Sunday , 23 November 2014
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ASRock Z97 Extreme6 Motherboard Capable of Supporting M.2 (NGFF) SSD With Speeds Up To 32Gb/s

Intel Z97 based motherboards will be making their appearance very shortly and, once again, ASRock seems to flexing their muscle. If you remember their release of the Z87 series, they literally blew away competitors by releasing the Fatal1ty Killer AMD board with the worlds first native PCIe x2 M.2 socket, accomplishing the task of breaking that infamous SATA performance barrier (see report)

ASRock Fatal1ty 990FX Killer M.2 Slot

As if that wasn’t enough, their Intel based Z87 release of the Extreme 11/ac contained a whopping 22 SATA ports, the LSI SAS 3008 12Gb/s SAS controller, along with the LSI 3x24R expander which allowed the plugging in of 16 SATA or 8 SAS SSDs. Check out this report where we reached 6GB/s and 850K IOPS using 8 HGST 12Gb/s SAS SSDs.

Test-Bench

We have a fairly great working relationship with ASRock, and I wouldn’t say we might be influencing things at all, but the one complaint we had last round was NOT being able to connect our Samsung XP941 M.2 SSD at full PCIe 2.0 X4 speeds. We are happy to report that things have changed significantly with new Z97 ASRock boards. Not only do all but one contain a native M.2 Gen 2 x2 connector, but more importantly, the Extreme 6 contains what ASRock terms as an ‘Ultra M.2’ built on a PCIe Gen 3.0 4 lane base. This provides for up to a whopping 32Gb/s transfer speed from a single M.2 SSD. Is that future proofing things or what?

Ultra M.2

Now, we know that M.2 PCIe SSDs won’t be capable of 32Gb/s blazing performance for years to come, but this is going to be a very welcome addition for those companies putting out native M.2 PCIe x4 SSDs later in the year. If you have been following our reports, you would know we already have 2 x Samsung XP941 M.2 PCIe x4 SSDs on hand that we have reported on several times, but this isn’t all that the SSD arena has in store for us.

Featured3x5

If you remember our coverage of LSI AIS last fall, our follow up article on Understanding M.2 Standardization, or that of CES this Spring, you would have seen our reports of the LSI SF3700 flash controller, capable of 1.8GB/s, and the Marvel Altaplus 88SS9293 Controller, believed to be capable of 1.4GB/s. Don’t get me wrong. We are not saying that there will be a flood of native M.2 PCIe Gen 2 x4 SSDs available on the retail market anytime soon, but Computex seems to be promising some great things.

LSI SF3700 PCIe x4

Let’s explore the M.2 storage possibilities of the new ASRock Z97 motherboard a bit more closely though. We know we can plug in the Plextor M6 M.2 PCIe x2 SSD for speeds up to 750MB/s and we know that we can also plug-in the Samsung XP941 PCIe X4 SSD for speeds above 1.1GB/s. Consider for a moment though that we can also RAID M.2 SSDs from both M.2 slots, whether they be native M.2 or SATA. This surely enables great performance considerations in a style that takes up virtually no space whatsoever on the motherboard.

ASRock Z97 MotherboardAs we see things from our ‘storage’ perspective, ASRock is definitely leading the pack in the motherboard world as of late. It is great to see motherboard manufacturers finally paying attention to the single most visible performance upgrade shown in any PC system for the last several years.

Last but not least, we convinced our friends at ASRock to give us a bit of an exclusive in their marketing material for their upcoming Extreme 6 and ‘Ultra M.2’…take a look on the next page!

About Les Tokar

is a technology nut and Founder of The SSD Review. His early work includes the first consumer SSD review along with MS Vista, Win 7 and SSD Optimization Guides. Les is fortunate to, not only evaluate and provide opinion on consumer and enterprise solid state storage but also, travel the world in search of new technologies and great friendships. Google+
  • dba

    You meant to write 32 Gb/s and not GB/s I assume.

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Yup tx long day…

  • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

    Yes it is. We worked together on the issue with the Fatal1ty FX990 Killer and fixed the problem.

    • Dave

      Does it have trim support as well?

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        of course…

    • Dan

      For the boot-abilty, what was the conclusion with the FX990?

      Was it simply a UEFI concern or something trickier? I am eyeing the XP941 as a boot drive for one of the upcoming Z97 chipsets.

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        We assisted ASRock and an update was made in the firmware to ensure the XP941 was bootable.

      • Dan

        Thanks.

        Another quick question:
        Did the XP941 work in both M.2 slots and was simply bandwidth-
        limited in the non-ultra one?

        Or, will the XP941 only work when using 4 lanes?

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        We havent tested it with this board yet; the board is on its way. I was explaining that we tackled the XP941 boot issue, using the FX990 Fatal1ty Killer mobo so the XP941 could boot from this system. As XP941 is x4, as is the Ultra M.2, it would of course work at X4. We can elaborate once we get the board in hand.

      • L337

        Any info if it is working and bootable on the Asrock fatality z97 killer? As it is an “upgrade” of the FX990 it should work right? And what is the estimated speed of the SSD with “only” M.2 PCiex2 instead of the x4. Will it even work? Thx in advance

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        I can confirm the XP941 works in X4 mode and boots from this mobo. X4 Speed 1.2GB/s/X2 Speed 780MB/s

  • http://TinkerTry.com/about Paul Braren

    Very promising, exciting times, great article. But darn, for those of us into virtualization, sure am looking forward to breaking past this multi-year 32GB maximum spec barrier! It feels artificial to me, trying to push us toward “server” class Xeons and ECC DIMMs.

    ASRock Z97 Extreme6 Spec sheet:
    http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/Z97%20Extreme6/index.asp

    states:

    Max. capacity of system memory: 32GB*
    *Due to the operating system limitation, the actual memory size may be less than 4GB for the reservation for system usage under Windows® 32-bit OS. For Windows® 64-bit OS with 64-bit CPU, there is no such limitation.

  • Marcus Bennett

    Insanely fast disk speeds. What’s not to like. Like a moth to the flame I was drawn to the Z97 extreme6 website here http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/Z97%20Extreme6/ With M2 support, Dual LAN, and Sata Express it’s certainly worth considering. Also check out this hilarious feature https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mQfFVT4tT8

  • http://www.ramcity.com.au Rod Bland

    Very exciting product, and looking forward to seeing the official test with the XP941 Les!

  • Pieter Janssens

    I am also looking forward to your review of this Ultra M.2 together with the Samsung XP941 (also the less fast 256GB). Please also test the boot ability of RAID M.2 drives too.

  • Vext

    Les, new to commenting but I’m a fan of your site. Question: What do you feel would be more performant on the Extreme6, a) an single 1TB XP941 (i’m assuming they’ll make one) in the Ultra M.2 slot or b) a pair of Raid0 512GB in the Ultra and non-Ultra slots?

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      WE are all performance lovers but there will be little or no performance jump from the XP941 and two PCIe SSDs in RAID. Remember…there is one X4 and one X2 slot and the law of RAID is that they only go as fast as the slowest of the group. This means a dual X2 RAID configuration which, IMHO, leaves a negligible boost to a 1TB XP941…if and when it is released.

      • Vext

        Agreed. I’m trying to build a gaming machine with 1TB of fast SSD. As such, I’m kinda hoping one of two things happen sooner rather than later 1) Samsung releases the 1TB XP941 (depicted in trade show photos) and use it in the x4 slot, or 2) Asrock releases a Z97 Extreme”9″ (or whatever) with TWO x4 M.2 slots for raid-e-riffic x4 magic. Any intel on these two plans?

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        Haven’t heard a word from Intel…. They are relying on LSI SandForce which means sometime after Computex.

      • Vext

        What would you think would be faster… A) an xp491 in and ultra m.2 slot or, B) a revodrive 350?

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        Without a doubt the Revo 350 but there isnt a fair comparison as they are intended for completely different market segments.

      • Vext

        Okay but as of now, the price of an xp941 is comparable to a revodrive 350 of roughly the same size. This will change of course but if you were trying to make a fast-booting, gaming desktop today that does occasional video editing very well you don’t save that much by buying an xp941 in a x4 slot over spending the hundred-or-so bucks extra to get a revodrive 350 of the same size. Is my logic faulty?

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        Either would do the trick….with the XP941 taking up virtually no space at all.

      • Vext

        So there’s a catch I’m assuming. I’ve read that using a x4 m.2 in the ultra slot will halve the bandwidth to the pcie lanes. If true that would make SLI video cards impossible or simply take away any gains. Thoughts?

      • jim

        I scour the internet looking for details of this.
        I am hoping I can easily get a $80-$130 Z97/H97 mobo which will run an i5 4590 and GTX 970 and a HDD now. And in about six months also accept an SSD that will not be limited to SATA.
        It looks like I “do not have to worry” because the 970 can not even push the limits of PCIe 3.0 x8 so it does not matter if the SSD knocks the PCIe 3.0 x16 holding 970 down to x8 and at the same time the SSD will be able to get at least x4.

        Most mobos seems to have one PCIe 3.0 x16 and then the rest is PCIe 2.0. And so really the second GPU running at x8 is PCIe 2.0 x8 (which is PCIe 3.0 x4 speed). Do the current fastest GPUs push the limit of PCIe 2.0 x8?

        The z97 extreme9 manual pdf you linked above seems to indicate there are two full speed PCIe 3.0 x16 slots available, but after all the multi-GPU-hype dust settles … it is hard to determine what effect, if any, installing a m.2 device to the ultra m.2 interface. Does it knock down one of the PCIe 3.0 x16 slots? Are the PCIe 3.0 x16 slots already knocked down by having dual GPUs?

        What the heck is the formula for figuring this stuff out?
        The best hazy info I get seems to indicate for the average October 2014 Z97/H97 mobo is: 1 current GPU can run at x16, add a another current GPU or something else that can use PCIe and that first GPU then sees x8 (which is not a bottleneck). Have two GPUs and another PCIe user (m.2 SSD maybe??) and the speeds are x8 for the first GPU, x4 for the second GPU and x4 for the third device.
        There seems to be some variations which may be decided by the manufacturer? Or is some inherent limit of the current Intel Core CPU and the Z/H97 chipset?

        Please feel free to correct my ignorance and to answer any relevant questions left after corrections. It was only earlier today that I learned it does not matter how much SATA is populated … it will not affect any PCIe activities.

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        Jim, we are learning as we go also. Take a look at our latest report on the Extreme 11 X99…just posted. I actually went out and bought a second GTX 770 to SLI both (x16/x16). On top of that, I have an Intel DC P3700 NVMe SSD running at PCIe 3.0 x4, two Samsung XP941 PCIe 2.0 x4 SSDs running in the Ultra M.2 PCIe X4 slots, 8 SAS HGST 12Gbps SSDs RAIDED along with a notebook SSD or two and all function correctly without any difficuly whatsoever.

        http://www.thessdreview.com/featured/asrock-x99-extreme11motherboard-review-6-1gbs-transfer-speed-sound/

        If you are set on the Z97 chipset, I can ask Sean to jump in as he is running that Z97 system right now. He may… have dual cards SLI’d and I also know he has a few other PCIe peripherals he may be able to pop in to see how things fare.

      • jim

        I am posting here for answers to questions I get from OTHER places on the internet. Please do not take my text as refering only to what is offered here. There is only one other place I have found that has provided accurate info that begins to touch on PCIe slot usage-speed limitations, and like here, that site’s primary purpose is not about PCIe education.

        That said,
        From the article you linked above: “ASRock has implemented two Ultra M.2 PCIe 3.0 X3 and each is one day capable of seeing a high of 32GB/s transfer speed”, did you mean PCIe 3.0 x4 and 3.2GB/s?

        And back to the puzzle in my head:
        I really like how you detail your setup to the reader.
        For my budget, I can not touch the x99/i7-5000, so I am left puttering around in low-budgetland, either hoping to see a review that actually ran a similar set up as I hope to get or keeping my fingers crossed when it comes to spending more for something that might not run at its full potential since I do not understand the limits of the items I will buy.
        For mobo info, it is very confusing to read: 2 PCIe x16 {well what version are either of them?)
        Then wait, no one can use both of them at x16. {ahhh, the “by number” is used interchangeably to mean physical size and also speed … I think? … confusing!}
        And if slot A {x16 }and slot B {x16} are used then slot C {x16 size} can only only be used at x4 {and that may or may not slow slots A or B down to half the speed they could run just before slot C was populated}.
        But wait: if slot C is populated, then slots D, E and F {all x1 size} can not be used and maybe some other ports that are not even PCIe …
        Gah. There must be a formula and there are obviously limitations, but they seem to be complex. And then throw in marketing which blankets the facts with half truths and any chance of decoding this stuff becomes … well here I am ranting in the very place I am beginning to glean answers.

        I also just learned (correct me if wrong): due to my budget limits I probably should just forget the upper end SSD that would need the use of PCIe to run at full potential. I should stick with a meh-middling SSD that plugs into and runs at about SATA III max. This will still give me about almost 4 times faster speed than a SATA HDD. Did I get it right when I pegged HDDs (7200s) as only using about 1/4 of SATA III speed limit? If so, then I will be content at my modest speed increase over my late-2005 pc which employed PCIe and sATA when they were new.

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        PCIe 3.0 x4 will yield a top transfer speed of 32GB/s, however, there is no M.2 SSD that comes anywhere near that yet.

        We have plenty of articles that speak to the difference between a hard drive and SSD. It is a no brainer that you will observe massive and obvious system improvements from ANY SSD, solely because of the significant decrease in access times. Whether you need a SATA 3 SSD or PCIe, however, is something you must determine in your own needs.

  • Peter

    Nice one – thank you for your work!

  • Vext

    Ok so it looks like there is a compatibility issue with the Ultra M.2 slot on this board and the use of SLI as the second card will be forced to run at x4 rather than at x8. Pretty bad news because many builders considering this board will want to start with one GPU and an SSD in the Ultra M.2 slot. This leaves no room to expand, unfortunately. I’m hoping Asrock makes a z97 Extreme9 that has a PLX chip that will allow at least two PCIe slots at x8 with a x4 Ultra M.2 installed.

    • Vext

      Les, my prediction came true! Asrock has put the specs up on their site for the extreme9 and it has a PLX chip that should allow the use of the ultra m.2 slot and SLI. Please review!!! Thanks. ;)

      • Vext
      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        We are in touch with ASRock over this…

      • Vext

        Do you know if the z97 extreme9 will at least support two 16x pcie slots while at the same time supporting a x4 m.2 ssd in the ultra slot?

      • Vext

        Any word on how well SLI might work on the extreme9 with a x4 m.2 ssd in the ultra slot?

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