Introduction & Drive Details
Microsoft's DirectStorage API (Application Programming Interface) is set to enrich your gaming experience by introducing a new era of fast load times and detailed worlds in PC games by allowing developers to more fully utilize the speed of the latest storage devices. "DirectStorage will bring best-in-class IO tech to both PC and console just as DirectX 12 Ultimate does with rendering tech. With a DirectStorage capable PC and a DirectStorage enabled game, you can look forward to vastly reduced load times and virtual worlds that are more expansive and detailed than ever." - Andrew Yeung, Microsoft.
DirectStorage, as the name indicates, provides a more direct path for game textures to reach the GPU by bypassing the CPU and memory. BypassIO is the technology that makes DirectStorage possible. It is a new optimized IO path for reading files. This function removes most of the file system, volume, and storage stack filters to optimize a storage fast path through the system. A traditional storage path from SSD to GPU involves eleven steps for data to arrive at your monitor. With BypassIO, it only takes three steps to get there.
With DirectStorage-enabled games, your high-capacity SSD functions more like a cache for the GPU. A huge cache. For example, a game with 200GB of data is limited by system memory capacity and must flush and load new data as the game progresses. DirectStorage, on the other hand, makes the entirety of the game's data immediately available via direct texture streaming from SSD to GPU. This direct storage path enables the full power of NVMe storage for gaming.
Think about it. Currently, there is little noticeable difference between gaming on SATA SSD or a Gen4 NVMe SSD, even though the latter is capable of 12x the data throughput. With DirectStorage, all that throughput can now come into play as a better gaming experience.
Additionally, DirectStorage can help lower the cost of GPUs. Phison explains it this way:
"DirectStorage will allow the GPU to request data directly from the NVMe storage device without the data passing through the main system memory or CPU. The NVMe storage acts like a cache to the GPU sub-system to feed data as requested. This creates a real-time streaming workload similar to the way a video on demand over the internet works. You don't download the entire movie to watch it. With DirectStorage gaming, the textures will stream from the NVMe storage device to the GPU's memory.
This streaming action reduces the need for large GPU DRAM currently required under the existing game data model where a lot of data is loaded into the DRAM and held in place. This should reduce the overall cost of PC gaming by reducing GPU DRAM requirements that currently make up a large portion of the video card's cost".
DirectStorage is constantly fetching textures during gameplay. This translates into a sustained read workload at the drive level during the gaming session. Intense gaming sessions can easily be 12 hours or longer. So, a superior gaming SSD needs to be able to sustain texture streaming at a high level for hours or even days on end, which turns out to be quite the ask for most NVMe SSDs in their current form. This brings us to the subject of today's announcement by Phison. Phison I/O+ Technology.
Phison I/O+ Technology is firmware specifically optimized for sustained read workloads that run for hours. Significant gains are seen on tasks that emphasize medium to large IO (32K to 1MB), which is the exact type of workload served up by DirectStorage-enabled games. A typical consumer SSD is optimized for burst IO with long idle periods. DirectStorage workloads impose sustained stress on the NAND, leaving no idle time for recovery. This forces the SSD to perform maintenance operations mixed with host-generated IO, negatively impacting SSD performance. Phison I/O+ technology uses smart scheduling and adaptive wear algorithms to ensure that this maintenance activity does not interfere with the sustained workload.
Phison's I/O+ Technology will be distributed by partners for many E18-based SSDs that feature Micron's B47R flash. Partner availability begins today. Distribution and customer availability is up to each manufacturer and partner after they complete internal validation. Phison's I/O+ Technology firmware is for products using the Phison E18 controller paired with Micron B47R NAND (176L). Future performance-focused products like the PS5026-E26 will ship with I/O+ Technology enabled right out of the box.
Now, let's see what Phison's I/O+ Technology is bringing to the gaming community and exactly why it's literally a Game Changer, pun intended.
Jon's Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Z690 HERO
- CPU: Intel Core i9-12700K
- Cooler: Alphacool Eissturm Hurricane Copper 45 - Buy from Amazon
- RAM: Sabrent Rocket DDR5 32GB - Buy from Amazon
- Graphics Card: MSI SUPRIM X RTX 3080 12GB - Buy from Amazon
- Case: PrimoChill's Praxis Wetbench - Buy from Amazon
- Power Supply: be quiet! Dark Power Pro 12 1200W - Buy from Amazon
- OS: Microsoft Windows 11 Pro 64-bit - Buy from Amazon
To test Phison's I/O+ Technology enhanced firmware, the company sent over one of its 2TB E18 controlled SSDs arrayed with Micron B47R flash running at 1,600 MT. This SSD is probably the most prolific enthusiast-grade Gen4 SSD, being sold by countless partner companies across the globe.
The main difference here is Phison's new firmware. We should note that only Kingston is currently running its E18-controlled flash arrays at 1,600 MT; everyone else is running at 1,200 MT. Some may move to enabling 1,600 MT flash speeds in the future, and we do know Sabrent is doing so beginning today with its new Rocket 4 Plus G.
DirectStorage will benefit more than just gaming. Applications with high bandwidth demands will benefit tremendously as well. BypassIO is set to evolve over time to include write streams to the NVMe storage device.
Along with the aforementioned SSD, Phison sent over its own in-house DirectStorage test. This test is said to accurately simulate DirectStorage texture streaming workloads for low, medium, and high detail settings. This test should allow us to explore how well some current SSDs are prepared for DirectStorage as it relates to gaming. The test is heavy duty taking around 20 hours per SSD to complete.
The above two charts demonstrate what Phison's I/O + technology does for texture streaming. The first chart is our E18 I/O+ SSD, and the results are fantastic. Now, look at the second chart. This is a hardware configuration that we generally consider faster overall than E18-based SSDs. But it's not as nimble when it comes to texture streaming, at least as it's being simulated by the test we were given.
The dips in performance exhibited by the unnamed InnoGrit-based SSD on the second chart are read disturbs. This behavior can cause the texture stream to stutter, negatively impacting gameplay. Phison's I/O + technology, as demonstrated by the first chart above, virtually eliminates read disturb issues and quite obviously delivers massively more throughput. Incredible really.
Now let's take a quick look at how some of today's most popular enthusiast SSDs fair when subjected to this 20-hour texture streaming simulation.
We are told that game developers and Microsoft have asked for guaranteed bandwidth. The current but still evolving specification for DirectStorage is 2.5GB/s of guaranteed bandwidth. This is the minimum for low-detailed gameplay. When the end-user turns up the graphics detail, the guaranteed bandwidth requirements increase proportionately.
As we can see, the Crucial P5 Plus apparently cannot meet even the minimum requirement for low-detail streaming. It looks as if some of the others will drop out at medium and high detail streaming as well. We do have to throw in the caveat that Microsoft does not officially sanction this test, and we are assuming that it does, in fact, accurately simulate DirectStorage workloads.
Now one thing we can say for sure based on this test is that Phison's E18 massively outperforms its competitors when reading a continuous data stream at high queue depths. This comes as somewhat of a surprise to us as we had no previous indication that Phison's E18 was the fastest in any scenario. But, in this scenario, it is clearly the flash-based performance king. Outstanding.
Now that we've covered the DirectStorage aspect of Phison's I/O Plus firmware let's see how it impacts performance in other use case scenarios by running it against our standard benchmark suite.
Let's begin, as we always like to do, with maximum throughput as measured by CDM running on our AMD 5900X test system.
This SSD, like pretty much all 2TB E18 SSDs arrayed with B47R, has a maximum throughput of 7,400 / 7,000 MB/s. It's still the world's only SSD capable of 7,000 MBs sequential write throughput.
Sony PlayStation 5 - M.2 Storage Expansion
PS5 Read Performance
With Sony's wildly popular PlayStation 5 console now enabled for M.2 NVMe SSDs to be used as fast storage expansion, we include results for PS5 compatible SSDs we test as a part of our reviews going forward. We are utilizing the newest PS5 hardware and software versions.
We only chart SSDs that can deliver a minimum of 5,500 MB/s read, which is Sony's original recommendation. We note that with the latest PS5 software update, even SSDs that only do 4,200 MB/s no longer trigger a low-performance warning; nevertheless, we are sticking by Sony's original recommendation of 5,500 MB/s minimum read requirement.
6,500 MB/s here is outstanding for a 2TB E18-based SSD. You can only get this level of read performance at 2TB from an E18-based SSD when it's paired with 1,600 MT flash as is our test subject. The drive does, in fact, deliver the best we've seen from any 2TB E18 SSD, even beating Kingston's 2TB KC3000. Impressive.
Synthetic Benchmarks: CDM, Anvil, ATTO
Here we are getting sequential throughput in the normal range we expect to see from a 2TB E18 SSD arrayed with Micron B47R flash and running on an Intel system. Q1T1 random reads are the only differentiator here between 1,200 MT flash and 1,600 MT flash, with our test subject getting a little over 1% better than its 1,200 MT cousins.
Anvil's Storage Utilities
Okay, here we go. When we factor in synthetic read performance as a whole, including sequential and random, we find the E18 I/O+ delivering a new lab record for an E18 controlled SSD. Excellent.
We get full performance at 128K, which is what we are looking for more than anything else when we run this test. Sequential throughput is exactly what we expect to see from an E18-controlled SSD. Sequential write throughput comes in ever so slightly lower than we were expecting, but no cause for concern.
Real-World Testing: Transfers, 3DMark SSD Gaming Test, PCM10 Storage
Our 100GB data transfer test is not your ordinary 100GB of data. Ours is a crushing mix composed of more than 62K files. As previously indicated by our ATTO results, write performance, while VERY good is a little lower than we've gotten with other E18-based SSDs. Again, we could care less as write performance, in general, is not an important performance metric in the consumer realm.
Serving data to the host (read) is performance that matters, and here the E18 I/O+ delivers exactly as it's designed to do, even delivering a new lab record for an E18-controlled SSD. Outstanding.
3DMark SSD Gaming Test
UL's newest 3DMark SSD Gaming Test is the most comprehensive SSD gaming test ever devised. We consider it superior to testing against games themselves because, as a trace, it is much more consistent than variations that will occur between runs on the actual game itself. This test is in fact the same as running the actual game, just without the inconsistencies inherent to application testing.
In short, we believe that this is the world's best way to test an SSDs gaming prowess and accurately compare it against competing SSDs. The 3DMark SSD Gaming Test measures and scores the following:
- Loading Battlefield V from launch to the main menu.
- Loading Call of Duty Black Ops 4 from launch to the main menu.
- Loading Overwatch from launch to the main menu.
- Recording a 1080p gameplay video at 60 FPS with OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) while playing Overwatch.
- Installing The Outer Worlds from the Epic Games Launcher.
- Saving game progress in The Outer Worlds.
- Copying the Steam folder for Counter-Strike Global Offensive from an external SSD to the system drive.
Gaming is a performance metric that matters to the majority of DIY consumers, especially to the enthusiast crowd that TweakTown caters to. Again, the E18 I/O+ delivers the best performance we've ever seen from an E18-controlled SSD. Performance where it matters most.
PCM10 Storage Tests
PCMark 10 Storage Test is the most advanced and most accurate real-world consumer storage test ever made. There are four different tests you can choose from; we run two of them.
The Full System Drive Benchmark and the Quick System Drive Benchmark. The Full System Drive Benchmark writes 204 GB of data over the duration of the test. The Quick System Drive Benchmark writes 23 GB of data over the duration of the test. These tests directly correlate with mainstream user experience.
PCMark 10 Full System Drive Benchmark
Here for whatever reason, Kingston's E18-based SSDs have a slight advantage. It's so close, though, it could easily be chalked up to run variability.
PCMark 10 Quick System Drive Benchmark
E18-controlled SSDs have always struggled with this test. The new firmware does not change this whatsoever. Again, Kingston's E18-based SSDs have a slight advantage, and again, it's so close it could be run variability.
We rank SSDs in terms of overall user experience (performance where it matters most) as expressed by PCMark 10 storage and 3DMark gaming storage tests. We consider a user experience score of 11K or more to verify an SSD as a TweakTown Elite performer. Naturally Phison's E18 I/O+ is TweakTown Elite and that's completely aside from its apparent DirectStorage dominance.
DirectStorage will change your gaming experience and computing in general big time. And as with all new technologies, there are obvious and potentially unforeseen hurdles to overcome. Some like Phison have been preparing for direct data streaming and its impact on solid-state storage. Others apparently have not if Phison's in-house DirectStorage simulation accurately depicts the workloads SSDs will encounter when DirectStorage Gaming arrives. Let's take another quick look at the absolute domination as illustrated by this chart:
In this scenario, the E18 I/O+ even beats Optane! And the next closest non-Phison SSD, the WD Black, is serving up 32% less throughput.
Good things come to those with the foresight to prepare, and it certainly looks like Phison is on top of texture streaming and all that comes with it.
- High QD Sustained Reads