Plextor M9Pe Extreme - A Swing And A Miss

The last Plextor Extreme branded SSD was little more than a firmware tweak that significantly increased performance. The company sold new products under the M5 Extreme name after the update, but owners of the original M5 Pro could download the firmware to get the same performance with identical hardware.

Going into Computex, we saw the same signs coming into focus. The Plextor M9Pe came to market with less performance than we expected. Since the launch day reviews hit the web, the company tweaked the firmware, and the new performance is reminiscent of what we saw in the past. Plextor sent out invitations to see the new Plextor M9Pe Extreme and we expected another firmware upgrade to build a new product.

We were wrong. Instead of taking the easy base hit for a double that would have re-energized the M9Pe with new branding and putting a spotlight on the new 1.04 firmware that makes this a very competitive SSD, the company swung for the fences and missed. The Plextor M9Pe Extreme is an extreme failure. It's still early enough in development to kill the idea without taking a big loss.

The company displayed a Marvell 88NR2241 development board loaded with four M9PeGN M.2 SSDs that use the aging Marvell Eldora NVMe controller. The 88NR2241 is a PCIe 3.0 x8 PCIe bridge chipset that fans to four PCIe 3.0 x4 for M.2 SSDs. There is an obvious bottleneck from the SSD, to the host system but using a bridge removes the bifurcation requirement needed to ensure compatibility with most systems. Existing products like the Asus Hyper M.2 x16 and Asrock Ultra Quad M.2 only work on motherboards with bifurcation like AMD's X399 and Intel's X99/X299 chipsets.

The Marvell 88NR2241 has a place in the market, but not where Plextor wants to use it. In our testing with a single M9Pe running the new 1.04 firmware, we measured random read performance 63.03 MB/s CrystalDisk Mark, the same application Plextor used to show the M9Pe Extreme. Our single drive random write performance result was 175.8 MB/s. The M9Pe Extreme with the data running through the Marvell 88NR2241 bridge shows around 41 MB/s for both, a significant decrease in performance over a single drive.

In our meeting, Plextor stated the new Extreme aims at enthusiasts, workstations users, and potentially the server market. Most of those already run systems based on the X399, X299, and equivalent server chipsets with software NVMe RAID-like Intel's VROC. In our testing, VROC delivers roughly twice the throughput and around 50% more random performance compared to the Plextor M9Pe Extreme Plextor had on display. You can get these benefits with VROC and AMD's interpretation free for RAID 0, whereas the 88NR2241 and add-on board would add to the cost of four M9Pe SSDs.

Chris Ramseyer
Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews consumer storage.