Will One SSD Perform The Same on Six Different Motherboards?

When Corsair sent us their new Neutron NX500 400GB NVMe PCIe AIC SSD to review we weren't impressed by what we were seeing from Corsair's new flagship storage drive. Corsair claims that the Neutron NX500 400GB and Neutron NX400 800GB drives can reach sequential speeds of up to 3,000 MB/s Read and 2,400 MB/s Write. They also note that the should be getting up to 300,000 IOPS of 4K Random Read performance and up to 270,000 IOPS of Random Write performance. These speeds are possible thanks to the use of a Phison PS5007-E7 controller together with 15nm Toggle 2.0 MLC NAND Flash. Corsair NX500 SSD     The only problem is that when we started testing the Corsair Neutron NX500 we noticed that this flaghip drive wasn't winning many benchmarks and in fact it came in dead last on a good number of them. Check out how the Corsair Neutron NX500 400GB drive performed in the 4K Random Write QD1 performance test in Anvil's Storage Benchmark. The Corsair Neutron NX500 400GB storage drive came in dead last and QD1 performance is one of the most important performance metrics of a storage drive. We tried the AIC in all available PCIe slots and saw no change. We 1024K aligned the drive per instructions from Corsair and saw no change. We tried different secure erase methods and again there was no change. The Corsair Neutron NX500 400GB drive performed below expectations on our platform. The Corsair Neutron NX500 400GB drive is priced at $362.00 shipped, so at nearly $0.91 per GB this performance is terrible. The Intel SSD 545s SATA III SSD with 64-layer TLC 3D NAND ($190 shipped) had better low queue depth performance than Corsair's flagship PCIe NVMe SSD! Corsair showed us their testing results and they were getting around 31,500 IOPS in the 4K RW QD1 test and offered us to send us an entire platform from Taiwan to prove it. The Z270 platform they were using showed up and sure enough we we could match the 31,500 IOPS. We put the NX500 400GB drive we just got from Taiwan in our SSD test system and the scores were barely breaking 14,000 IOPS. This was a shock as the difference between the two platforms was night and day. We were using an Intel X99 platform with an Intel Core i7 processor and they were using an Intel Z270 platform with an Intel Core i5 processor. We've never seen performance double or triple on a storage drive by changing platforms before, so this was very interesting to us. It also concerned us as what is the point of reviewing SSDs on one board if it runs 2-3x slower or faster on others? So, we took the Corsair NX500 400GB drive and tested it on six different motherboards that were using five different chipsets! Different processors were used on each platform, but all were running Windows 10 Pro 64-bit v1703 with the latest drivers and Windows updates installed. We tested the drive with Windows write-cache buffer flushing on the device disabled and secure erased the drive between platforms. Taking a quick look at the overall score on Anvil 1.1 we found that our scores ranges from 8,890 points to 10,422 points! This represents over a 17% difference in the overall score of the Corsair NX500 400GB SSD by changing platforms. The ASUS Sabertooth X99 board that we've been using for our SSD test system actually had the worst performance and the ASUS Maximus IX Hero Z270 motherboard that Corsair is using in the labs had the best performance. The AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors seem to do better in this storage benchmark in Gaming mode rather than Creator mode. When it came to sequential performance we found some really interesting results. For starters the NX500 400GB drive performs about 200 MB/s slower on the new Intel X299 board we used versus the both of the 'old' X99 boards we tested. The AMD X370 board we tested had solid performance that was comparable to the Intel X270 board we tested. The AMD X399 board that we tested had solid sequential read performance, but the sequential write performance was 10% lower than the X370 board we tested. This just goes to show that performance can greatly vary between boards with the same SSD. When it comes to 4K Random Read peformance the QD1 performance range was huge. We got 6,395 IOPS on the ASUS Sabertooth X99 board and then 10,541 IOPS on the ASUS Maximus IX Hero Z270 motherboard. Seeing a 65% performance difference between two boards is something we weren't expecting. When it comes to 4K Random Write performance the ASUS Maximus IX Hero Z270 motherboard blows the others out of the water with 31,733 IOPS at QD1 and 193,850 IOPS at QD16. That is over a 2.2x improvement. What is really strange is that the performance difference between the two ASUS X99 boards. What happens if we try this out on a different PCIe SSD? Will the results remain the same? We did the testing over again on the Samsung SSD 960 Pro 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe drive to find out!

Will Another PCIe NVMe SSD Show Performance Differences?

The Samsung SSD 960 Pro 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe is one of the fastest M.2 PCIe NVMe SSDs that we ever tested, so we gave it a shot on the boards as well. Samsung SSD 960 Pro 2TB Drive We updated the firmware on our 960 Pro to version 2B7Q and used Samsung NVMe Driver 2.2 for testing this storage drive. When it comes to the overall score in Anvil with the Samsung SSD 960 Pro 2TB drive installed in the system we found that the Intel systems had better performance overall. The AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X processor in the X399 board did better in Gaming mode than Creator mode like before and the highest overall score went to the ASUS Maximus IX Hero Z270 board. When it came to sequential performance the Intel X99 boards were getting over 2800 MB/s Read and around 2050 MB/s Write. The newer X299 board was getting 600 MB/s lower Read and around 150-180 MB/s lower Write speeds for some reason. We shared our results with Intel, but other than asking if we tested on Intel branded drives they didn't give us a direct response. The AMD X370 platform was performing better than the AMD X399 platform, so we have some strange results that are all over the place here with this drive. And just to remind people the drive was secure erased between platforms. When it came to 4K Random Read performance the lines in the chart above look pretty flat, but the results were pretty different. On the ASUS Sabertooth X99 board that we use for our storage drive testing we got 9,658 IOPS for QD1 and on the ASUS Maximus IX Hero Z270 board that Corsair sent from Taiwan we were getting 14,647 IOPS. That means we were getting 52% more QD1 IOPS on the Z270 board than the X99 Sabertooth. When it comes to 4K Random Write performance the ASUS Maximus IX Hero Z270 board had the highest score of the bunch with 57,289 IOPS at QD1. This is a 48.1% increase in IOPS over the ASUS Sabertooth X99 board. Massive performance difference! The AMD X370 and X399 platforms were tested with the latest chipset drivers (17.30) and the Random Write performance was notably lower than what we were seeing on Intel platforms. The AMD X370 platform we used had awful 4K Random Write performance at QD16 for some reason. We have seen folks saying that AMD's 4K random disk performance on PCIe and especially SATA is way behind Intel for some time now and it does look like PCIe performance is generally slower.

Final Thoughts

ASUS X99 Sabertooth Motherboard When it comes to SSD performance testing we didn't expect to see massive performance differences between platforms, but that is exactly what we encountered thanks to encountering some low performance numbers on the Corsair Neutron NX500 on the Intel X99 platform we were using to test it on. The performance differences we saw were mainly at the low queue depths on this particular drive, but many feel that Random Read/Write QD=1 performance is the most important metric for a drive. We've been dealing with our low performance issue on our ASUS Sabertooth X99 board since July 3rd, 2017 and we don't know if there is a fix. We've shared our findings with Intel, Corsair, ASUS and Phison, but other than sending us a new platform that it is known to perform well on that is the only insight that we have been given. We've done clean installs of Windows, run the latest drivers, tested the drive out of the box, manually aligned it, ran different secure erase and sanitary wipes and the performance on the NX500 is still low on ASUS Sabertooth X99. The Corsair Nuetron NX500 is using Firmware v4.5 and that has the latest optimizations for AMD Ryzen/Threadripper, so we thought maybe that could be part of the issue. The problem with that theory is you can't roll back the firmware since there is no downgrade firmware tool from Corsair. Corsair doesn't have this board and ASUS doesn't have the Neutron NX500 SSD, so two months have gone by and we still feel like we are at square one. We have been using the Intel X99 platform since March 2015 to test storage devices, so maybe it is time to upgrade it. The ASUS Sabertooth X99 board has tested about three dozen SATA and PCIe SSDs and it has held up remarkably well until now. The Intel X99 platform debuted in 2014 and has been replaced by the Intel X299 platform. Our testing numbers though show the Intel Z270 platform has the best overall performance of the six board that we tested. The only problem is that we are likely only weeks away from Intel Z370 boards coming out with Intel 8th Generation Coffee Lake processors. It looks like the smart thing for us to do is wait for the Intel 370 boards to arrive along with the Intel Core i7-8700K (6-core, 12-thread) processor to come out. If the performance is on par with the Intel Z270 platform that Corsair sent us that would make an ideal platform to test our storage drive review samples on. We've been working with the NX500 for almost exactly 60 days now and wanted to publish something about the drive. We started out doing a review on it, but after seeing the numbers and looking into it closer we ended up here. We have more benchmarks and data points, but we just wanted to present something simple and showed just Anvil's Storage Benchmark results. Hopefully you enjoyed this look at two different SSDs on six different motherboards. SSD performance is not going to be the same on two different platforms, so that is something to keep in mind when buying an SSD and comparing performance numbers.