It shouldn't come as a surprise to see Samsung and Intel leading the charge in PCIe SSDs, with innovative products that set the standard for performance and reliability. There is still a lot of room for other companies to introduce new and exciting products, though. Last year, Plextor introduced the M6e and M6e Black Edition native PCIe SSDs, the first retail products in this category. Several other vendors looked at the two-lane PCIe 2.0 controller from Marvell and found that its performance increase wasn't enough to justify the high cost over existing 2.5" SATA products. Marvell's new 88SS9293 is another story. Code-named Altaplus, it doubles the theoretical bandwidth with a four-lane interface and a real world performance ceiling that's twice as fast as SATA.
Marvell first displayed its four-lane PCIe 2.0 Altaplus controller at CES 2014 in a room reserved for customers and media. The first demonstration displayed some basic four-corner performance data, but by Computex in June, Marvell was ready to give us control of the keyboard and mouse to run additional tests. Fast forward another six months to CES 2015, and it looked like Altaplus was ready for prime time. We never did find out why it took a another quarter for this controller to surface. But it's here now.
Kingston is the only company (at the time of writing) with a retail 88SS9293-based product for sale. The HyperX Predator PCIe SSD ships in two capacity sizes and in two trims. The first set of SKUs includes the PCIe adapter card (shown above). For slightly less money, you can choose the Predator without an adapter.
Several motherboard manufacturers dedicated PCIe lanes to on-board M.2 slots. Some took a direct path to the CPU, others put the M.2 slot behind Avago (PLX) PCIe switches and we've seen implementations using the PCH's PCIe 2.0 connectivity. Of course, the fastest route is directly to the CPU, but it is also the least-utilized given an emphasis on reserving 16 lanes for graphics. The Kingston HyperX Predator uses PCIe 2.0, so it can sit comfortably attached to the PCH without the significant performance drop you'd see on a PCIe 3.0-based SSD.
Many enthusiasts are eager to adopt this high-speed storage interconnect. But M.2 SSDs are also gaining acceptance in the notebook space as well. Several new models released this year are compatible with both SATA and PCIe M.2, many shipping without 2.5" drive bays. Sadly, the OEM market has taken PCIe-based M.2 prices to 2010 SSD levels. One company offers a 512GB drive for $700. So, the doors are open for aftermarket upgrades that drastically reduce cost.