11-Drive DRAMless SSD Round Up


There aren't any winners in our roundup today, and we don't hand out participation ribbons. For most of us enthusiasts, we shouldn’t even consider DRAMless SSDs with planar NAND. It's true that the drives are faster than a hard disk drive, but when you lean on them with a slightly elevated workload, they can stall, stutter, and deliver a worse user experience than you would get with a spinning mechanical disk.

Given what vendors told us about the endurance of this emerging category, I'd also be worried about long-term data retention. It's time to worry when a DRAMless controller manufacturer says it's possible to kill a drive in a little over a year. Until recently, SSDs have been add-on components in new notebooks. Some of them are quite expensive with a massive markup over aftermarket components. You might want to factor in the cost of an aftermarket SSD into your overall cost calculations when we start to see $500 notebooks advertised with flash-based storage.

If this sounds like a gloom and doom story so far, you should know that it only gets worse. I've told the variable BOM story more than once. It started with the OCZ Vertex when the company went from 3xnm to 2xnm NAND, and users lost a significant amount of storage space on a 120GB drive. OCZ apologized to users and said it would do more in the future to denote significant changes, which it has. Kingston suffered the same fate with the V300 when it changed from synchronous flash to asynchronous flash, but it has also been clearer about which SSDs have a variable BOM. PNY made the list after selling a drive with the same model number but sending an 8-channel controller to reviewers, and then quickly changing the BOM to a 4-channel controller for retail models.

SanDisk does not advertise the SSD Plus and Z410 as DRAMless products. SanDisk doesn’t really advertise the SSD Plus as anything other than an SSD. The variable BOM is confusing, even for me, and I do this for a living. Claiming an SSD has roughly up to 550 MB/s sequential read and ~440 MB/s sequential write performance is vague, at best. Not only does this drive lack the DRAM cache that would make it an uncompetitive entry-level SSD, but SanDisk also advertises it with nearly identical product specifications as the DRAM-equipped equivalents.

The industry jumped the gun with the DRAMless class of products. The current DRAMless category isn't a viable solution for our readers, and it won't be until we see 3D NAND shipping in volume. 3D NAND will provide enough performance and endurance to transform DRAMless SSDs into a viable category, but Micron's 3D NAND is scarce at best, and Toshiba's is nonexistent on the open market.

OCZ made the right decision and published the T100's endurance specifications. SanDisk published the Z410's endurance specifications, but likely only because it designed the SSD for business users, which often require concrete warranty terms. The SSD Plus not only sells without published endurance or random performance specifications, but it also sells as an MLC-based product at Newegg.

There was a time when DRAMless SSD products were of personal interest to me. When controller manufacturers initially discussed the idea, they portrayed it as a way to increase notebook battery life, reduce power and costs, while at the same time putting an SSD in every computer. Every company expected to have a plentiful distribution of high-endurance 3D NAND flash, and many of these SSD controllers were built with that in mind. That was three years ago. Back then, it’s unlikely that anyone would have thought about selling DRAMless SSDs with low endurance 2D NAND flash to retail customers. The vendors proposed the SSDs for special applications in light-use environments, like signage, point of sale, and industrial applications where a machine reads data back to make a few thousand parts a day but doesn't write more than a few megabytes of data in the process.

The fact that some of these products couldn't even complete an industry standard performance test tells us all we need to know.


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Chris Ramseyer
Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews consumer storage.
  • ponchato
    Look you guys need to get rid of this autoplaying, auto-resizing video or I'm done here. A tech website should not be this unusable. Skipping half a page down when I scroll slightly too far is incredibly annoying and you KNOW it irritates people and kills site usability. If it's not fixed or removed by this time next week (that's February 18th, 2017) I'm never coming to Tom's again.
  • MCMunroe
    I agree with ponchato. Every page has this big video that plays the same damn thing that is usually the biggest image on the screen. For months it was a smaller video of Doom that played over and over, and now is a big video of cherry keys. WTF.
    Can't you just tuck in normal ads?
  • hixbot
    Agreed. And these click bait "from the web" ads are fake news scams at best and misogynistic and offensive at worst.
  • JimmiG
    I have a WD Green 240 GB SSD (DRAM less Marvell 88SS1074 and TLC) as a Steam games drive. It works fine for that purpose, since it's mostly sequential/random reads and very few writes (only when a game updates). No reason to not get one for that purpose, even as an "enthusiast". However, I wouldn't use them as system drives. I'm using a Samsung 850 Evo for that.
  • Mindrax
    Use uBlock or Adblock to prevent that.
    I can't believe you don't already.
    Internet is a horrible place without blockers.
  • bit_user
    Gosh, I'm getting so paranoid about these ads that I wasn't even sure if the

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  • bit_user
    Thanks for the tests, Chris (and the correction, Jon).

    Some of these SSD definitely need to come with a warning label!
  • jakjawagon
    You guys need to fix your UK website. Half the graphs are missing. Posting this here as well because it's more likely to be seen.
  • bit_user
    19284248 said:
    You guys need to fix your UK website. Half the graphs are missing. Posting this here as well because it's more likely to be seen.
    On some articles, with pages that have lots of graphs, occasionally not all of them load for me. I'd say try restarting your web browser or use a different one & see if that makes a difference.
  • derekullo
    Firefox + Noscript + Adblock + Hosts file from www.winhelp2002.mvps.org/hosts.htm

    Stop complaining and just block them.

    I literally see 0 ads on Toms when I use the above with Firefox.

    The host file i would say is the most important.

    Even when I open Chrome 90% of the ads are gone, including the super annoying Doom video some guy was posting about yesterday. I literally had to go to another computer that didn't have the custom host file to see it. lol

    I don't have adblock nor noscript with chrome so the hosts file alone is blocking those ads.