RISC-V PCIe 5 SSD controller for the rest of us hits 14GB/s

Speed-reading flash drives no longer just an Arm wrestle

A demo of Yingren Technology's YRS820 PCIe 5.0 SSD controller – built entirely on the RISC-V architecture – showed it reading at 14GB/sec and writing at 12GB/sec, without any active cooling required.

The YRS820 is 100 percent based on RISC-V CPU cores, and is an among the first PCIe 5 controller to use RISC-V exclusively. The market-leading Phison E26 controller makes use of four Arm Cortex-R5 cores, though it also incorporates a single RISC-V AndesCore N25F core. Silicon Motion, another Chinese manufacturer like Yingren, uses a five-core Arm CPU for its SM2508 controller: a quartet of Cortex-R8 cores and one Cortex-M0.

Arm is typically the go-to architecture for PCIe 5 controllers, so it's interesting to see RISC-V show up here. Notably, Chinese tech titan Alibaba also announced a RISC-V based PCIe 5 controller for datacenters last year.

The YRS820 controller is a consumer-grade version of Yingren's YRS900, which it launched last year for datacenter SSDs. Like the YRS900, the YRS820 controller also hits 14GB/sec on reads and 12GB/sec on writes, so it's not entirely clear if there are any notable differences between the two controllers. For reference, just about 16GB/sec is the limit for PCIe 5 SSDs on a typical four-lane interface.

Consumer gaming and AI PCs are the primary market for the YRS820 controller – much like other PCIe 5 SSDs. Yingren notes that Microsoft's DirectStorage technology will work with YRS820-equipped SSDs, allowing GPUs to read compressed data directly from an SSD and theoretically boosting memory bandwidth by tens of gigabytes per second.

The speeds shown in the YRS820 demo – according to a report from MyDrivers – are roughly in line with Phison E26-powered SSDs, which boast 14.5GB/sec reads and 12.7GB/sec writes on Crucial's T705 SSD. However, the YRS820 boasts two advantages: a transfer rate of 2,667MT/sec to the E26's 2,400MT/sec, and up to 8TB of capacity where the E26 officially supports 4TB. Even if the higher transfer rate doesn't translate into a performance advantage, the E26 has no answer for the YRS820's higher capacity.

Since the first PCIe 5 drives arrived in early 2023, Phison has completely dominated the scene – pretty much every brand from Corsair to Gigabyte is using the E26. However, the E26 is notable for consuming a substantial amount of power – requiring many SSDs to come with large passive heatsinks or active cooling solutions equipped with tiny, powerful, and potentially loud fans.

As Yingren boasts that its YRS820 prototype SSD is fanless, that could be a big selling point and may potentially challenge Phison's leadership. Phison is prepping a lower-power E31T controller, but it's only rated for 10.8GB/sec reads and writes. Silicon Motion's SM2508 similarly brags about using less power and not requiring the same kind of cooling as the E26 for peak performance.

Yingren and Silicon Motion are both late to the PCIe 5 party, so it may be some time before we see consumer SSDs using their controllers. Phison's hold on the market may be hard to break. ®

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