The PNY XLR8 CS3030 NVMe SSD shows how the market has split into two camps. One is bargain drives such as this one: It can handle everyday performance capably, but it slows down on long sustained writes. Then there are pricier drives that can handle long writes without the slowdown.
Most users will be just fine with the XLR8 CS3030, or any bargain drive for that matter, and quite likely will never encounter a slowdown. If you don’t regularly write large amounts of data, read on—the CS3030 posted some very nice numbers with smaller data sets, and is less expensive than the competition. It also features spectacular endurance ratings for a bargain drive.
Design and specs
The CS3030 is an x4 PCIe, NVMe SSD in the 2280 form factor: 22mm across, and 80mm long. The NAND is likely TLC (PNY declined to comment), and the drive uses a Phison PS5102-e12 controller. A percentage of the NAND is allocated as SLC (Single-Level Cell/1-bit written) cache to allows top write performance within said cache. It appeared that a hefty six percent is allocated on the 500GB drive we tested, which is about twice the norm.
At the time of this writing, the CS3030 was available in a number of capacities: 250GB ($50 on Amazon), 500GB (the size we tested, $78.89 on Amazon), 1TB ($153 on Amazon), and 2TB ($300 on Amazon). That’s some aggressive pricing right there—lower than any of the brand name competition we scoped out at the time of this writing.
The drive is warrantied for five years, and the TBW (TeraBytes Written—total of data that may be written to the drive) ratings are exceptionally high for a bargain SSD: 380 TBW for the 250GB, 800 TBW for the 500GB: 1665 TBW for the 1TB, and a whopping 3115 TBW for the 2TB drive. It seems PNY is pretty confident in the endurance of its product.
The CS3030 is a very fast drive while it’s reading or writing to cache, but as mentioned, it slows down on long sustained writes that exceed the cache size. Also, as with any bargain drive, if you try to write more data immediately after a long write, the reduced performance will persist until the drive has had time to transfer the cache to the normal portion of the NAND.
Most users rarely write a file large enough to see the slowdown, but the reason I’m prolonging the discussion is that the CS3030 dips further than others we've tested—down to around 500MBps, or SATA speed. By way of comparison, the Kingston KC2000 slows down to only to 1.3GBps. This is why the 48GB file write number shown below is a bit high.
Because the different capacities of any SSD have different amounts of cache allocated, their performance on this test will differ. The 500GB CS3030 we tested slowed down at around the 30GB mark of the 48GB write, which means the 1TB version will likely drop around the 60GB mark. This would, of course, have translated to a faster time. All the other drives on the chart are 1TB models, but none slow down as drastically when out of cache.
The CS3030 did exhibit one bit of performance oddity I’ve never seen before. It was able to compress the empty 450GB VHD file we use for testing and maintain a 1.7GBps transfer rate with it. Filling said 450GB VHD with files dropped the drive to its normal 1.7GBps/500MBps on/off cache performance. It should go without saying that we will now use a filled VHD to avoid such shortcut or compression techniques in the future.
Testing is performed on Windows 10 64-bit running on a Core i7-5820K/Asus X99 Deluxe system with four 16GB Kingston 2666MHz DDR4 modules, a Zotac (NVidia) GT 710 1GB x2 PCIe graphics card, and an Asmedia ASM2142 USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbs) card. Also on board are a Gigabyte GC-Alpine Thunderbolt 3 card and Softperfect’s Ramdisk 3.4.6, which is used for the 48GB read and write tests.
A good bargain drive
The CS3030 is a perfectly viable NVMe SSD for the average user: very fast for everyday work, backed by an exceptional warranty and TBW rating, and cheaper than the name-brand competition. Bargain drives whose write speeds drop less drastically include Addlink’s S70 and Kingston’s KC2000. Pros should pay a bit more for a drive that doesn’t slow down during long writes, such as WD’s Black SN750 or Samsung’s 970 Pro.
Everyone else, sit back and enjoy the CS3030’s reassuring TBW rating. Perhaps stick with the 1TB or 2TB versions, though, which should have a lot more cache.