Progress is often fast and incremental for those on the bleeding edge of PC technology. On the other end of the market, each step can be a leap forward, but they aren't as frequent. Even today, entry-level systems still ship with low capacity HDDs. SATA SSDs, even the inexpensive models, were never really adopted in low-cost systems. The market went into a tailspin just as prices became favorable for system builders to choose flash, so they couldn't get enough low-cost SSDs to meet demand. We can see the light at the end of the NAND shortage tunnel, but by the time the market can recover most entry-level products will come in the M.2 form factor with the NVMe protocol.
The PS5008-E8 already looks promising in its current form. Phison has plans to optimize several aspects of the new controller to produce products with more balance, but our results are very encouraging. This is a platform we can get excited about, but not just for its performance.
The PS5008-E8 products should be cost-competitive with next-gen 3D SATA SSDs. The new Western Digital Blue 3D and SanDisk Ultra 3D raised the performance bar for mainstream-priced consumer SSDs, but given equal pricing, it would be foolish to buy a SATA SSD when entry-level NVMe SSDs offer double, and in some cases triple, the performance.
New SATA SSDs will continue to come to market, but NVMe will take significant market share moving forward. Many older systems don't support the technology required to use NVMe as a boot drive. Most motherboards produced in the last two years do, although processor and memory performance hasn't given many of us an incentive to upgrade. Most users will not upgrade just to use the efficient NVMe protocol, but we feel it's a worthy reason to switch to a modern platform. NVMe, even the new low-cost models, reduces latency and delivers a superior user experience.
The rise of low-cost NVMe SSDs, such as the PS5008-E8 and E8T, will have a big impact on prebuilt systems. Most users will not upgrade as often if their computer is still fast and responsive, so the rise of SSDs hurts system builder sales by prolonging the upgrade cycle. It’s been proven that flash is partially to blame for slow PC sales.
The SSD upgrade market will also take a hit from prebuilt systems shipping with NVMe SSDs. If your next system ships with a NVMe SSD there will be very little reason to upgrade. We've seen many of the large fab-owning SSD manufacturers simply rebrand OEM-specific models for the aftermarket. If your computer shipped with a Toshiba XG3, would you buy an OCZ RD400 that uses the same hardware and delivers nearly identical performance?
Toshiba isn't the only company using this tactic. Samsung, LiteOn/Plextor, Sk Hynix, Micron/Crucial and others have all learned that it's cheaper to build one drive to sell in two markets under different names. The upgrade market would have already crashed if system builders didn't charge outrageous premiums for flash-based drives. We are getting dangerously close to a time when system builders can no longer charge a premium for high-performance SSDs.
We see the Phison PS5008-E8 and E8T as champions for small boutique system builders like Computer Upgrade King (CUK), Cyberpower, and AVA Direct. At the same time, users looking for superior "bang-for-the-buck" value will flock to SSDs based on the controller from Phison's well-known partners like Corsair and Patriot. We shouldn't overlook MyDigitalSSD, either. The company gained market share with the previous-generation Phison NVMe controller and plans to be one of the first with an E8 drive. MyDigitalSSD has lower pricing compared to many of Phison's other partners, and we expect the company will set the E8 pricing tone early just like it did with the E7-based BPX.
These products will push NVMe SSDs to a new price point that others will have to follow. Phison's PCIe 3.0 x2 path is a radical departure from what other companies have planned for 2018. It will be very interesting to see how the other companies react in both performance and pricing to compete in the entry-level NVMe SSD market.
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