Phison's S10 SATA SSD controller has taken over a large chunk of the SSD market. It works with both MLC and TLC and is sold as part of an off-the-shelf SSD solution that allows companies to purchase complete drives with the controller, NAND (from Toshiba), and firmware, awaiting only branding. Many companies that formerly developed and manufactured their own drives based on controllers from the likes of SandForce have switched over to Phison's platform, saving lots on R&D but sacrificing almost all opportunities for product differentiation. The most recent entrants in the SSD market only came into being because Phison made it so accessible. Even Toshiba, with their large resources, has adopted the Phison S10 as the heart of their TC58 controller used in the Q300 and OCZ's Trion product line.

The latest member to join the Phison legion - and the subject of today's review - is PNY. PNY's latest refresh of their consumer SSDs has shifted their product lines entirely over to the latest iteration of Phison S10 platform. In focusing their lineup around the S10 platform, the company has introduced two new drives: the CS1311 and the CS2211. The CS1311 is the entry-level model of their refreshed lineup and uses Toshiba's 15nm TLC NAND. Meanwhile the CS2211 is the performance-oriented model with their XLR8 (accelerate...) branding, and uses Toshiba's 15nm MLC.

PNY CS1311 Specifications
Capacity 120GB 240GB 480GB
Controller Phison PS3110-S10C-12 Phison PS3110-S10-X
NAND Toshiba 15nm TLC
Sequential Read 550MB/s 550MB/s 550MB/s
Sequential Write 510MB/s 520MB/s 520MB/s
4KB Random Read 86K IOPS 87K IOPS 90K IOPS
4KB Random Write 90K IOPS 90K IOPS 90K IOPS
Idle Power 170mW
Active Power 2.2W
Warranty Three years
Price (Amazon) $39.99 $59.99 $109.99

PNY CS2211 XLR8 Specifications
Capacity 240GB 480GB
Controller Phison PS3110-S10C-12 Phison PS3110-S10-X
NAND Toshiba 15nm MLC
Sequential Read 560MB/s 565MB/s
Sequential Write 470MB/s 540MB/s
4KB Random Read 87K IOPS 95K IOPS
4KB Random Write 95K IOPS 95K IOPS
Idle Power 200mW
Active Power 3.3W
Warranty Four years
Price (Amazon) $84.96 $134.96

As the latest S10 based drives to hit the market, the specifications and expected performance of the CS1311 and CS2211 should not surprise anyone. With very limited room to differentiate through firmware, the two drives should perform very similar to the drives we've looked at in the past.

But unlike other vendors' lineups, PNY's S10-based lineup gives us the interesting opportunity to make a direct comparison between MLC and TLC on the Phison S10 platform. With the same PCBs and the same controller, the CS1311 and CS2211 differ only in the choice of flash and the firmware. This is perhaps our best chance to compare MLC and TLC to date; In the past we've been able to compare Samsung's flash with close relatives like the 850 Pro vs the 850 EVO, but never with two drives quite so similar as the PNY S10 drives. The end result is that although this won't quite be an apples-to-apples comparison since we can't rule out the impact of firmware - the performance and endurance characteristics of TLC means that it's not treated exactly like MLC - but we are nonetheless getting a unique look at NAND performance on identical platforms.

Taking a look at our individual drives then, it is interesting to note that the standard Phison S10 drive has undergone significant physical changes since our first encounter with it via the Corsair Neutron XT. The case still consists of two metal parts that snap together, but they now interlock more at the edges instead of the top piece encircling all four sides. Inside we find PCBs with a familiar layout save for two major changes. As with the transition from OCZ's Trion 100 to the Trion 150, we find that the 15nm NAND is in TSOP packages where the earlier drives with A19nm NAND used BGA packages for the flash.

The bigger change is that the 120GB and 240GB drives are using a smaller variant of the S10 controller. The full-size controller we're familiar with is the PS3110-S10-X, and the newcomer is the PS3110-S10C-12. The S10C has only four NAND channels instead of eight, and the PCB for that variant only has space for one DRAM chip rather than one on each side as found with S10-X. This narrowing of interfaces has the potential to introduce bottlenecks, but this is only being done for the two smallest capacities that would have trouble fully exploiting the parallelism available from the larger controller.

The last hardware change of note is that the controller and DRAM chips on the CS2211 sealed around the edges with a soft potting compound. I'm told this will be rolling out to other S10 products.

Both model lines are priced attractively. Of current-generation drives, the CS1311 competes against the likes of ADATA's SP550 and OCZ's Trion 150, plus lingering supply of older drives with 19+nm TLC NAND. The CS2211 competes against drives like Crucial's MX200, Samsung's 850 EVO, and the various MLC drives with Silicon Motion's SM2246EN controller (eg. Mushkin Reactor, Crucial BX100).

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 2501)
Chipset Intel Z97
Memory Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1866 2x8GB (9-10-9-27 2T)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4600
Desktop Resolution 1920 x 1200
OS Windows 8.1 x64
Performance Consistency
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  • hansmuff - Friday, April 15, 2016 - link

    They make excellent game drives. With games coming in at 50GB at times, a 480 or 960GB TLC drive with so-so speeds is perfectly acceptable. Reply
  • bug77 - Friday, April 15, 2016 - link

    I would love to see the SSD price fall fir any reason but planar TLC :(
    The performance of planar TLC is not that big of an issue, but the reduced lifetime is.
    Reply
  • LostWander - Friday, April 15, 2016 - link

    Is the reduced lifetime really that extreme? As far as I've seen it's still far better than anything you would get out of a conventional HDD. Adding in better general performance and it seems like less intensive applications (like a game or media storage drive) would still be perfectly acceptable for TLC Reply
  • bug77 - Friday, April 15, 2016 - link

    You get 3 years warranty at most (two years less than MLC/V-NAND TLC) and something like 1000 p/e cycles. Good enough for many things (music, videos), but not if you're writing a lot (e.g. a system drive or a game drive).
    And while TLC itself is not so bad (it's hardly worth it imho, because it's not much cheaper), if the trend continues we'll have some pretty crappy drives in our hands soon.
    Reply
  • futrtrubl - Saturday, April 16, 2016 - link

    How is that not good enough? That's 3 years if you rewrite the ENTIRE drive EVERY DAY.
    Let's pick a long 9 year planned lifetime for a drive as you would probably want to upgrade by then for non-failure reasons. That means you could write 1/3 of the drive's capacity every day for those nine days. For a 256GB drive (somewhat on the small end now) that's 85GB every day. Or installing 2-3 AAA games every day!
    Reply
  • bug77 - Sunday, April 17, 2016 - link

    Well, on a modern OS you no longer control the amount of data being written. Automatic updates, indexing, metadata, restore points... the OS will write those whenever it wants to.
    If planar TLC was half the cost of MLC or V-NAND TLC, I may consider it. But since it's within 10-20%, I'd rather get the better drive.
    Reply
  • doggface - Tuesday, April 19, 2016 - link

    The average laptop user writes 10-20gb a day. Even if you were double average you would still be safe as houses. Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Thursday, April 21, 2016 - link

    I have a modern OS on my laptop and have quite a bit of control over what does or doesn't get written to storage. For instance, there are no restore points, indexing is mine to manage as I see fit. I can pick when and what I want to update, and I haven't allocated a partition to swap (thank you Linux). You just have to exercise a bit of selectivity about which modern OS you decide to install. Reply
  • rarson - Monday, April 18, 2016 - link

    In my experience, the average mechanical hard drive has a life of about 2 years. I see many of them fail before then, and most of the drives these that last over 5 years are already 8+ years old.

    I recently bought one of Seagate's 8TB archival drives and it started making some clicking noises right out of the box. It hasn't given me any problems yet, but it is a bit disconcerting to hear a click every couple minutes. Hard drives just don't last very long anymore, while my SSDs have been rock solid with everyday use. I would not install my operating system on a mechanical drive ever again. No reason to do so.
    Reply
  • fire400 - Monday, May 23, 2016 - link

    i put windows XP on this 1311, and it's the fastest I've ever seen XP do anything, startup, tasks, and installing software and launching programs, faster than high end workstation systems on HDD's, since it's debut in 2001... lol
    and yes, the XP OS is extremely stable because the 1311 takes care of garbage collection in the background.
    burn tested it for several hours and days on end, it's perfect...
    Reply

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