economic does not mean bad

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It just happens that those solid-state drive manufacturers who haven't yet developed their own controller development teams, but don't want to lose sight of the SSD market for enthusiasts, don't have a particular choice today. An option suitable for them, which allows you to organize the assembly of truly productive NVMe units, is offered only by one company: Silicon Motion, which is ready to provide complete solutions from its controller and firmware ready for everyone. Other companies, such as Phison or Realtek, also have basic chips widely available for NVMe unit assembly, but Silicon Motion has taken the lead in this sector, 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 cannot be of any model. This company produces a wide range of chips with a fundamentally different level of performance, but performance, decent SSDs for advanced or maximum configurations, capable of providing only selected platforms. In particular, last year we talked very warmly about the SM2262 controller: according to 2018 standards, it seemed really very interesting, allowing the units based on it to play on an equal footing with the best NVMe SSD producers of first level, including Samsung, Western Digital and Intel.

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

Until recently, the new SM2262EN controller was not used by many manufacturers in its products. In fact, the choice was reduced to two options: ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro and HP EX950. But now a third unit based on this chip has arrived – Transcend has dominated its production. With this new product, called Transcend MTE220S, we will make this review known.

Introduction to this knowledge. HP EX950 is not supplied in Russia, but ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro In our recent tests, I didn't show any special trump, suggesting unit-level performance to the past SM2262 controller. This means that, despite the appearance of the new version of the Silicon Image controller, there are no NVMe SSDs able to compete with the latest Samsung 970 EVO Plus , we have not yet seen. If Transcend MTE220S will be more interesting than the ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro, we'll find out in this review. But it should be underlined immediately that, even if this SSD does not flash with the speed parameters, it can still be quite interesting. After all, Transcend will sell it at an incredibly low price – at least low for a full drive with PCI Express 3.0 x4 interface, DRAM buffer and three-dimensional TLC memory.

Specifiche # Specifications

In detail on what the SM2262EN controller is, we have already said when we are familiar 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 the Flash memory management, has a DDR3 / DDR4 interface for buffering and supports the PCI Express 3.0 x4 bus with the NVM Express 1.3 protocol. In other words, this is a modern and complete solution for NVMe-drives, which also has excellent theoretical performance indicators and supports advanced error correction methods.

Initially, the SM2262EN controller was introduced in August 2017, simultaneously with the "simple" SM2262, however it was presented as its "advanced" version, whose deliveries had to start later. Apparently, Silicon Motion would hold until the 96-layer TLC 3D NAND appeared on the market to offer accelerated integrated solutions along with denser flash memory. However, such a plan failed due to changing market trends: NAND chips began to fall rapidly in price and memory manufacturers decided to delay the introduction of new technologies. As a result, Silicon Motion is tired of waiting and has released SM2262EN as an update for the SM2262 as part of a platform focused on 64-layer 3D NAND TLC.

At the same time, if it is believed that 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 very cautiously. The developers say directly – they do not suggest alterations in the hardware structure of SM2262EN, it uses exactly the same architecture as the usual SM2262. All the advantages are based on the changes made to the software: the platform with the new controller uses more sophisticated cache and SLC algorithms. In other words, we are talking about an attempt to cut curves, and not the fact that engineers have managed to make a kind of breakthrough in the mechanics of work.

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

manufacturer transcend
A series of 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 chip: type, interface, process technology, manufacturer NAND TLC 3D 256-Gbps to 64-micron microns
ticket inspector SMI SM2262EN
Buffer: type, volume DDR3-1866,
256 MB
DDR3-1866,
512 MB
DDR3-1866,
1024 MB
productivity
Max. Stable sequential reading speed, MB / s 3500 3500 3500
Max. Stable sequential write speed, MB / s 1100 2100 2800
Max. Random read speed (4 KB blocks), IOPS 210000 210000 360000
Max. Random write speed (4 KB blocks), IOPS 290 000 310000 425000
Physical characteristics
Energy consumption: inactive / read-write, W N / A
MTBF (average time between failures), mln h 1.5
Resource record, TB 260 400 800
Overall dimensions: DhVhG, mm 80 × 22 × 3.5
Mass, g 8
Warranty period, years 5

Interestingly, the announced performance of the Transcend MTE220S is slightly lower than the speeds that the 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 costs, it refused to use the 32-bit DRAM buffer interface in favor of a more economical 16-bit connection. As a result, the limiting rates of random reading and writing are reduced and this is particularly evident in the 512 GB version of the converter.

However, the SLC Transcend MTE220S caching works the same way as the other units 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 single-bit accelerated mode. The size of the cache is chosen so that about half of the flash memory frees up functions in SLC mode. Therefore, with a high speed on MTE220S, it is possible to record the amount of data, the size of which is about one sixth of the available space on the SSD, so the speed will decrease significantly.

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

In accelerated mode, when recording is in SLC mode, the 512 gigabyte version of MTE220S offers 1.9 GB / s performance. In TLC mode, the flash memory array is noticeably slower and, after the space available in the SLC cache is exhausted, the speed drops to 460 MB / s. The third speed option is also visible on the graph: 275 MB / s. The sequential write performance is reduced to this value when no free flash memory is available, and to insert any additional data into it, the controller must first transfer the cells involved in the SLC cache into normal-MODE TLC. As a result, the average continuous recording speed on Transcend MTE220S 512 GB "from the beginning to the end" is about 410 MB / s and it takes at least 21 minutes to completely fill this unit of data. This is not a very optimistic indicator: for example, the same Samsung 970 EVO Plus can be completely marked for eyeballs in just 10 minutes.

At the same time, the Transcend MTE220S SLC cache has the same unique functionality that we found 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 for higher read speeds when accessing newly written files. This feature makes little sense in the actual use of SSD, but it greatly helps the drive in synthetic benchmarks, which practice "read-write" scenarios.

Its practical aspect can be estimated from the following graph of random read speed when accessing a file immediately after its creation or when a certain amount of information has been 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 seen very clearly, since the speed of reading small blocks at this time decreases by about 10%. In the vast majority of cases, users will have to contend with such reduced speed, since there are no algorithms for the reverse movement of data from the TLC memory to the SLC cache in the Transcend MTE220S firmware, and files can only be delayed in the SLC cache. if the drive remains free of more than 90 percent during operation.

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

⇡ # Appearance and internal device

For a detailed knowledge, according to tradition, the Transcend MTE220S model with a volume of 512 GB was chosen. It presented no surprises with its appearance: it is a normal M.2 2280 form factor unit, which works via the PCI Express 3.0 x4 bus and supports version 1.3 of the NVM Express protocol. However, the type of packaging and delivery of MTE220S evokes stable associations with low-cost consumer goods. The company also sold a bezbufer SSD MTE110S in a box to all intents and purposes, and the novelty under consideration, which is positioned as a superior solution, turned out to be packaged in a blister, in which, apart from the current M.2 memory card, there is nothing. This is very similar to the way microSD cards are delivered to the market and, obviously, serves the purpose of reducing overhead costs. However, almost no one still chooses the SSD packaging.

It does not differ in the expressive aspect and in the SSD itself. Its design does not include any radiator and the adhesive does not have a layer of heat conductive foil. Overall, Transcend MTE220S looks more like an OEM product than an enthusiastic solution. This impression is underlined by the textolite of the forgotten green printed circuit board and a purely utilitarian label that has no design features and contains only service information.

The layout of the MTE220S board cannot be defined as typical: it seems that the Transcend engineers have modified it for some of its needs. At least, the previously revised ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro unit, despite using a similar hardware platform, looked very different. However, the new Transcend has maintained the two-sided layout of the components, so the MTE220S may not be suitable for the low-profile M.2 slots found in thin laptops.

A series of flash memories, located on MTE220S 512 GB, is typed with four chips with its own Transcend label. It is known that within each of these microcircuits there are four 256 gigabit crystals of the second generation 64-bit NLC TLC NAND memory. Transcend acquires this memory from Micron as solid plates, but requires cutting, testing and packaging of silicon crystals in chips, which allows us to obtain further production savings.

Attention should also be paid to the DDR4-1866 SDRAM microcircuit located next to the SM2262EN base controller chip. It serves as a buffer for storing a copy of the address conversion table, but what's important here is that in the drive in question is a single chip, manufactured by Samsung, with a capacity of 512 MB. We pay special attention to this, because for other SSDs with the SM2262EN controller, the fast DRAM buffer usually consists of a pair of chips twice smaller. Consequently, in Transcend MTE220S, operation with a DRAM buffer occurs via a 16-bit bus, rather than a 32-bit bus, which in theory can somehow damage 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 SSD controllers use a DRAM buffer with a 16-bit bus and not they are affected.

⇡ # Software

To serve its own production units, Transcend releases SSD Scope, a special utility. Its capabilities are almost typical of 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 status of the unit and evaluate its status, referring to the S.M.A.R.T. The utility has simple performance tests, as well as checking the firmware version and the ability to update it.

Furthermore, the utility has an integrated tool for cloning the contents of the disks, which allows the operating system and applications installed on a newly purchased SSD to be transferred quickly and painlessly. Furthermore, SSD Scope is able to manage the transfer to the TRIM of the driving team.

For SATA drives, SSD Scope can also offer the ability to check the flash memory array for errors or perform the "reliable cleaning" procedure of Secure Erase flash memory. But with Transcend MTE220S, both of these features don't work for some reason.

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

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