SK hynix has a hot, new, low-cost SSD that looks amazing and performs well with TLC flash.
The SK hynix Canvas SL308 utilizes TLC NAND and offers up to 100,000/85,000 read/write IOPS at a very competitive price point, which might make for a close race with the best-selling Samsung 850 Evo.
SK hynix purchased Link A Media Devices (LAMD) for $248 million in 2012. LAMD held numerous patents on SSD controller design, which provided the final piece that allowed SK hynix, which produces its own NAND and DRAM, to vertically integrate its consumer and enterprise SSDs. LAMD only shipped two SSD controller models prior to the acquisition; Seagate employed one in its enterprise-focused Pulsar.2, and Corsair and Seagate used the other for client SSDs. LAMD controllers performed well compared to the competition back then.
The Link A Media Devices name was absorbed by SK hynix but its IP continues to power new products. The Canvas SL308 we're testing utilizes a third-generation SK hynix controller that features advanced LDPC error-correction technology to extend the service life of new 16nm triple-level cell flash.
SK hynix released the SL308 series in three capacities: 120GB, 250GB, and 500GB. A peek inside suggests we shouldn't be surprised if there's a 1TB model in the future. This Canvas series falls into the entry-level value sector that is dominated by low-cost TLC flash, although the specifications don't show any sign of low-end performance. The SL308 SSDs deliver up to 560 MB/s and 490 MB/s sequential read/write speeds. Random I/O tops out at 100,000/85,000 read/write IOPS.
The high write performance is made possible by an emulated SLC buffer. Other companies have tried to tie the buffer size to the amount of data on the drive, and we suspect this is the method used on the SL308. But SK hynix figured out how to do it better and make the cache large. After all, you're able to transfer more information before the drive drops to the native TLC write performance, which yields a better experience.
This is the second SK hynix controller with support for ECC Low-Density Parity Check (LDPC), which is almost a requirement to wring enough life from 16nm TLC flash to make it a viable product. Hardware encryption, on the other hand, is a rare feature in the entry-level space. This is actually the first consumer SSD from SK hynix with hardware-accelerated AES-256 encryption.
Pricing, Warranty And Accessories
The SK Hynix SL308 recently hit US and European shores. Pricing is slightly less than MSRP. The SL308 500GB we tested sells for $129. The 250GB model lists at $64.99 and the 120GB at $44.99. Pricing is very competitive against other TLC-based products selling today.
SK hynix's SL308 includes a three-year warranty limited by the amount of data written to the flash. This upper ceiling is referred to as terabyte-written, or TBW for short. The two smaller SL308s allow for up to 75 TBW, and the 500GB model accommodates 150 TBW. Incidentally, those specifications are identical to the Samsung 850 EVO's endurance rating.
The SL308 SSDs do not ship with any hardware accessories, but customers do gain access to SK hynix's SSD software tools (English downloads page). I wouldn't go as far as to call Drive Manager Easy Kit the best SSD utility, but it comes close. The software even alerted me to an issue on a Crucial SSD.
A second software accessory allows you to migrate data from an existing drive to the SL308. That's a nice capability to have when you're trying to clone storage quickly.
A Closer Look
The SL308s are part of SK hynix's Canvas family. Their packaging reminds us of the SC300 we tested back in December 2015. It's too bad you don't get much information on the retail package, nor do you get performance data.
SK hynix makes attractive SSDs. The SL308 reminds me of LaCie's hardware. It features a slim 7mm Z-height, so it fits in modern notebooks requiring the thinner footprint.
The 500GB implementation is single-sided, and all of the major components are from SK hynix. Again, this is the first time we've tested a product with the SH87820BB controller and only the second with SK hynix 16nm TLC.
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