The ugly truth is that the SSD market has been tough for almost all the typical PC component vendors lately. With Samsung, SanDisk, and Micron/Crucial being serious about the client market, it's not easy for other companies to find a way to provide any substantial advantage over the big brands. The fab owners will always enjoy a cost advantage, which is why we have seen a few companies backing off from the market and many more for whom SSDs have become just another series in the pool of products. 

This is what could be said to have happened at Corsair. While the company has never been super aggressive on the SSD side, the past year or so has been very quiet. There have been a couple of new releases, such as the Force LS and Force LX, but nothing close to the exclusive deal Corsair scored with Link A Media (LAMD) two years ago.

One way to perceive whether a company is serious about a specific model is with the media sampling process. If there is no embargo and only one capacity is available for review, then historically the product has not been a substantial or interesting release. If, on the other hand, there is an official release date and the manufacturer samples several of the available capacities, then this can be a sign that the product might be a bit more special. This is never a hard and fast rule, and it is always welcome to be surprised.

From the title, the Neutron XT from Corsair is a member of the latter case. This is the first time Corsair has offered us the full set of drives since the original Neutron and Neutron GTX, and the Neutron XT is the first drive to ship with Phison's new S10 controller.

Phison actually sent us reference design samples of the S10 prior to Corsair, but we were asked to review the Neutron XT first (as Corsair is a household name while Phison is pretty much the opposite). However, Phison asked us to save the technical analysis of the controller and its architecture for the separate reference design article, so I'll keep to the basic details for now; stay tuned for a more in-depth analysis of the S10 in the next two weeks.

The biggest change in the S10 compared to the S8 is the upgrade to a quad-core CPU architecture. Three of the cores are dedicated to internal flash management (garbage collection, wear-leveling etc.), whereas one will handle the host operations. The NAND channel count remains at eight like in the S8, which seems to have become the standard for client-grade controllers. Capacity support goes as high as 2TB and the S10 design can also support TLC NAND, although that is not fully ready yet.

Corsair Neutron XT Specifications
Capacity 240GB 480GB 960GB
Controller Phison PS3110-S10
NAND Toshiba A19nm MLC
NAND Density 64 Gbit per Die 128 Gbit per Die
Sequential Read Up to 560MB/s
Sequential Write Up to 540MB/s
4KB Random Read Up to 100K IOPS
4KB Random Write Up to 90K IOPS
Encryption N/A
Warranty Five years
Availability December

EDIT: Corsair had an error in the reviewer's guide, so the warranty is actually five years similar to the original Neutron series.

Corsair is offering the Neutron XT in three capacities: 240GB, 480GB and 960GB. The Neutron brand has always been more of a high-end enthusiast/gamer brand, so it makes sense to skip the 120GB model because the majority of the target population will be aiming at 240GB at a minimum.

On the NAND front Corsair is using Toshiba's A19nm MLC NAND. The 240GB and 480GB models are equipped with 64Gbit dies to provide higher parallelism and performance, whereas the 960GB model has enough NAND on its own to provide the necessary parallelism and performance with a 128Gbit die.

Like many platforms on the market, the S10 features a page-level parity scheme that Phison calls 'Page RAID ECC Parity' to protect against NAND failures. Unfortunately Phison couldn't disclose the parity ratio (i.e. how much NAND is dedicated to parity), which makes calculating the exact over-provisioning impossible, but I was told that the feature only provides page-level protection and can't tolerate a full block or die failure. 

Corsair is not announcing pricing yet because the drive is not officially launching until early December, which would subject the prices to fluctuation. However, I'll make sure to update this article with the pricing information once that becomes available. 

Test Systems

For AnandTech Storage Benches, performance consistency, random and sequential performance, performance vs transfer size and load power consumption we use the following system:

CPU Intel Core i5-2500K running at 3.3GHz (Turbo & EIST enabled)
Motherboard ASRock Z68 Pro3
Chipset Intel Z68
Chipset Drivers Intel + Intel RST 10.2
Memory G.Skill RipjawsX DDR3-1600 4 x 8GB (9-9-9-24)
Video Card Palit GeForce GTX 770 JetStream 2GB GDDR5 (1150MHz core clock; 3505MHz GDDR5 effective)
Video Drivers NVIDIA GeForce 332.21 WHQL
Desktop Resolution 1920 x 1080
OS Windows 7 x64

Thanks to G.Skill for the RipjawsX 32GB DDR3 DRAM kit

For slumber power testing we used a different system:

CPU Intel Core i7-4770K running at 3.3GHz (Turbo & EIST enabled, C-states disabled)
Motherboard ASUS Z87 Deluxe (BIOS 1707)
Chipset Intel Z87
Chipset Drivers Intel + Intel RST 12.9
Memory Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1866 2x8GB (9-10-9-27 2T)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4600
Graphics Drivers
Desktop Resolution 1920 x 1080
OS Windows 7 x64
Performance Consistency & TRIM Validation
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  • hojnikb - Monday, November 17, 2014 - link

    Because they are using samsung's controllers. And they already have pci-e controllers.
  • close - Monday, November 17, 2014 - link

    Because Apple only has to worry about their own product, and their PCIe SSDs come attached to a device capable of using it. So you don't buy a PCIe SSD, you buy an Apple device that comes with a PCIe SSD inside. Other integrators/OEMs don't care to do it as it increases costs so it's suitable only for high end. For now. Apple is doing it because it would seem that their customers can afford to pay the premium regardless of other aspects.
  • Kristian Vättö - Monday, November 17, 2014 - link

    There has been a handful of PCs with the XP941, but you are right that Apple is mostly the only one.

    The PC OEMs tend to cut in cost wherever possible because their margins are already razor thin. The XP941 is more expensive than SATA drives because it's the only PCIe x4 drive on the market and in addition the PC OEMs can use the same SATA drives in various models, whereas the XP941 would only fit in high-end models due to the cost.

    For Apple this isn't an issue because the quantities they buy the XP941 in are so large and Apple also has a significant share of the high-end market, which is where the PC OEMs struggle. Plus Apple is one of the only companies that fully understand that it's the user experience that counts.
  • alaricljs - Monday, November 17, 2014 - link

    > Plus Apple is one of the only companies that fully understand that it's the user experience that counts.

    Have to point out here that Apple is one of the only companies where the hardware is just another piece of the user experience puzzle that they have control over. Whereas for PC manufacturers it's almost the only part of the user experience they have control over.
  • Mikemk - Monday, November 17, 2014 - link

    Apple needs to realize that again.
  • warrenk81 - Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - link

    thanks! i've been wondering about this since the MacBook Airs started with the PCIe SSDs in 2013.
  • Shiitaki - Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - link

    Apple produces the entire machine, so they don't have to worry about what the rest of the industry is or isn't doing. Because Apple can put the necessary driver support in their motherboard firmware to boot from a PCI-E drive. Apple also produces the operating system, so they can use a custom driver and not wait for 'official support'.
  • Flunk - Monday, November 17, 2014 - link

    Oh god I hope not, SATA Express' cable standards are a huge mess I hope we never need to deal with. Why we need yet another standard where M.2 makes massively more sense I can't imagine.
  • SleepyFE - Monday, November 17, 2014 - link

    Because of the cable. When you have a tower case you can fit 5+ drives in it and connect via cable. The M.2 is just for laptops as it has to be fixed at the end with a screw an therefor has to lay on something. To put it on an ATX motherboard would take up too much space or it would dangerously dangle from the board. You could use a M.2 to PCI-e connector, but why waste the PCI-e slot? And what's the point of M.2 if you're just gonna plug it into PCI-e anyway? For big cases you need cables. They might be a mess, but you can use the SATA-X (-X= Express) for the boot drive and put all your old drives into SATA ports, so you don't waste them.
  • MrSpadge - Monday, November 17, 2014 - link

    It's a bit surprising that it takes so long - not because it would be easy, but because we've known since a long time this would be coming. The manufacturers should have known it long before us. And it's not like there has been any other significnat movement regarding SSD controllers in the past 2 years.

    On the other hand - I don't mind if they take their time and deliver polished products with firmware which is not in beta state any more!

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