Transcend uses the word "premium" next to the SSD370 product name in a number of places on the company's website. We really have to question that claim in all aspects of this product, starting with the controller. The SiliconMotion SM2246EN was designed as an entry-level to mainstream component, at best. Every other company using the four-channel SM2246EN controller in a product places it at the lowest client SSD tier. Some companies even use the controller in embedded applications like digital signage, machinery storage and so on. The SM2246EN is a solid, reliable controller, but calling it a "premium" component is a stretch.
Now let's move on to the flash, where premium could only mean Tier 1 Grade A NAND from reputable SSD manufacturers. The 256GB drive we received did arrive with genuine Micron flash, but the 512GB model contained less-desirable SpecTek flash. This is the first time a company sent a client SSD to me with this flash for review, but we do know that other companies have shipped it in other retail drives. It's funny how that works: Reviewers get the good stuff, but customers get whatever is obtainable at the time.
It has become common for companies to change the build of materials on NAND flash, and even do a complete controller swap. I've broken several stories about it in the past, from synchronous to asynchronous flash and SiliconMotion controllers to older SandForce controllers. Every time, we've heard the same excuse: The build of materials is not guaranteed, and end users will not notice the difference. If that is the case, then why do reviewers get the premium parts 99 percent of the time, and end users get the slower or less-reliable parts?
Our sample drives were shipped well after the initial launch, and in OEM-style packaging. We're confident this represents what Transcend is shipping at this time. Like other nonfab companies that buy NAND on the spot market, whatever is available and within budget is used to make the products.
Fab companies like Samsung, Intel, Micron, SanDisk and Toshiba are always reminding reviewers that they make the flash and always have access to the best flash coming from the factories. Sometimes, it's easy to forget how important that is, since we are almost always given sample drives with premium NAND, DRAM and other components. With SSD prices getting lower and lower, the only way to ensure you get Grade A components in your low-cost SSD is to buy from a NAND-flash manufacturer like Samsung or Crucial.
That doesn't mean the SpecTek flash isn't SSD grade. The -AL in the model number correlates to SpecTek's highest-quality flash, per a document we found on the company's website. We reached out to a few SSD product managers and engineers without telling them the circumstances of our questioning. None said they would use any SpecTek flash in a retail product designed for client use. One engineer even said he would never use it in his own computer system. I pressed further to ask if this flash would be viable for other uses, like digital signage, where most of the data is read and very little write activities take place. All of the people I spoke with said digital signage was an appropriate application.
The Transcend SSD370 scales a wide range of capacity sizes, from 32GB to 1TB. Given the price and limited use, we couldn't recommend the two smallest capacities for anything remotely like what our readers use storage for. The smaller products should be limited to embedded use. Given the questionable flash used in the larger models and no guarantee of getting genuine Micron flash, the others can stay there as well.
Before I conclude, I would like to make a note about the different models. One drive is brushed aluminum, and the other is black plastic. If I hadn't spotted the small difference in the part number on a reseller's site, we wouldn't even know about the difference. Transcend uses the same product page for both models and doesn't do much to educate customers (or reviewers) about the differences. The situation is hokey, at best, to put it nicely.