CES 2015: New M.2 PCIe 2.0 drives show off future of solid-state storage

Samsung, Plextor, and Kingston are among the manufacturers preparing more tiny, high-performance SSDs that take advantage of the PCI Express connection.

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Like traditional hard drives, solid-state storage has mostly relied on the venerable SATA interface to transfer files. SSDs that make use of a faster PCI Express connection have been few and far between, with a large price premium. But a new generation of drives is emerging that could substantially increase the popularity of SSDs using PCIe, with a number of them being displayed at CES.

The M.2 form factor was initially designed to fit into tight quarters, but it can be wired through the PCI Express connection to get the best of both worlds: energy efficiency and blazing performance. We've seen some of these M.2 PCIe 2.0 drives last year, such as the Lite-On EP1 series, but a handful of manufacturers are preparing to increase that tally.

Kingston's HyperX Predator (pictured above), for instance, has been officially launched this week in Vegas, with a shipping date of next month. Sharing the same Marvell 88SS9293 controller with the Predator is Plextor's M7e, both make use of four lanes of PCIe 2.0 to coax read speeds of up to 1,400MB/s and write speeds of up to 1,000MB/s. The Predator will initially ship in 240GB and 480GB versions, with a 960GB model following shortly thereafter. No pricing info has been disclosed, and Plextor hasn't yet provided official details on capacities and availability for the M7e.

While those SSDs rely on PCIe 2.0, new drives from Samsung and Mushkin can also make use of the newer PCIe 3.0 standard to crank speeds even further. Samsung has begun mass production of the SM951, which is also notable for its use of the L1.2 low power standby mode to consume essentially no power when it's not actively running. It will come in 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB capacities. Mushkin's Hyperion does the SM951 one better by shipping in a full terabyte version in addition to 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB flavors when it becomes available in the second quarter of this year.

For newer computers that possess PCIe 3.0 interfaces, the Samsung and Mushkin drives can reach 2,150MB/s read speeds and 1,550MB/s write speeds. (In comparison, a drive using a SATA 6Gb/s interface can only transfer files at a maximum speed of 600MB/s.) For systems that lack an M.2 socket on their motherboards, Plextor and HyperX (among others) offer adapters that can house the M.2 drives, allowing older desktops to take advantage of the latest SSD technology. Expect to read much more about M.2 PCIe drives in the coming year(s) as manufacturers may have found the current sweet spot between portability and performance.

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