Likely everyone would agree that without the Intel SSD 750 Series and Samsung SM951 products, 2015 would be a disaster for performance SSDs. NAND flash die density, along with lithography shrinks, have actually slowed client SSD performance. Companies are now rehashing 2014 mainstream controllers with planar NAND -- which has overstayed its welcome -- and called them "performance" products. From this point on, SATA paired with 2D planar NAND will not satisfy performance enthusiasts without significant increases in overprovisioning and hefty doses of artificial SLC caches.
Phison has just officially unveiled a high performance solution that will bring excitement back into the client SSD market. We covered the Phison 5007-E7 at Computex with a lot of detail, but the firmware has matured since then. Several companies displayed the E7 in booths at Computex, some running and some just as show pieces used to tell the world that 2015 SSDs don't have to fall into the value category.
NVMe, or Non-Volatile Memory Express, was designed as an interface for solid state memory (NAND flash and now 3D XPoint) and allows the storage media to run at higher speeds than what SATA can provide. Even in its least common denominator, PCIe 3.0 x1 NVMe surpasses SATA 6 Gb/s in throughput and latency. It's no surprise that every storage vendor at Flash Memory Summit is pushing towards an NVMe-based product, but very few are currently in a position to execute a product launch.
Phison doesn't sell SSDs to the retail masses but builds the hardware that is then branded and sold under company names we all recognize. The company has a strong presence in the low-cost market; many new low-cost Chromebooks now ship with Phison SSDs. The company has also achieved success in low-cost and mainstream aftermarket upgrade products like the Corsair Neutron XT and HyperX Savage, to name a few.
The updated Phison 5007-E7 performance numbers break out to 2600 MB/s sequential read, 1,300 MB/s sequential write speeds. Random performance tips the scales at 350,000 read IOPS and 250,000 write IOPS. The Phison 5007-E7 is the only client SSD on the map at this time that is a performance competitor to client PCIe NVMe products from Intel and Samsung. The performance numbers were on display in an active demo at the Phison booth.
The FMS 2015 announcement doesn't mean the E7 is ready to ship in volume, but it is one step closer in the process. After going eight months with only a few products to get really excited about from a performance standpoint, we'll take anything we can get. Phison told us the E7 is still in firmware development, with optimizations in the works for both client and enterprise roles. The dual role approach is difficult to execute as resources are divided; one team may push for code to face one direction, while the other pushes in another direction.
The company is making progress, but the window is closing to be one of three competitive client-performance products because the pool will only get larger. Silicon Motion, Marvell and Seagate are also driving to market, but with less visibility and products further out (H1 2016). If the current roadmap holds, Santa can stuff our PCIe stockings with E7-flavored NVMe candy.
Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware, covering Storage. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Follow Tom's Hardware on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.