As CPU performance hits new and unforeseen heights, processors increasingly spend time waiting on data from hard drives. This is what makes storage today's most glaring bottleneck, and overcoming it requires an SSD. Frankly, the real-world differences between SSDs in a desktop environment aren't altogether large. The most noticeable performance increase occurs when you go from a hard disk to just about any solid-state drive.
June 2016 Updates
It took a while, but I'm finally back to a normal sleep schedule. Going to Asia is always easy. I can adjust on the plane and start the next day like normal. Coming back is a different story. Sleep comes in four-hour bursts. And no matter what time I fall asleep, I wake up at midnight. Life gets hazy during what feels like a week-long hangover.
The torture was worthwhile for the most productive Computex ever, though. We visited Lite-On's factory where Plextor SSDs are manufactured. The firmware team's office is in the same area; unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to discuss future updates. We also visited Phison to talk about the global SSD market, new trends and future enthusiast products. Without question, the highlight was our interview with Phison founder and CEO, Pua Khein-Seng.
In the coming weeks, we will publish that interview, along with a preview of the ultimate Phison E7 SSD that uses 1TB of Toshiba 15nm MLC flash programmed to emulate SLC NAND. We doubt the drive will ever make it to market, given its cost. With two-bit-per-cell memory running in one-bit mode, capacity drops to 512GB. As you can imagine, though, the performance is amazing.
This week, all eyes turned to Samsung on news of the SM961 1TB M.2 NVMe SSD shipping. We have a pair of drives en route, and they should arrive in the next few hours. RamCity initially only listed the 1TB model for pre-order and sold its entire lot in less than 12 hours. The next day, pre-orders started for 512GB and 256GB capacities. The next shipment should arrive sometime around July 10th, but we were told to check back next week for an update. We've suspected for some time that 48-layer third-gen V-NAND yields were less than ideal, and the fact that Samsung is only releasing SM961 SSDs in small batches seems to confirm this. Once they land, though, these will be the fastest consumer SSDs ever. Expect up to 3200 MB/s read and 1800 MB/s sequential write performance. Moreover, the SM961 sells for less than the slower Samsung 950 Pro, which currently ranks as the best NVMe SSD.
Samsung will also release a more economical three-bit per cell (TLC) version called PM951. We don't yet have a release date for first mainstream NVMe SSD. Samsung claims 3000 MB/s read and 1150 MB/s sequential write performance. If the company is able to approach the 850 EVO's price, we expect this drive to be popular among enthusiasts.
Intel also has some news. The SSD 750 series in a U.2 form factor (Formally SFF-8639) comes with a new cable in its retail package that fits into M.2 slots. The design is slim enough to not interfere with add-in cards, too.
Micron severed the Ballistix product line from Crucial to build a new brand that targets "The Gamer Market". Ballistix by Micron announced a new PCIe SSD that uses Silicon Motion's upcoming eight-channel SM2260 controller and Micron MLC 3D flash. A Micron-branded version will ship to OEMs as the 2100. Both products should be available next month.
We thought we'd see several new Phison E7-based products at Computex, but most partners just displayed the configurations we saw at CES last January. Zotac's Sonix remains the only E7 SSD to ship so far, though it's using release candidate firmware. The drive is stable and delivers high performance. It just can't keep up with Samsung's 950 Pro or Intel's SSD 750. Worse, it costs more than those two competitors. We should see final firmware and more drives in August, just in time for Flash Memory Summit.
OCZ is fully integrated into Toshiba and finally brought the RD400 to market. We talked about the M.2 NVMe SSD for nearly a year leading up to its launch. The RD400 was the first M.2 1TB SSD to reach the consumer market, and it delivers excellent performance. Samsung's 950 Pro is faster under heavy workloads, though. In time, OCZ may address pricing to make the product more attractive.
Best PCIe SSDs
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About Our Recommendations
- We only recommend SSDs we've actually tested.
- The list is based on US prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary.
- These are new SSD prices. No used or open-box offers are in the list.
- Our picks should be valid throughout the month of publication, but SSD pricing is especially competitive, and a $15 difference can be the reason why one SSD makes the list, while another does not.
- Prices and availability change on a daily basis, but the embedded green links provide real-time pricing.
Best 256GB PCIe SSDs
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