PCIe 4.0 SSD Exclusive: Testing Phison's PS5016-E16 NVMe Controller

Conclusion

The PCIe 4.0 interface paired with Phison's E16 controller and Toshiba’s newest BiCS4 TLC has really helped to boost the SSD performance to new heights. The PCIe 4.0 interface delivers explosive capabilities, no doubt, but it all starts with the hardware plugged into the port.

Not only has Phison improved upon the E12 controller’s performance, the E16 absolutely crushed its predecessor in some tasks. In our file folder copy test it beat the E12 with twice the copy performance, and even surpassed the Intel Optane SSD 905P. The SSD even read files over 600 MB/s faster than the rest of the comparison pool. The SSD also proved its worth in workstation applications: In SPECworkstation 3, our E16 sample significantly outscored the E12 across the board. And the speed and size of the write cache is just massive!

But, while these results are ever-so-gratifying to see, the increased bandwidth doesn’t always correlate to much uplift in all real-world applications (or a perceivable one, at least). Our PCMark 8 scores, system clone time, system boot time, and game load time benchmarks show very minor differences between the best and worst performing drives. We put our PCIe 4.0 SSD up against some the best drives available, so that is to be somewhat expected, but even with significantly faster sequential read speed our system’s boot speed was just 0.3 seconds faster, and game load time barely improved compared to the E12. This supports Intel's recent claim that game load times and performance aren’t going to be affected much, if at all, by the new interface.

PCIe 4.0 opens up a whole new world of performance. The potential performance ceiling has now doubled, touching off a new race to saturate the interface. So far, with speeds of up to 5GB/s read and 4.3GB/s writes, Phison’s E16 wears the crown as the fastest SSD on the market.

But how long will the lead last? Phison is pushing for the earliest release it can, and has even entered mass production, but other SSD vendors are taking their time.

Silicon Motion is on track to release a PCIe 4.0 x4 NVMe SSD controller of their own. The SM2267 was spotted at Computex just days ago. It also promises to break free of the current bandwidth limitations for M.2 SSDs with the faster interface. But, instead of trying for a launch before the new year, the first drives featuring this new controller will be out in 2020. With currently rated sequential specifications of 4/3 GB/s read/write, it will be interesting to see how performance progresses until then.

Phison has beaten other SSD controller vendors to market by using its existing E12 controller engine paired with its own PCIe 4.0 PHY. That combination doesn't entirely saturate the PCIe 4.0 bus that boasts theoretical throughput of up to 8GB/s, but the E16 is just Phison's mid-range SSD controller. The company has a new high-end E18 controller coming in the Q1-Q2 2020 timeframe that will push the limits of the PCIe 4.0 x4 interface.

Phison is also switching from TSMC's 28nm process to TSMC's 12nm for the E18. The smaller process will boost performance and also help the company reduce power consumption, as the PCIe 4.0 bus is power hungry: We're told the E16 pulls a maximum of 8W under load.

And then, of course, there are two big competitors: Western Digital and the SSD giant, Samsung. Will WD carry over its previous NVMe architecture to its next-gen SSDs? Will Samsung announce a new PRO PCIe 4.0 SSD with MLC V-NAND? Who knows at this point. All we know is that we are excited to see the beginning of a new SSD arms race, and can’t wait to find out!

Image Credits: Tom's Hardware

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10 comments
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  • AlistairAB
    Those results were not very good, not enough to justify PCIe 4.0. I'm very happy with my SX8200 Pro SSDs as you can see barely any real OR synthetic differences. Looking forward to the E19 SSD next year then :)
  • djayjp
    I don't understand the purpose of this test. Seems there are two variables (the new interface and the drive itself)?
  • seanwebster
    Quote:
    I don't understand the purpose of this test. Seems there are two variables (the new interface and the drive itself)?

    The purpose? We got an early sample of an upcoming SSD controller that is going to be at the heart of SSDs that are coming out later this year. It's a preview on the upcoming tech. The purpose is to show how future SSDs will compare to current gen as it stands in development. It just happens that even with the faster interface low queue depth random performance is still about the same, so we don't see much improvement in applications that rely on that metric. High QD random and all sequential applications will see decent gains more than anything thanks to the new interface. For more gains, the underlying media needs to be changed for faster, as we see with Intel's Optane, or applications need to be coded to better take advantage of all of NVMe's goodness.
  • srbabs
    On the 4th and 5th slides of power consumption, the units are labeled as watts, my guess it is supposed to be miliwatt. Could some one check it out?
  • USAFRet
    Quote:
    Those results were not very good, not enough to justify PCIe 4.0. I'm very happy with my SX8200 Pro SSDs as you can see barely any real OR synthetic differences. Looking forward to the E19 SSD next year then :)

    Is it worth "upgrading" from what you have now?
    No.

    But it will just be the (slightly faster) protocol for your next system.
  • seanwebster
    Quote:
    On the 4th and 5th slides of power consumption, the units are labeled as watts, my guess it is supposed to be miliwatt. Could some one check it out?


    Yeah, those are supposed to read milliwatts. I recently changed it from Watts to Milliwatts for better visual comprehension. I thought I had fixed that testual label tho...looking back I did, just in a different file! I'll get that fixed. Thanks for noticing!
  • daglesj
    Will still grind to a halt when copying system folders full of thousands of micro files. This is where we need to improve performance not just raw bandwidth.
  • BulkZerker
    Quote:
    Those results were not very good, not enough to justify PCIe 4.0. I'm very happy with my SX8200 Pro SSDs as you can see barely any real OR synthetic differences. Looking forward to the E19 SSD next year then :)


    Quote:
    I don't understand the purpose of this test. Seems there are two variables (the new interface and the drive itself)?



    Well I'm beginning to wonder what version of Windows was being used during testing. That information is not disclosed in the review as of me posting.
  • seanwebster
    Quote:
    Well I'm beginning to wonder what version of Windows was being used during testing. That information is not disclosed in the review as of me posting.

    The latest: Win 10 Pro 64-bit - RS6
  • epobirs
    I couldn't help wondering if the device that created the PCIe 4.0 interface for the test was introducing its own issues. That aside, it looks like there will need to be advances elsewhere in consumer PC design before the performance potential can be realized. Boot time haven't shifted much in quite a while, despite huge gains in SSD capability. It doesn't seem like getting the OS into RAM is the issue at this point but rather how long it takes the OS to sort itself out. Might there be opportunities for improvement in the hardware that stores and loads the firmware, for example?