The Bottom Line
- + Gaming
- + Consumer Workloads
- + PS5 Compatible
- - None
Should you buy it?AvoidConsiderShortlistBuy
Introduction & Drive Details
As we think back through time, the last enthusiast-grade controller coming from Silicon Motion was its Gen3 x4 SM2262EN. The SM2262EN was, during its time, the best of the Gen3 enthusiast grade controllers, at least we considered it so. The most memorable of the SM2262EN controlled SSDs was ADATA's own SX8200 Pro 1TB or even HP's EX950 1TB. These two SSDs clearly demonstrated Silicon Motion's prowess for enthusiast-grade storage performance and did so by unceremoniously unseating Samsung as the de facto storage performance leader.
Quite the accomplishment, unparalleled really, and as we see it directly put Silicon Motion for the first time in the position of undisputed performance leader; an amazing feat for a third-party controller company, the first of its kind. That was a long time ago, all the way back in January 2019. Now fast forward to August 2019 in Santa Clara, California, at the Flash Memory Summit, where we got our first glimpse of Silicon Motion's Gen4 successor to its game-changing Gen3 SM2262EN controller. The SM2264. We were literally salivating at the prospect of getting our hands-on what we strongly felt would be the performance leader going into the new era of PCIe Gen4 NVMe SSDs.
Well, enough of the history lesson, suffice it to say that getting our hands-on Silicon Motion's fabled PCIe Gen4 enthusiast controller has been a long time coming. In the interim, Silicon Motion has been supplanted as the enthusiast-grade performance leader by many of its competitors in the third-party SSD controller game. Both Phison and InnoGrit, SMI's biggest competitors in the third-party SSD controller realm, have been doing enthusiast-level PCIe Gen4 for years now, easily surpassing Silicon Motion on the performance front.
SMI has put forth some meager, in terms of performance, four-channel Gen4 controllers such as its SM2267 controller found on ADATA's XPG Gammix S50 Lite, but until now hasn't done so with anything of the 8-channel enthusiast grade variety.
It's been so long, and even though we had a tease last year with a CDM benchmark of allegedly the SM2264 in action, we were beginning to think Silicon Motion had scrapped the controller, and we wouldn't see anything enthusiast grade from SMI until possibly PCIe Gen5. Well, it turns out Silicon Motion's SM2264 has just been delayed for a very long time and is only now ready to do battle for PCIe Gen4 supremacy. Is it too little too late? That's what we'll discover via ADATA's newest SSD, the XPG Legend 960. It makes sense that ADATA, a long-time partner with SMI, would be the first to bring forth an SM2264-controlled SSD. Let us begin.
ADATA specs its XPG Legend 960 Series SSDs capable of up to 7,400 MB/s throughput. We know through much experience that 7,400 MB/s throughput from a Gen4 SSD is only possible with an AMD-based system, so we ran a quick CDM on our Ryzen 5900X based test system to see if the drive can indeed reach that level of throughput. No problem there, as we achieved 7,466 MB/s throughput.
Please note that the XPG Legend 960 is, as of yet, not for sale anywhere, so we are estimating its cost based on it selling for $10 more at launch than ADATA's S70 Blade is currently selling for. We think this is a reasonable assumption considering both SSDs are arrayed with the very same Micron B47R flash. The only difference between the two offerings is the controller, with the IG5236 controlling the S70 Blade and the SM2264 controlling the Legend 960.
Sequential throughput looks on point for B47R and eight channels of PCIe Gen4. Random read seems kind of low or conservative for what the drive is. We will soon see if it is. TBW and warranty period both look good.
The XPG Legend 960 1TB is a double-sided design featuring a four-package flash array composed of 512Gbit Micron 176-layer B47R flash behind the aforementioned Silicon Motion SM2264 8-channel controller along with 1GB DDR4 onboard DRAM.
Jon's Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: ASUS ROG Z690 HERO
- CPU: Intel Core i9-12700K - Buy from Amazon
- 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
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.
For 5,500 MB/s plus capable SSDs that don't have an adequately sized PS5 compatible heat sink or other SSDs where the heat sink provided doesn't fit and can be removed, we both use and recommend Sabrents unparalleled PS5 heat sink available here.
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.
ADATA specs its XPG Legend 960 series as capable of delivering up to 6,400 MB/s read performance on the PS5. We get close at 6,345 MB/s which is quite good and certainly the highest we've seen from any ADATA SSD to date. Keep in mind that we are testing the 1TB model, which is, according to factory specs, a bit slower than the 2TB model we hope to get on our bench soon.
Synthetic Benchmarks: CDM, Anvil, ATTO
Throughput numbers look quite good, especially sequential read, where the 960 Legend is right there within 28 MB/s of the fastest we've ever seen from an Intel-based system. Excellent. Sequential write throughput exceeds its factory spec of up to 6,000 MB/s for the 1TB model.
Q1T1 random read at 95 MB/s is lower than its similarly arrayed cousin, the XPG Gammix S70 Blade, but it is still well within the range and could still be the best performer. We shall see.
Anvil's Storage Utilities
Anvil's read score is without question one of the best synthetic indicators of real-world performance. This is why we still run it. Here the XPG Legend 960 1TB shows itself to be faster overall at reading data than any other 1TB SSD arrayed with Micron B47R. This is our first indication that the SM2264 controller may indeed be the third-party PCIe Gen4 GOAT, even though it's late to the party.
Looking at MAX random read IOPS, we are seeing what we rarely see here, and that's an SSD greatly exceeding its factory specs. For example, 2TB Phison E18 SSDs are almost all universally spec'd at up to 1 million random read IOPS but can't come even close to that in reality. Refreshingly excellent results here.
Sequential performance at QD4 comes in with numbers that are average or below average. Do keep in mind that sequential speeds, contrary to popular belief, have little bearing on how an SSD performs real-world tasks as the vast majority of data is random. We will also point out that the entire top portion of our charts here are populated with E18-controlled SSDs, which happen to hit their max throughput at 128 KB transfers.
Now, if we look at the benchmark screenshot, we can see that at 512 KB transfers, the XPG Legend 960 1TB can deliver even more read throughput than the E18-based SSDs that dominate the top half of our 128 KB sequential read chart.
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. Overall, write performance as it applies to the consumer realm is the least important performance metric, simply because the consumer realm is write infrequently, read frequently. For example, how many times is a game installed vs. how many times it's played? 1,390 MB/s is certainly nothing to write home about, but plenty good enough for our liking.
Quite the opposite when it comes to an all-important performance metric like serving data to the host. It's what consumer SSDs are doing 80% of the time on average. Here, the 960 Legend shows us what it's really all about by delivering the fourth highest result we've gotten from any SSD. Additionally, this result is second best for any 1TB flash-based SSD and the best for any 1TB SSD with a third-party controller. Impressive. Performance that matters.
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 XPG Legend 960 1TB clearly demonstrates that it is unquestionably the best-performing SSD series in ADATA's vast SSD portfolio. Phison E18-controlled SSDs do have the advantage here, but it's only here as E18-controlled SSDs tend to underperform when running typical consumer workloads, as the next two benchmarks will demonstrate.
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
An impressive result here for our test subject. Fifth best all-time for a flash-based SSD. This is performance that matters. If we look closely, this benchmark tells us something very important about controller pecking order as we see it. Our 1TB XPG Legend 960 delivers by far the best numbers here that we've ever seen from any B47R arrayed SSD, giving a strong indication that Silicon Motion's SM2262 is indeed the best performing third-party Gen4 controller. Better than the E18 and better than the IG5236.
Additionally, the 1TB XPG Legend 960 is not even the fastest of the series. The 2TB should be faster, which is exactly what we've seen from ALL B47R arrayed SSDs to date. This is literally the first time we've seen a B47R arrayed SSD beat an enthusiast-grade BiCS arrayed SSD when running consumer workloads. Wow - now that's saying something. Performance that matters.
PCMark 10 Quick System Drive Benchmark
This time our 1TB test subject delivers the second best ever for a B47R arrayed SSD, but we need to once again dissect further for proper perspective. The XPG Legend 960 is by far the highest scoring here for a 1TB B47R arrayed SSD; only the FX900 Pro 2TB is faster. But it does have the inherent advantage of being faster at 2TB due to 32 chip enables vs. 16 chip enables for 1TB B47R arrayed SSDs. In simple terms, 2TB B47R SSDs are faster than 1TB because they have more parallelism to work with.
For accuracy here in terms of controller performance, we need to look at apples to apples which means comparing 1TB B47R drives. Here the 1TB XPG Legend 960 dominates 1TB E18 or IG5236 controlled SSDs arrayed with B47R flash. As we see it, this again strongly indicates that SMI's SM2264 controller is the best-performing third-party Gen4 controller. We will tally up the totals below, factoring gaming into the equation, giving us an accurate controller pecking order in terms of real performance.
We were beginning to think and indeed had even concluded that we would likely never see Silicon Motion's SM2264 controller powering a retail SSD. It's been years of waiting to know if Silicon Motion could grab the performance crown for third-party Gen4 controllers as it had done with Gen3 controllers.
Thankfully, ADATA, with its huge SSD portfolio, is always ready to jump in with something new again, teamed up with Silicon Motion to bring forth its XPG Legend 960 series powered by drumroll, please... SMI's SM2264 controller. This is a hugely important SSD as we see it. The first of its kind and, more importantly, as we see it, conclusive proof that SMI is still on top of the third-party enthusiast game.
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 12K or more to verify an SSD as a TweakTown Elite performer. This right here proves that the XPG 960 Legend is the best-performing SSD to ever be arrayed with B47R flash.
The controller is the only difference between it and, say, the KC3000, FX900 Pro, or the S70 Blade. We consider this chart to provide concrete proof as to third-party controller pecking order in terms of real-world performance or, as we call it, user experience. Silicon Motions SM2264 is the best performing of its type. Period.
ADATA is the first to employ Silicon Motion's SM2264 controller, resulting in ADATA's best-performing SSD. Overall, it is the seventh best-performing flash-based SSD we've ever tested and, more importantly, TweakTown Elite, which brings with it our highest award.
The Bottom Line
ADATA, SMI, and B47R - it's a beautiful thing.