Is the SSD always better?

The SSD you’ve bought may not be exactly the SSD you think it is. That’s because of a common vendor practice of swapping out internal parts due to supply, pricing pressure, or other reasons.

Usually this practice has focused on the NAND flash storage modules on SSDs, and the vendor has met or exceeded the promised specification. If the change is significant, the vendors have usually changed the SKU. But as Sean Webster of Tom’s Hardware discovered in his investigation of the Adata XPG 8200 Pro, the company changed the controller without changing the name—except the performance changed, for the worse. There was no way of knowing the difference from the outside.

Such practices leave both SSD buyers and we who review SSDs in the dark, with no idea of whether performance will be consistent throughout the life cycle of a product. So they reached out to the vendors we cover to get more information. What we learned was mostly reassuring, but unfortunately the onus remains upon the buyer to figure out what you’re getting.

There are legitimate reasons for changing an SSD, most either benign or positive: bug fixes, firmware updates, faster components. No harm, no foul, though we’d also like a new revision number if changes are significant.

Supply issues may also lead to component changes, especially with smaller vendors who are picking parts off the shelf, as it were. Again, no harm, no foul.

However, one of the three Adata XPG8200 Pro NVMe SSDs Tom’s Hardware obtained was about 300MBps slower than the others. Foul. Additional reports of Adata playing fast and loose with components (this time substituting QLC for TLC, which will hurt performance during very long copies) surfaced on Reddit in March, 2021.

According to one industry source who asked not to be named, Adata is not alone: Dataram, Kingspec, and Avant were also mentioned as having changed to inferior components at one point or another.

The practice continues. Most recently, Crucial related to me that for its X6 external SSD, “components may change as market dynamics and customer needs evolve over time.”

We’re not accusing any vendor of truly malevolent behavior. Stuff happens, especially in 2020, when this news originally surfaced. Let’s just say the behavior is bad for users in the short term, and bad for the company’s reputation in the long run.

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