MSI's M.2 add-in card looks like a GPU, sports two hot-swap PCIe Gen 5 SSD slots

MSI M.2 Xpander-Aero Slider Gen 5 PCIe Card
(Image credit: Future)

MSI is upping its M.2 add-in card game with an all-new M.2 expander card, which the motherboard and graphics card manufacturer announced at Computex. Known as the M.2 Xpander-Aero Slider Gen 5 (what a mouthful), the card supports up to two 22110-size M.2 drives at Gen 5 speeds.

The main selling point of MSI's new expander is the way the M.2 drives are installed. Compared to other models that require you to take off the heatsink and install the drives on ordinary M.2 slots, MSI's new expander card has two M.2 bays that can be accessed from the rear PCIe slots. This not only gives you access to the drives at any time but also enables hot swappability, which MSI's card officially supports.

The card itself is painted in a matte black finish, featuring a single fan cooler design. If you didn't know any better, you could easily mistake this add-in card for an entry-level GTX 1650, given its dual-slot proportions. The fan will automatically shut off if it does not detect any M.2 drives installed in itself. It also features a manual off/on switch when drives are installed. The manual fan functionality is great for lower-powered M.2 NVMe SSDs — particularly Gen 3 and Gen 4 drives — which don't require active cooling.

If you only need two M.2 slots, MSI's new card is arguably one of the best add-in options for M.2 drives on the market. No other mainstream M.2 expansion card that we know of offers hot-swappability, and drive slots that can be accessed right from the rear PCIe slots.

This is stuff you generally only see in the enterprise/server space, but can be very useful in the consumer space as well. Say you want to back up your data to a super fast M.2 SSD but want to take it with you to keep safe, having a hot swappable solution is much better than having to disassemble the card to access the drive(s).

Sure, you could just buy an M.2 SSD enclosure with a high-speed USB 3.2 port and get a similar experience, but you won't be able to get Gen 5 speeds with typical USB enclosures. Plus, if you use your "external" M.2 drives for any extended period time connected to the system, it is nice having them tucked away inside of a PCIe card, rather than hanging off of one of your front-mounted USB ports.

Pricing and availability were not disclosed to us, but we expect MSI's new expansion card to be on the more expensive side due to Gen 5 support and the fact it is one of the only consumer M.2 expansion cards with hot-swappable drive bays.

Aaron Klotz
Freelance News Writer

Aaron Klotz is a freelance writer for Tom’s Hardware US, covering news topics related to computer hardware such as CPUs, and graphics cards.

With contributions from
  • nightbird321
    Surprised no MB has built them into the I/O shield, could be a killer feature.
    Reply
  • Eximo
    nightbird321 said:
    Surprised no MB has built them into the I/O shield, could be a killer feature.

    Tricky. There are a lot of I/O connections and traces taking up space right there. The stacked m.2 slots on some Mini-ITX boards is closer to that idea.
    Reply
  • thestryker
    Unfortunately things like this are virtually useless on consumer platforms unless you don't plan on using a video card. Previous iterations required bifurcation support and there's no reason to believe this would be any different.

    Intel only allows a single split of CPU lanes so even if you had two PCIe 5.0 slots it wouldn't matter as only one SSD would be recognized in the second. On the AMD side of things it's better, but you have to have two PCIe 5.0 slots and proper motherboard support.

    If the bifurcation was handled on the card it'd be an infinitely more compelling product, but would also likely cost a lot more and have lower margins. Thanks Broadcom!
    Reply
  • BelowTheL1ne
    People who say this is useless replace too many pc's too soon. Give me fans or give me blue screen of death!
    Reply
  • yc1
    When you're ssd gets so hot it needs a fan maybe they need to make ssds run cooler first before pcie 6.0 or they will have a pentium 4 type of disaster on there hands
    Reply
  • ezst036
    Most ATX motherboards these days seem to have only 1 or 2 16x PCIe slots, making it not usable unless you seek out a board with more slots.

    Or give up your GPU.
    Reply
  • Li Ken-un
    I’m surprised MSI beat Icy Dock to the punch on a product such as this. Icy Dock doesn’t even have one on their concept page. Although they have plenty for the E3.S/E1.S form factors, which makes sense as M.2 wasn’t even designed for hot swap in the first place.
    Reply
  • wr3zzz
    thestryker said:
    Unfortunately things like this are virtually useless on consumer platforms unless you don't plan on using a video card. Previous iterations required bifurcation support and there's no reason to believe this would be any different.

    Intel only allows a single split of CPU lanes so even if you had two PCIe 5.0 slots it wouldn't matter as only one SSD would be recognized in the second. On the AMD side of things it's better, but you have to have two PCIe 5.0 slots and proper motherboard support.

    If the bifurcation was handled on the card it'd be an infinitely more compelling product, but would also likely cost a lot more and have lower margins. Thanks Broadcom!
    ^This

    It's lazy reporting like this article led to me wasting money on a PCIe NVMe card. Every Tom's article of similar products failed to include this above information. I only found out from reading the MB manual after the card disabled my onboard NVMe.
    Reply
  • thisisaname
    A solution looking for a problem?
    Reply
  • t3t4
    Well that's kinda cool/er, literally. While I have no need for such a thing at the moment, I do like the idea of adding gen5 support like this and being able to keep the drives actually cool. This looks like a pretty cool add on card to me.
    Reply