Until now, Link_A_Media Devices was the exclusive controller maker for Corsair's Neutron branded products. LAMD was acquired by SK Hynix, and since, the company has been slow to release new products to market. We suspect LAMD's slow roll out is due to Mike Lee, the Director of SSD SOC Development leaving to start Tidal Systems in May 2013. At Flash Memory Summit, we met with SK Hynix and saw several interesting products on display, but learned consumer focused controllers weren't planned for 2014.
Corsair isn't LAMD's only customer for SSD controllers, Seagate's 600 and 600 Pro also use controllers from the company. Seagate recently purchased SandForce from Avago to further both consumer and enterprise SSD products. This leads us to question if we'll ever see a viable consumer SSD from LAMD again.
With Corsair's flagship product line stagnant, the company needed to find a new source to power a flagship SSD product. We previewed Phison's new quad-core S10 controller back in July with very early firmware. The early results were mixed, but the S10 showed a lot of potential for a product that was so early in the firmware development cycle.
The Phison S10 controller uses a quad-core processor that dedicates three cores to flash management. Often overlooked and rarely understood, background tasks make up a majority of the controllers processing power. The faster and more efficient the background activity, the faster your front-end performance. The front-end side is what users see when opening files, transferring data and so forth. If your SOC is busy shuffling data around to manage wear, the front-end performance suffers. Some SSDs try to push back end tasks when the SSD is in an idle state or until absolutely needed, while others try to perform background tasks as soon as possible - we often call this activity aggressive garbage collection. There are pros and cons for each but with so many resources dedicated to background activity; the Phison S10 is able to reduce the amount of time needed to perform background operations.
We'll talk in depth about the new Phison S10 quad-core controller next week in a deep dive article that covers in detail all of the new advanced technology included. At this time, the firmware is final for mass production, but a few bells and whistles are yet to be enabled.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Corsair plans to release the Neutron XT in three capacity sizes: 240GB, 480GB and 960GB. Today we're focusing mainly on the largest capacity size model, but will add the two smaller capacity size drives in the some performance charts. We'll follow up this preview of the 960GB model with individual reviews of the 480GB and 240GB later this week so we can all see how the drives compare to other products in the same capacity class.
The stated performance from Corsair is 560 MB/s sequential read, 540 MB/s sequential write speeds. Random performance tips the scale at 100K random read IOPS and 90K random write IOPS. We see the 100K read IOPS mark touted often, but in our ASUS ROG Z87 test system, we have yet to break that barrier with a consumer SATA SSD... until today.
Three main points were made about the Neutron XT in our marketing material from Corsair. The first is extreme performance; the Phison PS3110-S10 was designed to compete with the fastest SSDs on the market today. The controller was actually designed for both MLC and TLC NAND flash, the latter needing more controller resources for flash management. Paired with MLC NAND flash, the Phison S10 turns into a performance beast that is capable of consistent performance under heavy workloads.
The TLC side also increases reliability for MLC flash. So many features go into keeping TLC flash reliable. Current TLC flash has around 1K P/E cycles compared to 3K P/E cycles for 1xnm and 2xnm MLC. Phison's proprietary technology designed for TLC flash endurance increases the reliability of MLC flash.
The final checkbox incorporates Corsair's SSD Toolbox software to manipulate the Neutron XT Series along with Corsair's other SSDs. You can read about the Corsair SSD Toolbox in this article that discusses all of the software features.
At this time, we don't have pricing information, but we know the Neutron XT will be available in December. The drive will ship with a five-year warranty, and a 7mm to 9.5mm spacer. As mentioned in the introduction, the firmware is nearly final, but the Neutron XT is missing support for DEVSLP / Slumber at this time. These features should be complete in the coming weeks and ship enabled in the final retail units. I think most will be surprised with the results of our Notebook Battery Life Test even without the low power states working.