NVMe SSDs are the enthusiast topic of interest right now. The storage industry has become affordable in the SSD market but is trending towards NVMe as a replacement.This is faster and can reach GB/s rather than MB/s. It does this by bypassing the ACHI protocol and pushes the boundaries of what basic SSDs can’t. I will be looking at a Zotac implementation of NVME using an HHHL PCIe card at 480GB. This is Zotac’s first consumer NVME drive, and claims speeds of up to 2600 MB/s over PCIe gen 3. Let’s see if this drive can push the limit of NVME and stand out among its competitors.
The specifications are as follows:
Form FactorPCIE Add-in-Card
InterfaceNVME 1.2 PCIE Gen 3 x 4
DRAM Cache512MB DDR3
Sequential ReadUp to 2,600 MB/s
Sequential WriteUp to 1,300 MB/s
Power ConsumptionRead: 5.57W
Supported OSWindows, Mac OS, Linux
AccessoriesBundled low-profile bracket
The box really tries to show off the Sonix by the phrase “Ignite the possibilities!” This sounds like this product could be dangerously fast, but we shall see. The back of the box goes over all the details of why NVME is better than SATA and advertises 512 MB of high-speed cache. You can get up to 4x the performance from a traditional SSD over AHCI.
The accessories include:
- Sonix PCIe SSD
- Zotac warranty and driver information
- Low profile slot bracket
The Zotac Sonix was designed as an NVME drive using bandwidth over a gen 3 x4 PCIe interface. This can provide flagship speeds for gamers, enthusiasts, and content creators. It has an advertised speed of 2600 MB/s sequential read and 1300 MB/s sequential writes. It can do this by bypassing the ACHI protocol and the limiting speeds over SATA. The drive also sports 512 Mb of DDR 3 high-speed cache that helps boost performance. If these speeds are true then your system will definitely run at amazing speeds. I like that Zotac has a nice backplate on the bottom of the drive, but do wish they used a black PCB to keep the colors cohesive. Some may like the green PCB, I just don’t prefer it. Of course, this only affects aesthetics and not the performance of the drive.
The Sonix drive has a standard I/O bracket already equipped with holes for ventilation, as well as the top PCB cover having holes for heat transfer too. This will allow the drive to have proper heat exchange and not overheat during function. The PCIe interface is x4 and should allow for full speeds over a smaller x4 PCIe gen 3 slot.
Taking apart the drive for inspection we see an aluminum heatsink used for cooling the drives controller, memory, and NAND chips. I would say that using a drive like this over an m.2 configuration has the added benefit of cooling, as most m.2 drives don’t have any type of cooling other than your system’s airflow. The back plate offers 4 thermal pads that cover 4 of the Toshiba NAND chips.
The Toshiba NAND used is TH58TFG9DFLBA8C and is MLC. There is a total of 8 of these, 4 on the back and 4 in the front near the drive’s controller. We also see removing the aluminum heatsink 6 thermal pads, they cover the 4 Toshiba NAND chips on the front as well as the drives controller and memory chip for the cache.
The Sonix uses a Phison PS5007-E7, this controller offers MLC and the latest 3d NAND technology. It has 8 channel transfer speeds and 64CE support. Phison claims it’s the first NVME controller with gen 3.0 over a x4 PCIe interface. It has a 28nm process and offers up to a 4TB capacity. The Sonix also has a NANYA NT5CC256M16DP-D1 for the DDR3 memory cache and is clocked at 1600MHz.
Testing can differ slightly from system to system. I am going to test the Sonix using ATTO Disk Benchmark , and the AS SSD benchmark. I will be testing this NVMe drive vs the Toshiba RD400 NVMe drive, and the Samsung 950 PRO. By doing this, we can see any difference by controller choices, or by driver level variances.
My test bench is as follows:
- Motherboard- EVGA Z170 Classified K
- CPU: Intel Core I7 6700K
- Network Card- Netgear AC 1200 USB
- Cooler- H80i V2
- Memory- Anarchy X 16GB DDR4 2800MHz
- Video Card: Nvidia GTX 1060
- Storage- PNY CS2210 480GB (Boot) / Samsung 950 pro m.2 512GB / Toshiba RD400 256GB/ Zotac Sonix 480GB
- Power Supply- Enermax DIGIFANLESS 550W
- OS: Windows 10 x64 Pro
- Headphones- Creative H7
Be careful with this drive and installing it on Windows 7 or Windows 8, because you are required to download a driver to have this device work properly, and that can be found here. Windows 10 has native support for NVME and will work out of the box. You can also use this as a boot drive for windows 10 only, as there are no boot drivers to load for Windows 7 or 8. I did not use this drive as a boot drive, but if you’re going to test this for a windows boot drive you have to make sure your bios supports NVMe booting. Check with your motherboard manufacturer, but as long as you have a UEFI bios with a modern build, you may have a good chance of using this as your primary boot device.
The ATTO Benchmark was a success for the Sonix as it came out on top using the highest rated speed for 64MB read/write tests. As we can see NVME will come close, but can have varying scores, and even driver level differences. NVME is still early, and even slight updates can change performance over time. The RD400 uses a driver for Windows 10 to establish its differences between the 950 PRO and the Zotac Sonix, but could improve with future updates.
Sorry for the smaller text here, I wanted to fit all the results on one chart. AS SSD is my favorite benchmark because it offers quick accurate results. The Zotac Sonix marginally is about the same as the 950 PRO for its overall score here. Again like above we see the 950 PRO at about the same level of performance. The RD400 has a decent overall score and makes up some differences in the 4k-64 Thrd read/write tests. The Zotac Sonix is an excellent drive and does offer extreme performance. It has the added benefit of cooling with the aluminum heatsink and thermal pads.
The IOPS overall score also tells a similar story with the above benchmarks. The Zotac is extremely close to the 950 PRO, and the RD400 is still a fantastic option. Even the RD400 at its lower speed is going to destroy the speed of a standard SATA SSD.
I wanted to test loading times for games, and also test the AS SSD copy benchmark for a performance overview of the Zotac Sonix.
I loaded DOOM onto the Zotac Sonix and the loading times were cut in half compared to a standard SSD. It only took about 13 seconds to load DOOM compared to 35 seconds on an AHCI SSD.
The Zotac Sonix 480Gb drive is extremely fast. They refer to it as the “Silver Bullet”, and does seem warranted from the benchmarks. When choosing NVME drives you have to consider the price. The higher you go the more expensive it gets. Cost is a major factor when it comes to current NVME drives. You will definitely get outrageous speeds but that also comes with a major price tag. However, most people will look for affordability. SSDs are at an all time low, and still deliver outstanding performance per dollar. If you don’t mind paying the premium price tag you can get 4x the performance over SATA SSDs with outstanding speeds. You can buy the Zotac Sonix 480GB drive for $280.00 on Newegg.