We are just a few days away from the one year anniversary of the Phison S10. The first drive to ship with the controller was the Corsair Neutron XT, but now nearly every fabless SSD manufacturer has at least one model with the silicon from Taiwan-based Phison. Some companies even have several drives with both MLC and TLC flash.
Over the weekend, my long time friend and SSD enthusiast Jon Coulter started testing the new Zotac Premium Edition SSD and discovered Phison's long-promised 10K random read firmware in the wild. The Zotac PE SSD uses a Phison S10 controller paired with Toshiba A19 MLC Toggle Mode flash. The drive also appeared at Newegg over the weekend, with prices starting at $44.99 for the 120 GB capacity size. This is the first model to ship from the factory with the new firmware that nearly doubles incompressible random read performance over previous firmware revisions.
When announced, we wrote a critical news post about the Zotac Premium Edition SSD and Phison's lack of focus on getting the performance-increasing firmware out to existing customers. Later, we heard that our tone and pointed content was a wake up call for the company. Apparently, we set a fire that turned into a call to action.
We reached out to Phison for more information after seeing a few key performance tests from the Zotac SSD. We learned the new firmware went to manufacturers for validation testing. Baring any issues with stability or other unforeseen negative side effect, we should see manufacturers start to distribute the firmware in the coming weeks.
Some companies spend more time validating firmware releases than others. Some companies also have more dedicated resources, such as more systems to perform testing. Because of that, we can't speculate on a release schedule but hope manufacturers reach out to us with more information when the code is ready.
Even with the previous firmware, the Phison S10 is a very fast SSD controller. The random performance was adequate for mainstream SSDs even when using incompressible data. The compressible random data performance was quite strong -- one of the highest in fact -- but the difference in the data type performance led to lopsided real-world latency. The new update should put S10-based SSDs in the same arena as the Samsung 850 Pro.
Given the exceptionally low price points these drives are selling at, it will be difficult for companies to cash in on TLC-based products without significantly reducing prices. Ultimately, the five NAND flash makers will control the ratio of MLC to TLC flash produced. MLC's days are numbered, but we may see a revolt with native TLC sequential performance at less than hard disk drive levels. We have forthcoming TLC-based SSD review data that show just that.
We think the companies really need to take a good look at the roadmap before limiting access to MLC flash. TLC will further reduce SSD prices, but if it means these products fail to deliver better-than-hard-drive performance, who would want to buy one?
We're looking forward to testing the new firmware and may receive an update for our engineering sample drives used for the Phison S10 Preview article that you can read here.