems also triggers a question about legacy support in NVMe drives. At work we had upgraded the boot drives of several systems that did not have UEFI NVMe support using Samsung Pro 950 or Plextor M8Pe ... because those two drives still have Option ROM that allows booting with Legacy BIOS. While I'm certain this is NOT a growing upgrade market for the latest NVMe releases, but it has been a great option for us keeping usuable hardware in use longer. And, given that NVMe is getting closer in price to SATA all the time, we would rather update older/recent hardware to NVMe than continue using the SATA devices.

    Samsung dropped the Option ROM starting in the 960 series, and I'm not sure if Plextor's latest still carries it. But, is this something you have visability into, of all the drives you test, do you know or not if they have Option ROM included that would allow Legacy BIOS booting?

    Thanks for considering the question.