There is no denying that 2011 was a year dominated by SandForce at nearly all levels. Companies like OCZ Technology and Corsair produced a number of drives that spanned a vast range of price points. Drive capacity and performance were used to fill in price gaps leaving little room for Marvell based products to compete. In 2011 more companies adapted Marvell controllers to run in SSDs, a large leap from 2010 when only Micron / Crucial implemented Marvell's first generation SATA III controller.
The Marvell based drives from 2011 were very good products, they just had a very big umbrella over their head. Pricing always plays a large role in the retail purchasing decision, especially in a slow moving economy. The Marvell controlled products are at a disadvantage when it comes to price out of the gate. The architecture calls for a DRAM cache buffer, an added expense, when compared to the SandForce design that runs an internal buffer in the controller. When you add the additional cost with the lower performance compared to many of the SF-2281 controlled drives, there just wasn't enough incentive for consumers to come home with a solid state drive using a Marvell controller.
The 2012 SSD season is now in full swing and unlike last year, SandForce doesn't have a new controller ready to follow their successes of the last two years. Furthermore, the Team SandForce partners are tip toeing into 2012, we've yet to see an established Team SandForce member show a drive with the latest generation flash coming from Samsung and Toshiba. SandForce is leaving a door open and in this competitive market others are rushing to get their foot in the door.
Last month we explored the Samsung 830 Series SSD, the first on the market to use Samsung's new 20nm Toggle Mode flash. Samsung isn't the only kid on the block with a new toy in early 2012. Toshiba is now churning out 24nm Toggle Mode flash as well, a significant size reduction to the 32nm Toggle Mode flash we saw on several drives from last year. The new 24nm flash will eventually help drive SSD costs down in the retail channel. For Plextor that means the new M3 Series SSD can now compete in price with established SandForce products on the market.
The Plextor M3 is a generational upgrade from the M2 Series we previously reviewed last year. The drive uses new 24nm Toshiba Toggle Mode flash and while Plextor was waiting for Toshiba to deliver lower cost NAND, Plextor worked to optimize both their firmware and other key hardware areas.
Today we're looking at the all new Plextor M3, the first retail SSD to deliver 24nm flash, meets current SandForce price points and offers SandForce levels of performance. There is a new one for you, let's take a deeper look and see if the new Plextor M3 Series can dethrone our current all around best price / performance leaders.