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SK Hynix PE3110 Enterprise M.2 SSD Review: 3D NAND V2 Makes An Entrance

SK Hynix PE3110 Enterprise M.2 SSD Review: 3D NAND V2 Makes An Entrance
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The SK Hynix PE3110 is the first M.2 NVMe SSD to hit our labs and it wields the company's 36-layer 3D NAND V2. Come along as we take an exclusive look at the first SK Hynix 3D NAND on the market.

The SK Hynix PE3110 comes packing the company's new 3D NAND V2, which is the debut of the first non-Samsung 3D NAND to hit the market—and it is also the first datacenter-class M.2 NVMe SSD to hit our lab.

Density and performance are among the most prized attributes of any storage device because they boost profitability and performance by lowering cost and increasing overall system performance. SSDs already provide the best mixture of these key attributes, but the trifecta of 3D NAND, the M.2 form factor and the NVMe protocol widens the chasm between SSDs and competing storage devices.

The new SK Hynix 3D NAND V2 stacks bits vertically in 36 layers to increase performance, density, endurance and cost efficiency while simultaneously reducing power consumption. The "V2" denotes that this is the second generation of SK Hynix 3D NAND, but the first-generation 24-layer 3D NAND merely served as a prototype that was not intended for mass production.

SK Hynix is ramping its 3D NAND production aggressively and recently announced a rolling investment of $38.9 billion in new NAND and DRAM fabs to satisfy future demand. The MLC 3D NAND V2 is in mass production and shipping now, and 3D TLC NAND follows in 2H 2016. 

The company employs a charge trap architecture, much like Samsung's V-NAND and the pending Toshiba/SanDisk 3D BiCS NAND, which stands in contrast to the floating gate transistors employed by the Intel/Micron partnership. SK Hynix manufactures 3D NAND V2 on 300mm wafers, and it features a density of 128Gbit per die, which will increase with TLC variants. SK Hynix is stacking 16 die per package in its PE3110 to provide the utmost density, which meshes well with its diminutive M.2 form factor.

SK Hynix is keeping many of the architectural details of its new 3D NAND V2 close to the chest, as many of the fabs do, so we have very little technical data to work with. The die dimensions remain shrouded in secrecy, which limits our ability to analyze various aspects, such as bit density and array efficiency. We also do not know if the NAND is dual or quad plane, or if it places the CMOS fully, or partially, under the die.

It is rumored that SK Hynix is employing a "U" shaped architecture, similar to Toshiba/SanDisk's pending 3D BiCS NAND, but we do not have any associated information, or even a basic architectural rendering, to confirm the theory.

However, we have the next best thing to detailed information: an actual product to test—the SK Hynix PE3110 M.2 SSD.

SK Hynix PE3110

The M.2 form factor is finally appearing in datacenter-friendly forms. For a deeper explanation of the technology and terminology head over to our Data Center M.2 SSD 101 article.

Almost every SSD vendor has an Add-In Card (AIC) or U.2 NVMe SSD, but SK Hynix has the notable advantage of being the first to market with a double-sided NVMe M.2 22110 form factor with datacenter-class features. Micron and Seagate have announced competing products, but they have yet to surface. SK Hynix is bringing a 2.5" U.2 model to market in 2H 2016 and is evaluating an AIC model for production in 2017.

SK Hynix and Samsung enjoy the advantages of being the only two vertically integrated SSD manufacturers shipping products that employ their own NAND, DRAM and SSD controllers. This provides the vendors with a faster time to market, design flexibility and lower production costs than competitors.

SK Hynix utilizes its proprietary 8-channel Pegasus PCIe 3.0 x4 controller to provide up to 160,000/30,000 random read/write IOPS. The roomy PCIe interface provides up to 1,700/750 MB/s of sequential read/write throughput, which easily surpasses SATA SSDs. The PE3110 is only available at the 960GB capacity point. 

The PE3110 is geared to provide a solid QoS profile and excellent power efficiency metrics in tandem with its impressive performance specifications, much like its SATA 6GB/s SE3010 counterpart we recently tested. The NVMe 1.2 interface provides a more efficient protocol with superior scaling capability in comparison to SATA products—particularly under the light loads found in most application environments.

The SSD provides 1.3 DWPD (Drive Writes Per Day) of endurance, which is suitable for the target audiences in hyperscale and OEM applications and comparable to many SATA products, but is far less than the competing AIC and 2.5" NVMe SSDs we routinely evaluate. The PE3110 also consumes a mere 8 watts under load, which is drastically less than the competing AIC solutions that often require a minimum of 25W.

The combination of the M.2 form factor and the NVMe interface is incredibly attractive to the high-growth hyperscale datacenters because they are more likely to employ custom ultra-dense architectures, such as the 200TB SK Hynix developmental platform we cover on the following page. 

M.2 SSDs offer a similar cost and power envelope to competing SATA SSDs, while providing much more performance and density. NVMe also reduces the command set, which provides a wonderful canvas to paint a high-performance masterpiece. Let's see how the SK Hynix PE3110 and its 3D NAND V2 stack up to the SATA competition.

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