We learned a lot today about modern SSD performance. Optane technology is amazing, as is the Silicon Motion, Inc. SM2262 controller paired with Micron 64-layer memory. The same memory also produces excellent results paired with older SATA controllers. Finally, even some older SSDs are able to keep pace with newer drives. Here we will explore these topics in more detail.
Optane, either as a standalone SSD or as a cache in the form of Optane Memory is superb. I love the technology but as a consumer advocate, I don't like the price.
3D XPoint memory used in all Optane branded products is a new technology that is faster than flash, less dense, and obviously more expensive. These products will never match flash in cost per gigabyte but we shouldn't downplay the technology because it costs more in many cases. Intel has made it possible to afford Optane performance with the Optane Memory modules used to cache your primary storage. The latest Rapid Storage Technology (RST) driver even allows you to cache a secondary drive.
Ideally, this feature allows you to load your Steam and Origin game libraries on a hard disk secondary drive with your operating system on a high-speed primary SSD. Using Optane Memory still requires a 200- or 300-Series chipset motherboard but as new products come to market, the older chipsets will cost less. Over time, the hefty system requirements will become less of an issue. Older chipsets with NVMe RST cache, mainly some 90-Series and all 100-Series chipsets, can use Optane modules as a cache drive but not as official Optane Memory with preloaded data. It's an unofficial workaround and unsupported, but it works almost as well as the official Optane Memory on 200-Series, and newer, chipsets.
Moving away from Optane, the Silicon Motion, Inc. SM2262 controller is in the middle of every high-performance flash NVMe shipping today. The HP EX920, Adata SX8200, and Intel SSD 760p are the perfect mix of price and performance right now. Other drives, like the Mushkin Pilot, just came to market and we expect more to come in the future. Silicon Motion, Inc. also has faster SM2262EN coming in the near future but as of right now, the SM2262-based products are what you should buy today.
All of the SM2262 drives features Micron/Intel 64-layer flash but it's not exclusive to NVMe SSDs. The Crucial MX500 uses the same flash. It shouldn't be a surprise to see this drive leading most of the other SATA SSDs. If you are not ready to dive into NVMe for your next upgrade, then the MX500 is your best option available.
We found a number of positive trends to talk about in this editorial but there are also a few negatives to discuss. The first is the viability of lower capacity SSDs for gaming. Games have grown in recent years and you can only put a few AAA titles on small capacity SSDs. We don't recommend purchasing anything smaller than a 512GB drive if you plan to load a lot of games on a drive. If you plan to divide your storage between multipole drives then a smaller SSD still works well for your operating system, Office, and other essential applications.
We also can't overlook the current state of SSDs from Samsung. The new 970 (NVMe) and 860 (SATA) SSDs with 64-layer memory do not dominate the performance charts like the previous generation did when compared to other products released around the same time. I suspect Samsung will release firmware to increase performance over time with the new products. This is less of a Samsung issue than it is the progress other companies have made with flash technology and commodity controllers. 64-layer memory has leveled the field when it comes to performance. Samsung does still have a very large lead in endurance and that shouldn't be overlooked when shopping for a SSD you plan to use for a very long time.
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