A group of reviewers and storage enthusiasts on Facebook like to play show and tell with new review samples. Charles "Fugger" Wirth of Xtreme System's fame gave us the first look of a final Asus Hyper M.2 x16 card today. The new adapter appears very similar to what Asus showed media at Computex this past June. This is the first time the card has been in a third party's hands since the trade show.
It's designed to work with Intel's vROC (Virtual RAID on CPU) technology found on the new X299 and Xeon W workstation platforms. vROC allows users to take advantage of the available PCI Express lanes by using the CPU as a virtual raid controller that's capable of booting the system with up to twenty NVMe SSDs in a RAID 0, 1, or 5 array.
The advanced RAID classes will require you to purchase a dongle key from Intel to enable the feature. RAID 0 comes enabled from the factory, RAID 1 comes with the standard key, and RAID 5 comes with the premium key. A stock X299 platform can build RAID 0 arrays that are bootable through the new VMD technology but limits users to Intel SSDs. Intel's website states that some third-party SSDs will gain support in vROC, but it refers readers to a nonexistent white paper for more information.
Images Courtesy of Charles Wirth of Xtreme Systems
The Hyper M.2 x16 is now up to revision 1.01 and features a metal cooler for the full-height, half-length adapter. The card uses active air cooling from a small fan that hides under the heatsink. On the outside edge of the card, sticking out from the backplate, is a switch that allows users to engage the fan or power it off.
We don't have confirmation that the Asus Hyper adapter only works with Asus motherboards. In June we talked about MSI's version that adds hybrid support by merging flash and disk technology.
Although new for the consumer and DIY workstation market, these products have actually been shipping for over a year. HP built the Z Turbo Drive Quad Pro that only works in Z Series workstations. Dell also built a proprietary version called the Ultra-Speed Drive Quad NVMe M.2 PCIe x16 Card. (Apparently the performance of the PCIe 3.0 x16 cards is closely associated with the lengths of their names.)
The technology comes from the Open Compute Project that called for these devices back in 2015. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon required a way to pack as many M.2 NVMe SSDs in high-performance servers used as datacenter cache.
The HighPoint SSD7101 is the first product that will work in DIY systems that ships as a bare adapter or loaded. HighPoint will offer the drive with Samsung 960 EVO (SSD7101A) and 960 Pro (SSD7101B) NVMe M.2 SSDs with capacities reaching up to 8TB. Our initial testing with Samsung 960 Pro 1TB SSDs in a RAID 0 array netted nearly 13,000 MBps sequential read and nearly 9,000 MBps of sequential write performance.
These products increase sequential performance but do very little for consumer-level workloads at low queue depths. Random performance decreases slightly over a single 960 Pro SSD. Charles Wirth's idea of loading the adapter with Intel's Optane Memory can only produce a combined capacity size of 128GB. Our testing with three Optane Memory SSDs produced strong performance numbers in RAID 0. It looks like we'll have to buy another Optane Memory drive to raise the bar.