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Next-Gen NVMe SSD Showdown: Phison E12 and SMI SM2262EN

By: Chris Ramseyer | m.2 SSDs in Storage | Posted: Jul 28, 2018 3:00 pm

High-Capacity Performance Testing

 

Product Comparison

 

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It's important to not judge the two reference designs today based on performance. The E12 is at a disadvantage with less capacity, 1TB vs. 2TB, and with slower flash memory. The performance results will be impressive, but both companies stated they are still working on optimizations that will further increase performance beyond what we see today.

 

In some tests, we will see some existing product outperform our reference design samples. Those drives all have validated mature firmware compared to the early, less optimized firmware of the reference designs.

 

Sequential Read Performance

 

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The SMI SM2262EN performs as we expect it to in our 128KB large block size sequential test. The drive starts at queue depth (QD) 1 at nearly 2,400 MB/s and scales up as we increase the workload before reaching right around 3,500 MB/s, the ceiling for our Asrock Z270 Taichi motherboards.

 

The Phison E12 doesn't like our test and gives us a false reading at low queue depths. We had the same issue with the SanDisk Extreme Pro NVMe 3D SSD a few months ago. I wouldn't be surprised if the new E12 and SanDisk controllers don't share some background together. These are the first controllers we've had this issue with running low numbers at QD1 and QD2 since the Intel SSD 750 from three years ago.

 

We know the low queue depth issue is a false reading because we can simply read data off the drive or run a simpler test to see higher performance. In HD Tune Pro the QD1 sequential read with the Phison E12 is 2,300 MB/s. We suspect the issue has something to do with the power management and the synthetic workload.

 

Sequential Write Performance

 

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We're finished with false readings and can get to the exciting stuff now. Both next-generation controllers are wicked fast. The drives, even with current generation flash technology, write massive loads of sequential data. The Samsung 970 Pro is on the chart and is embarrassed to a degree by next-generation technology that can write over 3,000 MB/s, and get very close to that number at queue depth 2.

 

Sustained Sequential Write Performance

 

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How the two drives get to those peak sequential write numbers if different. The SM2262EN is the same physical controller as the SM2262 shipping today. SMI and partners advanced the cache and uses programmed SLC technology to the fullest. The Phison E12 on the other hand just muscles through the sequential write workload. Both still trail the 970 Pro with MLC at QD1 but the gap between MLC and TLC has shrunk.

 

Random Read Performance

 

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Micron's 64-layer flash has a big advantage over the other flash of the same generation. The flash helps the SM2262EN outperform the other drives at low queue depth random reads. The Phison E12 with 64-layer Toshiba BiCS technology steps on the other side of the 10,000 IOPS wall for premium SSDs. We really want to see what this controller can do with Micron's 64-layer or Toshiba's 96-layer technology.

 

Random Write Performance

 

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Both next-generation NVMe SSDs start with strong random write performance at QD1. The SM2262EN scales better than the E12 but it's with over 55,000 IOPS it's difficult to reach anything higher than QD2 with consumer applications.

 

70% Read Sequential Performance

 

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There is a massive difference between our two next-generation NVMe drives in our sequential mixed workload test. The Phison E12 follows the same path as the SanDisk Extreme Pro, another example of parallelism in testing that leads us to think the two share some DNA.

 

The SMI SM2262EN starts with similar performance at QD2, but doesn't scale well when we increase the workload through increased queue depth. We're not too concerned with the lack of increased throughput as we ramp the workload. This is a corner case that's often not optimized till the end of development.

 

 

70% Read Random Performance

 

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Phison controllers always seem to show weak mixed random workload performance. The E12 with BiCS FLASH has an excuse for the issue but we're not entirely sure next-generation flash, or even existing 64-layer Micron would increase performance here.

 

The SM2262EN shows a modest improvement over the SM2262 (HP EX920) at QD2 in our random mixed workload test. As we've mentioned in this article, retail drives tend to show stronger performance due to more mature firmware.

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