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A 1400 MB/s SSD: ASRock's Z97 Extreme6 And Samsung's XP941

A 1400 MB/s SSD: ASRock's Z97 Extreme6 And Samsung's XP941
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Z97 ushers in new and exciting ways to attach and use storage devices. With support for M.2 PCIe and SATA Express, two sides of the same SSD coin, Z97 improves on Z87. But not everywhere. AsRock add to Z97 with some new tricks, and so we take a look.

When the Advanced Host Controller Interface was standardized a decade ago, it was built around mechanical storage. In truth, it did an admirable job replacing the moribund IDE standard that preceded it. And even as SSDs came into their own, this programming interface to SATA was still good enough. At least at first.

Today, it’s holding SSDs back. Solid-state storage doesn’t need to exist in the same form factors as mechanical storage, nor does it need the same kind of programming interface. Intel's Z97 Express platform controller hub, which Thomas covered for the first time in Intel Z97 Express: Five Enthusiast Motherboards, $120 To $160, gives us the newest example of enabling SSDs in many shapes and sizes. It takes us away from a vestigial SATA/AHCI ecosystem to a new place where PCIe and SATA Express create an even clearer distinction between mechanical and solid-state storage.

As you start seeing more M.2 PCIe- and SATA Express-equipped boards, think future-ready. Neither plug will do you a ton of good initially. But they pave the way for a new world of storage on the desktop and in mobile applications. You get SATA ports for legacy devices, and the newer interfaces for the latest SSDs. At some point in the future, we'll get to a place where we can forgo AHCI altogether, and instead reap the benefits of solid-state storage through AHCI’s replacement, NVMe.

Meet ASRock's Z97 Extreme6

Serving as our spirit guide through this uncharted landscape is ASRock’s Z97 Extreme6. Thomas wasn't particularly bowled over by Z97's evolutionary changes. But I couldn't help but wonder whether the chipset enables storage nirvana (there isn't much to differentiate Z97 from Z87, after all).

The Z97 Extreme6 is one of ASRock's higher-end models with support for multi-GPU configurations, premium audio, and overclocking. But my interests in it are specific to the platform's storage capabilities.

The board exposes 10 SATA 6Gb/s ports. Six are native to Intel's Z97 Express PCH, while four attach to a pair of ASMedia ASM1061 controllers. One port connects to an eSATA interface on the rear panel, also.

That SATA Express connector is shared with two SATA ports and the M.2 socket. As you'll see, Intel's drive to push innovation in the storage space on mainstream core logic causes some of the same traffic jams we're accustomed to describing on the graphics side (shared PCI Express lanes and all of that).

Surprisingly, perhaps, even though SATA Express is brand new, that's not the big feature here. Rather, it's the Ultra M.2 x4 socket. Wired not through the PCH (like the standard M.2 interface on Z97's ports 13 and 14, along with SATA Express), it isn't subject to the same limitations. It instead utilizes four lanes of PCI Express 3.0 siphoned off of the CPU, yielding up to 32 Gb/s of bandwidth. And while you'll never get 4 GB/s out of it, the right SSD could make for a special evening of benchmarking. 

And wouldn't you know it? We have Samsung's XP941, an OEM-oriented drive, for testing. It uses four PCI Express lanes and comes equipped with the hardware to match. That'll allow us to determine if Intel's Z97 Express and ASRock's Z97 Extreme6 come together to make storage dreams come true.

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  • -7 Hide
    aminebouhafs , June 5, 2014 5:16 AM
    Once an SSD in plugged into the Ultra M.2 slot, the bandwidth between central processing unit and graphics processing unit is cut-down by half. Therefore, while the end-user gets additional SSD performance, the end-user may lose some GPU performance because of insufficient bandwidth between it and the CPU.
  • 8 Hide
    JoeArchitect , June 5, 2014 7:18 AM
    Very interesting article and a great read. Thanks, Chris - I hope to see more like this soon!
  • 0 Hide
    wussupi83 , June 5, 2014 8:21 AM
    great article! - although z97 still seems boring
  • -1 Hide
    Eggz , June 5, 2014 9:54 AM
    This makes me excited for X99! With 40 (or more) lanes, of PCI-e (probably more), there will be no need to compromise. We have to remember that the Z97 Chipset is a consumer-grade product, so there almost has to be tradoffs in order to justify stepping up to a high-end platform.

    That said, I feel like X99, NVMe, and and M.2 products will coincide nicely with their respective releases dates. Another interesting piece to the puzzle will be DDR4. Will the new storage technology and next-generation CPUs utilize it's speed, or like DD3, will it take several generations for other technologies to catch up to RAM speeds? This is quite an interesting time :) 
  • 5 Hide
    Amdlova , June 5, 2014 9:56 AM
    Chris test the asrock z97 itx... and another thing... my last 3 motherboard from asrock and i want to say Asrock Rock's!
  • 0 Hide
    Damn_Rookie , June 5, 2014 11:27 AM
    While storage isn't the most important area of computer hardware for me, I always enjoy reading Christopher's articles. Very well written, detail orientated, and above all else, interesting. Thanks!
  • 0 Hide
    hotwire_downunder , June 5, 2014 8:58 PM
    ASRock has come along way, I used them a long time back with disappointing results, but I have started to use them again and have not been disappointed this time around.

    Way to turn things around ASRock! Cheap as chips and rock steady!
  • 0 Hide
    alidan , June 5, 2014 10:51 PM
    @aminebouhafs if i remember right, didn't toms show how much performance loss there is when you tape gpu cards to emulate having half or even a quarter of the bandwidth? if i remember right back than the difference was only about 12% from 16 lanes down to either 4 or 8
  • 1 Hide
    Eggz , June 6, 2014 7:39 AM
    Quote:
    @aminebouhafs if i remember right, didn't toms show how much performance loss there is when you tape gpu cards to emulate having half or even a quarter of the bandwidth? if i remember right back than the difference was only about 12% from 16 lanes down to either 4 or 8


    PCI-e 3.0 x8 has enough bandwidth for any single card. The only downside to using PCI-e lanes on the SSD applies only to people who want to use multiple GPUs.

    Still, though, this is just the mid-range platform anyway. People looking for lots of expansion end up buying the X chipsets rather than the Z chipsets because of the greater expandability. I feel like the complaint is really misplaced for Z chipsets, since they only have 16 PCI-e lanes to begin with.
  • 2 Hide
    cryan , June 8, 2014 5:22 AM
    Quote:
    Once an SSD in plugged into the Ultra M.2 slot, the bandwidth between central processing unit and graphics processing unit is cut-down by half. Therefore, while the end-user gets additional SSD performance, the end-user may lose some GPU performance because of insufficient bandwidth between it and the CPU.


    Well, it'll definitely negate some GPU configurations, same as any PCIe add-in over the CPU's lanes. With so few lanes to work with on Intel's mainstream platforms, butting heads is inevitable.

    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan


  • 3 Hide
    cryan , June 8, 2014 5:23 AM
    Quote:
    While storage isn't the most important area of computer hardware for me, I always enjoy reading Christopher's articles. Very well written, detail orientated, and above all else, interesting. Thanks!


    Awww, shucks!

    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan
  • -1 Hide
    obamaliar , June 8, 2014 12:08 PM
    Supercool review, Just as a note though any pair of good SATA Based SSD's will blow the doors off of that x941. For example I am getting 740.00MB/s bandwidth at steady 5 and 948.37MB/s at recovery 5 for PCM8 extended photoshop heavy from a pair of Intel 730's
  • -1 Hide
    obamaliar , June 8, 2014 12:10 PM
    Supercool review, Just as a note though any pair of good SATA Based SSD's will blow the doors off of that x941. For example I am getting 740.00MB/s bandwidth at steady 5 and 948.37MB/s at recovery 5 for PCM8 extended photoshop heavy from a pair of Intel 730's
  • 1 Hide
    Evolution2001 , June 8, 2014 8:08 PM
    obamaliar, how do you reckon that your 740MBps or 948MBps is faster than 1400MBps? (referencing the sequential read of the tested drive)
    SATA3 has a theoretical max of 6Gbps (750MBps). However, the practical max is more around 600MBps.
    Assuming you are running your Intel 730's in RAID-0 and achieving the max practical throughput, you'd still only come up with ~1200MBps which is slower than what Tom's saw at 1400MBps ON A SINGLE DRIVE.
  • -1 Hide
    obamaliar , June 9, 2014 8:55 AM
    Quote:
    obamaliar, how do you reckon that your 740MBps or 948MBps is faster than 1400MBps? (referencing the sequential read of the tested drive)
    SATA3 has a theoretical max of 6Gbps (750MBps). However, the practical max is more around 600MBps.
    Assuming you are running your Intel 730's in RAID-0 and achieving the max practical throughput, you'd still only come up with ~1200MBps which is slower than what Tom's saw at 1400MBps ON A SINGLE DRIVE.

    Quote:
    obamaliar, how do you reckon that your 740MBps or 948MBps is faster than 1400MBps? (referencing the sequential read of the tested drive)
    SATA3 has a theoretical max of 6Gbps (750MBps). However, the practical max is more around 600MBps.
    Assuming you are running your Intel 730's in RAID-0 and achieving the max practical throughput, you'd still only come up with ~1200MBps which is slower than what Tom's saw at 1400MBps ON A SINGLE DRIVE.
    Evolution 2001, I am referring to OS simulated performance IE CRYAN's PCMark 8 extended testing. Please read the article and you would understand that sequential performance is really a non-factor in comparison to random performance in an OS environment. Right now, SATA RAID has vastly superior random performance to PCIe drives like the X941, even if you were to soft RAID a pair of X941's together they cannot match a pair of good SATA SSD's in RAID in an OS environment. I cannot show you that exactly because Soft RAID is not bootable. look here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1445011539065390/ there ia a pair of X941's soft raided getting their asses kicked by SATA RAID. The reason? 4K writes do not scale on PCIe drives. When PCIe drives can be RAIDed, bootable in RAID and have an RST type driver that allows for write caching Then they will become the superior OS disk.
  • 2 Hide
    cryan , June 10, 2014 11:57 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    obamaliar, how do you reckon that your 740MBps or 948MBps is faster than 1400MBps? (referencing the sequential read of the tested drive)
    SATA3 has a theoretical max of 6Gbps (750MBps). However, the practical max is more around 600MBps.
    Assuming you are running your Intel 730's in RAID-0 and achieving the max practical throughput, you'd still only come up with ~1200MBps which is slower than what Tom's saw at 1400MBps ON A SINGLE DRIVE.

    Quote:
    obamaliar, how do you reckon that your 740MBps or 948MBps is faster than 1400MBps? (referencing the sequential read of the tested drive)
    SATA3 has a theoretical max of 6Gbps (750MBps). However, the practical max is more around 600MBps.
    Assuming you are running your Intel 730's in RAID-0 and achieving the max practical throughput, you'd still only come up with ~1200MBps which is slower than what Tom's saw at 1400MBps ON A SINGLE DRIVE.
    Evolution 2001, I am referring to OS simulated performance IE CRYAN's PCMark 8 extended testing. Please read the article and you would understand that sequential performance is really a non-factor in comparison to random performance in an OS environment. Right now, SATA RAID has vastly superior random performance to PCIe drives like the X941, even if you were to soft RAID a pair of X941's together they cannot match a pair of good SATA SSD's in RAID in an OS environment. I cannot show you that exactly because Soft RAID is not bootable. look here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1445011539065390/ there ia a pair of X941's soft raided getting their asses kicked by SATA RAID. The reason? 4K writes do not scale on PCIe drives. When PCIe drives can be RAIDed, bootable in RAID and have an RST type driver that allows for write caching Then they will become the superior OS disk.


    Actually, the 4 KB writes are really an artifact of the AHCI controller/API. If you took the same flash and controller on the Sammy, but rigged it to use NVMe, I think you'd see a big bump in random 4 KB performance. I've said over and over that desktop users, for now, are better off by using a couple SATA drives in RAID. More than just adding bandwidth, which isn't always important (strictly speaking), it lowers service times significantly. Plus, it's great to just keep adding cheap drives and getting more performance and capacity (when striped). See the Plextor M6e PCIe review for my thoughts on this.

    It's all academic anyway, since you can only buy the XP941 from a few random places, and it's $750. If I had a laptop which could use it, maybe I go that route, but even there SATA is just more power efficient. Give me a 1 TB EVO or M550 instead..... at least for the time being.

    PS: Is this Jon C??

    Regards,
    Christopher Ryan
  • 0 Hide
    obamaliar , June 10, 2014 1:24 PM
    Thanks for the reply love your stuff C Ryan :) 
  • 1 Hide
    Eggz , June 10, 2014 3:42 PM
    Quote:
    Give me [either a 750 GB] or a 1 TB EVO or M550 instead..... at least for the time being.


    Totally agree! For now.

    I also added the 750 EVO in there because (I believe) the only difference between the 1TB and the 750GB is capacity, unlike the smaller drives, which actually have less performance (i.e. 120, 250, & 500 GB).
  • 0 Hide
    logainofhades , June 27, 2014 11:59 AM
    I would rather use a single powerful GPU anyway, so the cut to 8x due to the ultra M.2 slot doesn't bother me at all. This is definitely and interesting board. I want an Ultra M.2 slot on a mini-itx board. :D 
  • 0 Hide
    lukebutters , July 15, 2014 7:32 PM
    If the RAID controller is set up with 4 disks in RAID 10, will the DMI limit be reached?