Introduction & Specifications
We got our first look at Phison's PS3111-S11 SSD controller, or S11, as we will refer to it going forward, at CES earlier this year. We didn't pay much attention after we were informed that the S11 is only a two-channel controller, and would typically power DRAM-less solutions. We did like the fact that the S11 is Phison's first controller to support LDPC (Low Density Parity Correction) error correction, but didn't expect it would deliver performance that would be more than something we would yawn at. Well, we are at full attention after having the privilege of testing some early engineering samples.
The two engineering samples we briefly tested are packed with firsts for the review community. This is the first time (as far as we know) that anyone in the review community has tested Phison's two-channel S11 SSD controller. This is also the first time (as far as we know) that anyone in the review community has tested a Toshiba 48-layer BiCS Gen 2 TLC flash array. Additionally, this is the first time (as far as we know) that anyone in the review community has tested a Micron 3D MLC flash array. A huge thanks to Phison Electronics for this opportunity.
Phison S11 SSD Controller Specs
Phison's S11 single-core SSD controller supports the full gambit of current and forth coming flash technologies. The power sipping two-channel controller is capable of going DRAM-less for lower production cost and super low power consumption. Even in a DRAM-less configuration, S11-powered SSDs are capable of 95K/85K random read/write IOPS. LDPC error correction ensures extended NAND endurance and reliability.
Toshiba BiCS Gen 2 3D NAND Flash
One of the drives we are testing employs Toshiba's BiCS Gen 2 3D TLC (3-bit per cell) flash. As previously mentioned, this is the first time this flash has been tested by the review community as far as we know. BiCS Gen 2 3D flash is a 48-layer design that offers increased performance, endurance, and density over planar TLC. Additionally, BiCS is more power efficient than planar flash. In a nutshell, Toshiba's BiCS flash is superior too planar flash in every way.
Micron 3D NAND Flash
The other drive we are testing is-powered by Micron's new 3D MLC (2-bit per cell) flash. Again, as far as we know, this is the first time a Micron 3D MLC flash array has been tested by the review community. Micron's 32-layer 3D flash is the first 3D NAND flash to use a floating gate cell. Micron feels that using this proven technology ultimately increases the quality and reliability of their 3D flash. Micron employs a unique CMOS under array design which reduces the die size to enable the highest Gb/mm2 densities on the market today.
Phison S11-Toshiba BiCS TLC and Phison S11-Micron 3D MLC
Phison sells its controllers as part of a turnkey solution to be branded and sold by vendors. This has made Phison SSDs a favorite among third-party SSD makers. This is also why we do not have a case design to show you. Both drives are 256GB and feature the same 1/3 length PCB. The only difference between the two drives is the flash. Both engineering samples feature unqualified firmware and zero overprovisioning. We expect to see even better performance with qualified firmware and 7% overprovisioning when S11-powered drives hit the market in September or October of this year. Toshiba BiCS 3D TLC on the left and the Micron 3D MLC on the right - both SSDs are DRAM-less designs.
The BiCS-powered drive on the left features four 64GB flash packages. The Micron-powered drive on the right features two 128GB flash packages.
A detailed view of the tiny two-channel, single-core, Phison S11 controller that powers both drives.
A detailed view of one of the drive's 64GB BiCS flash packages.
A detailed view of one of the drive's 128GB Micron flash packages.
Test System and Settings
Jon's Consumer SSD Review Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: ASRock Extreme9 Z97 - Buy from Amazon
- CPU: Intel Core i7 4790K @ 4.8GHz - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Cooler: Swiftech H2O-320 Edge - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Memory: Corsair Dominator DDR3 32GB 2400MHz - Buy from Amazon
- Video Card: Onboard Video
- Case: IN WIN X-Frame - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Power Supply: Seasonic Platinum 1000 Watt Modular - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 Professional 64-bit - Buy from Amazon
- Drivers: Intel RAID option ROM version 184.108.40.2065 and Intel RST driver version 220.127.116.112
We typically perform the majority of our testing with the test subjects as our OS Disk 75% full because this provides us with greater insight as to how a drive will perform in a typical user environment. We decided against this type of testing this time because this is only a preview of engineering samples, and we only have them for a day to run our tests. Because we are running the drives as empty secondary volumes, we will not be comparing the test subjects against competing SSDs.
System settings: Cstates and Speed stepping are both disabled in our systems BIOS. Windows High-Performance power plan is enabled. Windows write caching is enabled, and Windows buffer flushing is disabled. We are utilizing Windows 10 Pro 64-bit OS for all of our testing except for our MOP (Maxed-Out Performance) benchmarks where we switch to Windows Server 2008 R2 64-bit.
Synthetic Benchmarks - ATTO & Anvil Storage Utilities
NOTE: All benchmark screenshots will be BiCS first, Micron second.
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.47
ATTO is a timeless benchmark used to provide manufacturers with data used for marketing storage products.
Compressible sequential read/write transfers max out at 564/545 MB/s for the BiCS-powered drive and 557/540 MB/s for the Micron-powered drive. Both drives exceed Phison's 550/500 MB/s read/write factory specifications.
Anvil Storage Utilities
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1.0
Anvil's Storage Utilities is a storage benchmark designed to measure the storage performance of SSDs. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests; you can run a full test or just the read or write test, or you can run a single test, i.e. 4k QD16.
Anvil's scoring gives a good indication of a drive's overall performance. Both drives exceed a score of 4,000, indicating that they are both capable of delivering excellent overall performance. We note that the BiCS-powered drive delivers excellent 4K read performance, and the Micron drive excellent 4K write performance. We also note that the drive's utilize different firmware revisions.
Synthetic Benchmarks – CrystalDiskMark & AS SSD
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.0.2
CrystalDiskMark is disk benchmark software that allows us to benchmark sequential and 4K random performance with accuracy.
Like we saw with Anvil's, the BiCS-powered drive delivers superior read performance, and the Micron-powered drive superior write performance. The BiCS-powered drive delivers a milestone 42 MB/s 4K read performance. This is a milestone for Phison because this is the first time any Phison SATA SSD has been able to exceed 10K 4K QD1 read IOPS or even get close. It's incredible performance for a DRAM-less two-channel SSD.
The 4K write performance of the BiCS-powered drive is being held back by a whopping 50% by Windows 10 as we will see when we switch to Server 2008 for our Maxed Out Performance (MOP) testing. This is likely due to a bug in the ES firmware. The Micron-powered drive doesn't suffer the same drastic 4K write performance drop with Windows 10 as does the BiCS-powered drive.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.8.5611.39791
AS SSD determines the performance of SSDs. The tool contains four synthetic as well as three practice tests. The synthetic tests are to determine the sequential and random read/write performance of the SSD.
AS SSD is a demanding test, and both drives handle it well. We feel that a score of 1,000 plus separates high performing SSDs from low performing SSDs. Both drives deliver a score of over 1,000 points. The BiCS-powered version handily outperforms the Micron-powered drive with a blistering score of over 1,100 points.
Benchmarks (Trace-Based) - PCMark Vantage & PCMark 8
Moderate Workload Model
We categorize these tests as indicative of a light to moderate workload environment.
PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 18.104.22.168
The reason we like PCMark Vantage is because the recorded traces are played back without system stops. What we see is the raw performance of the drive.
Both drives deliver jaw-dropping Vantage scores. These scores are the highest and second highest scores we've ever recorded for SATA SSDs running Windows 10. 96K for two-channel DRAM-less SATA SSDs? Who would have believed it possible?
PCMark 8 - Storage Bandwidth
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.4.304
We use PCMark 8 Storage benchmark to test the performance of SSDs with traces recorded from Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, and a selection of popular games. You can test the system drive or any other recognized storage device, including local external drives. Unlike synthetic storage tests, the PCMark 8 Storage benchmark highlights real-world performance differences between storage devices.
OS Volume 75% Full - Lightly Used
PCMark 8 is the most intensive moderate workload simulation we run. With respect to moderate workloads, this test is what we consider the best indicator of a drive's performance. For the first time, no DRAM cache has an adverse effect on the performance of the Micron-powered drive. The BiCs-powered drive does quite well, all things considered. We do note that the Micron-powered drive does much better with the Adobe Photoshop heavy than the BiCS drive.
Benchmarks - Max IOPS, Disk Response & Transfer Rates
Iometer - Maximum IOPS
Version and / or Patch Used: Iometer 2014
We use Iometer to measure high queue depth performance. (No partition one thread-QD32)
Max IOPS Read
With our configuration, we are able to easily exceed Phison's factory specification of 95K IOPS. Both drives deliver a whopping 99K read IOPS at QD32.
Max IOPS Write
The BiCS-powered drive hits the factory spec of 85K right on the money. We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that the drive held steady at 85K throughout the entirety of the test, and did not quickly drop off after a few seconds like we've seen so many times from TLC SSDs. The Micron-powered drive delivered 88K IOPS, easily exceeding factory specs.
Iometer - Disk Response & QD1 Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: Iometer 2014
We use Iometer to measure disk response times. Disk response times are measured at an industry accepted standard of 4K QD1 for both write and read. Each test runs twice for 30 seconds consecutively, with a 5-second ramp-up before each test. We partition the drive/array as a secondary device for this testing.
Avg. Write Response at QD1
This is the drive's unmasked write performance at QD1. The drive's pSLC cache is bypassed by this testing.
Avg. Read Response at QD1
This is the drive's unmasked write performance at QD1. The drive's pSLC cache is bypassed by this testing.
DiskBench - Directory Copy
Version and / or Patch Used: 22.214.171.124
We use DiskBench to time a 28.6GB block (9,882 files in 1,247 folders) composed primarily of incompressible sequential and random data as it's transferred from our DC P3700 PCIe NVME SSD to our test drive. We then read from a 6GB zip file that's part of our 28.6GB data block to determine the test drive's read transfer rate. Our system is restarted prior to the read test to clear any cached data, ensuring an accurate test result.
Write Transfer Rate
A sustained write transfer rate of 147 MB/s on the BiCS-powered drive had us scratching our heads. It should be better than that, so we decided to give it a go with server 2008 and there is a MASSIVE difference. We aren't sure exactly why, but we've noticed this before beginning when we switched from testing with Windows 7 to testing with Windows 8. Windows 8-10 chokes with sustained write transfers in comparison to Windows 7 and Server 2008. We think it may have something to do with the huge difference in 4K QD1 write performance between the OS's. Windows 7 will deliver approximately the same sustained write transfer rate as Server 2008. This should be music to the ears of Windows 7 users.
The Micron-powered drive delivers a 314 MB/s sustained write rate. This is far better than we expected from a two-channel SSD.
Read Transfer Rate
Both drives wow for having only two controller channels.
Maxed-Out Performance (MOP)
This testing is just to see what the drive is capable of in an FOB (Fresh Out of Box) state under optimal conditions. We are utilizing Windows Server 2008 R2 64-bit for this testing. Same Hardware, just an OS change.
Note the massive increase on CDM in 4K QD1 write performance with Server 2008 over Windows 10. 50% better to be exact. Normally we do not see an increase of this magnitude. This may indicate a firmware bug in the ES firmware.
These drives love Vantage, and the BiCS-powered drive delivers the highest Vantage score (98.5K) we've ever recorded or seen from any SATA SSD.
The Micron-powered drive is right on the heels of the BiCS-powered drive with a massive 98.3K performance.
First off we want to thank Phison Electronics for giving TweakTown the opportunity to test the S11 engineering samples plucked from their Flash Memory Summit display board. Secondly, we want to congratulate Phison for engineering fire-breathing performance with only two-channels and zero DRAM cache or overprovisioning. We believe that Phison S11-powered SSDs will sell like hotcakes when they hit retail channels. Compared with other modern DRAM-less solutions we've tested, the S11-powered SSDs we tested today are in a class of their own. Nothing else is even close.
At first, we thought that Phison must have decided to make the S11 a four-channel controller, but no, it is indeed a two-channel controller. We certainly did not expect this kind of performance from a two-channel DRAM-less design. We feel confident that S11-powered SSDs will deliver an SSD experience that will rival even eight-channel controlled SSDs for the majority of users.
The S11 should make laptop users very happy with the extended battery life that a two-channel DRAM-less solution will provide because Phison has engineered a masterpiece that sips power and at the same time delivers best-in-class performance. We are looking forward to the waves of S11-powered SSDs that are destined to arrive in our lab, and you can look forward to purchasing your own in the near future.
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