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PCI Express-Attached M.2: Ready For Prime Time

SanDisk A110 PCIe SSD: Armed With The New M.2 Edge Connector
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SanDisk's A110 is the first SSD in our lab based on the M.2 form factor. It's an intriguing piece of technology. Alleviating SATA's 6 Gb/s bottleneck allows the native PCIe controller to achieve impressive sequential performance, though random throughput is biased toward low queue depth environments. That's alright by us, though. In the mobile devices designed to accommodate SSDs like the A110, this level of performance is still downright phenomenal.

Seriously, it's not very bigSeriously, it's not very big

M.2 is picking up steam, and alongside it, storage vendors are starting to talk about a feature called DevSleep, which facilitates ultra-low idle power consumption at the expense of some extra latency as you resume. But this is a part of the SATA specification; you can't get it from a PCI Express-based drive with an M.2 connector. So naturally, the A110 doesn't support DevSleep. 

We're sure that PCI Express-based SSDs, and then PCI Express-based SSDs with NVMe support are going to receive the most attention from enthusiasts. However, those SATA-based models will likely ship in the highest volumes.

One more time: The M.2 2280, 2260, and 2242One more time: The M.2 2280, 2260, and 2242

On the desktop, power users can get as much storage performance as they want by slapping SSDs together in RAID. But that's simply not an option in most mobile devices. So, in some situations, SATA will be deemed plenty sufficient. In others, solutions like the A110 will enable more performance in less space. What's cool is that drives for both applications can be built using a number of form factors and the M.2 connector.

The two-lane A110, nestled alongside Micron's monsterous eight-lane P320hThe two-lane A110, nestled alongside Micron's monsterous eight-lane P320h

SanDisk's A110 represents growing number of options in the storage world, and we like that. Particularly now, as one high-performance SSD after another slams into the same SATA-imposed ceiling, it's exciting for a storage enthusiast like myself to get an early look at the edge connector and controller hardware that'll help change the status quo, knowing all along that there's an interface (NVMe) coming as well that'll complete the picture and further unlock the potential of solid-state storage. 

Until that happens, though, we have SATA- and PCIe-based SSDs with M.2 connectors and AHCI compatibility already in production. It's only a matter of time before Haswell-based Ultrabooks start showing up in greater numbers with their own little M.2 slots. And it's good to know they'll be nice and fast, isn't it?

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  • 0 Hide
    Mike Friesen , September 5, 2013 10:03 PM
    Awesome new stuff. Can't wait to see if this drive actually uses the full potential of the M2, and if Samsung or OCZ can one-up them.
  • 5 Hide
    cryan , September 5, 2013 10:31 PM
    Quote:
    Awesome new stuff. Can't wait to see if this drive actually uses the full potential of the M2, and if Samsung or OCZ can one-up them.


    Samsung actually has some pretty awesome M.2 PCIe action going on. We're trying to get our hands on everything, so stay tuned.


    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan

  • 0 Hide
    radiovan , September 5, 2013 10:32 PM
    It will be nice to see vendors implement the NVMe connectors in the desktop mobo's, which in turn will redefine case design, as less storage space will be required for storage. I am aware that the initial intent is to direct these at the mobile market, but desktops can benefit as well.
  • 2 Hide
    cryan , September 5, 2013 11:08 PM
    Quote:
    It will be nice to see vendors implement the NVMe connectors in the desktop mobo's, which in turn will redefine case design, as less storage space will be required for storage. I am aware that the initial intent is to direct these at the mobile market, but desktops can benefit as well.


    You'll really see NVMe take off on the desktop with the move towards SATA Express. A SSD on SATA Express will leverage NVMe and two PCIe Gen 3 lanes. Though some motherboards will (and already do) have M.2 connectors, M.2 really makes more sense in mobile applications. M.2 will only get traction on the desktop insofar as it will begin to replace mSATA. Tons of mainboards, especially smaller form factor products embrace mSATA, and moving to M.2 is a natural transition. However, M.2 drives are hard to find right now, and we really won't see a plethora of options until next year.

    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan
  • 1 Hide
    nekromobo , September 6, 2013 12:50 AM
    I got M.2 toshiba ssd in my Sony Vaio Pro 13.. review that?

    and it should have samsung M.2 in some countries..
  • 2 Hide
    CaedenV , September 6, 2013 8:59 AM
    I may no longer have motivation to upgrade my system based on CPU specs, but with DDR4, M.2, new restive storage based SSDs, and better chipset features I will still have enough reason to upgrade in a year or two.
  • 0 Hide
    jimmysmitty , September 6, 2013 9:07 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    It will be nice to see vendors implement the NVMe connectors in the desktop mobo's, which in turn will redefine case design, as less storage space will be required for storage. I am aware that the initial intent is to direct these at the mobile market, but desktops can benefit as well.


    You'll really see NVMe take off on the desktop with the move towards SATA Express. A SSD on SATA Express will leverage NVMe and two PCIe Gen 3 lanes. Though some motherboards will (and already do) have M.2 connectors, M.2 really makes more sense in mobile applications. M.2 will only get traction on the desktop insofar as it will begin to replace mSATA. Tons of mainboards, especially smaller form factor products embrace mSATA, and moving to M.2 is a natural transition. However, M.2 drives are hard to find right now, and we really won't see a plethora of options until next year.

    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan


    That's what I was thinking. SATA Express is going to be fast enough for now as I have used PCIe SSDs before (OCZ Revo based drive) and compared to my 520 its hard to notice a difference, especially since there are other bottlenecks stopping it from being able to utilize that bandwidth.

    This will be great for ultra portable systems though and ITX systems.
  • 2 Hide
    cryan , September 6, 2013 10:52 AM
    Quote:
    I got M.2 toshiba ssd in my Sony Vaio Pro 13.. review that?

    and it should have samsung M.2 in some countries..


    Absolutely... just send it my way and consider it done.

    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan


  • 0 Hide
    m32 , September 6, 2013 12:11 PM
    Christopher Ryan, I'll take this off of your hands.

    Regards,
    m32
  • 0 Hide
    mikeangs2004 , September 6, 2013 7:19 PM
    will there be RAID or SLI/CFX for PCIe based SSD's?
    I don't think so b/c it's already way above 6G limit.
  • 0 Hide
    markhahn , September 7, 2013 11:04 AM
    the power numbers don't make a lot of sense. I suspect either the pcie interface is being kept in a high-power mode (plls running, etc) or else your molex is supplying power to other stuff on the board. (there must be a dc-dc regulator on the auxiliary card, since molex provides only 12,5.)
  • 0 Hide
    cryan , September 7, 2013 6:04 PM
    Quote:
    the power numbers don't make a lot of sense. I suspect either the pcie interface is being kept in a high-power mode (plls running, etc) or else your molex is supplying power to other stuff on the board. (there must be a dc-dc regulator on the auxiliary card, since molex provides only 12,5.)


    This is almost certainly true. I mean, we know it uses DC to DC to step the 5v down to 3.3v. But oddly, SanDisk rates the max write power consumption at 5.5w, and I could only get it max at 3.5w. Of course, it also possesses a deep slumber state, but that's contingent on having a L1.0 PCIe endpoint, and that hasn't even been ratified yet by PCI-SIG.

    So definitely take the power consumption results with a grain of salt. There are challenges to testing this drive in this way.


    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan
  • 0 Hide
    cryan , September 7, 2013 7:16 PM
    Quote:
    will there be RAID or SLI/CFX for PCIe based SSD's?
    I don't think so b/c it's already way above 6G limit.


    If you happened to have the ability to run two+ PCIe SSDs, M.2 or otherwise, you can always soft-raid them. There are reasons why you'd want to avoid such a setup, but it'd totally work. Intel's 910 PCIe SSD shows 2 or 4 drives to the OS and then they can be soft-raided from there, for instance.


    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan

  • 0 Hide
    abbadon_34 , September 8, 2013 4:31 PM
    what command line switches were use in robocopy?
  • 0 Hide
    mikeangs2004 , September 9, 2013 5:31 PM
    Is there TRIM/garbage collection?
  • 0 Hide
    Dax corrin , September 10, 2013 11:33 AM
    Awesome stuff, wish I could afford it.
  • 0 Hide
    Blaise170 , September 15, 2013 9:44 AM
    It seems like new progress is being made in the field of NAND every day. I can't wait until you can get high capacity drives for around the same price as HDDs, but I've heard that even as late as 2017 SSD storage will only have a 33% share.
  • 0 Hide
    ryyple , October 4, 2013 12:20 AM
    I'm a complete novice to all this stuff, yet I have a few questions that maybe someone can answer.

    Are these M2 devices still considered SATA drives?
    Using a PCIe (or other) interface for the M2 how could you clone these devices?
    Can these devices then be cloned using a standard HDD duplicator?
    Is there such a thing as a M2 "adapter" that plugs into the above duplicator?

    Thanks for your response.
  • 0 Hide
    tpidner17 , November 12, 2013 7:22 PM
    Christopher,

    On page four of this review, in the maximum 4kb speed chart, it says "in MB/s [higher is better]." However, shouldn't that refer to the fact that it is measuring max IOps, rather than write speed? It seems like a type to me, so I wanted to let you know.