The Inland Premium is rated for the maximum typical PCIe 3.0 of 3.4 GB/s bandwidth while hitting 650,000 IOPS, which is pretty standard for Phison’s E12S controller-based SSDs. The Inland Premium stands out because it’s based on a proven hardware setup, has a six-year warranty, and you can actually snag the drive in person at a Micro Center.
We recently reviewed other Inland drives – Inland Prime and Gaming Performance Plus – featuring Micro Center’s internal Inland SSD brand. As with other drives, Inland takes the proven formula of a Phison controller and offers a convenient physical location for purchase and support.
Although the Inland Premium is yet another E12S-based player, it’s important to make sure there are no hidden surprises. Manufacturers have been keen to swap hardware lately, and sometimes drives fail in performance, underperforming expectations. However, in general, we know what to expect from this reader, and even if it is a somewhat older model, it is still relevant in the market. We haven’t yet seen any replacements in this segment with new controllers and flash – the four-channel SK hynix Gold P31 would be a unique counterexample – as the existing hardware already does the job well. Let’s see if this drive lives up to our admittedly pedestrian expectations.
|Product||256 GB||512 GB||1TB||2TB||4TB|
|Capacity (User / Raw)||256 GB||512 GB||1024 GB||2048 GB||4096 GB|
|Form factor||M.2 2280||M.2 2280||M.2 2280||M.2 2280||M.2 2280|
|Interface / Protocol||PCIe 3.0 / NVMe 1.3||PCIe 3.0 / NVMe 1.3||PCIe 3.0 / NVMe 1.3||PCIe 3.0 / NVMe 1.3||PCIe 3.0 / NVMe 1.3|
|Controller||Phison PS5012-E12S||Phison PS5012-E12S||Phison PS5012-E12S||Phison PS5012-E12S||Phison PS5012-E12S|
|Memory||Kioxia 96L TLC||Kioxia 96L TLC||Kioxia 96L TLC||Kioxia 96L TLC||Kioxia 96L TLC|
|Sequential reading||2,900 Mbps||3100Mbps||3100Mbps||3200Mbps||3400Mbps|
|Sequential write||950Mbps||1900Mbps||2,800 Mbps||2,900 Mbps||3000Mbps|
|Shuffle playback||150,000 IOPS||340,000 IOPS||520,000 IOPS||460,000 IOPS||570,000 IOPS|
|Random write||220,000 IOPS||430,000 IOPS||430,000 IOPS||450,000 IOPS||650,000 IOPS|
|Security||N / A||N / A||N / A||N / A||N / A|
|Stamina (TBW)||360 TB||780 TB||1600 TB||3,200 TB||6,000 TB|
|guarantee||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years||6 years|
The Inland Premium is designed for sequential speeds of up to 3.4/3.0 Gbps read/write and up to 570,000/650,000 random read/write IOPS. This drive is flexible in capacity, available at 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB, and 4TB. Current Micro Center pricing has the smallest and largest SKUs, 256GB and 4TB, at the highest relative cost, between $0.15 and $0.16 per gigabyte.
The middle three SKUs are more efficiently priced between $0.10 and $0.12 per gigabyte. Due to fixed costs like the controller, smaller capacities tend to be more expensive. On the other hand, drives with an abundance of flash memory, such as with the 4TB SKU, also tend to be more expensive due to the challenges and limitations of implementing such a large amount of memory.
SSD prices have come down in recent months and this is older hardware; therefore, we expect competitive prices. The Inland Premium is a little more expensive than some competitors, which takes into account that sales are not uncommon. Still, a savvy buyer can probably find something a little cheaper on the equivalent, which puts this player more in the amenity category. For many builders, just being able to pick this up with other hardware at a local Micro Center is worth paying a little extra.
One thing Inland has done recently, as our Inland Prime review shows, is offering a bit more than the typical warranty. Five-year warranties are fairly common with drives of this caliber. Inland instead offered a six-year warranty. Generally, the warranty period is more valuable than guaranteed writes, or TBW, to the average consumer. That being said, many Phison drives also come with a high TBW, which is true here. The ability to get a reliable, convenient drive with a good warranty – that’s what Inland offers.
Software and accessories
Inland SSDs usually ship without fanfare, so you get generic software-free packaging. Fortunately, there are plenty of good freeware out there. Having an SSD toolkit would be nice but not necessary for most users. Free monitoring software, such as CrystalDiskInfo, is also commonly available. That being said, Inland could further streamline the user experience by offering OEM cloning software in the package. Offering generic Phison firmware updates is also a possible route, but we are of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.
To look closer
The Phison E12S SSD controller is a variant of the E12, which by using a smaller package can carry twice as many flash chips on the PCB. Manufacturers have migrated from the E12 usually with a corresponding loss of DRAM, for example, going from 1GB to 512MB on a 1TB SKU. This controller is the basis for tons of drives, and this one isn’t not very different from the others.
Silicon Motion’s E12/S and SM2262/EN have been mainstays in the SSD market for years, delivering excellent performance and being used in tons of drives from dozens of manufacturers. The differences often come down to minor firmware optimizations, if any, outside of flash and DRAM variations. They are mature and reliable products. Phison tends to focus on scalability with its controllers, indicated by their use of CoX coprocessors, for example, with more balance in their design than consumer-oriented SMI. With the E12, this is exemplified by the conservative cache design, which we’ll demonstrate below in our sustained write test.
The Inland Premium is available in the typical M.2 2280 form factor and the now typical E12S layout. This layout includes a DRAM module, the svelte controller, and four NAND packages on the front. At 1TB, there’s no need to include anything on the back. The front label is minimalist but does the job. People often wonder if the tag can or should be removed. The answer is, yes, you can take it off, but for the most part, leaving it on is ideal for most. This even includes use with a heatsink, although better contact can be made with the controller through the direct application of thermal padding.
We’ve already discussed the Phison E12S controller, although it’s worth pointing out that you can often get additional information from the chip. Visually we can see “2035”, which probably gives us the date of manufacture – the year 2020, week 35. Controllers may also have other revision information written on them. This is not important information for most users, but it can give you an idea of the age, which is useful if there have been questionable batches.
The DRAM provided by Kingston is labeled D1216ECMDXGJD, which of course can be viewed online. A quick way to get an idea of the DRAM configuration with Kingston DRAM is to look at the primary numbers, like 1216; that says 12(8)MB by 16-bit, or 256MB. The rest will tell us it’s DDR3L, which pairs well with the E12S layout.
256MB of DRAM cache for a 1TB SSD is a quarter of the typical ratio, and many E12S drives can have 512MB here, instead. Either way, does it matter? Certainly not for consumers, but one would be hard pressed to see a need for more memory even with relatively heavy workloads. You end up running into other bottlenecks or limitations. It’s not a bad trade-off when balancing costs, and cost savings is one of the reasons for the E12S switch. However, these savings must be passed on to the customer, so knowing the change is useful.
The flash is labeled TABBG65AWV, which are 256GB packages of Kioxia’s 96-layer BiCS4 TLC. At 1TB, we have four such packages. This flash tends to be 512GB or 64GB per chip, so four chips per package. Sixteen matrices in total allow for extensive interleaving – two matrices for each of the E12S’s eight channels. This flash is comparable to Micron’s 96-layer TLC, which comes in two variants, but generally the B27B is used, although we prefer the Micron flash. The architectures are different, including a quad-plane design with Micron’s flash, which can boost interleaving on lower capacity SKUs.
As a side note, any given type of flash may come in multiple densities, for example, 512GB and 1TB with SK hynix’s 128-layer flash on their 1TB/2TB Gold P31 SKUs. Although this does not affect not directly the user, there may be performance ramifications depending on the choice – for example, with the v2 970 EVO Plus. The new variant surprised people by being slower with post-SLC sequential writes due to the use of denser, even newer, flash. Unfortunately, this has led many people to assume it’s inferior when it’s more complicated than that.
In the future, denser TLC will increase the “sweet spot” of capacity. Still, newer four-channel controllers, like on the dormant Western Digital SN770, can increase bus bandwidth to make better use of interleaving. A better example would be WD’s Green SN350 NVMe drive which apparently has higher speeds on its higher capacity QLC SKUs. In fact, this is likely due to higher bus speeds on the controller for these SKUs, with lower capacity TLC SKUs performing better outside of SLC.
Either way, the Inland Premium doesn’t challenge the paradigm here, but instead uses a traditional combination. While DRAM reduction is something people can get hung up on, consider that the 2TB 670p, for example, only has 256MB. Intel has patents regarding metadata compression that can reduce DRAM load, but the drive is unlikely to benefit from more DRAM. Many 128MB drives on the market, usually driven by Realtek, have no problem here.
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