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Zotac Sonix NVMe SSD Review: Our First E7 Tests

Conclusion

Nine months have passed since we first saw working PS5007-E7 silicon under load. The E7 is an exciting processor that will improve as Phison works on its firmware. We're particularly excited because the controller isn't exclusive to just one company; several SSD vendors plan to launch drives based on it. Intel and Samsung have already proven themselves, so they get away charging a premium on their high-performance SSDs. Meanwhile, we expect that the brands working on Phison-based storage will compete for your business more aggressively.

Zotac is first out of the gate with Phison's newest technology in a retail product. Larger companies will wait for final firmware and a long validation cycle before stepping out on that limb.

Even though this is a review, we realize that we're looking at an early example of the Sonix. We know the drive will get better over time, when all of its features are enabled and performance is optimized. Frankly, I'm surprised that Phison signed off on Zotac's launch plans, and I'm more than a little disappointed to see enthusiasts exposed to release-candidate firmware. We get pre-production hardware all of the time, and as a reviewer I know not to load my important data onto an early sample. But shoppers on Amazon often don't have the inside scoop. Now, to be fair, in our brief time with the Sonix, it proved stable. We didn't run into any problems. However, we only used the SSD to run tests in our benchmark suite.

Of course, there is new firmware in development that confers better performance on the PS5007-E7. Strip away those disappointing results at low queue depths and Zotac's 480GB Sonix looks a lot more competitive versus its NVMe-based competition.

The Sonix's power numbers are in line with Samsung's NVMe-based M.2 drives, even though it's sold as an add-in card like Intel's SSD 750. We would have liked to see Zotac take better advantage of that more forgiving form factor. Add-in cards can use more power than M.2 SSDs by virtue of their dimensions. The Sonix has a decent-sized heat sink covering the controller, so we would trade some additional power consumption for more performance.

Zotac's Sonix is expensive for an SSD in 2016. Amazon sells the 480GB version for $370. If you don't routinely look at storage prices, that sounds pretty good for a high-performance drive with 512GB of Toshiba MLC flash. But Samsung's 512GB 950 Pro is currently available for $310 with free shipping and a five-year warranty. The Sonix is only covered for three years, and it's a lot less mature (plus there's no software bundle).


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Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware, covering Storage. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • 2Be_or_Not2Be
    Is it too much to ask that all of your graphs keep the same colors for each product? One page the Intel 750 is light blue; the next page, it's black. Consistency here would help the reader.
    Reply
  • CRamseyer
    The different colors for the first and later parts of the review is a one off. We added the compressible / incompressible tests to the tests early in the review so there was a shift. In the future I'll just use a red dotted line if adding something special.
    Reply
  • Kewlx25
    Correction:
    "For a bit of context, AHCI operates on one command at a time, but can queue up to 32 of them. NVMe can operate on as many as 256 commands simultaneously, and each of those commands can queue another 256."

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NVM_Express#Comparison_with_AHCI
    NVMe
    65535 queues;
    65536 commands per queue
    Reply
  • CRamseyer
    You are correct, that was my fault. I built a test that does 256 / 256 to see how it works. I'll make the correction.
    Reply
  • josejones
    Good article, Chris Ramseyer.

    "Real-world software rarely pushes fast storage devices to their limits"

    Chris, I am curious about what all holds back NVMe SSD's from getting their full potential? What all needs to come together to reach their full potential? Will Kaby Lake and the new 200-Series Chipset Union Point motherboards help to get better performance out of the new NVMe & Optane SSD's? I've heard we need a far bigger BUS too. I am holding out for an NVMe SSD that will actually reach the claimed 32 Gb/s or close to it - minus overhead.
    Reply
  • TbsToy
    So Chris what is your opinion on which of these drives should be used where. Workstation, PC desktop, laptop etc. as the most 'suitable' drive among this group for which machine?
    W.P
    Reply
  • TbsToy
    So Cris which of these drives to you consider to be the most useful with which type of machine, server, workstation, PC, or laptop?
    W.P.
    Reply
  • Kewlx25
    Good article, Chris Ramseyer.

    "Real-world software rarely pushes fast storage devices to their limits"

    Chris, I am curious about what all holds back NVMe SSD's from getting their full potential? What all needs to come together to reach their full potential? Will Kaby Lake and the new 200-Series Chipset Union Point motherboards help to get better performance out of the new NVMe & Optane SSD's? I've heard we need a far bigger BUS too. I am holding out for an NVMe SSD that will actually reach the claimed 32 Gb/s or close to it - minus overhead.

    This is my semi-educated guess.

    1) The storage chips need to be faster, but they are pretty fast.
    2) Controllers need to be faster. Less complicated overhead, better command concurrency, etc
    3) There is a latency vs throughput issue. If most programs are making one request at a time and waiting for the response for that request, then you need really low latency to have high bandwidth. On the other hand, if a program makes many concurrent requests, then it just multiplied its theoretical peak bandwidth.

    Similar issue with why TCP has a transmit window. Waiting for a response over high latency slows you down. The main difference is TCP pushes data. Reading from the harddrive pulls data.
    Reply
  • CRamseyer
    Opine will change things a bit because it lowers the QD1 latency. It will make your computer feel faster thus increasing the user experience.

    Beyond that, we need a complete overhaul to effectively utilize NVMe in regular computers. The software needs to reach out for more data at the same time. The Windows file systems (other than ReFS) are all aging. We need a big shift in software across the board. It's just like with video games and other software right now. Nothing pushed the limits of the hardware. VR could be change that but I suspect we are still 5 years away from VR for anyone other than enthusiasts.

    TbsToy - NVMe accelerates all tasks by lowering latency. We're starting to see the tech ship in notebooks from MSI and Lenovo. Custom desktops from companies like Maingrear and AVA sell with NVMe as well. I would say use it wherever you find a place. The Samsung NVMe drives sell for a very small premium over the SATA-based 850 Pro. You get workstation and in some cases enterprise-level performance capabilities for the rare instances when the load gets that high.
    Reply
  • jt AJ
    Opine will change things a bit because it lowers the QD1 latency. It will make your computer feel faster thus increasing the user experience.

    Beyond that, we need a complete overhaul to effectively utilize NVMe in regular computers. The software needs to reach out for more data at the same time. The Windows file systems (other than ReFS) are all aging. We need a big shift in software across the board. It's just like with video games and other software right now. Nothing pushed the limits of the hardware. VR could be change that but I suspect we are still 5 years away from VR for anyone other than enthusiasts.

    TbsToy - NVMe accelerates all tasks by lowering latency. We're starting to see the tech ship in notebooks from MSI and Lenovo. Custom desktops from companies like Maingrear and AVA sell with NVMe as well. I would say use it wherever you find a place. The Samsung NVMe drives sell for a very small premium over the SATA-based 850 Pro. You get workstation and in some cases enterprise-level performance capabilities for the rare instances when the load gets that high.

    cpu is hitting a dead limit due to software not capable of taking advantage of new instruction hence we see 5% improvement on cpu year after year, and thats also because microsoft window legacy support and why so many old software still work on new windows.

    when software programmed to take advantage of cpu's new instructions we'll see a huge jump in cpu performance and would mean more data taken from SSD overall just faster.
    Reply