Toshiba's RC100 has arrived as the first low-end enterprise NVMe SSD SSD, and only their second retail NVMe SSD after the aging OCZ RD400. There is nothing else like RC100 in the retail SSD market, but this is part of a wider trend of PCIe and NVMe interfaces that are used for cheaper SSDs, and not just upscale hard drives that all the first generation NVMe products aspire to . be. The price on this entry-level NVMe SSD is now breaking the SATA SSD which is still the biggest part of the market.
RC100 is derived from the line of Toshiba Ball Grid Array (BGA) SSDs for the OEM market. These drives piled SSD controllers and NAND flash memory off in one BGA package, making it suitable for small form factor systems that might use eMMC. Toshiba has also installed their BG SSD series on the M.2 2230 card for OEMs that require upgraded storage devices. Toshiba RC100 is based on SSD BG3, and a major change in the manufacture of the retail version is that the M.2 card has been extended to 42mm because relatively few existing systems support the M.2 30mm SSD. This is still quite a bit shorter than the 80mm card length commonly used by most SSD M.2.
The first BGA NVMe SSDs from Toshiba are BG1 introduced in 2015. It uses a 15nm NAND MLC planar and 16x20mm package with PCIe 2 x2 interface. The next generation BG2 is the first client drive shipped with Toshiba NAND 3D flash memory, but uses a 48-ply design that is never competitive enough for retail SSDs. BG3 was announced last year as part of Toshiba's transition to their NAND 64-layer 3D which is finally good enough to completely replace their NAND planar.
The small physical size of the BGA SSD limits the width of the host interface (to the two PCIe lanes instead of the four used by high-end NVMe SSDs) and the amount of memory they have. Toshiba BG1 offers only 128GB and 256GB capacities, and BG2 and BG3 only go up to 512GB. The BG Toshiba and RC100 series also do not have DRAM die in the stack, so this is a DRAMless SSD, and as we will see it can definitely behave that way. Meanwhile thermal throttling is usually not a concern for BGA SSDs because they do not offer the same performance as high-end NVMe SSDs, and consequently only use 2-3W under loads rather than the 5-8W used by the larger high-end M. . 2 SSD.
To reduce the performance limitations resulting from not having DRAM cache, Toshiba BG2 introduced support for NVMe Host Memory Buffer (HMB) features, and those that have been brought to BG3 and RC100. HMB is an optional feature that was added in version 1.2 of the NVMe specification, released in 2014. Although this feature is standardized many years ago, adoption is running slowly because there has not been much of a market for low-end NVMe SSDs in retail or OEM channels, and drivers NVMe Microsoft does not implement HMB support until Windows 10 Anniversary Update 2016.
Toshiba RC100 is available in capacities from 120GB up to 480GB, essentially the same as BG3 but with more reserve area provided to allow slightly higher performance than BG3. Sequential transfer rates are rated to be several times faster than SATA drives, while random access performance is only slightly higher than the SATA-flash drive itself is more an obstacle to random IO from the host interface, especially on DRAMless SSDs. The RC100 comes with a three-year warranty and write-down power of about 0.45 drives per day (DWPD) for that time span, so it's slightly behind the mainstream and top-class consumer drives that typically are rated 0.3 DWPD over a five-year span.
The active power rating of 3.2 W is much lower than most of the NVMe SSDs we have tested, and more in line with SATA SSDs. The idle power is rated at 5 mW, but this is only on a well-functioning PCIe power management platform, which does not cover most desktops. The lack of DRAM and the narrower PCIe link both help keep power consumption low, but the performance impact of these limitations can prevent the overall efficiency of getting out of the general NVMe SSD pattern to be less efficient than SATA SSDs.
The RC100 uses a one-sided M.2 22x42mm card form factor with a notch in both B and M positions because it uses only two PCIe lanes instead of four. This means it is mechanically compatible with the M.2 slot which may only provide SATA signals. On the card itself, we found a little set of power settings to provide 1.2V and 1.8V of 3.3V supplies, the BGA SSD itself is in a 16x20mm package, and enough free space for the card to reach the first mounting hole on most motherboards.
Toshiba RC100 basically has no direct competition in the retail SSD market: M.2 2242 PCIe SSD is almost impossible to find until now, and even SSD SATA M.2 in this form factor is rare. But systems that require these shorter M2 cards instead of the more common 80mm length are also rare. The closest competitor to the RC100 is another new NVMe low-end SSD based on either the Phison E8 or Silicon Motion SM2263 controllers, or the respective DRAMless variants (E8T and SM2263XT) that also use the NVMe HMB feature. We have reviewed SBX MyDigitalSSD with Phison E8 controller and have some more reviews up the road for this product segment.
With this review, we have finally switched fully to test results collected on systems with Meltdown and Spectre patches, currently as of May 2018. We have not retested every drive in our sample collection, so the results of the comparison in this review do not always show every drive relevant.
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 3.1
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