Silicon Power P34A60 box - Silicon Power P34A60GB M.2 Review
The Silicon Power P34A60 series’ shipping container is nearly a dead wringer for its bigger brother the P34A80s. That is to say it is attractive enough, informative enough, as well as offering good enough protection for its precious cargo. The only issue we have with it… is it is easy to confuse the two model’s if they are sitting next to each other on your retailer’s NVMe storage shelf. So pay careful attention, and make sure you are buying the ‘right’ model.
Silicon Power P34A60 box o - Silicon Power P34A60GB M.2 Review
As this is a M.2 solid state drive it should as no surprise that there are no accessories included with the P34A60. While an argument could be made that a small M.2 mounting screw should have been included, every motherboard with a M.2 slot already has one included in your motherboard’s shipping container. As such it would have needlessly added to the cost of the P34A60 series. Of course, if you have lost those finicky, fiddly little screws… you may wish to pick one up at the same time you buy this drive.
Silicon Power P34A60 HMB - Silicon Power P34A60GB M.2 Review
(Image Courtesy of Longsys)
Let us start with a bit of history. In 2016 SMI (amongst a whole host of controller manufactures) released and started pushing their new and improved DRAM-less controllers. DRAM-less or onboard DRAM cache-less controllers were not a new idea. What was new was HBM or Host Memory Buffer technology. In a nutshell HMB aware Operating Systems can reserve a chunk of the systems memory for use by the storage controller much the same way integrated graphics can reserve a chunk of system memory for its random-access ‘video buffer’. The idea behind this branch of the Solid State technology tree was simple, by not having a RAM IC on the SSD this cost savings allowed SSD manufactures the luxury of reducing prices. In theory it should have worked as well as APU’s do at day to day video processing tasks.
The reality is a bit more… nuanced to say the least. So nuanced that SMI actually released an upgraded SM2263XT variant that took further advantage of HMB before reality set in to the fact that most consumers do not like HBM models.
Silicon Power P34A60 controller diag - Silicon Power P34A60GB M.2 Review
The main reason for having an onboard RAM cache or volatile memory buffer on the storage device is also simple. It is where the controller stores the ‘hot’ translation data table it uses. Using and having a translation table large enough to not be stored in a controllers SRAM is because SSD controllers do not actually keep the data where they were first written to (i.e. where the OS expects the data to be). Instead, every so often the controller will write the data to a new location (aka ‘wear leveling’). Yes in a perfect world, every time the data gets moved its pointers in the partition table (aka ‘MBR’ Master Boot Record in older systems, and ‘GPT’ GUID Partition Table in newer systems) would also get updated with the new LBA address(es). This however… would defeat the purpose of wear-leveling and eat up a ton of P/E cycles.
Silicon Power P34A60 GC - Silicon Power P34A60GB M.2 Review
(Image Courtesy of cnx-software)
Instead, solid state drives have two tables. The one that matches what the OS uses to make requests (logical map version) and the physical map of where the data actually is actually stored. To keep the two tables from getting entirely messed up, the controller uses a third table / map… the one with the changes that have not yet been updated to the physical table are kept. This is the ‘hot’ table and is stored in volatile Random Access Memory until enough changes between the two ‘real’ maps warrant a re-write (at which point the hot table is flushed and the process starts all over again).

Generally speaking, this hot table requires about 1MB per GB of physical storage capacity. Before HBM, the DRAM-less controller stored it in a section of the NAND… and ate NAND life cycles like a hungry teenager at an all you can eat buffet. Your DDR3/4/etc. system RAM on the other hand does not care about constant writes to this table (as RAM is much, much more robust than NAND). It is also technically faster than NAND. Thus HBM was born, and was seen as a great solution for entry level solid state drives.

Unfortunately, the latency penalty from accessing the system’s RAM is greater than onboard RAM cache. To mitigate this controller manufactures added in a bit more SRAM (static RAM) to their controller designs capable of holding a bit of the hot table right inside the controller itself (think L3 cache for an analogy). This SRAM unfortunately is measured in Kilobytes not Megabytes. So once the controller saturates its SRAM buffer Read and Write requests become slower as it has to be transferred to and from the systems RAM via the memory controller and PCIe bus.
The controller manufacture’s product literature played down this issue, as they felt that for home users the SRAM buffer combined with more aggressive flushing of the hot table would mitigate this issue to the point of being not noticed. This is why in ton of companies started releasing HMB enabled solid state drives. Everyone from AData (SX6000 series) to HP (EX900 series) to even Toshiba (OCZ RC100) released a model that featured this ‘breakthrough technology’. By late 2018 though, what was once a flood became a trickle. Make no mistake, there are some very good technical reasons for why HMB can actually be a good solution, but for the most part the market has moved in a different direction – namely using QLC NAND instead of TLC NAND to keep prices down.
Silicon Power P34A60 top - Silicon Power P34A60GB M.2 Review
This is where the Silicon Power P34A60 enters the story. Silicon Power wanted to offer a good and inexpensive solution that would complement their A80 series. They did however, have a few very good insights into what they did not want to do. Firstly, they did not want to compromise on capacity options (the P34A60 scales up to 2TB) but at the same time they did not want to opt for a double sided, thermally compromised design either. Since the SM2263XT is only 12x12mm in size (288-ball TFBGA) and needs no DRAM cache IC taking up space, the P34A60 series can have FOUR NAND ICs on the top side of a M.2 2280 PCB (i.e. as many NAND ICs as a typical M.2 22110-S3).
Silicon Power P34A60 nand - Silicon Power P34A60GB M.2 Review
As the SM2263XT is also noticeably less expensive than a PHISON E12 controller, this cost savings allowed Silicon Power the luxury of using TLC and not QLC NAND. Yes, it is not Toshiba BiCS 3 NAND, but it is second generation IMFT CuA 3D TLC NAND (the exact same NAND which made its debut in the Intel 545s – IMFT 29F01T2ANCTH2). This is good, high quality TLC NAND which blows the doors off QLC NAND when it comes to native write performance (i.e. when the pseudo-SLC buffers are exhausted) and durability (TLC is not as fragile nor temperature sensitive as QLC).
Silicon Power P34A60 back - Silicon Power P34A60GB M.2 Review
The SM2263XT is also a rather decent controller in its own right. This DRAM-less, cut down variant of the SM2263EN is a dual core (ARM Cortex based), 4 channel, 4 PCIe 3 lane controller with a lot of power for its low asking price (rated for 280K/250K R/W IOPS). For example, it supports 256-bit AES using TCG Opal and IEEE-1667 (Microsoft’s eDrive) with little performance reduction. It also makes use of SMI’s NANDXtend ECC Technology.
Silicon Power P34A60 NANDXtend - Silicon Power P34A60GB M.2 Review
NANDXtend ECC Technology uses a 2KB Low Density Parity Code error correction with custom Layer-Interleaved “RAID/RAIN/RAISE/etc” configuration of the NAND layers (aka advanced linear ECC on top of parity striping the NAND data for both hardware and software level error correction). As it is multi-level protection based, NANDXtend is both robust enough to protect your data and yet is usually light-weight enough to not have a significant impact on read or write performance.
While we doubt many entry level systems will be sporting a P34A60 for its primary storage, the Silicon Power P34A60 does have a lot going for it – besides its low asking price. So much so that if the numbers fall where they ‘should’ it may just become a really good secondary storage / ‘game drive’ option for a lot of budget constrained buyers.