PNY CS2030 NVMe M.2 240GB SSD Review
The M.2 form factor is not only making major inroads into desktop systems, but also becoming the de-facto standard of NUCs, Ultrabooks, laptops and other portable computing systems. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to see storage manufacturers rush to fill this new demand. What may come as a surprise is that these market forces have created a strong incentive for solid state drive manufacturers to release high performance NVMe-based M.2 storage devices that are also frugally priced. The PNY CS2030 M.2 SSD is just the latest, and arguably best, example of these market forces at work.
On the surface, the CS2030 does not appear to be all that different than a typical M.2 solid state drive. It uses the most common M.2 2280 form factor (in that it is 80mm long and 22mm wide) and only comes in two sizes: small (480GB) and very small (240GB). It's asking price of $180 USD for the 240GB version also does not sound all that impressive. We can almost hear certain internet pundits decrying a 75 cent per gigabyte asking price as a major step backwards for the industry, but as you will see nothing could be further from the truth.
Once the buying public starts to actually look closely at this new series a few very interesting facts come to light. First, the reason this model only comes in 240GB and 480GB capacities is that it uses 15nm Toshiba MLC 'planar' (2D) NAND instead of IMFT 3D TLC NAND. Due to the lower density inherent in this planar NAND, PNY could only fit up to 480GB without opting for TLC planar NAND, unproven 3D TLC NAND, or going for the less common and less supported 110mm long M.2 form factor. For many conservative buyers this a trade-off well worth making.
The use of tried and true NAND combined with a form factor that only allows for 4 NAND ICs, a controller, and a RAM IC (or some combination thereof) does explain the lack 1TB plus versions, but the asking price also requires a bit of explaining. This drive is one of the very few models on the market that use the new Phison PS5007 NVMe controller. This 8-channel controller may be very new, but it is already making waves in a market known for radical, seemingly overnight, changes. By all accounts, this new controller by the upstart Phison company is actually superior to Intel's first-generation NVMe controller that graces the Intel 750 series. In practical terms, this means that for a mere 75 cents per gigabyte consumers can now get as good or maybe even better performance than what was one of the fastest drives on the market, and do so in a smaller form factor. Considering the fact that other PS5007 models command a higher asking price per gigabyte than the CS2030 certainly flips the equation and turns this seemingly expensive model into a veritable steal.
Now in order to pack all that performance and also reach a pocket friendly price tag a few things did have to tweaked. First, as this is a M.2 drive and there's no room on the already crowded PCB, there is no super-capacitors or other enterprise-grade data loss protection abilities baked. Instead, just like all Phison PS5007-based models released to date, the CS2030 relies upon the controller's abilities to keep data safe in the event of a sudden and unexpected loss of power. In this regard, the new PS5007 is very similar to what the previous 3000 series could do. Not only will it not send an acknowledge command to the host OS until the data is actually written to the NAND – and not just stored in the external 128MB DDR3 RAM buffer like many other competing controllers do - the length of time any data is held in the external buffer is also rather limited.
This SmartFlush technology really does limit the amount of data corruption that is possible, and it also narrows the window in which data can become corrupted. The controller continuously keeps its internal data logs up-to-date further making data loss less likely. In the event these fail-safes falter, Phison's legendary 0.5% (75 bits per 16000 bits) BCH ECC 'RAID' overhead – or what Phison calls SmartECC – ensures that any data that may have been corrupted due to the sudden power loss will almost certainly not result in any data corrutpion. What this means for home users is that enterprise-grade 'Flush-In-Flight' abilities are not really required and would only needlessly add to the cost of the drive.
The only real disappointment is that PNY does not use a heatsink to cover the controller from physical damage. This too is not overly concerning, as while the M.2 standard does not allow for a metal protective chassis, the motherboard itself is meant to act as a physical protective covering for the drive. In testing, the controller may indeed get warm, but as long as the system has adequate airflow it's not worrisome and is similar to most other M.2 drives.
On the performance side of the equation, the new PS5007 controller takes a page from its predecessors and then turns the dial all the way to eleven. Much like the PS3000 series, multiple cores are dedicated to internal house cleaning and NAND management so that the performance difference between empty a new drive performance and long-term/full drive is rather small. Since this controller is also free of the SATA and AHCI performance shackles, the controller is able to run free. This allows the CS2030 to be rated for an impressive 2750/1500MBps sequential read/write performance and a massive 201K/215K IOPS. That certainly is one heck of a one-two combination, and it is arguably better than what Toshiba's OCZ RD400 series (2600/1600 & 210K/140K IOPS) and Intel's 750 series (2400/1200 & 440K/290K IOPS) can offer. Of course, the way in which these specifications are created does vary from manufacturer to manufacturer so they do need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Grain of salt or not, taken as a whole the PNY CS2030 is on the vanguard of storage technology. Just as IMFT are doing for NAND, the CS2030 should help usher in a new level of performance and allow the buying public to be able to finally justify getting in on the NVMe revolution. Of course, this is all predicated on the Phison PS5007 and Toshiba A15 MLC NAND combination living up to expectations. Considering that every company who has released a Phison PS5007-based model has claimed different performance specifications, it does remain to be seen if PNY have been able to truly harness the power of this PCIe 3.0 / NVMe 1.1b capable controller.
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