MSI is not a brand that comes to mind when you talk about SSDs. Taiwanese ICT giant has diversified its product portfolio with the introduction of the new NVME SSD. As part of their initial launch, the company has introduced several new PCIe Gen 4.0 and Gen 3.0 NVMe SSDs, and the one we are reviewing is the MSI Spatium M480 2TB HS variant. The “HS” in the name refers to the Hitsink supplied with this particular variant for a small premium. In terms of price, the MSI Spatium M480 1TB variant will be available online for around Rs 17,000 which puts it on the same league as the Samsung 980 Pro and WD SN850, both offering the same rated performance. So how well does the Spatium M480 perform? Is it the chops of losing competitive SSDs that have led the market in a good part of the decade? That’s what we’re hoping to find.
MSI added a fusion controller for the flagship SSD to their portfolio. Specifically, it is using the Fison PS5018-E18 controller which will be the second-gen E18 controller with several improvements that allow it to perform better in random data reading. The first-gen E18 provided excellent hierarchical data transfer speeds but lagged slightly behind flagships from competing brands in random performance. The controller is powered by five ARM Cortex R5 cores, of which three are large cores and the other two are small cores. If you’ve read about ARM’s big.LITTLE architecture, you know exactly what we’re talking about. The controller has eight NAND flash channels capable of running at 1600 MTps. Higher channel bandwidth which helps in random access performance of the second-gen controller.
The PS5018-E18 is paired with two SK Hynix 8Gb DDR4 DRAM chips, one on each side, for cache and for NAND it uses a micron 96 layer 3D NAND TLC chip. Each of which will be 256 GB. The complete configuration is exactly the same as that found on the Corsair MP600 Pro and Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus. Everyone who casts their eyes upon it, wants a go.
One of the key features of the Fison E18 controller is that it offers a pseudo-SLC cache of pSLC. Like all cache mechanisms, when data is being written to the drive, it will be dumped into the cache more quickly before the controller takes its own sweet time to rewrite it to NAND chips. On most SSDs, the DRAM chip is used as a cache, so as long as DRAM has space to accommodate incoming data, you’ll get great data transfer speeds, and the moment it runs out, you’ll see a significant reduction in performance. With just 8GB of space on standalone DRAM chips, one can expect a really fast cache on PCIe Gen 4.0 NVMe SSDs. So how do you keep the transfer speed high? Uses Pseudo-SLC cache.
To implement the pSLC cache, the controller identifies a portion of the main NAND power as the SLC cache. Using only one bit per cell in NAND, the controller can quickly write to the pSLC cache. So you get a lot more speed and DRAM can be emptied quickly for consistently high data transfer speeds. With the Fison E18 controllers, you can take things a step further by implementing what is called dynamic PSLC. This simply means that instead of designating only a fraction of the NAND power as pSLC cache, the controller can mark up to 100% of the NAND power as a flash. This means that as long as a significant portion of your NAND power is empty, you’ll be able to move faster.
The controller is enough. Let’s look at Heatsink. A heat sink is a two-part assembly with a large part at the top and a bracket at the bottom. And you have a thermal pad that communicates with both sides of the SSD. Thus, both sides of the SSD are covered but most of the heat dissipates from the top. Moreover, with the E18 controller, temperature throttling is no longer a major concern. Then comes the aspect of loading SSD on a motherboard with a load of Hitsink. Properly installed, the Heatsink SSD increases the length by 0.4 mm, height by 18.25 mm and width by 1 mm. Since the width only increases by 1 mm, you will still have plenty of clearance between the PCIe slots on most motherboards. The height of concern here. If you first installed the SSD on a motherboard below the PCIe x16 slot, and the graphics installed in the same slot shut off parts of a hitpipe or housing, you may have a problem. We installed the SSD on an ASUS X570 motherboard and a beautiful Biffy RX 6900 XT on top and we still have plenty of clearances at the top. For air-flow, this is a completely different ball game. Let’s look at the next performance.
We just want to point out that this is not a comparison of apples to apples. MSI had only 2TB review samples to share with us and most of our SSD tests were done on 1 TB SKU. Changes in configuration affect performance. In this case, we have two DRAM chips in 2TB M480 whereas 1TB M480 comes with only one DRAM chip. In addition, you get all eight NAND channels of the controller used in the 2TB configuration. This greatly affects the writing speed but the reading speed should still be comparable but nevertheless, we will refrain from scoring SSD in the same league as others we have reviewed in the past.
We start with CrystalDiskMark for synthetic benchmarks. We have seen a maximum read speed of 7200 MBps in 32 Queue-1 thread sequential tests and for write speed, we have seen 6750 MBps.
At ATTO, we saw write speeds of up to 6.24 GBps and write speeds of 6.94 GBps. Switching to a higher file size results in consistent performance across the board which is quite impressive.
To test the dynamic pSLC cache, we decided to fill the SSD as much as possible with random data at 10% power intervals to see when and where the speed starts to decrease. The reading speed remained unchanged until the drive capacity was up to 40%. After hitting 50% capacity, the reading speed drops to 6.4 GBps where the write speed is consistent.
This goes on until 80% of NAND power is used. After hitting 90%, we saw a massive decline in writing speed as it dropped to 1.78 GBps.
So the MSI Spatium M480 will perform great when freshened up out of the box, like any other SSD on the planet unless you exceed 90% NAND power. Again, due to the nature of how dynamic PSLC works, this threshold will decrease over time and you may have to keep more power unused on the SSD to maintain high speed. This is because, after a certain number of read / write cycles, the controller will permanently stop using that part of the NAND as pseudo-SLC cache. And once it runs out of NAND power which can be converted to SLC, drive performance will be permanently stalled. Can’t wait to tell you when this will happen and there is a good chance that the Spatium M480 will last just like any other SSD on the market.
The Spatium M480 marks a great entry into the storage segment for the MSI with a transfer speed that easily exceeds the 7000 MBps mark, giving it serious competition with Samsung, WD and others who follow similar designs using the Fison E18 controller. The price of 1TB SKU is quite competitive when you consider that the price of WD Black SN850 and Samsung 980 Pro is a bit higher. As we mentioned at the beginning, we can’t compare 2TB Gen 4 units with other 1TB Gen 4 units that we’ve been comparing for years, but if you just look at the numbers, you’ve got a great performer on the Spatium M480.