LAS VEGAS, NV -- The M.2 specifications have been great for consumer use, but lack some features large enterprise customers want in their pizza box server. The enterprise equivalent to M.2 is the U.2 specification, but that's built on old 2.5" disk drive form factor technology. Flash storage has moved beyond traditional form factors with success, but the consumer M.2 specification doesn't carry over well to the enterprise.
The two M.3 SSDs we've seen thus far from Samsung and now Adata feature a wider (30.5mm vs 22mm) width that gives manufacturers more surface area to mount components. The extra surface area gives the companies more options with NAND packages, host power failure capacitors, and larger controllers.
Adata's IM3P33E1 features a PCIe 3.0 x4 host connector that support hot plug. The drive will enter the market in sizes that range from 240GB to 1.92TB. This is lower than Samsung's, which reaches up to 16TB, but much more economical. Adata claims up to 3,200 MB/s sequential and 1,800 MB/s sequential write speeds over the NVMe 1.3 protocol.
The connector in the server doesn't use an angle when inserting the drive. This direct, straight through connector gives users hot plug capabilities without the use of a complicated mechanism. The only server we've seen with the M.3 form factor puts 34 drive sleds on the front of the 1U chassis. The server consolidates the drives vertically and fits more high-speed storage than possible with 2.5" U.2 ever could in 1.75" height server.
The pin out is the same between M.2 and M.3, but don't expect to use these in your desktop anytime soon. The two M.3 drives we've seen from Samsung and Adata use 12v instead of 5v. Even the name M.3 is not a technically correct term at this time—it's a specification that does not exist. Samsung first used the M.3 name at Flash Memory Summit 2016 but later shifted over to Next Generation Small Form Factor (NGSFF) after catching some heat from the committee that oversees the M.2 specification. With more than one company showing NGSFF drives, we should see some movement on the specification soon.