SK hynix SL308 SSD Review - LAMD Goes TLC

SK hynix has a hot, new, low-cost SSD that looks amazing and performs well with TLC flash.

The SK hynix Canvas SL308 utilizes TLC NAND and offers up to 100,000/85,000 read/write IOPS at a very competitive price point, which might make for a close race with the best-selling Samsung 850 Evo.

SK hynix purchased Link A Media Devices (LAMD) for $248 million in 2012. LAMD held numerous patents on SSD controller design, which provided the final piece that allowed SK hynix, which produces its own NAND and DRAM, to vertically integrate its consumer and enterprise SSDs. LAMD only shipped two SSD controller models prior to the acquisition; Seagate employed one in its enterprise-focused Pulsar.2, and Corsair and Seagate used the other for client SSDs. LAMD controllers performed well compared to the competition back then.

The Link A Media Devices name was absorbed by SK hynix but its IP continues to power new products. The Canvas SL308 we're testing utilizes a third-generation SK hynix controller that features advanced LDPC error-correction technology to extend the service life of new 16nm triple-level cell flash.

Technical Specifications

SK hynix released the SL308 series in three capacities: 120GB, 250GB, and 500GB. A peek inside suggests we shouldn't be surprised if there's a 1TB model in the future. This Canvas series falls into the entry-level value sector that is dominated by low-cost TLC flash, although the specifications don't show any sign of low-end performance. The SL308 SSDs deliver up to 560 MB/s and 490 MB/s sequential read/write speeds. Random I/O tops out at 100,000/85,000 read/write IOPS.

The high write performance is made possible by an emulated SLC buffer. Other companies have tried to tie the buffer size to the amount of data on the drive, and we suspect this is the method used on the SL308. But SK hynix figured out how to do it better and make the cache large. After all, you're able to transfer more information before the drive drops to the native TLC write performance, which yields a better experience. 

This is the second SK hynix controller with support for ECC Low-Density Parity Check (LDPC), which is almost a requirement to wring enough life from 16nm TLC flash to make it a viable product. Hardware encryption, on the other hand, is a rare feature in the entry-level space. This is actually the first consumer SSD from SK hynix with hardware-accelerated AES-256 encryption.

Pricing, Warranty And Accessories

The SK Hynix SL308 recently hit US and European shores. Pricing is slightly less than MSRP. The SL308 500GB we tested sells for $129. The 250GB model lists at $64.99 and the 120GB at $44.99. Pricing is very competitive against other TLC-based products selling today.

SK hynix's SL308 includes a three-year warranty limited by the amount of data written to the flash. This upper ceiling is referred to as terabyte-written, or TBW for short. The two smaller SL308s allow for up to 75 TBW, and the 500GB model accommodates 150 TBW. Incidentally, those specifications are identical to the Samsung 850 EVO's endurance rating.

The SL308 SSDs do not ship with any hardware accessories, but customers do gain access to SK hynix's SSD software tools (English downloads page). I wouldn't go as far as to call Drive Manager Easy Kit the best SSD utility, but it comes close. The software even alerted me to an issue on a Crucial SSD.

A second software accessory allows you to migrate data from an existing drive to the SL308. That's a nice capability to have when you're trying to clone storage quickly.

A Closer Look

The SL308s are part of SK hynix's Canvas family. Their packaging reminds us of the SC300 we tested back in December 2015. It's too bad you don't get much information on the retail package, nor do you get performance data.

SK hynix makes attractive SSDs. The SL308 reminds me of LaCie's hardware. It features a slim 7mm Z-height, so it fits in modern notebooks requiring the thinner footprint.

The 500GB implementation is single-sided, and all of the major components are from SK hynix. Again, this is the first time we've tested a product with the SH87820BB controller and only the second with SK hynix 16nm TLC.

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23 comments
    Your comment
  • anbello262
    Im definitely waiting to see if that optimization it lacks is ever implemented by firmware.
    If it is (and a new benchmark proves it), it could easily dethrone the 850 as the most recommended product.
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  • Brian_R170
    Waiting for an indication of reliability and durability...
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  • Sakkura
    I wish you'd compared it with the Sandisk Ultra II. That's been one of my go-to recommendations between the 850 Evo and the budget TLC drives. The SL308 looks like a similar kind of product.
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  • littleleo
    Started selling these in place of the SanDisk X400 models because of the WD/SanDisk fake shortage and mega price increase. Everyone that has tried them has been very happy with their performance. Very close to Samsung 850 Evo in performance yet one of the best price points available if they only made a 1TB model.
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  • helopilot
    I'd like to see how this drive compares against the Sandisk X400. TomsHardware has yet to review the Sandisk X400. What's up with that?
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  • CRamseyer
    The X400 is in the pipeline. It's a really fast drive with excellent features.
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  • littleleo
    I've been selling both brands, and the SK Hynix competes very well against the SanDisk X400. Since WD/SanDisk created a shortage in the X400 models and raised prices at the beginning of this month. The SK Hynix has the edge in pricing from around $11 to $25 depending on the model. The SK Hynix seems faster on most specs except for the Seq. write specs. The SanDisk X400 does offer a 5 year warranty to the SK Hynix 3 warranty. For now pricing and good stock it makes the SK Hynix a very nice replacement for the SanDisk X400.
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  • anbello262
    Can I have some more info on that 'fake shortage'?
    Sounds like an interesting piece of information.
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  • LordConrad
    LAMD controllers are very good, but I refuse to use TLC NAND that is manufactured at less than 20nm. For me, it's MLC drives or the Samsung EVO.
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  • Nintendork
    Finally a drive that gives the EVO a run for it's money.

    Samsung 850 EVO
    SK Hynix SL308
    Kingston HyperX Savage
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  • Nintendork
    It's $125 on amazon, c'mon we got a winner.
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  • Sakkura
    Anonymous said:
    LAMD controllers are very good, but I refuse to use TLC NAND that is manufactured at less than 20nm. For me, it's MLC drives or the Samsung EVO.


    Crucial MX300? IIRC the IMFT 3D NAND is a 30-odd nm node.

    Though the MX300 hasn't been particularly compelling so far. It does rule the 750GB capacity... but mostly because nobody cares about 750GB.
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  • mapesdhs
    Chris, two more graphs with non-zero origins sneaked in there... ;)

    Re the 750 EVO, your review gave me the definite impression that it is inferior to the 850 EVO (especially for write performance, steady state, mixed loads and TBW ratings), so why is the 850 EVO being replaced by an inferior model? Tech sites should call out Samsung for doing this, it's a bad move backwards IMO. The TBW ratings are particularly worrying, and only a 3 year warranty! And is this why 850 EVO prices have been rising recently? (not just because of the changing exchange rate I mean, it was happening anyway) ie. to make the 750 EVO more attractive? With it's lesser specs, it's more likely that buyers will be happier to consider alternatives.

    Btw, no sign of the SL308 in the UK yet.

    Ian.
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  • Sakkura
    Anonymous said:
    Chris, two more graphs with non-zero origins sneaked in there... ;)

    Re the 750 EVO, your review gave me the definite impression that it is inferior to the 850 EVO (especially for write performance, steady state, mixed loads and TBW ratings), so why is the 850 EVO being replaced by an inferior model? Tech sites should call out Samsung for doing this, it's a bad move backwards IMO. The TBW ratings are particularly worrying, and only a 3 year warranty! And is this why 850 EVO prices have been rising recently? (not just because of the changing exchange rate I mean, it was happening anyway) ie. to make the 750 EVO more attractive? With it's lesser specs, it's more likely that buyers will be happier to consider alternatives.

    Btw, no sign of the SL308 in the UK yet.

    Ian.


    The 850 Evo is not being replaced by the 750 Evo, it's being supplemented. The 750 Evo is a budget drive, the 850 Evo is a midrange drive, and the 850 Pro and 950 Pro are high-end drives.

    I think Tom's is just replacing the 850 Evo with the 750 Evo in their benchmarks for the budget segment, because it's a more reasonable matchup.
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  • mapesdhs
    ROFL! Talk about swallowing the marketing spin. :D Supplemented? Seriously?? :D:D

    And you're missing my point, the entire original popularity of the 850 EVO was because it was competitive with budget products from rivals, proving that Samsung was perfectly capable of pricing it that low and still make a profit. As I said before, in the UK the 250GB dropped as low as 53 UKP at the start of this year, but now it's back up to almost 80 UKP (some of that is exchange rate sliding, but it was already above 70 before Brexit market stupidity kicked in).

    Also, the 750 EVO is one of the most expensive budget models available, more costly than the 850 EVO was just a few months ago.

    Fact is, Samsung already had a budget priced model which was worth buying precisely because it was so much better than rival products, ie. the 850 EVO. We don't need the 750 EVO, it's a mishmash product which only exists because Samsung has realised people are willing to pay more for the 850 EVO. Remember it was Samsung who constantly said the future of flash was 3D NAND, yet suddenly we have these 750 EVO thing which old style NAND paired with a newer controller, and for what? Worse specs all round!

    Feel free to believe the PR if you like, but there's no denying the 750 EVO is a product that costs much more than the 850 EVO did back in January, with slowe performance, half the TBW, a shorter warranty and it's more expensive than the SSD Plus, V300 and BX200. Nobody would buy it if the 850 EVO was still priced sensibly.

    IMO the decent "budget" model today is the SK Hynix Canvas SL301, it costs exactly what the 850 EVO did back in January (53 UKP) and performs very well according to reviews, actually scoring better than the 850 EVO does for AS-SSD.

    Ian.
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  • Sakkura
    The 850 Evo has never competed with the new range of budget planar TLC drives. They drove pricing lower than Samsung was prepared to go with the 850 Evo. And as you say, even the 750 Evo usually costs a little more than them.
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  • mapesdhs
    That makes no sense at all. :D The 850 EVO did drop down to 53 UKP a few months ago, it absolutely competed with ALL the budget models! For many months, it made no sense whatsoever (at least here in the UK) to buy anything other than the 850 EVO, it was faster, cheaper and came with a longer warranty than anything else.

    There's no reason at all for the 850 EVO to be as expensive as it is now. The SL301 costs exactly the same as the 850 EVO did back in January. Samsung and sellers have simply made the 850 EVO more expensive because it's been so popular, and then slid in the inferior 750 EVO to fill the gap, gouge some cash.

    Why aren't tech sites calling manufacturers and sellers out on this kind of market/product manipulation? The 750 EVO costs more than the 850 EVO did a few months ago and yet it's nowhere near as good a product, not by miles. The only thing worse is ordinary consumers buying into this nonsense. And it still doesn't explain why Samsung itself said 3D NAND is the future, only to then bring out a new product that doesn't use it, runs slower, costs more than it was selling its 3D NAND product for just a few months before, has a shorter warranty and a rotten TBW. QED.

    You can downvote me all you like, I'm posting facts here. What do you mean "they" drove pricing lower? "prepared" to go? Give me a break. :D You mean sellers sold the 850 EVO at a loss? They somehow bullied Samsung, a company with one of the worst reps for market strongarm tactics? Sorry I don't believe that for one minute. They still make a profit on these sales.

    Ian.
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  • Sakkura
    There may have been an unusual fluctuation of prices in the UK, but the overall picture is that Samsung just stopped cutting the price on the 850 Evo, where planar TLC drives kept on going. It's not surprising really, not only is the 850 Evo faster and higher-endurance, but it could also bank on all the old launch reviews.

    The 750 Evo is mostly for system integrators, so if it doesn't make a lot of sense at retail then I don't think Samsung really cares. It'll still sell some units anyway, just because it's Samsung.
    1
  • mapesdhs
    Well, I just hope the buying public responds accordingly, buy better value products like SL301 instead.

    Ian.
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  • musang
    I bought this (250GB)just now to replaced my broken EVO 850(500GB,purchased 2.5year ago).
    Hope this product is good.
    Currently i still cant give review,but the price really worthit.
    1