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More On M.2 And SanDisk's Fancy PCIe Adapter Card

SanDisk A110 PCIe SSD: Armed With The New M.2 Edge Connector
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In case the previous page didn't clarify M.2 for you, don't sweat it. I created the diagram above to (hopefully) inject some clarity, since this entire discussion gets a little confusing. In reality, M.2 refers to the connector manufactured by companies like Kyocera and Tyco. Again, solid-state drives employing the M.2 connector are 22 mm wide, better accommodating NAND packages and processors down the length of the PCB. That length can be 42, 60, 80, and 110 mm. So, a M.2 2260 is 22 mm wide and 60 mm long. Get it?

That's the obvious, physical stuff. There's also plenty to digest when it comes to the technology on an M.2-based SSD. Use a SATA controller, and you end up with something similar to an mSATA-equipped drive (so long as the M.2 slot is wired up to a corresponding SATA port on your motherboard; otherwise, there needs to be a PCIe-to-SATA bridge chip in play).

Then you have native PCI Express controllers like the one on SanDisk's A110. It boasts Marvell's 9183, which, communicates across those two lanes of second-gen PCI Express. There will be native NVMe-based controllers that attach via PCIe and work with the upcoming host interface. For now, though, the A110 is limited to AHCI. This is the case for every current and most upcoming M.2 PCIe-based drives.

Still following along? Let's pile on some more. SSDs with M.2 connectors can use one, two, or as many as four PCI Express lanes. SanDisk's sample employs two PCIe 2.0 lanes, which should become fairly standard, we understand.

We probably don't need to tell you that the test platforms already in our lab don't yet support M.2. One motherboard vendor is starting to show off LGA 1150-based platforms with M.2 linked to one PCIe lane, but we'd prefer to use our main SSD testing setup. Not only would stepping over to a new board yield different results, but limiting the A110 to one lane would inhibit its performance.

That's why we need this bad boy:

This is SanDisk's PCIe x4 to M.2 adapter. Without a proper slot to accommodate the A110, we need this full-height card to test any SSD with an M.2 connector. These are for testing and development, and come with a variety of arcane jumpers, along with a USB port for debugging. The PCIe-based M.2 can be powered through either the PCIe bus or the four pin Molex. That'll come in handy for power consumption testing.

With just two different PCIe M.2 form factors, the adapter doesn't need to support every length. Installing the M.2-based SSD is easy; plug it in the connector and then secure it with a cylindrical barrel.

Test Hardware
ProcessorIntel Core i5-2400 (Sandy Bridge), 32 nm, 3.1 GHz, LGA 1155, 6 MB Shared L3, Turbo Boost Enabled
MotherboardGigabyte G1.Sniper M3
MemoryG.Skill Ripjaws 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) DDR3-1866 @ DDR3-1333, 1.5 V
System Drive Kingston HyperX 3K 240 GB, Firmware 5.02
Drive(s) Under Test
SanDisk A110 256 GB M.2 PCIe x2, Firmware: A200100
Comparison DrivesSilicon Motion SM226EN 128 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: M0709A

Crucial M500 120 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: MU02

Crucial M500 240 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: MU02

Crucial M500 480 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: MU02

Crucial M500 960 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: MU02

Samsung 840 EVO 120 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: EXT0AB0Q

Samsung 840 EVO 240 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: EXT0AB0Q

Samsung 840 EVO 480 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: EXT0AB0Q

Samsung 840 EVO 1 TB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: EXT0AB0Q

SanDisk Ultra Plus 64 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: X211200

SanDisk Ultra Plus 128 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware X211200

SanDisk Ultra Plus 256 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware X211200

Samsung 840 Pro 256 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware DXM04B0Q

Samsung 840 Pro 128 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware DXM04B0Q

SanDisk Extreme II 120 GB, Firmware: R1311

SanDisk Extreme II 240 GB, Firmware: R1311

SanDisk Extreme II 480 GB, Firmware: R1311

Seagate 600 SSD 240 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: B660

Intel SSD 525 30 GB mSATA 6Gb/s, Firmware LLKi

Intel SSD 525 60 GB mSATA 6Gb/s, Firmware LLKi

Intel SSD 525 120 GB mSATA 6Gb/s, Firmware LLKi

Intel SSD 525 180 GB mSATA 6Gb/s, Firmware LLKi

Intel SSD 525 240 GB mSATA 6Gb/s, Firmware LLKi

Intel SSD 335 240 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: 335s

Intel SSD 510 250 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: PWG2

OCZ Vertex 3.20 240 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: 2.25

OCZ Vector 256 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: 2.0

Samsung 830 512 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: CXMO3B1Q

Crucial m4 256 GB SATA 6Gb/s Firmware: 000F

Plextor M5 Pro 256 GB SATA 6Gb/s Firmware: 1.02

 Corsair Neutron GTX 240 GB SATA 6Gb/s, Firmware: M206
Graphics
MSI Cyclone GTX 460 1 GB
Power Supply
Seasonic X-650, 650 W 80 PLUS Gold
Chassis
Lian Li Pitstop
RAID
LSI 9266-8i PCIe x8, FastPath and CacheCade AFK
System Software and Drivers
Operating
System
Windows 7 x64 Ultimate
DirectX
DirectX 11
Drivers
Graphics: Nvidia 314.07
RST: 10.6.1002
IMEI: 7.1.21.1124
Generic AHCI: MSAHCI.SYS
Benchmarks
Tom's Hardware Storage Bench v1.0
Trace-Based 
Iometer 1.1.0# Workers = 1, 4 KB Random: LBA=16 GB, varying QDs, 128 KB Sequential, 8 GB LBA Precondition, Exponential QD Scaling
PCMark 7
Secondary Storage Suite
PCM Vantage
Storage Suite
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