At Computex ADATA had a variety of new SSDs on display. While most were based on upcoming technologies such as TLC NAND and the PCIe/NVMe interface, the company also displayed an XPG SX930, which is an update to ADATA's high-end XPG lineup. The series was in need of a refresh because the SX900 dates back to 2012, so with the SX930 ADATA is hoping to breath new life into its enthusiast SSDs.

ADATA markets the SX930 as a gaming SSD with a five-year warranty and in order to attract more gamers the company had to reconsider its branding and design. The hummingbird logo was considered not to be very "street-proof" among gamers who are often looking for something a little flashier, hence the old logo is now gone and replaced by a new flame design. Personally I think flames are quite a cliché in gamer marketing, but I guess a portion of the gaming crowd may appreciate a design that's more than just a metal chassis. Whether the look of an SSD inside a case matters is a whole new question, but I'll let everyone use their own justification on that. 

On the hardware side the SX930 uses JMicron's brand new JMF670H controller. JMicron has never really been known for high performance SSD controllers and while the JMF670H isn't aimed to take a jab at Samsung and Marvell based drives, JMicron believes it is competitive against Silicon Motion's SM2246EN and Phison's S10 controllers. 

At the silicon level the JMF670H is very similar to its predecessor. JMicron employs a single 32-bit ARM968 core, which is the smallest and lowest power member of ARM's ARM9 family and is mostly aimed for embedded applications such as SSD, USB and networking controllers. JMicron prefers not to disclose the frequency, but told us that the frequency is the same in both JMF667H and JMF670H.

Only the ECC circuitry sees an enhancement to support BCH ECC of 72 bits per 1KB (i.e. can correct up to 72 bits in 1KB of data), whereas the JMF667H was only capable of correcting up to 40 bits. Improving ECC is necessary for supporting the latest 15nm and 16nm NAND nodes because as NAND scales down the error rate increases as cells become more vulnerable to cell-to-cell interference and electron leakage. JMicron doesn't have any RAID5-like parity scheme in the JMF670H, so the BCH ECC engine is solely responsible for error correction.

While Silicon Motion and Phison both support TLC in their latest controllers, JMicron won't be supporting TLC until next year when the JMF680H ships. That's certainly a disadvantage compared to the competition, but I'm no longer that bullish on TLC after Samsung's issues and the marginal price cuts that OEMs are promising. I'm now looking forward to 3D TLC because it will enable planar MLC-like performance and endurance, along with hopefully larger price cuts because the market in general will shift more towards TLC, meaning higher production and scale benefits. At this time, we wait for JMicron's solution in this space.

ADATA XPG SX930 Specifications
Capacity 120GB 240GB 480GB
Controller JMicron JMF670H
NAND Micron 16nm 128Gbit MLC
Sequential Read 550MB/s 550MB/s 540MB/s
Sequential Write 460MB/s 460MB/s 420MB/s
4KB Random Read 70K IOPS 75K IOPS 75K IOPS
4KB Random Write 45K IOPS 70K IOPS 72K IOPS
Slumber Power 140mW 140mW 140mW
Read Power 1.38W 1.39W 1.48W
Write Power 1.90W 3.05W 4.38W
Encryption N/A
Warranty Five years
MSRP $80 $110 $200

The retail package includes all the typical ADATA accessories: 3.5" adapter, 9.5mm spacer and eight mounting screws (four for the drive and another four for the desktop adapter). All buyers can download a Disk Migration Utility from ADATA's website, which was co-developed with Acronis that supplies migration software to nearly all SSD vendors. 

The SX930's maximum capacity is 480GB because of the JMF670H's limitations. With the DRAM controller in the JMF670H only supporting 512MB of DDR3, the NAND capacity maxes out at 512GB because modern NAND mapping table designs typically require about 1MB of DRAM per every 1GB of NAND. The next generation JMF680H will overhaul the DRAM controller and support up to 2GB of DRAM, enabling capacities as high as 2TB. While 1TB-class SSDs are certainly still a small niche, it comes across a little confusing that ADATA's high-end SX930 does not have a 1TB model, but the more value-oriented Premier SP610 and Premier Pro SP920 (with 3-year warranties) carry 1TB SKUs. For an end-user this is mostly negligible, but I'm not convinced this is the best product positioning strategy.

ADATA refers to the NAND in the SX930 as "Enterprise MLC+". It's certainly not eMLC, but merely higher binned normal MLC to support the five-year warranty ADATA is offering (compared to the standard 3-year). As ADATA does NAND binning and packaging in-house, it has the ability to sort dies and save the highest quality ones for SX930 and enterprise SSDs, while the lower quality dies end up in other client SSDs, USB sticks and SD cards depending on the quality level. ADATA doesn't give separate endurance rating for the SX930, but I was told the NAND endurance is at least 3,000 P/E cycles, which should give a rough idea of the expected lifetime.

Capacity 120GB 240GB 480GB
SLC Cache Size 4GB 8GB 16GB
 

While the hardware side of the new JMF670H doesn't differ much from the old JMF667H controller, the firmware has been upgraded. The JMF670H firmware carries a feature called Write Booster, which is JMicron's SLC cache implementation. Even though the JMF670H doesn't support TLC NAND, JMicron believes that an SLC cache can still improve performance for MLC, especially when combined with 15nm or 16nm NAND with higher program/erase latencies. Write Booster caches all IOs regardless of their size, and JMicron does some write optimizations when moving data from the SLC cache to MLC cache to reduce write amplification for higher endurance.

Write Booster works with both normal NAND and pseudo-SLC NAND. As many of you may know, it's possible to program just one bit per cell to MLC NAND by only using the lower page (i.e. larger voltage distribution), but NAND vendors also have special pseudo-SLC dies. Unfortunately, all vendors are relatively quiet about what exactly happens inside a pseudo-SLC die, but JMicron told us that there is an improvement in read performance when using proper pseudo-SLC instead of simply writing to lower pages. In the case of SX930, ADATA is using real pseudo-SLC NAND from Micron, which does carry a price premium over normal NAND, but given the higher-end focus of the SX930 that makes sense.

AnandTech 2015 SSD Test System
CPU Intel Core i7-4770K running at 3.5GHz (Turbo & EIST enabled, C-states disabled)
Motherboard ASUS Z97 Deluxe (BIOS 2205)
Chipset Intel Z97
Chipset Drivers Intel 10.0.24+ Intel RST 13.2.4.1000
Memory Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1866 2x8GB (9-10-9-27 2T)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4600
Graphics Drivers 15.33.8.64.3345
Desktop Resolution 1920 x 1080
OS Windows 8.1 x64
Performance Consistency
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  • Impulses - Thursday, July 16, 2015 - link

    The 500GB EVO has actually been $164 at Amazon for like a week, making it the cheapest one on the chart lol... Not sure why they list it at $178.

    The 1TB just went back down to $340 too... I want two in the long run, trying to decide whether to grab just one now and wait for better BF pricing or just grab both now.
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, July 16, 2015 - link

    Yes, it's called the BX100. ARC100 is pretty decent, too. Reply
  • zodiacfml - Friday, July 17, 2015 - link

    Nothing till other manufacturers release their 3D NAND versions. Don't forget about pricing too. ADATA couldn't compete because they don't design controllers or manufacture chips. They buy parts and assemble them, making it costly. Reply
  • Samus - Saturday, July 18, 2015 - link

    Considering the MX100 is cheaper and more reliable with about the same performance, I think I just answered your question.

    Samsung TLC drives can not be trusted, specifically the 840 EVO and 850 EVO.
    Reply
  • Flunk - Thursday, July 16, 2015 - link

    When it comes to budget drives right now, if it's not cheaper than a Samsung 850 EVO I'm not even going to look twice. The EVO is much faster in most reasonable workloads than any of the other discount drives so I can't see paying more for less. Reply
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, July 16, 2015 - link

    I don't see the EVO being "much faster" than a BX100 or ARC100. I'd rather say they're about on par. Reply
  • Uplink10 - Thursday, July 16, 2015 - link

    "initial firmware mostly focused on optimizing performance for benchmarks such as CrystalDiskMark and AS-SSD, which typically use higher IO sizes and queue depths"

    I do not believe what am I reading. They are optimizing firmware so it will look good on charts but are not optimizing the firmware for all uses that the users will perform.

    Components for a PC are used in a lot of ways and optimizing the component for just a few uses that are similar as known benchmark software is wrong. The way I see it they are trying to sell the drive by optimizing the performance that will look good in known benchmark software. That is wrong!!!
    Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, July 16, 2015 - link

    It certainly is sad and unfortunately that is more or less the state of the whole component industry (smartphones having "Turbo" modes to exceed the TDP for improved benchmark scores). It's surprising how some SSD companies have very little understanding of real world client workloads and all they see is the few benchmark scores, which frankly are not even relevant to end-users.

    We are trying to fight the fight and convince manufacturers to focus on areas that matter. Getting JMicron to develop a new firmware just based on our feedback (they honestly had no idea why we are even testing low queue depth performance before I explained it to them) is a sign that companies value our input and expertise, which I think is ultimately a win-win for everyone.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, July 16, 2015 - link

    And we users thank ya for it. AT has been instrumental in providing valuable feedback to SSD manufacturers since the early days, regardless of who was doing the writing.

    Maybe it's time for Kristian's own "SSD Anthology"... :p Seems people keep asking everywhere whether M2/PCI-E or NVMe drives are worth it for them, I know the stock answer is "if you gotta ask..." but still.

    Maybe a one time revisit of some real world testing? HDD vs SATA SSD vs etc one last time to reassess how far the gaps have grown and whatnot.
    Reply
  • ggathagan - Thursday, July 16, 2015 - link

    " (they honestly had no idea why we are even testing low queue depth performance before I explained it to them)"
    That's a scary confession. Makes you wonder if they should find another area of endeavor and leave this market to those who *do* understand.
    Reply

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