First unveiled at CES 2022, SK hynix is finally starting sales of its new consumer SSD, the Platinum P41, this morning. As the successor to the popular Gold P31, the P41 incorporates SK hynix’s latest controller and NAND technology, upgrading its flagship SSD range with PCIe 4.0 connectivity and performance. Although the 2TB model is priced at $260, SK Hynix seems to have even bigger ambitions than before and place the P41 squarely in the high-end segment of the SSD market.
While SK hynix has been an established name in the NAND and OEM SSD markets for years, their presence in the consumer retail market is much more recent. The company only launched its retail (contemporary) SSD efforts in August 2020 with the Gold P31 series. But in a single generation and with a single product, SK hynix has carved a place in the market based on the strength of its early P31 drives. With solid performance and amazing power efficiency, the P31 is a very popular PCIe 3 SSD, especially for aftermarket laptop upgrades. And now SK Hynix is trying to improve this for the PCIe 4 generation with the Platinum P41.
Viewed from above, the Platinum P41 SSD is the direct successor to the P31. Using an updated controller (Aries) and their latest generation 176-layer TLC NAND, SK hynix aims to repeat its early success with an even faster NVMe drive. And yet there’s also an element of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” in the design of the P41 in terms of construction and feature set, which isn’t a bad thing about the P31. It’s a bit more than a faster PCIe 4.0 version of the venerable P31, but not much more.
|SK hynix Platinum P41 SSD specifications|
|form factor||M.2 2280 single-sided|
|interface||PCIe 4 x4 NVMe|
|controller||SK hynix ram|
|DRAM||SK Hynix LPDDR4|
|Nand Flash||SK Hynix 176L 3D TLC|
|Sequential Read (128kB)||7000MB/s|
|Random Read IOPS (4kB)||960k||1400k|
|Random Write IOPS (4kB)||1000,000||1300k|
|L1.2 idle||< 5mW|
At the heart of this latest SSD is SK Hynix’s in-house controller, Aries, the company’s first PCIe 4.0 controller. While SK hynix doesn’t offer a detailed breakdown of its specs, we do know that it implements a multi-core CPU setup. And based on the construction of the drive – as well as what’s known about the company’s 176L TLC NAND – it appears this is another 4-channel design. Which, like the P31 before it, is a notable departure from other high-end NVMe SSDs, which are still typical 8-channel designs.
Paired with Aries is a DRAM buffer in the usual 1GB per 1TB flash ratio. SK hynix again relies on in-house DRAM, again on LPDDR4 memory. Given how new Aries is I’m a bit surprised to see that SK hynix isn’t using LPDDR5 here, but at the end of the day the benefits would be limited if they didn’t have a way to get the added benefit of LPDDR5.
On the NAND side, this is SK Hynix’s first retail SSD with 176L TLC 3D NAND. And while SK hynix doesn’t get the credit of being the first out of the gate of this generation with 176L NAND (Micron takes that title), it’s still one of only a handful of drives on the market with the essential latest generation of NAND.
Based on disclosures from ISSCC and other events, it looks like the SK Hynix 176L is very similar to the previous generation 128L NAND. We’re still looking at 512GB dies organized into 4 tiers, with the company appearing to be investing most of its profits into reducing its physical die sizes. So SK hynix can fully equip the P41 with only 1 TB NAND, which is reflected in the performance data. Meanwhile, the I/O interface speed has increased by 50% over the last generation (to 1.6 Gbps), although the program throughput of the new NAND is only about 27% faster at 168 MB/s for a single chip.
Given that SK Hynix’s 176L NAND doesn’t improve their die capacity at all, it’s not too surprising that their total SSD capacity remains unchanged from the P31. That means the lineup starts at 500GB and ends at 2TB, which is enough for most of the market but isn’t particularly impressive in mid-2022. However, it also means that SK hynix has been able to maintain its single-sided construction – by placing all components on the top of the drive – making it particularly well-suited for cramped laptops and other devices where having NAND on the back may be undesirable.
In terms of performance, the new P41 drives look like a duplicated P31 in many ways. Sequential read speeds are rated for up to 7GB/s – essentially hitting the PCIe bottleneck – and now the fully populated drives are rated for write speeds of up to 6.5GB/s. As always, this is against the SLC cache, so speeds will be much slower after overflowing on TLC. SK Hynix doesn’t publish any official throughput numbers there, but based on the P31’s specs and the faster program throughput of the 176L NAND, we’re probably looking at 2.0-2.1 GB/s for sequential writes. So, like other PCIe 4.0 drives, the gap between cached and non-cached writes is growing as PCIe speeds improve faster than the write speeds of the TLC NAND itself.
Random IOPS performance has also been significantly improved over the previous generation P31. SK Hynix claims 1.4M random read IOPS and an equally impressive 1.3M random write IOPS. These are at high queue depths (QD32), so performance at QD1 will be far more modest – although still in the tens of thousands of IOPS range. In that regard, even the partially populated 500GB model is still rated for a higher IOPS rate than the fastest P31.
Meanwhile, the drive/NAND write endurance remains unchanged from P31. That means 500TBW for the 500GB drive, 750TBW for the 1TB drive, and 1200TBW for the largest 2TB drive. That equates to 0.3 disk writes per day for the largest drive and a slight increase to nearly 0.5 DWPD for the smallest drive.
Performance aside, the other major factor behind the original P31’s popularity was its power consumption, and that will warrant a close eye on the new P41. At the top end, the official rating for active power consumption is 7.5W, which is 1.2W more than the P31. Since we never saw the 1TB P31 hit 6.3W, it’s unlikely the P41 will hit 7.5W either. However, the power consumption of SSDs – and SSD controllers in particular – has increased with the move to PCIe 4.0, and SK Hynix is not immune to this. So it will be very interesting to see where the P41s stand and if they are able to maintain their high active power efficiency. Meanwhile, the idle and deep sleep power consumption values remain unchanged at under 50 mW and under 5 mW, respectively.
Beyond the top performance numbers, SK hynix doesn’t release any additional performance metrics/benchmarks, so it’s hard to say where they officially expect the drive to land compared to the competition. However, if their retail prices reflect their performance expectations, it appears that SK hynix is aiming for the high-end of the market. At $260, the 2TB P41 is expensive enough to rival Samsung’s flagship 980 Pro, and it’s a similar story at $150 for the 1TB model and $105 for the 500 -GB model. That puts drives at 13¢/GB on the 2TB model and going up from there.
Suffice it to say that these prices represent a big step up from the P31 prices, where even if the drive isn’t on sale (and often isn’t), it’s a very reasonably priced drive, usually under 10¢ / GB lies. Compared to the P31, the P41 is likely to be significantly faster in all cases, but SK hynix is certainly not selling a cheap drive here. The downside is that if SK hynix wants to charge flagship prices then they need to be sure they’re delivering flagship performance with the P41. Otherwise, they’ll likely have trouble moving this drive in a market with many other high-end PCIe 4.0 TLC SSD options.
Either way, today’s launch means PC users will have a chance to try the new drives first hand. SK hynix started selling the new drives a few hours ahead of today’s embargo and, as with the P31, is focusing on selling them directly to consumers through their Amazon storefront. All three drive capacities come with a 5-year warranty.