96-Layer, QLC, SLC... Maxio Shows Off All The New Flash And A Couple Controllers

We aren't sure which new flash memory we're more excited about, but it's really cool that Maxio Technology lined them all up for us with the same controller to evaluate each technology's performance at Computex 2018.

Before we dive into the light testing, let's talk about the Maxio MAS0902 SATA DRAMless controller. The controller's design supports up to 2TB of planar and 3D flash memory (but you will see it running 4TB of QLC in the charts). It features Maxio's proprietary technologies, such as AgileECC 2 (2nd gen ECC), WriteBooster 2 (2nd gen SLC write buffer), DEVSLP (low-power mode), power and thermal throttling, and end-to-end data protection. The controller also supports both TCG-Opal 2.0 and Microsoft's eDrive (IEEE1667) full disk data encryption.

The MAS0902 is the successor to Maxio's MAS0802 DRAMless controller, which shipped in a handful of very low-cost SSDs, with the most recognized brands being Adata, Apacer, and Transcend.

Testing Next Generation Flash Memory

The Maxio suite featured a table lined with reference design boards using emerging flash memory technology. Currently, Toshiba's BiCS3 and Micron/Intel's 64-layer dominate the new production SSDs shipping today in the consumer space. Samsung uses its own 64-layer memory but it's rare to see it in a consumer SSD not branded by Samsung. 

Of the dominant memory shipping today, only the Toshiba BiCS3 (64-layer TLC) was available to make our comparison graphs using the same Maxio MAS0902 DRAMless controller. The other reference design boards use SK Hynix 4th generation TLC at 64-layers, Intel's N18A QLC, UNIC 32-layer 3D TLC, Spectek 3D SLC M16A, and Micron 96-layer TLC.

The test uses a queue depth of 32 for the sequential read and write tests and invalidates both for any useful comparative analysis. You can read why QD32 doesn't relate well to consumer storage performance here.

The two Intel QLC SSDs have a large capacity advantage, but that doesn't play a significant role in the QD1 random tests, because this workload only addresses the drive in such a way that one die is active at a time. QLC random reads are not the dominant new memory for the optimal user experience, although initial 4-corner testing shows the technology in a strong position. The Micron 96-layer TLC also looks strong. All three drives using Micron and Intel flash feature a high-speed data bus that decreases the latency for the transaction. We also see this in drives shipping today with second generation 3D memory from both companies.

Maxio NVMe Controllers

Maxio plans to introduce two new low-cost NVMe controllers to the market before the end of 2018. The MAP0902 DRAMless and MAP0901 with a DRAM buffer both look like promising designs and feature the company's proprietary technologies. We will learn more about the new NVMe products at Flash Memory Summit in August.

Chris Ramseyer
Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews consumer storage.
  • I read SLC is extremely fast. It's not different from TLC or QLC. Why is that so? Was I being misled?
  • CRamseyer
    I have to research this flash more. It caught us off guard to see SLC again. Most likely this SLC is built for industrial applications where endurance and very wide temperature ranges rather than raw performance.

    I'll know more about it soon and report back.
  • bananaforscale
    @T.S.Wiacek, the results are bus limited. You can't cram more than ~560 MB/s through SATA3 regardless of how fast the memory is.
  • abbeytim22
    @bananaforscale these are pci-e gen 3 x4 not sata based