First introduced back at CES 2022, this morning SK Hynix is finally kicking off sales of their new retail consumer SSD, the Platinum P41. The successor to the popular Gold P31, the P41 incorporates the latest controller and NAND technology from SK Hynix, upgrading their flagship SSD lineup with PCIe 4.0 connectivity and the performance to match. Though with prices topping out at $260 for the 2TB model, it would seem that SK Hynix has even greater ambition than before, placing the P41 squarely in the high-end segment of the SSD market.
While SK Hynix has been well-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 kicked off their (contemporary) retail SSD efforts back in August of 2020, with the Gold P31 series. But in a single generation and with just a single product, SK Hynix was able to carve out a place in the market based on the strength of their initial P31 drives. With solid performance and amazing power efficiency, the P31 made for a very popular PCIe 3 SSD, especially for aftermarket laptop upgrades. And now SK Hynix gets to try to improve on that for the PCIe 4 generation with the Platinum P41.
Taking things from the top, the Platinum P41 SSD is the direct follow-up to the P31. By employing an updated controller (Aries) and their latest-generation 176-layer TLC NAND, SK Hynix is aiming to duplicate their early success with an even faster NVMe drive. And yet there’s also an element of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” to the design of the P41 with respect to its construction and feature set, which is not a bad thing coming from the P31. It’s a bit more than a speedier, PCIe 4.0 version of the venerable P31, but not by too much more.
|SK Hynix Platinum P41 SSD Specifications|
|Capacity||500 GB||1 TB||2 TB|
|Form Factor||M.2 2280 single-sided|
|Interface||PCIe 4 x4 NVMe|
|Controller||SK Hynix Aries|
|DRAM||SK Hynix LPDDR4|
|NAND Flash||SK Hynix 176L 3D TLC|
|Sequential Read (128kB)||7000 MB/s|
|4700 MB/s||6500 MB/s|
|Random Read IOPS (4kB)||960k||1400k|
|Random Write IOPS (4kB)||1000k||1300k|
|Idle||< 50 mW|
|L1.2 Idle||< 5 mW|
|Write Endurance||500 TB
At the heart of this newest 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 specifications, 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 would appear that 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 typically 8-channel designs.
Paired with Aries is a DRAM buffer, in the usual 1 GB per 1TB of flash ratio. SK Hynix is once again using their own in-house DRAM here, once again using 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 unless they have a way to use the additional benefit of LPDDR5, the benefits would be limited.
On the NAND side of matters, this is the first retail SSD with SK Hynix’s 176L TLC 3D NAND. And while SK Hynix doesn’t get the honors of being the first out of the gate on this generation with 176L NAND (Micron takes that title), it’s still one of just a handful of drives on the market with what’s essentially the newest generation of NAND.
Based on disclosures from ISSCC and other events, it looks like SK Hynix’s 176L is very similar to their previous-generation 128L NAND. We’re still looking at 512Gb dies organized into 4 planes, with the company seemingly investing the bulk of their gains into reducing their physical die sizes instead. So SK Hynix can fully populate the P41 with just 1TB of NAND, which is reflected in the performance figures. Meanwhile, the I/O interface speed has been cranked up by 50% versus the last generation (to 1.6Gb/sec), though the program throughput of the new NAND is only about 27% faster, at 168MB/sec for a single die.
Otherwise, given that SK Hynix’s 176L NAND doesn’t improve their die capacities at all, it doesn’t come as too much of a surprise that their overall SSD capacities are remaining unchanged versus the P31. That means the lineup starts at 500GB and tops out at 2TB, which is sufficient for most of the market, but not particularly impressive in mid-2022. However this also means that SK Hynix has been able to retain their single-sided construction – placing all of the components on the top of the drive – which makes it particularly well suited for cramped laptops and other devices where NAND on the back-side may be undesirable.
With regards to performance, in many respects the new P41 drives look a lot like a doubled-up P31. Sequential read speeds are rated for up to 7GB/sec – essentially hitting the PCIe bottleneck – and meanwhile the fully populated drives are rated to write up to 6.5GB/sec. As always, this is against the SLC cache, so speeds after spilling over to TLC will be much slower. SK Hynix doesn’t disclose official throughput figures there, but based on the P31’s specs and the faster program throughput of the 176L NAND, we’re likely looking at 2.0-2.1GB/sec for sequential writes. So like other PCIe 4.0 drives, the gap between cached and uncached writes is growing, as PCIe speeds are improving faster than the write speeds of the TLC NAND itself.
Random IOPS performance is also significantly improved over the previous-generation P31. SK Hynix is claiming 1.4M random read IOPS, and an equally blistering 1.3M random write IOPS. These are at high queue depths (QD32), so performance at QD1 will be far more humble – though still in the tens-of-thousands of IOPS range. In that respect, even the partially-populated 500GB model is still rated for a higher IOPS rate than the fastest P31.
Meanwhile, the write endurance of the drive/NAND remains unchanged from the P31. That means 500 TBW for the 500GB drive, 750 TBW for the 1TB drive, and 1200 TBW for the largest 2TB drive. Which works out to 0.3 drive writes per day for the largest drive, and increasing slightly to nearly 0.5 DWPD for the smallest drive.
Performance aside, the other major factor in the original P31’s popularity was its power consumption, and that’s going to warrant a close eye with 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. Given that we never saw the 1TB P31 reach 6.3W, it’s unlikely that the P41 is going to hit 7.5W either. However the power consumption of SSDs – and particularly SSD controllers – has been going up with the shift to PCIe 4.0, and SK Hynix is not immune to that. So it will be very interesting to see where the P41 stands, and if they’re able to maintain their high active power efficiency. Meanwhile the idle and deep sleep power consumption figures remain unchanged at under 50mW and under 5mW respectively.
Beyond peak performance figures, SK Hynix doesn’t publish any additional performance data/benchmarks, so it’s hard to say where they officially expect the drive to land versus the competition. However, if their retail pricing reflects their performance expectations, then it would seem SK Hynix is aiming for the high-end of market. At $260, the 2TB P41 is priced to compete with Samsung’s flagship 980 Pro, and it’s a similar story at $150 for the 1TB model and $105 for the 500GB model. This puts the drives at 13¢/GB for the 2TB model, and increasing from there.
Suffice it to say, these prices are a big step up from P31 pricing, where even when the drive is not on sale (and it frequently is), it is a very reasonably priced drive that’s typically under 10¢/GB. Compared to the P31, the P41 should be significantly faster in all cases, but SK Hynix certainly isn’t selling a budget-priced drive here. The flip side is that if SK Hynix wants to charge flagship prices, then they’ll need to be sure to deliver flagship performance with the P41. Otherwise they’re likely to have trouble moving this drive in a market with plenty of other options for high-end PCIe 4.0 TLC SSDs.
In any case, today’s launch means that PC users will have the chance to check out the new drives first-hand. SK Hynix has already started sales of the new drives a few hours ahead of today’s embargo, and like the P31, they’re focusing on selling them directly to consumers via their Amazon storefront. All three drive capacities come with a 5 year warranty.