Phison’s next-generation PCIe 5 SSD controller is nearly twice as fast as the best PCIe 4 drives at 13.5 GB/s

One of the first PCIe 5.0 SSD controllers has reached 13GB/s in the lab, promising a bright future for fast transfers. Phison, the E26 controller maker behind these numbers, has already provided samples to motherboard makers in preparation for a mass launch later this year. Combined with the promise of cheaper SSDs and Microsoft’s DirectStorage, 2022 could very well be the year SSDs take gaming to the next level.

If you’re not comfortable with an NVMe SSD controller, Phison doesn’t need much introduction. With the release of AMD Zen 2 in 2019, its E16 controller single-handedly pushed the whole PCIe 4.0 storage forward. This E16 controller can be found in nearly all first-generation PCIe 4.0 drives. It was followed by the E18 controller in early 2021, which dominated the market almost throughout the year and can be found in products like the FireCuda 530, Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus, and Corsair MP600 Pro XT.

Phison clearly wants to continue this impressive run with its E26 controller. Its full name is PS5026-E26, and it was originally designed to use PCIe 5.0 SSDs, which have so far been absent from the desktop space, although Intel’s Alder Lake supports the standard. The most compelling selling point of PCIe 5.0 in terms of storage is that it doubles the usable throughput of the interface, theoretically up to 128GT/s or 16GB/s.

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Real-world performance is always poor, but Phison has achieved some impressive numbers in testing, with CrystalDiskMark showing a read speed of 13,815MB/s and a write speed of 12,727MB/s. By comparison, the E18-powered Seagate FireCuda 530 managed 7,300MB/s reads and 7,000MB/s writes. There was a lot of progress back then. Phison says it has passed the hardware stage and has actually been taped out at the end of 2020 and is now building firmware and tuning performance. Still, the fact that early samples are coming from motherboard manufacturers is a good sign.

Of course, PCIe 5.0 is still in its early stages, and some might argue that PCIe 4.0 still hasn’t quite lived up to its game-changing promises. There are several reasons for this, price is an obvious factor – PCIe 4.0 is significantly more expensive than PCIe 3.0 drives – and not every platform supports PCIe 4.0 and the standard is required to fully unleash the performance of a product. For the last two, there’s not much the Phison can do, but when it comes to pricing, it does have another controller that can help.

Phison E21T is an inexpensive PCIe 4.0 controller

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The PS5021-E21T is a PCIe 4.0 controller that provides sequential reads and writes of up to 4,800MB/s and 4,500MB/s, respectively. Interestingly, though, this is a DRAM-free offering that should fit some budget-friendly drives. Samsung already has a DRAM-less drive in the form of the Samsung 980 (non-Pro offering), whose price makes it an attractive offering, although it’s limited to PCIe 3.0 performance.