First Look: Phison's E12 NVMe SSD Controller Performance Impresses

Phison's PS5012-E12 is one of two controllers we expect to see a lot of at Computex 2018. Its high-performance 8-channel design is the successor to the PS5007-E7 that took the market by storm in 2017, due to its aggressive pricing and MLC flash.

The E12 leverages Phison's IP to usher in a new era. Its design works with both 3-bit per cell TLC and upcoming 4-bit per cell QLC memory technology.

“The PS5012-E12 is our 2nd Generation PCIe Gen3x4 NVMe flagship controller,” said KS Pua, Chairman and CEO of Phison.  “We incorporated our latest and greatest engineering technologies, from the CoXprocessor 2.0, LDPC 3.0 and our DSP (Digital Signal Processor) 2.0.  It will enable our partners to provide the most suitable PCIe SSD to the gamers and PC enthusiasts who seek the highest-performing systems. This is, without a doubt, Phison’s best SSD controller to date.”

We received our sample, loaded with the same firmware companies will show at Computex, just prior to leaving for the country of humidity, sweat, and delightfully cheap imported Wagyu steak. With little time to spare, we went right to work running tests to get the first half of the evolving E12 story.

4-Corner Synthetic Testing

As mentioned, we're testing with the latest firmware on a reference-design drive. The firmware will change when products ship later this year, but Phison tells us the performance with this firmware will be very close to the retail products'.

We observed some odd behavior in the synthetic tests, but that's very common before the final polish to the code. For instance, the sequential read performance at queue depth (QD) 2 and 4 is lower than at QD1.

We hope Phison and partners don't touch the massive sequential write performance. Even with the early firmware, our sample blasted past the high results set by the Samsung 970 series, including the workstation-class Pro model.

Phison tells us the new E12 is capable of up to 600,000 random read and write IOPS. We didn't quite get that high with our test system, but did observe excellent random performance. The E12's mixed-workload performance saw a massive increase over the previous generation.

Game Load Time Testing

Moving over to real world applications. The Phison E12 reference design easily breaks into the top 5 NAND-based SSD list that we often use to compare against other products in this class. 

PCMark 8 Total Storage Bandwidth

With a heavy Office and Adobe workload--and two games mixed in for good measure--the E12 again breaks into the top 5 here, with an average throughput score of 626 MB/s. This is close to 60 MB/s faster than the 480GB MyDigitalSSD BPX using Toshiba's 15nm planar MLC memory and the previous-generation Phison 8-channel controller.

Over the coming days we will meet with Phison's partners and learn more about product releases and, hopefully, pricing. Patriot was the first to display a retail PS5012-E12 SSD back in January at CES but stated its Viper NVMe SSD would come in the second half of the year. Early rumors from the show lead us to believe we'll see E12-based SSDs as early as July or August.

While it's too early at this moment to say for sure, we're hopeful that this controller will help usher in yet another era of faster, affordable SSDs. If that indeed happens, and graphics card pricing continues to retreat, this summer could be a very good time to build or upgrade a new PC.

Chris Ramseyer
Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews consumer storage.