Understanding M.2 NGFF SSD Standardization (Or The Lack Of)

SO WHAT ABOUT PCI EXPRESS 3.0?

At 8GT/s, PCIe can theoretically attain 985MB/s per lane, compared to PCIe 2.0 which reached 500MB/s.  Present hardware is shipping with PCIe 3.0 and, in fact, our ASUS Maximus VI motherboard is PCIe 3.0, as are several of out M.2 adapter cards.  The PCIe 3.0 spec has a host of optional features that may or may not be a simple FW upgrade for manufacturers of SSD controllers. The speed from 5Gb/s to 8 Gb/s is likely a HW chip spin for most, and at least according to the LSI Marketing Team, we will likely not see 8Gb/s in the SF3700 and it will most likely be a derivative product from the SF3700 line.

CAN WE UPGRADE M.2 SSDS FROM SATA TO NATIVE PCIE?

Several e-mails have been received asking this question and, as we stated above, M.2 SSDs SATA SSDs cannot be switched with PCIe X4 M.2 SSDs and vice versa. We had both Sony VAIO Pro 13 ultra books in hand and it couldn’t be done.  The Samsung XP941 was not recognized in our M.2 SATA based VAIO, and the Toshiba SATA M.2 SSD was not recognized in the M.2 PCIe based VAIO. The reason might be a bit unsettling to most but, standardization relates to the M.2 host and not to the way it is connected to a system board. I know what the Gods intended but this is the reality of M.2 today.

VAIO XP941 256GB Review Featured

CAN WE UPGRADE M.2 SSDS FROM SATA TO PCIE X2?

Prior to LSI AIS, we had spoken to several and all agreed that SATA and PCIe X2 couldn’t be switched, even though the same host connector was in use. The common theme has always been that data had to travel via PCIe or via SATA and there was no way around this.  A close contact at the conference did tell us, however,  that their company had been able to enable auto detection of the SSD (for M/B key only) at the system level with BIOS customization.  Remotely, this made sense as the system BIOS has been the constant wall that we hit when trying to adapt a native PCIe SSD as a boot device. To date we are not aware of any motherboard that will recognize the native PCIe SSD and enable it to boot.

Toshiba SSD No Sticker

AND WHAT ABOUT APPLE?

I knew you were going to go there and, initially, the Gods believed that they could rope Apple into this standardization.  Unfortunately they haven’t.  To their credit,  Apple was the first to ship a native PCIe SSD in their 2013 MBA and that SSD being a modified Samsung XP941 to boot.  Who would have figured? In fact, I am writing this article on my 2013 MBA that I still don’t know whom to thank for sending it along.   But that’s another story.

2013 MBA SSD Interface

At least in the first run of their new systems, Apple has dedicated a custom PCIe solution to their entire MBA line, much like the XP941 M.2, except this one runs on two PCIe lanes vice the four of the Samsung XP941 we reviewed. We have heard recent rumblings that some have reached 1.2GB/s in the newest MBP/iMac releases and this would mean a X4 connection, however, we have been unable to validate such. Lastly, we should provide a heads up with respect to purchasing a new Mac with a low capacity SSD; they are much slower with write performance hitting the low SATA 3 realm at just over 300MB/s.  The only upgrade is through Mac and get ready to pay the price in that respect.  Did you wonder why Apple continuously alters their SSD in every generation to ensure they are proprietary?

Samsung PCIe

M.2 FROM THE CONSUMER PERSPECTIVE

Marketing any product is a funny animal.  For the most part, it is most effective with those less educated in their purchases and this is most abundant in the SSD industry today. This is very evident with advertised SSD performance that most consumers would never be able to achieve in typical use.  With a bit of great press though, many consumers can now understand performance variables and identify when an ultrabook is marketed containing a sub 300MB/s SSD, vice the standard SATA 3 speeds of 550MB/s.  This was done and many learned the hard way.

Today, M.2 SSDs are all the rave and, with videos such as this, will hit just as fast as mSATA SSDs did a short time ago.  You wouldn’t believe the number of offers we have received for our M.2 SSDs from concerned consumers who thought we just might have too many on hand. Conversely, we have also received the unfortunate complaints of those who purchased M.2 SSD enabled systems, learning only after the fact that they were configured with SATA M.2 SSDs, rather than the high power PCIe based SSDs as advertised. Would you think a 2X plus performance difference is worthy of mention?

FINAL THOUGHTS

Lastly, I will be the first to state that I don’t consider myself an expert in any way and am simply a tech nut lucky enough to get some great stuff ahead of the rest and put together a few opinions.  Can I be wrong? Absolutely!  Have I been wrong?  Yes, but please don’t mention it to Karen. Have I ever made similar errs in opinion? It wasn’t three weeks ago that a peer slapped me on the wrist for my incorrect use of the term ‘interface’ in a report.  This information is no more than my experience, enhanced through great conversations with those friends that truly know flash storage.  If you can add to this, in any way, please do and include support for your thoughts.

 

User Rating: 4.48 ( 2 votes)

20
Leave a Reply

avatar
9 Comment threads
11 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
12 Comment authors
Anthony ShinnMadFerret9DimitryDavid JashiLes@TheSSDReview Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Rod Bland
Guest
Rod Bland

Thanks for the detailed explanation Les. I must admit, it’s a lot clearer this time around even though I know you’ve explained the same several times before. Hope that leg is back to 100% soon…

Les@TheSSDReview
Guest

Rod…a big thanks to you for setting our M.2 SSD reporting in motion. Huge kudos my friend.

Rod Bland
Guest
Rod Bland

No problems Les. I’m just waiting for an invite to one of these summit junkets you are always going to. Make some room in a suitcase and I’m there! 😉

renosablast
Guest
renosablast

The folks at LSI were certainly top-notch hosts.

Tim
Guest
Tim

There is a standardization of all aspects, from the keying to the sizes of all the boards involved. The standardization specification can be found here. http://www.pcisig.com/specifications/pciexpress/M.2_Specification/

Les@TheSSDReview
Guest

Thanks Tim! We weighed the inclusion of just that link and then decided aghainst it for simplicity sake.

tim
Guest
tim

Well, it is an article that states there is no standardization, yet there is a published specification that covers every single aspect of the standard, literally down to the millimeter. One would think this would be relevant.

Les@TheSSDReview
Guest

I’ll go there wih ya if you like. There is absolutely nothing wrng with the specification and you are completely correct in your statement that it is very thorough. Other than the fact that the pdf is NOT available for public download, the difficulty with the final product is that it is either too confusing for even industry professinals to understand….or to mundane to even reach specific passages without complete boredom. If it were, we wouldn’t even be commenting on such an article would we now. Likewise if the spec were so clear, perhaps people wouldn’t be receiving SATA 3… Read more »

Smitty
Guest
Smitty

Desperate to find a M.2 SSD readily available in the USA that is larger than 120GB for my ASUS Impact mITX motherboard.

Les@TheSSDReview
Guest

Yes same combo card that we reviewed the ADATA on…

Smitty
Guest
Smitty

Been a couple days… what was the surprise?

Pawe? Miciak
Guest
Pawe? Miciak

Can I use SSD M.2 M and B notch with the slot which has only M notch?

Les@TheSSDReview
Guest

Can you give a more specific example? M.2 connectors only have the single slot but it is much more than that. We need to see how it is connected to the board. For instance, a M.2 PCIe may fit into the connector but the base system might not word because it is set up for SATA M.2’s.

Pawe? Miciak
Guest
Pawe? Miciak

I would add to my Lenovo Y510P ssd drive. There is a M.2 slot, exactly as on the 3rd picture this article. The qestion is: Will it work with SSD which has M and B notch? I would move system to SSD drive and keep standard 1TB HD.

Anas
Guest
Anas

I am using HP Spectre ultrabook 3010dx and would like to upgrade the SSD, unfortunately its having only M notch and in HP website mentioned that it is Msata SSD(M.2 config), Could you please give me a suggestion.

Thanks in advance

Les@TheSSDReview
Guest

The reviews demonstrate performance of a SATA 3 M.2 SSD so I might look at the Micron here:

http://www.thessdreview.com/our-reviews/micron-m600-m-2-sata-ssd-review-256gb/