Toshiba's RC100 has arrived as the company's first low-end retail NVMe SSD, and only their second retail NVMe SSD after the aging OCZ RD400. There's nothing else quite like the RC100 in the retail SSD market, but it is part of a broader trend of PCIe and NVMe interfaces being used for cheaper SSDs, and not just the high-end drives that all the first-generation NVMe products aspired to be. Prices on these entry-level NVMe SSDs are now encroaching on the SATA SSDs that still make up the bulk of the market.

BGA SSDs

The RC100 is descended from Toshiba's line of Ball Grid Array (BGA) SSDs for the OEM market. These drives stack the SSD controller and NAND flash memory dies in a single BGA package, making them suitable for small form factor systems that might otherwise use eMMC. Toshiba has also been mounting their BG series SSDs on M.2 2230 cards for OEMs that require upgradable storage devices. The Toshiba RC100 is based on the BG3 SSD, and the primary change in making a retail version is that the M.2 card has been lengthened to 42mm because relatively few existing systems support 30mm M.2 SSDs. This is still quite a bit shorter than the usual 80mm card length used by most consumer M.2 SSDs.

Toshiba's first NVMe BGA SSD was the BG1 introduced in 2015. It used 15nm planar MLC NAND and a 16x20mm package with a PCIe 2 x2 interface. The next generation BG2 was the first client drive to ship with Toshiba's 3D NAND flash memory, but it used their 48-layer design that was never competitive enough for a retail SSD. The BG3 was announced last year as part of Toshiba's transition to their 64-layer 3D NAND that is finally good enough to fully displace their planar NAND.

The small physical size of BGA SSDs limits both the width of their host interface (to two PCIe lanes instead of the four used by high-end NVMe SSDs) and the amount of memory they have. Toshiba's BG1 only offered 128GB and 256GB capacities, and the BG2 and BG3 only go up to 512GB. Toshiba's BG series and the RC100 also don't have a DRAM die in the stack, so these are DRAMless SSDs, and as we'll see can definitely behave like one. Meanwhile thermal throttling is usually not a concern for BGA SSDs because they don't offer the same performance as high-end NVMe SSDs, and consequently only use 2-3W under load instead of the 5-8W used by larger high-end M.2 SSDs.

To mitigate the performance limitations that result from not having a DRAM cache, Toshiba's BG2 introduced support for the NVMe Host Memory Buffer (HMB) feature, and that has been carried over to the BG3 and RC100. HMB is an optional feature that was added in version 1.2 of the NVMe specification, released in 2014. Though the feature was standardized years ago, adoption has been slow because there hasn't been much of a market for low-end NVMe SSDs in either the retail or OEM channels, and Microsoft's NVMe driver didn't implement HMB support until the Windows 10 Anniversary Update in 2016.

Toshiba RC100 Series Specifications Comparison
  120 GB 240 GB 480 GB
Form Factor single-sided M.2 2242 B+M key
Controller Toshiba unnamed
Interface NVMe 1.2.1 PCIe 3.1 x2
DRAM None (HMB supported)
NAND Toshiba 64L BiCS3 3D TLC
Sequential Read 1350 MB/s 1600 MB/s 1600 MB/s
Sequential Write 700 MB/s 1050 MB/s 1100 MB/s
4KB Random Read (QD32) 80k IOPS 130k IOPS 150k IOPS
4KB Random Write (QD32) 95k IOPS 110k IOPS 110k IOPS
Active Power 3.2 W
Idle Power (PCIe L1.2) 5 mW
Endurance 60 TBW
0.45 DWPD
120 TBW
0.45 DWPD
240 TBW
0.45 DWPD
Warranty 3 years
MSRP $59.99 (50¢/GB) $79.99 (33¢/GB) $154.99 (32¢/GB)

The Toshiba RC100 is available in capacities from 120GB to 480GB, essentially the same as the BG3 but with more spare area reserved to allow for slightly higher performance than the BG3. Sequential transfer speeds are rated to be several times faster than a SATA drive, while random access performance is only a bit higher than SATA drives—the flash itself is more of a bottleneck for random IO than the host interface, especially on a DRAMless SSD. The RC100 comes with a three year warranty and its write endurance rating is about 0.45 drive writes per day (DWPD) for that time span, so it's a bit behind the mainstream and high-end consumer drives that are usually rated for 0.3 DWPD over a five year span.

The active power rating of 3.2W is much lower than most of the NVMe SSDs we've tested, and is more in line with SATA SSDs. Idle power is rated at 5 mW, but this is only on platforms with properly working PCIe power management, which doesn't include most desktops. The lack of DRAM and the narrower PCIe link both help keep power consumption low, but the performance impact of those limitations may prevent the overall efficiency from breaking out of the general pattern of NVMe SSDs being less efficient than SATA SSDs.

Toshiba's current retail SSDs: RD400, RC100, TR200

The RC100 uses the single-sided 22x42mm M.2 card form factor with notches in both the B and M positions because it only uses two PCIe lanes instead of four. This means it's mechanically compatible with M.2 slots that may only provide SATA signals. On the card itself, we find a little bit of power regulation circuitry to provide 1.2V and 1.8V from the 3.3V supply, the BGA SSD itself in a 16x20mm package, and enough empty space for the card to reach the first mounting hole on most motherboards.

The Toshiba RC100 essentially has no direct competition in the retail SSD market: M.2 2242 PCIe SSDs have been almost impossible to find until now, and even M.2 SATA SSDs in this form factor are rare. But systems that require these  shorter M.2 cards instead of the more common 80mm length are also rare. The closest competitors to the RC100 are other recent low-end NVMe SSDs based on either the Phison E8 controller or Silicon Motion SM2263, or their respective DRAMless variants (E8T and SM2263XT) that also use the NVMe HMB feature. We've reviewed the MyDigitalSSD SBX with the Phison E8 controller and have several more reviews on the way for this product segment.

With this review, we are finally switching entirely to test results gathered on a system with Meltdown and Spectre patches, current as of May 2018. We have not yet re-tested every drive in our sample collection, so the comparison results in this review don't always show every relevant drive.

AnandTech 2018 Consumer SSD Testbed
CPU Intel Xeon E3 1240 v5
Motherboard ASRock Fatal1ty E3V5 Performance Gaming/OC
Chipset Intel C232
Memory 4x 8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws DDR4-2400 CL15
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 5450, 1920x1200@60Hz
Software Windows 10 x64, version 1709
Linux kernel version 4.14, fio version 3.6
Spectre/Meltdown microcode and OS patches current as of May 2018
Exploring The Host Memory Buffer Feature
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  • Samus - Thursday, June 14, 2018 - link

    I didn’t consider it either. The WD Black hit the sweet spot for me, picked the 512GB up on sale for $150... Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, June 14, 2018 - link

    "My issue with Anandtech was the sole posting of the 970 EVO review and no 970 PRO review now for over 7 weeks."

    On the hardware side of matters, Samsung sampled us the 970 EVO at launch. They did not sample us the 970 PRO at that time. So that greatly impacts what gets reviewed and when.
    Reply
  • XabanakFanatik - Thursday, June 14, 2018 - link

    I'm very confused at why Samsung would have sampled several other review sites with both drives (obvious by the reviews of both being posted together before launch) but have skipped on sampling Anandtech at the same time.

    Maybe it was a mistake? Maybe it was intentional? Maybe the 970 Pro would not have shined as well in the thorough testing you do here?

    In any case, I need to apologize. Sorry, Billy, for jumping you about it. Thanks for an answer.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, June 15, 2018 - link

    Samsung essentially does random sampling. We got the EVO at two capacities instead of an EVO and a PRO. Reply
  • melgross - Thursday, June 14, 2018 - link

    Well, maybe that answers your question. If those other sites are inferior, then why would you care that they came out with early reviews?

    The truth is that these drives will provide more than enough performance for most people, and that includes most people here, if they’re willing to admit it.
    Reply
  • CheapSushi - Thursday, June 14, 2018 - link

    Why are you so cranky? Seriously. Eat a snickers. Reply
  • gglaw - Wednesday, June 20, 2018 - link

    He had a completely legitimate request/concern. If historically AT and other big sites typically review the top 2 models of any given release at a time like previous generation EVO/EVO Pro, GTX 1070/1080, etc., and HE has an interest in the product even if he's part of the <5% who cares, a thorough review would still be very significant for a semi expensive purchase. Most of us have 0 intention of buying the vast, vast majority of the reviews we read - we just like to know how new products are performing. Just like Billy and many of us here, the Toshiba drive is interesting but very few of us have any intention of buying it.

    Flagship products may only interest a very small percentage of the general public, but a much higher percentage of techies who follow hardware sites and even engage in the forums and comments. Most of us hardware enthusiasts buy plenty of things with almost no practical value. Anything beyong the AT light SSD testing is completely irrelevant to most home users yet we still care about the destroyer and heavy tests. I have the 850, 850 pro, 960 evo, 960 pro, and the cheapest per GB drive ever released (The Micron 3D TLC 2TB drive that goes on sale for $270 range every other week and barely above $200 with the father's day ebay coupon). My LAN room has all these drives running almost side by side and sadly no one including myself can even tell which drive is in which gaming station. Yet, I have no issues with paying 400% more per GB on one drive vs another that I literally can't tell the difference in when using the computers. The meaningless but insane numbers I see on CrystalMark somehow gives me some satisfaction.

    Without Ryan clarifying the issue, most of us just assume products are sampled together based on how the reviews have come out in the past. Knowing this was different than their typical review pattern, maybe they should've just clarified it in the intro. Bashing them was unnecessary, but questioning why they would omit a major flagship release is completely valid. Flagship reviews are very interesting whether or not we buy them. They're indicative of many things that trickle down or where a company is in their technological advancement compared to others. Just because there is minimal real world difference between the 850/pro, 960/pro, how do we know they didn't tweak the 970 pro more? If Nvidia's flahship destroy's AMD's but their current midrange products are similar price/performance, there's a good chance the next midrange GTX card will be the midrange king (the 1060 comes out after 1080, the 1160 will come out after the 1180).
    Reply
  • ptrinh1979 - Thursday, June 14, 2018 - link

    I also find reviews like these to be refreshing. I prefer a variety of product reviews, not *just* the latest, greatest, and sometimes unattainable products. This review was very interesting to me because despite its flaws when the drive is full at lower capacities, its performance to price ratio makes it a contender for casual workloads. What was *really* useful for me was the price comparison chart at the end with the different capacities. I would use charts like that, and then cross reference the performance characteristics when I am recommending drive upgrades for clients who do not always have top dollars to spend, nor justify on an upgrade, yet not content to recommend typical upgrades, or corporate style upgrade recommendations. Reply
  • jabber - Saturday, June 16, 2018 - link

    I like the reviews of the cheaper but still 'decent' gear as it works for my customers who don't want screaming top end stuff but want something better then spinning rust. Decent budget SSD options are important. Reply
  • ChickaBoom4768 - Saturday, June 16, 2018 - link

    Totally agree with you. Such low priced technology has a real potential to disrupt the existing market instead of another $600 Intel/Samsung drive. In this case of course the drive is a sad disappointment but it was a good review. Reply

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