The Kingston KC3000 is the first Phison E18+Micron 176-layer SSD we're reviewing. We did have the chance to preview an engineering sample
drive from Phison back in May, and I'm still impressed. The new Phison E18 and Micron 176-layer TLC NAND combo works extremely well, with fantastic results that confirm Phison is on the right track to become a premium SSD controller vendor. I think the fact that Kingston, who previously used a Silicon Motion controller on their drives, has now switched to Phison speaks volumes about the progress Phison has made. Last but not least, a DRAM cache is also included for the mapping tables of the SSD, which helps with random writes.
Synthetic performance numbers of the KC3000 are really good, all results are near at the top of our charts. A very important test result is that the drive is the clear winner in our "mixed" IO benchmarks, which read and write data at the same time—something that happens all the time on a modern computer system as pure reads or writes are actually quite rare. No doubt a lot of optimization went into getting these scores high enough to beat the competitors. That's why our real-life testing is so important—it runs actual applications, something that's much harder to optimize for. Our real-life testing is also performed with 80% of the drive filled, which is a more realistic scenario and limits the drive in the way it uses its pseudo-SLC cache.
In our real-life test suite, the Kingston KC3000 achieves excellent results, too. It beats the Samsung 980 Pro by 1%—an important win. The Corsair MP600 Pro is beaten by 2%; it uses the same E18 controller, but slower 96-layer NAND flash. The KC3000 is actually the fastest SSD we ever tested; it shares the performance throne with the WD Black SN850—really nice work here, Kingston! Compared to the fastest PCI-Express 3.0 drives, the difference is around 3 to 5%; of course more depending on the workload. More value-oriented PCIe 3.0 drives are 15% slower, and the aging SATA drives are around 25% slower, SATA QLC even 40–50%.
With a pseudo-SLC cache size of 643 GB, the KC3000 pretty much maximizes the SLC cache for a 2 TB TLC SSD. In TLC mode, three bits are written into one cell, and in SLC mode that same cell is filled with only one bit, which is much faster, but triples the storage requirements. 643 GB x 3 = 1929 GB, which is close enough to 2 TB. The large SLC cache and excellent algorithms in the Phison E18 make the Kingston KC3000 the fastest TLC drive we ever tested when it comes to sustained writes. Filling the whole capacity completes at nearly 2 GB/s, which is the best result in our test group with the exception of the MLC-based Samsung 970 Pro with much lower peaks due to its PCIe 3.0 interface. The best Gen 4 SSDs are close behind, though. WD Black SN850 churns away at 1.6 GB/s and Samsung 980 Pro at 1.9 GB/s, so the differences aren't that big. Of course, momentarily stopping the write activity will have the SLC cache free up capacity immediately, so full write rates are available as soon as you give the drive a moment to settle down.
Kingston includes a preinstalled metal heatspreader foil with the KC3000. Certainly better than nothing, it's not a real heatsink as it only serves to spread the heat of the controller over a larger area, which works reasonably well in delaying the thermal-throttling point. Since modern consumer workloads are very bursty, the ability to soak up some heat is usually god enough because the activity will stop after few seconds anyway, after which the drive can cool down. In our thermal stress test, which hammers the drives with multiple GB/s of incoming writes, the KC3000 throttled after around 90 seconds. Unfortunately, performance falls off a cliff at that point—other drives slow down more gracefully, which helps with the subjective user experience. I feel like the lack of a real heatsink is the biggest drawback of the KC3000. Considering the price, I am not sure why Kingston didn't include something with a bit more meat.
Priced at $450 for the tested 2 TB version, the KC3000 is very expensive. It's considerably more expensive than other flagship SSDs, like the Samsung 980 Pro ($360), WD Black SN850 ($350), and Corsair MP600 Pro ($340). I'm not sure how Kingston arrived at their $450 price point, but it's simply too high. No doubt, the drive is one of the fastest SSDs that money can buy, but $100 on top of other big name competitors seems like a stretch. Considering performance per dollar vs. PCIe 3.0 drives, Let's not forget that these drives are quite expensive on their own. I checked out various online stores and it seems that supply on the KC3000 is quite low at this time, some are even reporting it as out of stock, or "available soon," so maybe that explains the increased pricing. I feel that as soon as Kingston can bring their pricing closer to the established competitors, the KC3000 will fly off the shelves.