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Inland Prime M.2 NVMe SSD Review: Entry-Level on the Cheap

No real frills, but no real compromises.

Inland Prime M.2 NVMe
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

Tom's Hardware Verdict

The Inland Prime is yet another DRAM-less NVMe drive, but it offers higher speeds and a stronger warranty than previous-gen options. The controller and flash combo perform surprisingly well and the drive should prove popular with Micro Center shoppers due to convenience and availability.

Pros

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    + Affordable

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    + Simple design

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    + 6-year warranty

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    + HMB and the newest flash

Cons

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    DRAM-less

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    No software or other defining features

The Inland Prime delivers up to 3300 MBps of sequential read/write throughput, which is near the typical limits for a PCIe 3.0 SSD, but it comes with a friendly price tag that’s a great fit if you’re looking for an entry-level SSD. While the drive offers nothing new on the performance front, it is TLC-based and has the advantage of appearing in Micro Center stores at a reasonable price. It’s a good alternative to DRAM-less, QLC-powered SSDs or can serve as a solid upgrade from older SATA SSDs. Additionally, the 6-year warranty is especially nice given its price point.

The Inland Prime utilizes Phison’s E15/E15T SSD controller, which is found on other drives like MSI’s Spatium M390. This controller is essentially a PCIe 3.0 version of the E19/E19T models, as found on WD’s SN750 SE, but it’s been updated to replace the E13T. The primary loss here, compared to the E19, would be maximum sequential read performance. We have seen the E13 used interchangeably with SMI’s SM2263XT SSD controller, so this is also a step up over the latter. Our sample also came with Micron’s 176-Layer TLC flash, which is among the best currently available on the market.

Inland is Micro Center’s house brand for SSDs, with the drives themselves being outsourced for manufacturing. The Micro Center chain is popular among hardware enthusiasts, and an entry-level drive like the Inland Prime coupled with a warranty that exceeds the typical 3- and 5-year periods offers a cheaper alternative for either a new build or a frugal upgrade.

Specifications

Product500GB1TB
Pricing $54.99 $99.99
Capacity (User / Raw)500GB / 512GB1000GB / 1024GB
Form FactorM.2 2280M.2 2280
Interface / ProtocolPCIe 3.0 x4 / NVMe 1.4PCIe 3.0 x4 / NVMe 1.4
ControllerPhison E15TPhison E15T
DRAMHMBHMB
MemoryMicron 176L TLCMicron 176L TLC
Sequential Read3,300 MBps3,300 MBps
Sequential Write2,300 MBps3,000 MBps
Random Read300,000 IOPS400,000 IOPS
Random Write420,000 IOPS480,000 IOPS
SecurityN/AN/A
Endurance (TBW)200 TB400 TB
Part Number316927316935
Warranty6-Years6-Years

The Inland Prime is available at both 500GB and 1TB with an average price of $0.10 to $0.11 per gigabyte. This is competitive pricing, although the capacity range is limited.

The PCIe 3.0 x4.0 interface allows for speeds up to 3,300/3,000 MBps, with the 500GB model being a bit slower during sequential SLC writes due to diminished NAND interleaving. The E15 controller pushes up to 400,000/480,000 random read/write IOPS at 1TB, but features lower performance metrics at 500GB.

The Inland Prime illustrates that Micro Center is being more serious with its warranty that covers six years of use or 400TB written per TB of capacity (whichever comes first). While many popular DRAM-less drives, like WD’s Blue NVMe drives, offer higher endurance ratings, the length of the warranty period tends to be more impactful for most users. The drive’s E15 controller shares many similarities with its PCIe 4.0 counterpart, the E19, and is backed by fourth-gen LDPC, end-to-end data path protection and SmartECC.

LDPC is a type of error correction that’s more flexible and robust than the BCH correction used on older drives, although the trade-off is that it consumes more die area and is less efficient. All major manufacturers utilize LDPC, but over time improved iterations can more effectively extend the life of the flash, particularly in combination with parity that allows the repair of bad data within a set of flash (a part of SmartECC, in this case). Modern drives are quite complicated, and end-to-end data path protection ensures data, including that in DRAM or SRAM, has no errors in its path to or from the host. These features also help alleviate flash endurance concerns with DRAM-less drives.

Software and Accessories

As a typical third-party drive, the Inland Prime does not come with its own software or any noteworthy utilities. Cloning can be done with any of the free options that are available, like Macrium Reflect. It may be possible to update the firmware with an appropriate Phison utility, but it is generally unnecessary. You can secure erase the drive in the UEFI or through third party utilities. The drive as packaged is simple, which actually is an attractive feature as it doesn’t clash with any particular aesthetic.

A Closer Look

The Inland Prime is a single-sided M.2 2280 SSD that should be compatible with most systems.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The Inland Prime use the Phison E15 DRAM-less controller that supports the Host Memory Buffer (HMB) feature. This allows it to use a limited amount of system memory to improve performance while reducing the price of the unit.

The E15 is very similar to the PCIe 4.0 E19T, ideally addressing up to 16 dies of flash with its quad-channel, single ARM Cortex-R5 and CoXProcessor Technology. This is a tried and true design built on TSMC’s 28nm process node, offering a surprising amount of performance while being cost-effective. It also runs sufficiently cool.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Our 1TB sample has Micron’s 176-Layer TLC flash with two die packages, which should provide enough dies for ample interleaving on the quad-channel controller. This flash uses Micron’s replacement gate (or gate-last) architecture, distinct from the floating gate architecture in its 96-Layer TLC flash, thus offering significant performance improvements. This flash is commonly used on higher-end E18-based models and has had a strong showing in other drives, like the Kingston KC3000.

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Sean is a Contributing Editor at Tom’s Hardware US, covering storage hardware.

  • Stardude82
    There's lots of complaints about Inland's customer service, especially if you didn't buy the drive from a Microcenter.
    Reply