According to a report from DigiTimes, Phison has "reportedly broken into the supply chain of Microsoft's Xbox," seemingly confirming industry speculation that the Taiwanese SSD controller vendor had secured a contract to provide components for the highly-anticipated Xbox Series X.
What does that mean for gamers? The possibility of PCIe 4.0 SSDs that could hit 7 GB/s of throughput and up to 8TB of capacity, though the latter isn't likely because it would be shocking overkill for a console and add quite a bit to the price tag.
Microsoft has been talking up its new Xbox Series X that comes equipped with an AMD Zen 2-based processor and next-gen GPU that supports hardware-accelerated ray tracing, but also revealed the new console has an incredibly fast NVMe SSD that has access times that rival the memory access time of current-gen consoles. That marks a big step forward from current consoles, which overwhelmingly come with HDDs that aren't even on the same playing field in terms of performance.
If newer games are coded to take advantage of the NVMe SSD correctly, that could result in nearly-instantaneous load times and more detailed scenes during gameplay.
Phison has a big advantage in terms of raw speed. The company produces E16 SSD controllers that third-party SSD vendors use to build the only SSDs on the market that support the PCIe 4.0 interface, giving them access to potentially twice the sequential throughput of any other model currently on the market. The E16's strength in sequential work is important: The faster interface pumps high-quality textures into the processor nearly twice as fast as PCIe 3.0 SSDs (up to 5GB/s), thus enabling richer scenes and smoother gameplay. Phison already has its next-gen E18 SSD controller in the works, too, that will push the bar up to 7GB/s.
We recently visited Phison at CES, and the company also had new PCIe 4.0 SSD prototypes that cram an astounding 8TB onto a single M.2 SSD with the E12S controller, so the company is working to make both faster and more capacious SSDs that could all land in the same time frame as Microsoft's Xbox Series X.
It's hard to tell which of Phison's controllers Microsoft will select, but given its statements around performance, it will almost certainly be a PCIe 4.0 variant. Phison was the first to support the interface, which does give it an advantage of having field-tested SSD controllers available for Microsoft. Other SSD/controller vendors do have competing PCIe 4.0 SSDs on the way to market, like Innogrit and Samsung, but those will be relative newcomers while Phison's controllers have been in the market for quite some time.
I still don't see how they can afford to deliver storage performance on par with the current round of PCIe 4.0 NVMe drives.
Generally speaking, DRAM-less SSDs are slower. And, usually, you need more/larger buffers to accommodate higher speeds, whether we're talking about networking, storage, or probably a range of other things.
Here's an in-depth review of a DRAM-less NVMe SSD that supports Host Memory Buffering.
So, it's not pretty. However, I didn't read the whole review to see whether they found a way to control for the NAND speed. The second page analyzes the effect of disabling the host memory buffer, but I don't know if they found any way to compare it with a comparable drive that does include onboard DRAM.
A step in the right direction.
Something else to consider is that the maximum read/write speeds advertised are generally not achievable in real world situations. In saying that, we can hope there may be a change in the way games access storage to take advantage of the higher queue depths of SSDs.
The thing is that they can't build a $1000 console, and sell it for $500. The gap has to be smaller than that.
Also, whatever the gap is, it's got to be something they can turn around in a refresh after about 1-1.5 years. So, not only the absolute amount matters, but also the price trajectory of the various component parts.