Toshiba OCZ RD400 NVMe M.2 / PCI-E SSD Review
Today’s SSD market is a crowded place with plenty of options for everyone but there is a sense of stagnation within it as well. While there’s no better time to be looking for a mid-range drive, the high end has been largely unmoved due to a lack of suitable interfaces. Motherboard manufacturers put their eggs in the SATA Express basket but thus far the actual storage manufacturers themselves have shunned that standard and have moved beyond SATA completely. First it was Intel’s 750 series, then Samsung’s 950 Pro, and now OCZ and by extension Toshiba are planting their feet in the NVMe space with the new RD400 series.
In many ways the RD400 series represents an evolutionary step forwards for OCZ venerable RevoDrive series. It is meant to combine bleeding-edge speeds for enthusiasts while still maintaining a holistic ecosystem that’s completely bootable. More importantly, this represents the first SSD being launched under the combined Toshiba / OCZ brand.
Previous RevoDrive models were very much Frankenstein affairs with two to four SATA based drives crammed onto a full length PCB, a custom software RAID controller to join them together and usually a PCIe bridge controller for it to properly function over the PCIe interface. The new RD400 does none of that and throws out those old bodged-together workarounds like yesterday’s news. Instead, due to the fact that technology has progressed to a point where the RD400 can function through a single NVMe controller granting it a native PCIe 3.0 x4 interface.
The RD400 (which is available in 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and 1TB capacities) is all about speed while still delivering higher capacities at lower price points than competing solutions. This means it won’t sit completely at the top of the performance spectrum but it is still a long shot away from a slow drive either. As a matter of fact, the RD400’s maximum sequential bandwidth is among the highest we’ve ever seen. That’s been achieved without sacrificing NAND longevity either since OCZ has somehow managed to top the segment in that respect too.
The whole move towards NMVe is certainly a huge change for the traditional RevoDrive series but this evolution was born of necessity. Simply put the days of large, unwieldy PCIe-based SSDs is coming to an end and in their place is a generation of sleek and adaptable drives which still manage to up the performance ante.
Adaptability enters into this particular equation due to the 2280 M.2 form fact which OCZ has chosen. Not only will it fit into notebooks and current generation motherboards with an M.2 slot but there’s also an (optional) PCIe riser card for broader compatibility.
From a physical perspective at least, a lot has changed since the RevoDrive series. Gone is the load of RAM ICs, the jaw dropping amount of NAND and the high power consumption numbers. In their stead is a small little M.2 PCB that has a single DDR3-1600 RAM IC (512MB on 512GB model and 1GB on the 1TB models), a single Toshiba TC58NCP controller, and either two (512GB) or four (1TB) Toshiba-branded MLC NAND ICs. Phrases such as 'night and day' barely begin to cover how massive a change in design philosophy the RD400 signifies.
One of the challenges with this particular solution is the bandwidth it requires. Before jumping onto the bandwagon, remember that quite a few motherboards have their M.2 slots wired for x2 PCIe connectivity while the RD400 requires a full four lanes. If your setup falls into that category Toshiba is offering the RD400 those two aforementioned flavors: an M.2 only option and M.2 with that $20 Add in Card. The latter is simply a M.2 to PCIe x4 adapter card that allows the RD400 to plug directly into any free x4 or larger PCIe slot on the motherboard.
Make no mistake about it though; this RD400 Add in Card is easily worth the $20 price increase in asking price since it is easily the most robust and impressive adapter board we have seen. Everything from its ability to accommodate short to longer M.2 cards (which does hint at future RD models) to the robust onboard power delivery system screams quality.
The RD400 also comes with a five year hassle-free "ShieldPlus" warranty and is rated for an impressive 296TB (512GB model) and 592TB (1TB model) Total Bytes Written. To put this in perspective, consumers will have to write more than 162/324 Gigabytes a day, every day for five years before the NAND is pushed beyond its rated durability. This is achievement is due to the fact that OCZ has opted for some of the best NAND Toshiba makes: 15nm Toggle Mode MLC NAND.
The only minor negative point in all of this is there is simply no room on this small PCB for true enterprise grade data write protection. Instead the RD400 basically relies upon a modified version of OCZ's firmware-based "Power Failure Management Plus" with help from some small capacitors. In either case, what PFM+ does is insure data written to the NAND is secure but any data that was in the process of being written from the RAM buffer to the NAND will be lost in the event of an unexpected power loss – or what we in the industry likes to call a 'ungraceful shutdown'.
PFM+ is certainly is a good step in the right direction as it greatly reduces the chances of a corrupted OS or the destruction of system-critical software components but it is still a few steps behind what companies like Crucial offer in their SATA SSDs with enhanced Data Loss Protection - let alone what Intel offers on their 750 with full Flush In-Flight abilities. Of course those are much physically larger drives with simply more capacity and this issue is caused by the smaller M.2 form-factor.
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