Wednesday, June 19, 2019
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cheap does not mean bad

It just so happens that those manufacturers of solid-state drives that have not yet got their own development teams of controllers, but do not want to lose sight of the SSD market for enthusiasts, have no particular choice today. A suitable option for them, which allows organizing the assembly of truly productive NVMe drives, is offered only by one company – Silicon Motion, which is ready to deliver complete solutions from its controller and ready-made firmware to everyone. Other companies, such as Phison or Realtek, also have widely available basic chips for assembling NVMe drives, but Silicon Motion has taken the lead in this area, offering partners more functional solutions, but also significantly faster solutions.

At the same time, among the huge variety of NVMe-drives built on the basis of Silicon Motion controllers, enthusiasts may not be of any model. This company produces a wide range of chips with a fundamentally different level of performance, but performance, decent SSD for advanced or maximum configurations, can provide only selected platforms. In particular, last year we spoke very warmly about the SM2262 controller: by the standards of 2018, it really looked very attractive, allowing drives based on it to play on an equal footing with the best consumer NVMe SSD first-tier manufacturers, including Samsung, Western Digital and Intel.

But this year the situation has changed somewhat, as the leading manufacturers have updated their mass top-level models. In response to this, Silicon Motion began to offer its partners an improved version of last year’s controller, SM2262EN, which also promises an increase in performance parameters – primarily in recording speed. It turns out that it is the drives based on this chip that should be interested today for buyers who expect to get at their disposal a modern and fast NVMe-drive, but at the same time do not want to overpay for possession of an A-brand product.

Until recently, the new SM2262EN controller was not used by many manufacturers in its products. In fact, the choice came down to two options: ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro and HP EX950. But now a third drive based on this chip has appeared – Transcend has mastered its production. With this new product, called Transcend MTE220S, we are going to get acquainted in this review.

Introduction to this acquaintance such. HP EX950 is not supplied to Russia, but ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro In our recent testing, I didn’t demonstrate any special trump cards, suggesting performance at the drive level at the past SM2262 controller. And this means that, despite the appearance of the new version of the Silicon Image controller, there are no NVMe SSDs that could compete with the latest Samsung 970 EVO Plus , we have not yet seen. Whether the Transcend MTE220S will be more interesting than the ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro option, we are going to find out in this review. But it should be emphasized at once that, even if this SSD does not blink with speed parameters, it can still be quite interesting. After all, Transcend is going to sell it at an amazingly low price – at least low for a full-fledged drive with PCI Express 3.0 x4 interface, DRAM-buffer and three-dimensional TLC-memory.

⇡ # Specifications

In detail about what is the controller SM2262EN, we have already said when we got acquainted with the ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro. On the technical side, this chip is built on two ARM Cortex cores, uses an eight-channel interface for managing flash memory, has a DDR3 / DDR4 interface for the buffer and supports the PCI Express 3.0 x4 bus with the NVM Express 1.3 protocol. In other words, this is a modern and full-featured solution for NVMe-drives, which also has very good theoretical performance indicators and supports advanced error correction methods.

Initially, the SM2262EN controller was introduced back in August 2017, at the same time as the “simple” SM2262, however it was presented as its “advanced” version, deliveries of which were to begin later. Apparently, Silicon Motion was going to hold it until the 96-layer TLC 3D NAND appeared on the market, in order to then offer accelerated integrated solutions together with more dense flash memory. However, such a plan failed due to changing market trends: NAND chips began to rapidly fall in price, and memory manufacturers decided to delay the introduction of new technologies. As a result, Silicon Motion is tired of waiting and released the SM2262EN as an update for the SM2262 as part of a platform focused on 64-layer TLC 3D NAND.

At the same time, if you believe the formal specifications, the version of the platform with the SM2262EN controller still promises improved performance: up to 9% with sequential reading, up to 58% – with sequential writing, up to 14% – with random reading and up to 40% – with random writing. But if you believe in these numbers, then with great caution. The developers say directly – no alterations in the hardware structure of the SM2262EN suggest, it uses exactly the same architecture as the usual SM2262. All advantage is based on changes in the software: the platform with the new controller uses more sophisticated write and SLC caching algorithms. In other words, we are talking about some attempt to cut corners, and not about the fact that the engineers managed to make some kind of breakthrough in the mechanisms of work.

What this means in practice, we have already seen when we tested the ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro based on the SM2262EN controller. This drive turned out to be faster than its predecessor on the SM2262 chip only in benchmarks, but did not offer any noticeable improvements in real performance. However, with Transcend MTE220S, the story is somewhat different. This drive has no close relatives in the model range, and for Transcend it is a completely new model. Against the background of the fact that earlier this model had only the entry-level NVMe SSD in the model range, the MTE220S passport characteristics look quite impressive.

Manufacturer Transcend
Series MTE220S
Model number TS256GMTE220S TS512GMTE220S TS1TMTE220S
Form factor M.2 2280
Interface PCI Express 3.0 x4 – NVMe 1.3
Capacity, GB 256 512 1024
Configuration
Memory chips: type, interface, process technology, manufacturer Micron 64-layer 256-Gbps TLC 3D NAND
Controller SMI SM2262EN
Buffer: type, volume DDR3-1866,
256 MB
DDR3-1866,
512 MB
DDR3-1866,
1024 MB
Performance
Max. stable sequential read speed, MB / s 3500 3500 3500
Max. stable sequential write speed, MB / s 1100 2100 2800
Max. random read speed (4 KB blocks), IOPS 210,000 210,000 360,000
Max. random write speed (4 KB blocks), IOPS 290 000 310,000 425,000
physical characteristics
Power consumption: idle / read-write, W N / A
MTBF (mean time between failures), mln h 1.5
Record resource, TB 260 400 800
Overall dimensions: DhVhG, mm 80 × 22 × 3.5
Mass, g eight
Warranty period, years five

Interestingly, the announced performance of the Transcend MTE220S is slightly lower than the speeds that ADATA promised for its similar drive based on the SM2262EN controller. Apparently this is due to the fact that although MTE220S uses the same hardware and software platform, its design is different from the reference one. Transcend designed its own PCB for its drive, where, in order to reduce the cost, it refused to use the 32-bit DRAM-buffer interface in favor of a more economical, 16-bit connection. As a result, the limiting speeds of random reading and writing are reduced, and this is especially noticeable in the 512 GB version of the drive.

However, the Transcend MTE220S SLC caching works in the same way as other drives with the SM2262EN controller. The cache uses a dynamic scheme, when a part of the TLC-memory is transferred from the main array to the accelerated single-bit mode. The cache size is chosen in such a way that about half of the free flash memory works in the SLC mode. Thus, with a high speed on the MTE220S, you can record the amount of data, the size of which is about one sixth of the space available on the SSD, and then the speed will decrease significantly.

This can be illustrated by the following graph, which shows how the performance of continuous sequential writing on an empty Transcend MTE220S with a capacity of 512 GB varies.

In the accelerated mode, when recording occurs in the SLC mode, the 512-gigabyte version of the MTE220S provides performance of 1.9 GB / s. In TLC mode, the flash memory array is significantly slower, and after the free space in the SLC cache is exhausted, the speed drops to 460 MB / s. The third speed option is also visible on the chart – 275 MB / s. The sequential write performance drops to such a value when there is no free flash memory left, and in order to put any additional data into it, the controller first needs to transfer the cells involved under the SLC cache to normal TLC -mode. As a result, the average continuous recording speed on Transcend MTE220S 512 GB "from beginning to end" is about 410 MB / s, and it is necessary to spend at least 21 minutes to completely fill this drive with data. This is not a very optimistic indicator: for example, the same Samsung 970 EVO Plus can be completely scored to the eyeballs in just 10 minutes.

At the same time, the Transcend MTE220S SLC cache has the same unique feature that we found back in the ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro. Data from it is transferred to ordinary memory not immediately, but only when it is filled by more than three quarters. This allows you to achieve higher reading speeds when accessing files that have just been written. This feature makes little sense in real use of SSD, but it greatly helps the drive in synthetic benchmarks, which practice the “write-read” scenarios.

How it looks in practice can be estimated from the following graph of the random read speed when accessing a file either immediately after its creation, or when a certain amount of information was recorded on the SSD after this file.

Here, the moment when the controller moves the test file from the SLC cache to the main flash memory is very clearly seen, since the speed of small-block reading at this moment drops by about 10%. In the overwhelming majority of cases, users will have to deal with such a reduced speed, since there are no algorithms for the reverse movement of data from TLC memory to the SLC cache in the Transcend MTE220S firmware, and files can only be delayed in the SLC cache. if the drive during operation remains free by more than 90 percent.

In other words, in terms of working with the SLC-Cache Transcend MTE220S, it differs little from other drives based on the SM2262EN controller. But this does not mean that it is similar to the ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro in everything. The Transcend offer has a weighty dignity of a different order – the higher rewriting volumes permitted by the terms of the guarantee. Without losing it, the drive can be completely overwritten with data 800 times, and the version with a volume of 256 GB – more than 1000 times. Such indicators of the declared resource allow us to hope that the manufacturer buys flash memory of the highest quality for MTE220S, and this means that the actual reliability of the drive will be able to arrange even those users who still belong to TLC 3D NAND with great distrust.

⇡ # Appearance and internal device

For a detailed acquaintance, according to tradition, the Transcend MTE220S model with a volume of 512 GB was chosen. It didn’t present any surprises with its appearance; it is a regular drive in the M.2 2280 form factor, which works via the PCI Express 3.0 x4 bus and supports the NVM Express protocol version 1.3. However, the type of packaging and the delivery of MTE220S evoke stable associations with cheap consumer goods. The company even sold a budget bezbufer SSD MTE110S in a full-fledged box, and the novelty under consideration, which is positioned as a higher-level solution, turned out to be packaged in a blister, in which, apart from the actual M.2 drive, there is nothing at all. All this is very similar to the way in which microSD cards are delivered to the market, and, obviously, serves the purpose of reducing overhead costs. However, hardly anyone still chooses SSD packaging.

Does not differ in the expressive appearance and the SSD itself. Its design does not provide for any radiators, and the sticker does not have a layer of heat-conducting foil. On the whole, Transcend MTE220S looks more like an OEM product than an enthusiast solution. This impression is underlined by the textolite of the printed circuit board of the forgotten green color and a purely utilitarian label that has no design features and contains only service information.

The layout of the MTE220S board cannot be called typical – it seems that Transcend engineers have modified it for some of their own needs. At least, the previously reviewed ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro drive, despite using a similar hardware platform, looked very different. However, the new Transcend has retained the two-sided layout of the components, so the MTE220S may not be suitable for low-profile M.2 slots that are found in thin laptops.

An array of flash memory, located on the MTE220S 512 GB, is typed with four chips with its own Transcend label. It is known that inside each of these microcircuits there are four 256-gigabit crystals of the 64-layer Micron TLC 3D NAND memory of the second generation. Transcend buys such a memory from Micron as solid plates, but it takes the cutting, testing and packaging of silicon crystals into chips, which allows us to achieve additional production savings.

Attention should also be paid to the DDR4-1866 SDRAM microcircuit located next to the chip of the basic controller SM2262EN. It serves as a buffer for storing a copy of the address translation table, but what is important here is that in the drive in question there is only one such chip, made by Samsung, with a capacity of 512 MB. We specifically pay attention to this, since for other SSDs with the SM2262EN controller, the fast DRAM buffer usually consists of a pair of chips twice as small. As a result, in Transcend MTE220S, working with a DRAM buffer occurs via a 16-bit, rather than a 32-bit bus, which in theory can somewhat harm the performance of small-block operations. However, the influence of this factor should not be overestimated: the 32-bit bus for RAM is a unique feature of the SM2262 / SM2262EN platform, while other controllers for SSD use a DRAM buffer with a 16-bit bus and do not suffer from it.

⇡ # Software

To service its own production drives, Transcend releases SSD Scope, a special utility. Its capabilities are almost typical for software products of this class, but some of the usual features for some reason are not supported.

SSD Scope allows you to monitor the overall state of the drive and evaluate its health, referring to the S.M.A.R.T. telemetry. The utility has simple performance tests, as well as checking the firmware version and the ability to update it.

Also, the utility has a built-in tool for cloning the contents of disks, which allows you to quickly and painlessly transfer the operating system and installed applications to a newly purchased SSD. Plus, the SSD Scope is able to manage the transfer to the drive team TRIM.

For SATA drives, the SSD Scope may also offer to check the array of flash memory for errors or to perform the procedure of “reliable cleaning” of the Secure Erase flash memory. But with Transcend MTE220S, both of these functions for some reason do not work.

If you notice an error, select it with the mouse and press CTRL + ENTER.

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