Zero1 Awards 2018 – Desktop – NVMe Solid State Drives

December 6, 2018 — by Digit0


Over the duration of the last one year, NVMe SSDs haven’t managed to become as economical as expected. In fact, the prices of the SSDs have more or less remained stagnant on a cost/GB basis. What has changed, however, is that more and more NVMe SSD manufacturers have started improving upon the controllers.

The average NVMe speed has gone up on the consumer SSD front as well as on the OEM front, so most of the SSDs that we see bundled in laptops are also consistently improving. As for the NAND technology, it definitely seems to be on the upswing as well. Chinese silicon manufacturer, YMTC has promised to ship 64-layer 3D NAND in 2019 with support for Xtacing technology. This might give us NAND flash with I/O speeds that would rival that of flash memory.

So we could see ultra-fast NAND tech. However, it would seem that the only bottleneck from that point onwards will be the interface bandwidth. So 2018 has been not so memorable but 2019 might be an entirely exciting year. Let’s take a look at our winner of the Zero1 award in this category of the Best NVMe SSD.

2018 Zero1 Award Winner: WD Black 1TB 2018

The new WD Black NVMe SSD is definitely a really good SSD. It has successfully managed to best some of the enthusiast favourites in quite a lot of the benchmarks. The Intel 760p and the Samsung 960 Pro did end up being a bit competitive, however, in the end, the WD Black NVMe turned out to be the better drive. The controller on the new WD Black NVMe SSD was designed internally and most of the specs are still held in complete mystery.

Considering that M.2 PCIe x4 slots have a theoretical speed limit of about 3940 MB/s, the transfer speeds which averaged at about 3400 MB/s appear to be quite a massive improvement over the older Black SSD. For the price of Rs 32,999, the cost per GB comes down to Rs 33 which is quite economical as well. Let’s just say that WD’s efforts with the new controller and NAND have finally worked their magic which has granted them the winner’s spot in the category of the Best NVMe SSDs.

Runner-up: Corsair Force MP510

An upgrade to last year’s MP500 is the new Corsair Force MP510, which comes with the Toshiba BiCS3 64-layer 3D TLC NAND with a Phison PS5012-E12 for the controller. This gives the MP510 consistent and high read speeds but not so great write speeds, unfortunately.

Moreover, if we take a look at the IOPS figures for the Corsair MP510 then we notice that there’s a significant improvement across the board. The MP510 loses out to the WD Black primarily because of the write speeds but it’s a great drive nevertheless, therefore placing it at the runner-up spot in this category.

Best Buy: Kingston A1000

The Kingston A1000 came out early this year and has had a significant price reduction over the year. It offers both, a mix of good performance as well as lost cost/GB. Like the MP510, the A1000 has the same 64-layer Toshiba BiCS3 NAND but the controller is the Phison PS5008-E8 which is a slightly scaled down version of the one in the MP510.

As a result, we see read speeds of about 1,500 MB/s but write speeds hover in the 800 MB/s range. Compared to the other drives we saw this year, the A1000 has a cost/GB of Rs 20.6 which makes it an ideal buy for folks wanting to jump onto the NVMe bandwagon. This is why the Kingston A1000 is our Best Buy for 2018.


Zero1 Awards 2017 – Desktop – NVMe SSDs

December 13, 2017 — by Digit0


A year back, getting an NVMe drive wasn’t feasible because that one NVMe drive would cost more than a traditional SSD coupled with a 2-4 TB hard drive. On top of that, you’d have to get a motherboard that supported x4 PCIe lanes on the M.2 ports, which again, wasn’t cheap. This year, we’ve seen a significant drop in NVMe SSD prices and the M.2 interface has become enormously popular, much so that even budget boards have an M.2 slot or two but not all have x4 PCIe lanes. Aside from NVMe, another key development is with the silicon, and that’s the 3D XPoint technology. As of now it’s just Intel that has consumer drives with 3D XPoint technology which they market under the Optane brand and we don’t know if third-party manufacturers will be licensed to make additional SKUs. We’re yet to get our hands on any of the high-capacity Optane SSDs so we can’t say how well they perform compared to the competition, but if preliminary reports are anything to go by, then Optane drives easily outperform M.2 NVMe SSDs. For now, we’re stuck with M.2 NVMe SSDs until NVDIMMs products are unveiled. For the uninitiated, NVDIMMs are Non-Volatile Dual Inline Memory Modules, they’re basically RAM modules which don’t lose data upon losing power.

2017 zero1 award Winner: Samsung 960 Pro

Samsung 960 Pro

It’s no wonder that the Samsung 960 Pro gets the Zero1 award given that the performance has been way ahead of everything else. Samsung has the advantage of owning fabs which allows them to maintain a good level of control over the manufacturing process of both, the Polaris controller and the 3D V-NAND. When it comes to examining the different SSD controllers, most perform well in synthetic benchmarks but in real world tests and trace-based analysis using IOMeter, they falter often. With the Polaris controller, it maintains a consistent lead over let’s say, a Phison or Marvell controller. Moreover, the Samsung 960 Pro has a more consistent performance post conditioning which is where most other SSDs start to crumble.

Runner up: Corsair MP500 & Kingston KC1000

The Kingston KC1000 is Kingston’s first ever NVMe SSD and boy does it perform good. Like the Samsung 960 Pro, the Kingston KC1000 is a consistent performer, though it peaks at a slightly lower performance level as compared to the 960 Pro. Despite having a Phison controller, the KC1000 performs not only in sequential transfers of large file sizes but even with small files across varying queue depths. Similarly, the Corsair MP500 has spectacular performance since it too is based on the same Phison E7 controller. We ended up getting a slightly lower performance on the Corsair MP500 than the Kingston KC1000. The review unit for the MP500 was a 240 GB SKU while the KC1000 was a 480 GB SKU. We suspect the higher capacity drive helped the Kingston SKU since there are more NAND chips for simultaneous transfers.

Best Buy: WD Blue

WD Blue might not have scored high in our benchmarks like the WD Black NVMe SSD but being one of the more economically priced SKUs, the WD Blue offers you more GB/Rupee. It’s performance isn’t like other NVMe drives since its transfer rates are around 560 MB/s which is what most SATA SSDs end up with. So essentially, you’re getting SATA SSD speeds on the M.2 interface. Given that NVMe SSDs have transfer speeds going up to 3,500 MBps, the WD Blue appears to be on the other end of the spectrum. However, if you want to upgrade a thin form-factor laptop, then the WD Blue is a great unit to start with.


Zero1 Awards 2016 – SSD – Solid State Drives

December 16, 2016 — by Digit0


As we were pondering over last year’s Zero1 Awards, we’d expected NVMe to achieve mainstream popularity with cheaper SKUs compared to last year. While things have gotten a lot cheaper than last year, it still isn’t within the affordable price segment for the average customer. Even now, most of the SSD sales int he market are dominated by TLC NAND which aren’t the cream of the crop. You can get individual SKUs for about `3,000 for a 120 GB drive and it’s a quick and easy way to join the SSD revolution. However, one of the significant changes this year was the advent of hybrid SSDs. Let us clarify, these are not a combination of traditional hard drives with a small capacity SSD NAND for caching. That’s what hybrids mean when you’re talking storage these days. The new trend that we are speaking of is when manufacturers combine SLC+MLC or MLC+TLC NAND in one drive. While this does present certain wonderful possibilities for managing wear on the data cells, it also throws a spanner into a little thing called benchmarking.
So what’s new? There’s 3D XPoint which is the next big thing for memory standards. Intel and Micron have already demonstrated prototypes of the new technology. So while next year might be a bit uneventful till 3D XPoint drives hit the consumer market, things have definitely improved this year.

Zero1 Winner: Samsung 960 Pro 1 TB NVMe SSD


Everything inside the Samsung 960 Pro SSD is an improved variant of what the 850 Pro had. The UBX controller has been replaced by the new Polaris lineup and the NAND while being the same 3D V-NAND technology, now packs in a lot more transistor layers. There’s a 100 per cent gain in density which ihas resulted in an equally tremendous gain in IOPS. 4K Random Read at a Queue Depth of 32 has improved by approximately 50 percent over the 950 Pro.
All of these changes make the 960 Pro a worthy upgrade for enthusiasts as you can now get up to 2 TB of storage space while enjoying read speeds of 3,500 MB/s and write speeds of 1,200 MB/s. That’s roughly 1,000 MB/s greater than last year’s winner of the Zero1 Awards. Oh! And this flagship does sport a price tag to match.

Runner-ups: ZOTAC SONIX GAMING SSD 480 GB and Samsung SM951 512 GB

The SONIX SSD sports read speeds of 2,600 MBps while the 10th anniversary refresh offers about 2,800 MBps read speeds. Since we haven’t received the units we don’t know if the internals do indeed differ or if the improvement is purely firmware based. Regardless, it was in the running for the Zero1 Award until the 960 Pro showed up on our doorstep.
Then there’s the Samsung SM951 which did release last year globally but wasn’t available in India till much later. In fact, we sourced our unit from one of the numerous other products that came in for the Zero1 awards. Even the SM961 which released around June this year is yet to arrive in India. The SM951 trails behind the SONIX with sequential read speeds of 2,150 MB/s, thus, bagging the third place.

Best Buy: Samsung 850 EVO 250 GB

It’s gotta get a little tiring to see another Samsung SSD in this list but that’s purely because the 850 EVO really fits the bill. While the 850 EVO does have the same controller as the 850 Pro, which happens to be Samsung’s own MHX controller. The key difference is the NAND, the 850 Evo uses TLC NAND and the 850 Pro opts for the more durable MLC NAND. This is why we see the 850 Pro coming with a warranty period of 10 years while the 850 EVO comes with exactly half of that. A combination of great durability, excellent IOPS performance nearly equaling the 850 Pro and good pricing have led to the 850 EVO bagging the Best Buy. And it’s not just us, the 850 EVO pretty much tops the list of most popular SSDs across the globe for these very reasons.


Solid State Drives

December 18, 2015 — by Digit0


How does it feel to break through the 6 Gbps performance barrier? Well...

The NVMe standard’s popularity this year has ensured solid state drive speeds to immediately burst through with the latest drives boasting of more than 2,000 MB/s transfer speed. Unfortunately, these drives haven’t started selling in India. Apart from the jaw-dropping transfer speeds, these drives are also smaller with most of them having adopted the M.2 standard. Also, the fact that small form factor computers, laptops and current gen motherboards all come with M.2 slots have created a huge demand for these drives.

Zero1 Winner: Intel® SSD 750 Series 1.2 TB

Intel made a huge comeback with the 750 series after their time in the shadows. When SSDs hit the consumer market for the first time, it was Intel which was the shining beacon with its X-25 series and later the 120 and 520 series. And now with NVMe, it has once again come to the forefront with the 750 series, with the 1.2 TB variant priced at Rs. 82,999.
But it’s not as if that isn’t appropriate, for the money you get four PCIe 3.0 lanes that push upwards of 2300 MBps. We’ve managed to eke out around 2331 MBps for sequential data transfers and about 100 MBps when looking at 4K sized files. This makes the 750 series an all round better performer than the competition, thereby winning the Zero1 Awards for SSDs.
Price Rs. 82,999

Kingston HyperX Predator

We’d say that the pivotal reason these drives ended up being the runner-ups is that they’re non NVMe. The Kingston HyperX Predator is a ridiculously fast PCIe SSD which uses the M.2 standard and makes use of all four PCIe lanes. The only thing holding it back is that the AHCI protocol is simply not designed for SSDs. The 480 GB SKU of the HyperX Predator which we had the pleasure of testing uses 1.4 W of power which is but a drop in the ocean when you look at an enthusiast rig of which they’re likely to be a part of. Also, Marvell’s 88SS9293 controller is about two years old so you’ve stretched it as much as one could have. How much you ask? 1400 MBps worth. And it’s not just the speed with the HyperX Predator SSD, the board has a minimalistic design with a matte black PCB to soothe the multitude of fanatics who croon at the sight of it.
Price Rs. 48,000

Samsung 850 Pro:

Samsung’s SSDs have been hogging the limelight for quite some time and here is yet another year where it’ll continue to do so. After all it’s the best 2.5-inch form factor SSD you can buy. Like the HyperX Predator, it too uses AHCI and was the first consumer SSD to use Samsung’s 3D V-NAND technology. The increased density and improved MEX controller give the Samsung 850 Pro a significant advantage.
Price Rs. 10,649

Best Buy: Transcend SSD370S 256 GB

At the end of the day storage is all about capacity/Rupee and Transcend’s SSD370S more than delivers on that front. Being economical does mean that there will be certain areas where performance might be lacking and rightly so the SSD370S has low write speeds but at 290 MBps, they are more than double of what you’d get from mainstream hard drives so you’re still getting your money’s worth. Recommended for low-cost speed upgrade to your PC.
Price Rs. 6,849