Friday , 18 April 2014
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Sony VAIO Pro 13 Ultrabook M.2 Native PCIe SSD Review – 1GB/s Performance Fastest Ultra Speed To Date

SONY ULTRABOOK PRO 13 CONFIGURATIONS DIFFER

A few weeks back, we published our review of the Sony VAIO Pro 13 ultrabook where we discovered that there were two different configurations of the VAIO being shipped, that with a SATA 3 M.2 SSD and that with a native M.2 PCIe SSD.  Not only did the system that we received contain a SATA M.2 SSD, but also, a quick check of the internet revealed that there were several Sony VAIO Pro 13 customers just as surprised…and disapppointed. In subsequent conversations with Sony, we learned that certain pre-configured Sony Pro 13 models shipped with the M.2 SATA SSD, vice the native M.2 PCIe SSD.

Just as a point of clarification, M.2 is the official name give to these new ‘gumstick’ style SSDs and replaces the former working term of NGFF (Next Generation Form Factor). M.2 is derived from the female M.2 connector that can accomodate either male connector shown below, the PCIe interface represented by the left connector and the SATA 3 interface represented by the right.  The interface refers to the electrical connection so a SATA 3 M.2 SSD has a SATA 3 electrical interface which transfers data through the SATA 3 port (550MB/s), whereas a PCIe M.2 SSD has a PCIe electrical interface that connects via the PCIe lanes (500MB/s per lane).

M.2 Differences

WHY SSD PERFORMANCE MATTERS

This is not the first time that something similar to this has happened and, for the most part, its occurrence is the result of the lack of SSD knowledge today’s consumer has.  For instance, most are unaware that SSD contained systems typically start in 15 seconds, are visibly faster than HDD systems, are completely silent, much cooler, have a longer battery life, and are much less likely to crash if a portable system is dropped.  Knowing this, should it be displayed that a system contains a SATA M.2 SSD, capable of speeds of just over 500MB/s, rather than the advertised native M.2 PCIe SSD, capable of more than twice that speed at 1.2GB/s?  We think so.

IMG_7875

UNDERSTANDING M.2 SSD PERFORMANCE

SATA 3 has a bottle neck that restricts data speeds to just over 500MB/s, whereas, PCIe 2.0 can provide speeds more than twice that. Depending on whether your VAIO Pro 13 was a standard or customized configuration, SSD data transfer may occur through the SATA port (SATA 3 interface) or the PCIe lanes (PCIe interface).  Examining the Samsung XP941 M.2 PCIe SSD that is contained in systems such as the Pro 13 and 2013 MBA (reviewed), it utilizes 4 (x4) PCIe lanes which could allow speeds up to 2GB/s. We were able to get our hands on a XP941 for our own testing, where it reached speeds of 1.2GB/s and over 100K IOPS.  To offer an idea of the performance we are speaking of, this chart depicts performance of the top 5 single form factor SSDs we have ever tested:

M.2 Comparison 2

Looking at this chart, the performance increase of the XP941 is obvious.  Not seen here are the IOPS results, all except the Samsung XP941 (Mac) being very close to, or just over, the 100,000 read IOPS mark.  While in a Mac environment, the XP941 topped out at an unheard of 118807 read IOPS.

EXAMINING SONY’S NEW VAIO PRO 13 ULTRABOOK

As we covered the exterior and interior components of the Sony VAIO Pro 13 in our previous report, we will only glance over a few of the highs and lows that we noted in that report.  The Sony VAIO Pro 13 is the smallest and lightest 13.3″ ultrabook on the market today, at just .68″ high and 2.34lbs, this the inevitable result of its carbon fibre exterior.  Not only does it include a very attractive 1920x1080p IPS touchscreen with  TRILUMINOS display, but also, it can be configured with a 4th gen Intel® Core™ i5-4200U (1.60GHz / 2.60GHz) or i7-4500U (1.80GHz / 3.00GHz) processor, 4 or 8GB DDR3L-1600MHz memory, a 128, 256 or 512GB SSD.

Vaio Open Screen On

Although choosing a pre-configured system may result in your receipt of this system with a SATA M.2 SSD, vice M.2 PCIe SSD, lies at the top of our list of concerns, we also found that the Sony VAIO Pro 13 is not absent of heat or fan noise with the systems fan running constantly.  The heat vents are on the left side of the unit so, when resting on your lap during work or late night use on the couch, you will definitely feel the heat on the left side of the Pro 13.  Even with this constant fan use, testing of both received Sony VAIO systems resulted in over 6 hours battery life through constant and typical use.

Something else that we should point out is that the memory is integrated into the system board and not removable.  For this reason, we would strongly advise that the upgrade from 4 to 8GB during initial configuration is a must.  Let’s take a closer look at the Samsung XP941 M.2 PCIe SSD:

VAIO XP941 256GB PCIe SSD

Looking at the XP941, the front displays the Samsung 3-core eight channel MDX (300MHz) controller which is custom designed for PCIe and eliminates the bottlenecks seen in SATA 3.  Beside the controller is 512MB LP (low power) DDR2 Samsung DRAM cache, along with 2 modules of Samsung’s 64Gb MLC NAND flash memory, each module having a RAW capacity of 128GB.

XP941 256GB PCB Front

Total available user capacity is slightly less than 256GB capacity once the SSD has been formatted and system files have been installed.  The user can expect somewhere in the area of 221GB of available storage space.

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+
  • Maria K

    Regarding your comment;

    “It is interesting to note that, just as a native M.2 PCIe SSD can’t be switched off in a system for a SATA M.2 PCIe SSD, the same goes for adapters and separate adapters must be utilized for each type of M.2 SSD.”

    Waiting for the Samsung Ativ 9 Plus with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD.
    This computer has a M.2 SSD, but how do I know if it is a native PCIe or Sata drive?
    Also, from my understanding, the first version, currently available has the sata version.

    Few questions:
    1. If i understand you correctly, I can’t just swap a M.2 sata stick, with a M.2 Pcie stick?
    2. Is the connection port the same, and If so, will this damage the motheboard, plugging in the wrong type?
    3. Is it possible that Samsung now comes with M.2 PCIe stick instead of sata, explaining the wait?

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Hi Maria and thanks for the visit…

      1. No… You definitely cannot switch off a SATA 3 M.2 for a PCIe M.2 SSD with todays available technology;
      2. The connection would most likely be the same, however, the connection from the female M.2 connector to the system board that it is soldered to differs between types, one following the SATA 3 port and the other following the PCIe lane; and
      3. The ONLY way to answer that is by watching the specs of the product. Samsung presently has both SATA 3 M.2 and the XP941 which is a PCIe M.2 SSD; we haven’t had an opportunity to test the SATA 3 M.2 although we have the spec sheet.

      Hope this helps!

      • Maria K

        Thanks for the quick reply and good answers!
        Great site btw.
        This site, is really the only place that has good and valid information regarding this “new” m.2 ssd’s and the reviews are exciting!

        The only thing I can’t really understand, is why they made the M.2 sata3 ssd, clearly it would have been better with just one type of drive, preferably the PCIe SSD. Buying a premium ultrabook with SATA 3 M.2 feels wrong, when I know there is a better alternative, just my 2 cents :)

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        It all comes down to a smaller form factor, larger capacities and savings. Last year, when M.2 was first being looked at, they were all PCIe SATA 3 design and manufacturers invested in that, a smaller form factor.

      • Andrew

        Are you sure #1 and #2 are correct? Did you try swapping drives in one of these systems? I understand your HBAs are different but from my reading of the M.2 spec every interface type that supports SATA also has PCIe built in (types B and M). Is it that the manufacturers aren’t following the spec and leaving the PCIe lanes unconnected? That seems needlessly complicated to make 2 different boards depending on the type of M.2 drive going into it.
        The physical connector from drive to M.2 is definitely the same between them so I’m curious if the M.2 to system board is really different and if you confirmed this or are just guessing. Thanks for the great review by the way!

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        We tried both PCIe and SATA in several different devices and scenarios. Sony told me in an e-mail that of which we wrote which was that specific pre-configured systems were M.2 SATA based. In our tests, the Sony VAIO that was received initially (SATA) would not recognize the XP941 when inserted. I agree with what you wrote on the two different boards; the answer was also responded to with an affirmative by Sony. It is not just Sony though. Many people dont realize that the M.2 SSD got its name from a M.2 connector, one that can be used for several different purposes with the same ‘connector’ physical makeup. Remember, these are our opinions in our pretty detailed use of M.2. We understand that, by specs, a M and B keyed M.2 SSD should be able to do SATA or PCIe x2 because the specs say so, however, we haven’t seen this, and quite possible its because we only have a X4 PCIe and not a X2. ahem… Stay tuned as we may be receiving an X2 soon enough to tackle that.

      • Andrew

        Thanks for the quick and detailed reply. I am sad to hear that news. I was hoping M.2 would introduce a bit of standardization, miniPCIe/mSATA was a nightmare for consumers, no way to easily tell what devices/capabilities would actually work (lots of examples of latops with slots that couldn’t boot mSATA or would only work with specific cards, etc). My thought was that M.2 will be much more straight forward with capabilities defined by the connector key ID type, otherwise what is the point of even having key IDs. Oh well guess OEMs will continue to do whatever they want :(

        One question your reply does raise: so the PCIe XP941 is an X4 device, I wonder if Sony uses a B connector in the devices that ship with the SATA XP941 (B only supports X2) and then uses an M connector (which does X4 and SATA only) in the devices with the PCIe XP941? Did you try the reverse: putting the SATA XP941 in a VAIO that came with PCIe XP941? Or did you see a difference in the connectors? That would make more sense from a manufacturer perspective as the B slot gives them more options for device types (USB/PCM/UIM/SSIC/UART-12C) than the M connector, so the M is only special order.

        Will be interested to see your updates with X2 drives, and hopefully someone releases a real NVMe drive sometime soon!

  • lithium451

    “The negatives of constant fan noise and the resulting heat become much more manageable.”

    For me the noise would be a disqualification of an otherwise highly desirable machine.

  • lazy2late

    does the sony vaio have 2 ssd’s in raid 0? or is it one pcie ssd? some tech guy at a custom laptop website told me this sony vaio is 2 msata ssds in raid 0,
    do you recommend any custom high performance laptop compaines that offer the pcie ssd (like sony and macbook air)?
    thank you for detailed information about this new product

    • Guest

      The only ultra released that has two SSDs in RAID is the Acer S7 we reviewed here, and they are still a custom dual sided single PCB SSD design. The Sony has a single Samsung XP931 M.2 PCIe design (or SATA M.2) as we pictured and tested with separate Sony systems. Link the article to the tech guy and tell him he might want to know his material before providing advise that could affect consumer purchase.

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        The only ultra released that has two SSDs in RAID is the Acer S7 we reviewed here, and they are still a custom dual sided single PCB SSD design. The Sony has a single Samsung XP931 M.2 PCIe design (or SATA M.2) as we pictured and tested with separate Sony systems. Link the article to the tech guy and tell him he might want to know his material before providing advise that could affect consumer purchase.

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