Zero1 Awards 2017 – Full-frame DSLRs

December 17, 2017 — by Digit0


Full-frame DSLRs are the king of the hill when it comes to professional photography. While many photographers are considering the move to full-frame mirrorless cameras, the market for full frame DSLRs still remain vast. The year 2017 has been a pretty important one for full frame DSLRs, with a number of launches taking place. The category itself is not a very active one by nature, seeing that most full-frame DSLRs are built with a considerably long shelf life. Nevertheless, this year’s entrants exhibit higher capability and versatility than before, and as a result, made for a compelling year in which the boundaries of a professional DSLR have been further pushed.

Zero1 2017 Winner: Nikon D850

Nikon D850

When you look at a full-frame DSLR, you expect extreme performance capabilities at the core of the bulky bodies, and the Nikon D850 is hands down one of the very best performers ever. While the high resolution 46-megapixel full frame BSI CMOS sensor is something that we’d expected from the best of Nikon, what makes this one truly remarkable is its high speed shooting abilities. With the added battery grip, it can shoot at 9fps in continuous shooting with AF-AE lock on. The autofocus mechanism is one of the best we’ve used till date, aided by its widely impressive dynamic range and high native ISO performance. It uses a 153-point AF system linked to a 1,80,000-pixel metering system.

The BSI sensor improves low light photography by a wide margin, and this coupled with Nikon’s near-impeccable colour accuracy in photography now makes the D850 suitable for fast shooting in tricky lighting conditions as well. The Nikon D850 has also made major strides forward in the field of video shooting, presenting 4K video shooting at 30fps, and codes the UHD videos at 4:2:2 uncompressed output. Slow motion videos can be recorded at 120fps in 1080p full high definition, and all of these benefit in terms of the colour tone, noise, dynamic range and tonal accuracy produced thanks to the wide dynamic range, the high resolution full frame sensor and superior low light shooting abilities. You also get in-camera time lapse movie export at 4K, with 8K time lapse shooting.

Even in terms of functionality, Nikon has made significant improvements in overall performance. It now includes a 3.2-inch full touchscreen tilting LCD display, a joystick for AF point adjustment, illuminated buttons and Snapbridge – bringing WiFi and Bluetooth to Nikon’s full frame camera range for the first time. Its battery is rated for 1,840 shots, which will suffice for most prosumers for a full day’s assignment.

Summing up, the Nikon D850 is one of the most well-rounded full-frame DSLRs that you can buy right now, and is also one of the best performers. It is certainly the best performer of 2017, which sees it easily win the best full frame DSLR award of 2017.

Runner-up: Canon EOS 6D Mark II

The Canon 6D lineup received a major overhaul this year, with the new generation 6D coming with a 26-megapixel full frame Dual Pixel sensor. It retains the same 45-point autofocus mechanism from its crop-sensor Dual Pixel brethren, which fairs decently primarily because of the Dual Pixel abilities. Native ISO goes up to 40,000 and can be extended up to 102,400, and continuous shooting peaks at 6.5fps with AF/AE lock. Video performance has also been enhanced, and you can now shoot 1080p full HD videos at 60fps.

But, while the performance has visibly and obviously improved from the older 6D and is now notably closer to the 5D range, what truly makes the Canon EOS 6D Mark II remarkable is its ease of shooting. The body weight is significantly lighter than most of its competition, the sensor is capable enough of high resolution shooting, colour tones and noise performance in videos are quite good too, and the camera interface is very well simplified and easy to understand for even first-time photographers.

It is this that makes the Canon EOS 6D Mark II the perfect full frame camera for first time full-frame shooters. It is one of the easiest full frame cameras to shoot with, and with its improved abilities, makes for a compelling camera to buy.

Professional Monitors

Zero1 Awards 2017 – Displays – Professional 4K Monitors

December 14, 2017 — by Digit0


The Indian movie industry is leaping ahead and the demand for professional equipment has been quite prominent. Among these are professional monitors which were till now dominated by just a couple of brands. However, 2017 has seen more of the mainstream brands take up the mantle of catering to this growing industry. Curved displays are certainly growing but the demand for the non-curved units are still going strong. Moreover, professional monitors have now become a bit more affordable than they were a couple of years back. Let’s take a look at the ones we’ve tested this year.

Zero1 2017 Winner : BenQ SW320

BenQ SW320

The BenQ SW320 offers a nice combination of features. It offers 4K resolution covering 99% of the Adobe RGB spectrum and 100% SRGB. Once you get the sub-pixel arrangement sorted out in your OS, the text and images are sharp and clear without any hint of haziness. As mentioned previously, the colour reproduction is excellent, however, we did notice a slight colour shift towards the edges. You have support for HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.4 which paves the way for HDR, and that’s present as well. Being a 32-inch display, it’s quite an optimal size for a 4K monitor, making it easy for multimedia professionals to have a larger work area.
And it’s not just content creation, even for content consumption, the monitor ends up being quite great. Black levels really bring movies to live, especially ones like Sin City which are shot in a noir format. The monitor also comes with a built in card reader which really helps photographers to quickly browse through images straight from the monitor itself. And with the added ability to swivel into portrait orientation, you’re getting an added level of convenience.


Zero1 Awards 2017 – Laptops – Convertibles

December 13, 2017 — by Digit0


While we didn’t see a lot of action in the thin and light category this year, the convertible category got quite some attention from all laptops manufacturers. So this year we decided to talk about the best convertibles you can buy. In an age when Microsoft is working towards making the Windows experience equally comfortable in tablet mode as it is in laptop mode, the thin and light convertible category makes much more sense from a design and functional point of view. It is an epitome of what all Windows laptops or laptops in general will be in the future. However, it easier said than done since there is a lot cleverer engineering required to maintain size, weight and design of an ultraportable, without compromising on performance.

2017 Zero1 award Winner: HP Spectre x360

HP Spectre X360

As you would know, our Zero 1 awards have always been about performance with price no bar and thus, the HP Spectre x360 is a clear winner in this category. After launching the Spectre last year, the Spectre x360 was HP’s take at the thin and light convertible segment and the company has gone all out on performance. The Intel Core i7-7500U on this machine breaks all previous performance benchmarks set by this chip in the thin and light category as a whole. Not just that, the amount of hardware it packs in that thin and light chassis remains unmatched.
Beyond performance though, the HP Spectre x360 is more about the premium feel. It is a design masterpiece, which looks both elegant and bold at the same time. The matte grey finish on the laptop is in contrast with the copper polish around the sides, which give the machine a beautiful, yet polarising look.

Runner up: Lenovo Yoga 720

The runner up position is secured by the Lenovo Yoga 720, which is the successor to last year’s convertible category winner, the Yoga 710. On paper, the Yoga 720 is almost as powerful as the Spectre x360. However, during our testing, the Spectre x360 did inch ahead of everything else. Still, you get the top of the line hardware available today in addition to the best battery life in the category as well.
The machine also features an updated design and build quality, which is now even more business-like. The laptop looks and feels premium and that also shows in the updated hinge, which now offers better resistance and less wobble while typing. We also like the fact the Lenovo was considerate enough to add a fingerprint scanner on the machine, which in our opinion should be mandatory.

Best buy: Asus ZenBook UX360

This particularly silent laptop brings the goodness of a thin and light form factor to the masses sincce the prices start as low as `50K. However, what’s so impressive is that even with an m-series Intel processor, it can keep up with most day-to-day tasks and never felt underpowered until we ran some games on it.
Still, this thin and light convertible packs in quite a lot of hardware, including a 4K display on highest-end model. At just 1.3 mm thickness, Asus has managed to provide an excellent port selection including an SD card reader, micro HDMI port and two standard USB ports. Hence, making it a complete package.


Zero1 Awards 2017 – Smartphones – Premium

December 13, 2017 — by Digit0


Last year we actually found the flagship category a little boring. Thankfully, that’s been fixed with a vengeance this year. From the “best iPhone ever” to the “return of the Galaxy”, and even something from Google themselves, we’ve got a showdown between phones that are again worthy of being called flagships. So one wins the coveted Zero1 Award?

2017 Zero1 Award Winner: Apple iPhone X

Apple iPhone X

This isn’t a surprise is it? Our Zero1 Awards have always been about performance and that’s where the iPhone X outshines its competitors. Sure, Apple wants to show off the edge-to-edge display and a new way to do things with iOS, but there’s a lot more about this phone that we’ve liked. Apple calls this the biggest change to the iPhone so far and we agree.
For starters, the company’s A11 Bionic chipset (that’s A-eleven) is significantly faster than its Snapdragon and Exynos competitors. The iPhone X scores over 200,000 on AnTuTu’s benchmark tests. It’s also the only phone to have crossed the 10,000 mark on Geekbench’s multi-core test so far. Wondering where the closest competitors lie? Well, the best we had seen before the iPhone X scored about 6000 on Geekbench’s multi-core tests, while the AnTuTu scores usually remained around the 180,000 mark.
If that wasn’t enough, Apple combined this performance with a best-in-class display and a top-notch camera. Speaking of notches, you may not like the one on the iPhone X. But that’s really down to personal choice. We don’t mind it.

Runner Up: Google Pixel 2 XL

Google is really working hard to get its hardware act together, and as far as premium Android phones are concerned, it’s made a name for itself. With the new saturated mode, the Pixel 2 XL is much easier to use now, and no one can deny that this phone has the most excellent camera on the market today. For Android lovers, this is quite possibly the best phone to buy. It’s fast, smooth and you get Google’s assurance of at least two updates.
Our review device didn’t show burn-in problems, and Google has assured users that it’s not something to be worried about. If you’re looking for good Android phones to buy, or want the best camera out there, the Pixel 2 XL should certainly be amongst your considerations.

Best Buy: Samsung Galaxy Note 8

In our opinion, the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is the most complete flagship of 2017. It has a fast processor and it’s considerably smoother than any Samsung phones we’ve used earlier. We’ve had it for about 5 months now, and there’s been no lag or freeze on the phone that’s worth complaining about. Till the iPhone X came along, the Galaxy Note 8 also had the best display you could find on the market today.
With AnTuTu scores just over 175,000, it is also one of the most powerful smartphones out there right now. There’s 6GB RAM to go with that, making the Galaxy Note 8 one of the few phones to sport that spec. On Geekbench, the Note 8 scored above 4000 and 6000 on single- and multi-core tests, repectively. This puts it at the absolute top of Android phones for the year. Does one need more?
Oh, you do, do you? Well, the Note 8 is arguably the best looking smartphone on the market today. It also brings all the best features out there, from an excellent dual-camera to an 18:9 display. And if all that wasn’t enough, the S-Pen still remains a gimmick worth having.


Zero1 Awards 2017 – Smartphones – High-end

December 13, 2017 — by Digit0


While flagship smartphones became quite impossibly expensive this year, that only leaves the way open for what we often call “mid-ranged flagships”. These are phones that promise you flagship level performance, but at a much more affordable price point. And this year, there has been quite a bit of competition in this segment.
While OnePlus ruled the roost last year, the company had to face some tough competition from Xiaomi, Nokia and Huawei this year. Sure, the Chinese upstart still did well on our tests but it was certainly an uphill battle this time.

2017 Zero1 award Winner: OnePlus 5T

OnePlus 5T

OnePlus launched the OnePlus 5T just in time to qualify for the Zero1 Awards. Sure, those who bought the OnePlus 5 are probably disappointed right now, but we have to give the award to the OnePlus 5T. The device performs just like the OnePlus 5, but it has a better camera and better display as well, thanks to better colour performance.
The OnePlus 5T and its predecessor are amongst the fastest Android smartphones today, alongside the Google Pixel. Their AnTuTu scores are usually always around 180,000, while the other benchmark scores don’t disappoint either. We got consistent frame rates of over 60 frames per second when gaming and the phone handles most resource intensive tasks just as well as flagship smartphones that cost nearly twice as much do.
The OnePlus 5T’s big shortcoming is the fact that it doesn’t have Android Oreo out of the box, and we do wish the company would have provided the same. They’ve had more than enough time at hand to make it happen but it seems we’ll have to wait for a while. Yet, the OnePlus 5T offers an excellent value proposition that is hard to resist. And this is why we are awarding the OnePlus 5T the Zero1 Award for 2017.

Runner Up: Xiaomi Mi Mix 2

If there’s one thing the OnePlus 5T can’t give you, it’s premium design. That’s the gap the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 fills in. It’s meant for those buying in the `30-40k price point with their eyes on design. For that, you will have to compromise a little bit on the camera department, though performance is almost at par with the OnePlus 5T.
The Mi Mix 2 is also amongst the few bezel-less smartphones on the market today. It has an 18:9 display and ceramic body. It scores in the higher ranges as far as benchmarks are concerned, and Xiaomi has tuned the software well enough to provide smooth and lag-free usage on the phone. There’s also gobs of RAM and storage for even the most resource intensive user needs.

Best Buy: Honor 8 Pro

Huawei’s flagship smartphone in India is the cheapest amongst the “mid-ranged flagship” segment. It is a tad weaker than the OnePlus 5 or 5T, but it’s still a powerful device to buy. We got pretty good scores on benchmarks, though EMUI is heavier than you would expect from smartphones today. It can end up being a little sluggish a couple of months into use.
Yet, the Honor 8 Pro has an excellent camera for the price, which makes up for the loss in raw power. Overall, the phone still makes for a value for money smartphone to buy, and if your budget lies in the `30-40k range, you could definitely consider this device. It ships with Android 7.0 and the Kirin SoC might make a few apps incompatible with your device.


Zero1 Awards 2017 – Audio – Wireless IEMs

December 13, 2017 — by Digit0


This category makes its debut in this year’s Zero1 awards. Wireless in-ears moved from proof-of-concept to mainstream availability about two years ago, but despite making in-roads, offerings in the space have always been short of stellar. You had a few nice models cropping up every now and then like the Jaybird X2 or the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear wireless, but most serious audio giants have so far shied away from jumping into the category. This year saw many audio manufacturers coming out with high-end offerings in this space. In the running this year we had the RHA MA750 Wireless, V-MODA Forza Metallo Wireless, EOZ One, and the Degauss Labs Vice. Some of these were announced last year or showcased at events like CES but were properly launched only this year with wide-scale availability. We would have liked to have units like the Beyerdynamic Byron BT or Sennheiser HD 1 to be put into the running but we didn’t get those units either because they haven’t been officially launched in India or because review units weren’t available. Either ways the four models that did stand out from everything we’ve received this year, represent a good cross section of the high-end in-ear market.

2017 Zero1 Award Winner: The RHA MA750 Wireless

RHA MA750 Wireless

The RHA MA750 Wireless is a solid performer both in terms of battery life as well as audio quality. It manages to deliver rich detail in the higher end of the spectrum while maintaining decent mids. It does seem to be lacking in lows, but the dip isn’t a huge deviation from neutral. The texture and representation is very upfront and while the separation isn’t comparable to the best wired in-ears out there, it’s still superlative for a Bluetooth headset that costs roughly `12k. The housings, although made of moulded metal (something RHA is known for) isn’t heavy at all. This is because the battery has been moved to the thick band which goes behind your neck. The wire leading up to the earpiece stiffens up a bit making a sort of around-the-ear support which makes for a very comfortable fit.
Zero1 is all about performance chops which the 750 Wireless has oodles of, but some of the nifty features on the RHA MA750 do deserve a mention. Take for instance the super simple NFC pairing, or push button battery meter voice prompt. In summary, while the RHA 750 is not better than super-high end wired in-ears they are definitely comparable to and sometimes better than wired IEMs in its price category.

Runner Up: Degauss Labs Vice

Handmade by a relatively small Swedish brand, the Vice certainly looks the part. It exudes the kind of simplicity and charm which comes out of form following function (and not the other way around). Unlike the RHA MA750 Wireless which is more or less neutral, the Vice is far from it. In fact, the Vice seems to follow the “v” type of sound signature which has extreme highs and the lower end is bumped up. It’s the kind of curve you find on the “rock” preset on your DSP or equalizer. The Degauss Labs Vice uses batteries made by Varta which have a small footprint and yet manage to deliver decent battery life. The batteries are small enough to be clubbed into the driver housing and not make the ear pieces too heavy or bulky.
In terms of pure audio performance, it’s a shade below the overall well rounded sound offered by the 750 Wireless. But if you are a metal or bass aficionado you might actually prefer the Vice over the 750. Especially considering it is cheaper. The Vice isn’t available in Indian online stores as yet, but considering the number of KZ units being ordered lately, it shouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Indian audiophiles to place orders directly from Sweden.

Desktop processors

Zero1 Awards 2017 – Desktop – Processors / CPUs

December 13, 2017 — by Digit0


After many years of incremental upgrades to CPUs, 2017 saw an intense amount of activity in the consumer processor space as AMD introduced their Ryzen lineup of CPUs. Intel was quick to reach and pulled its X299 platform launch ahead to counter the threat of AMD’s multi-core wonder. Then AMD released the HEDT Threadripper to counter Intel’s move and in return, Intel unleashed the 18-ccore Core i9-7980XE, thus taking back the crown. Temporarily, we hope. This kind of competition is simply too exciting for us. And it’s not just the consumer CPU space, the same Zen core architecture made its way into the enterprise segment as EPYC and AMD doubled down with more SKUs being introduced for thin-and-light form factors in the form of the Ryzen 7 2700U and Ryzen 5 2500U. We’ve had the pleasure of testing most of these SKUs except for the Threadripper units which AMD did not send us. So excuse their absence from this year’s Zero1 awards.

2017 zero1 award Winner: Intel Core i9-7980XE

Intel Core i9-7980XE

The Intel Core i9-7980XE is the best CPU we’ve tested this year. Before we get into the numbers, let’s just get one thing out there, looking at 36 threads in the Task Manager’s Performance tab had us giggling like school kids over the ridiculousness of the sheer compute power at our disposal. The 7980XE has a lower Base frequency (2.6 GHz) owing to the massive number of cores it packs, however, the 4.2 GHz Turbo frequency shows that it doesn’t play with any handicap. A Cinebench multi-threaded score of 3,281 can leave you feeling a little light in the head. It’s powerful enough to encode a 4K video at nearly 60 FPS! Imagine that, you can have real time transcoding of media into any format under 4K. Moreover, it’s not bad at gaming benchmarks either. With such capability, it ends up being a power hog but HEDT was never about holding back, and rightly so, the Intel Core i9-7980XE wins the Zero1 Award.

Runner up: Intel Core i9-7960X

Coming in just a few positions behind the 7980X E is the Intel Core i9-7960X which ends up as this year’s Zero1 runner-up. It has a Cinebench multi-threaded score of 3,082 which seems a bit distant from the 7980XE but you’d be surprised how close they end up in certain benchmarks. Transcoding is just as quick and the same can be said for most benchmarks. If you wanted an HEDT without spending too much (too much being subjective here), then the 7960X is a great CPU or you can always check out the 7900X.

Best Buy: AMD Ryzen 5 1500X

The 8th Gen launch has been marred by low stocks everywhere in the world, the flagship K-SKUs are very hard to come by but the Core i5 8400 has been seen in plenty, at least, now we do. It faces a strong competition from the Ryzen 5 1600 which is a 6C/12T CPU and the Ryzen 5 1500X (4C/8T) while the 8400 remains a 6C/6T CPU. The problem lies in the pricing. Because of the shortage, the 8400 retails for a higher price than the 1500X or the 1600. Which is why the Ryzen 5 1500X is the better deal.

Editor’s Pick: AMD Ryzen 7 1700X

The Zen architecture is responsible for the disruption that’s spreading in the entire computing space including mobility and enterprise segments. Among the first set of Ryzen CPUs, the 1800X is definitely the flagship, however, for a few bucks less you get the 1700X which performs just as well which is why we’d like to give it a special mention. And now, 2018 appears to be packing in a lot more action.


Zero1 Awards 2017 – Audio – Wired IEMs

December 13, 2017 — by Digit0


There are an insane number of audio manufacturers out there (both mainstream as well as niche) that make IEMs of great repute. From the mainstream guys like Sennheiser to boutique houses like Grado, you have a multitude of stellar IEMs launching year after the year. The thing with audio equipment is that obsolescence isn’t really a thing like it is with other categories. There’s no faster chip, or more memory that needs to be added to audio products. They’re all analog devices at the core. And despite all the “Hi-Res” logos and “THX” certifications that newly released models might slap onto their boxes, a good in-ear launched a few years ago would still hold its own against something launched today. Think about it, would say an Etymotic ER4 bought a couple of years ago be any less awesome sounding than a modern day flagship launched only last year? Not necessarily. That being said, this doesn’t mean there’s no scope for innovation in this space. This year saw some great in-ears being launched, some great refreshes in the high end segment and even the introduction of new technologies. So without further ado let’s look at what the very best this year had to offer.

2017 Zero1 Award Winner: Noble Audio Kaiser Encore

Noble Audio Kaiser Encore

Housing 10 balanced armature drivers on either side, the Kaiser Encore is an incredible sounding headphone. It is by far the best in-ear we have ever tested. Not only is it spectacularly accurate but one of the things that immediately strikes you is the incredible separation it is able to deliver. Every instrument is clear and crisp and every note just strikingly well represented. The bass does feel like it’s been tweaked to be a wee bit above flat, but it’s nowhere near overpowering. The dynamic range is fabulous – every sound from the lightest touch of a cymbal to the pluck of a thick string bass all just flows through like you are right there. The details, the texture and even the sibilance is beautiful and rich. Nuances on old favourite test tracks like the good old Hotel California studio recording or Dream Theater’s Learning to Live that were previously never noticed just jumped out clear as daylight. To draw comparisons we brought out our 2013 Zero1 runner up – the UE900. While the four driver UE900 can certainly hold its own, the Kaiser Encore is just decidedly superior. The UE900 didn’t do as well in high-instrument density scenarios. We also benchmarked it against the JH Audio Roxanne. The bass extension on those was quite refreshing but the Kaiser again proved to be the more sweeter sounding alternative. The Kaiser Encore is surprisingly sensitive and incredibly easy to drive – though its performance scales rapidly with the kind of source you are using.

Runner up: Audeze iSine 10

This is another great in-ear sporting a brand new driver technology. Well not exactly brand new but in the world of in-ears it’s certainly a first. The sound signature on the iSine 10 is quite unique. Expansive is one way to describe it. Hard hitting bass sounds like kick drums or even snares sound incredibly natural on the iSine 10. They are a beautiful sounding pair but one that isn’t devoid of a few strange niggles. The large protruding magnets of the planar driver increase the bulk (although they do lend it a futuristic look). The biggest problem however was the fact that the insertion tube on the ear pieces is not the standard one found on regular in-ears; it’s fatter. Several Digit reviewers tried them out and couldn’t help but experience a bit of discomfort because of the fat stalk. In their own right, these are an incredible sounding pair of in-ears and if it wasn’t for the super-high end monster listed above, the Audeze iSine10 could’ve easily bagged itself the Zero1 Award.

Bluetooth Headphones

Zero1 Awards 2017 – Audio – Bluetooth Headphones

December 13, 2017 — by Digit0


Wireless audio has come a long way – from being frowned upon by purists to being very expensive, the Bluetooth-powered headphones have evolved in the true sense of the word. With improving Bluetooth standards, the premium wireless headphones segment has seen major innovation. Audio quality has improved manifold to a point where it is truly impressive. This is further supplemented with all things now going wireless.
These new headphones not only play good audio, but also do it in style. Many others are adding additional features like noise cancellation, gesture support and more to make themselves highly versatile. It is this versatility that may form a big part of your buying decision, but since this is a premium audio product we are talking about, it always has to begin with audio, right?

2017 Zero1 award Winner: Audiotechnica DSR9-BT

Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9-BT

The Audio-Technica DSR9-BT plays music with incredible accuracy and clarity. The sound signature is impeccably well balanced, and the good balance of sound is further aided by the plush warmth and rich timbre. You also get superior soundstaging, which further diversifies the range of each spectrum of audio frequency. Hence, what you hear is clearer and more distinct bass notes, very well composed and prominent vocals, and loud instruments which are not too shrill.
The Audio-Technica DSR9-BT is, hands down, the best performing premium wireless headphones of 2017. It is not available directly for purchase in India at the moment, but if you have any friend or relative travelling abroad and you’re on the hunt for a premium pair of headphones, you should ask them to get one!

Runner up: Fiil Diva Pro

The Fiil Diva Pro holds its composure well across a wide variety of genres, and plays well detailed bass notes with commendable clarity. The mids are well accentuated, and the highs do not pinch your ears. The overall audio delivery sounds really crisp and cohesive, and the rich warmth of the sound is quite appreciable. While soundstaging may not be its ultimate forte, it does make up for it with an ‘open mode’ in playback. This mode makes the playback sound a tad bit more spacious, and eases the tightness of the way the Diva Pro clamps over your head.
It comes a certain second to the Audio-Technica DSR9-BT, but that itself is no
mean feat, particularly coming from a relatively new company.


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.