Mark Your Calendar: Phison E7 Set For March Release

Phison Electronics Corporation (8299.TW) has entered the final phases of development on the PS5007-E7 NVMe SSD controller. SSDs go through several rounds of tuning after the silicon has taped out. We often see performance numbers early on, but performance tuning is often the last phase of development prior to release. Before an SSD is optimized for performance, it first must be programmed, tested for stability, reworked through firmware and undergo even more stability testing and tuning.

Phison told us at CES 2016 that the E7 has moved from the initial phases and is now in the final performance tuning cycle. The company expects to release products for vendor qualifications in February and even went as far as to state that we could see retail availability as early as March 2016. This is a full quarter sooner than we expected.

The E7 is an interesting product because it's the first turn-key customer NVMe solution for the enthusiast market. Both Samsung and Intel already ship NVMe-based products, but neither sells the controller to customers for third-party production in other branded SSDs. The E7 is different and will enable smaller companies to bring the power of NVMe to market in lower-priced solid-state flash devices.

The PS5007-E7 will ship with 1Znm (Toshiba 15nm) MLC NAND flash and deliver up to 2600 MB/s sequential read and 1500 MB/s sequential write speeds. Phison is being conservative with the early ratings because we've already tested this controller to 2700 MB/s, but what is a few hundred megabytes here or there when they go in the customer's favor?

Random performance is claimed at 300,000 IOPS read and 250,000 IOPS write. Sustained write performance is said to be 36,000 IOPS (4K steady state-like testing), a very high rating for a product that will first come to market as a consumer SSD. The controller supports up to 4 TB of capacity, but we expect 1 TB and smaller capacities to dominate shipping early in the product lifecycle.

The drive will ship in four form factors that include M.2, AIC (add-in card), and U.2 (2.5"). M.2 drives will arrive in both 2280 and 22110 (80 mm and 110 mm lengths). The longer 22110 size allows manufacturers to add more flash to make larger capacity devices. We have yet to see any company with a smaller form factor like 2260, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a small, low capacity drive for server OS or other specialty application.

After the client release, we suspect Phison will continue to develop the E7 for more rigorous workloads and server applications. Like the current PS3110-S10, the E7 should gain performance as the enterprise firmware develops. 

Phison doesn't sell products directly to customers. The company sells the parts to other other companies that fine-tune the package and other bits to release to customers. We've already confirmed a number of companies that will ship retail NVMe SSDs with the E7. Some of the big name companies include Kingston (HyperX branding), G.Skill, Patriot, and many others. We suspect the E7-based SSDs will be the best selling NVMe products in 2016. Several companies will offer the drive with very low cost Toshiba 15nm MLC, and competition leads to favorable pricing for consumers.

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+.

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