MSI representatives were excited to show us the company’s new AIC M.2 adapter & cooler combo, noting that it should address our previous concerns (that the company had validated, with some SSDs) regarding the M.2 heat “shields.” The AIC is a PCIe x8 device that can run 2x M.2 SSDs (at full throughput) in RAID, or can mount a 2.5” drive to the back-side of the card. Each M.2 SSD is mounted under an MSI heat sink, which they still erroneously call heat “shields,” which is made of a yet-unknown material. If it is the same as the first generation of heat “shields,” it is a stainless steel. If it is the new generation, MSI has gone to aluminum, following our earlier complaints of poor thermal transfer and dissipation. The AIC also carries with it a small blower fan, which pushes air through the chamber and out the back. An acrylic cover and LED offer some more interesting visuals.

Kingston Digital was responsible for a full 16% of SSDs shipped in 2016, according to data compiled by research firm Forward Insights. This puts their market share in second place, just behind Samsung’s 21%.

We recently covered Intel’s DC P4800X data center drive, with takes on the technology from two editors in video and article form. Those content pieces served as a technology overview for 3D Xpoint and Intel Optane (and should be referenced as primer material), but both indicated a distinct lack of any consumer-focused launch for the new half-memory, half-storage amalgam.

Today, we’re back to discuss Intel’s Optane Memory modules, which will ship April 24 in the form of M.2 sticks.

As Intel’s platform for 3D Xpoint (Micron also has one: QuantX), Optane will be deployed on standardized interfaces like PCI-e AICs, M.2, and eventually DIMM form factors. This means no special “Optane port,” so to speak, and should make adoption at least somewhat more likely. There’s still a challenging road ahead for Intel, of course, as Optane has big goals to somewhat unify memory and storage by creating a device with storage-like capacities and memory-like latencies. For more of a technology overview, check out Patrick Stone’s article on the DC P4800X.

Intel’s latest memory technology has big aspirations. It has the ability to one day unify the DRAM and non-volatile memory structure, but we’re not there yet. Today, we get the Data Center Optane SSD (the DC P4800X) as a responsive, high-endurance drive specifically targeted at big data users. This is not a consumer product, but the architecture will not change in any significant ways as Optane & 3D Xpoint move to consumer devices. This information is applicable across the user space.

Upon initial release, the DC P4800X drive will be a 375GB PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe HHHL device costing $1520 without Intel’s software, and $1951 with the Intel Memory Drive Technology software package. Later in the lifecycle, we should see 750GB and 1.5TB versions. The Optane SSD is one of three Optane technologies that Intel is marketing: Optane DIMM (fits into a DDR4 slot), Optane SSD (fits into a PCIe 3.0 x4 slot or U.2 connector), and Optane Memory (fits into an M.2 slot).

Revisiting an article from GN days of yore, GamersNexus endeavored to explain the differences between Western Digital’s WD Blue, Black, Red, and Purple hard drives. In this content, we also explain the specs and differences between WD Green vs. Blue & Black SSDs. In recent years, Western Digital’s product stack as changed considerably, as has the HDD market in general. We’ve found it fitting to resurrect this WD Blue, Black, Green, Red, and Purple drive naming scheme explanation. We’ll talk about the best drives for each purpose (e.g. WD Blue vs. Black for gaming), then dig into the new SSDs.

Unchanged over the years is Western Digital’s affinity for deferring to colors as to identify products, where other HDD vendors prefer fantastic creature names (BarraCuda, IronWolf, SkyHawk, etc.). As stated above, Western Digital has seriously changed its lineup. The WD Green drives have been painted blue, as they’ve been folded into the WD Blue umbrella. Furthermore, the WD Blue brand has seen the addition of an SSHD offering and SSDs in both 2.5” and M.2 form factors. This in no small part thanks to Western Digital’s acquisition of SanDisk—another notable development since our last article. With that, the WD Blue brand has expanded to become Western Digital’s most comprehensive mainstream product line-up.

Other changes to the Western Digital rainbow include the expanding of WD Black, and confusingly enough, WD Green brands. Starting with the latter, Western Digital rebranded all WD Green HDDs as WD Blue, selling WD Blues under two different RPMs, but recently reentered the SSD market with both. However, the WD Green SSDs are currently unavailable, perhaps due to the global NAND shortage. Likewise, the WD Black series has spilled over into the realm of NVMe/PCIe based storage and WD Black HDDs have expanded capacities up to 6TB; that’s quite a change from the 4TB flagship model we covered back in 2014. Lastly, there is WD Purple, of which we will retroactively cover here.

SK Hynix has been busy as of late. We most recently covered their plans for expansion, which offered a cursory foretaste into what 2017 might hold for the semiconductor supplier. SK Hynix has also recently further delineated plans for 2017, trailing behind their still-fresh announcement of the industry’s first 8GB LPDDR4X-4266 DRAM packages aimed at next-generation mobile devices.

In revealing plans, SK Hynix intends to volumize production of new types of memory—not altogether unexpected. Their primary focus on NAND production and expansion over DRAM is most noteworthy, at least for impermanent future. As such, SK Hynix intends to start volume production of 72-layer 3D TLC NAND (3D-V4). For reference, SK Hynix’s 36-layer and 48-layer NAND were 3D-V2 and 3D-V3, respectively. Notable about SK Hynix’s fourth version of 3D NAND is that it will use block sizes of 13.5 MB over the 9 MB sizes of the second and third generation predecessors. Furthermore, SK Hynix intends to roll-out 256 Gb 3D TLC ICs by Q2 2017, with 512 Gb 3D TLC ICs coming in Q4 2017. SK Hynix’s new 72-layer 3D NAND should allow for higher capacity SSDs in smaller form factors and increase performance on a per IC basis.

Every now and then, a new marketing gimmick comes along that feels a little untested. MSI’s latest M.2 heat shield always struck us as high on the list of potentially untested marketing claims. The idea that the “shield” can perform two opposing functions – shielding an SSD from external heat while somehow simultaneously sinking heat from within – seems like it’s written by marketing, not by engineering.

From a “shielding” standpoint, it might make sense; if you’ve got a second video card socketed above the M.2 SSD and dumping heat onto it, a shield could in fact help keep heat from touching SMT components. This would include Flash modules and controllers that may otherwise be in a direct heat path. From a heat sinking standpoint, a separate M.2 heatsink would also make sense. M.2 SSDs are notoriously hot resultant of their lower surface area and general lack of housing (ignoring the M8Pe and similar devices), and running high temperatures in a case with unfavorable ambient will result in throttled performance. MSI thought that adding this “shield” to the M.2 slot would solve the issue of hot M.2 SSDs, but it’s got a few problems that don’t even require testing to understand: (1) the “shield” (or sink, whatever) doesn’t enshroud the underside of the M.2 device, where SMDs will likely be present; (2) the cover is designed more like a shield than a sink (despite MSI’s marketing language – see below), and that means we’ve got limited surface area with zero dissipation potential.

As solid-state storage continues to displace mechanical drives, so too does the constriction of the HDD market continue. As part of their ongoing plan to stay profitable and financially stable, Seagate has opted to shut down its HDD manufacturing facility in Suzhou, China. The Suzhou plant was one of Seagate’s largest production assets, and its resultant closure will acutely reduce the company’s HDD output.

However, this isn’t unforeseen, as last year Seagate announced its intentions to augment manufacturing capacities from around 55-60 million drives per quarter to approximately 35-40 million drives per quarter in accordance with their continued restructuring initiative. As part of that effort, Seagate reduced global employee headcount by 8,000 last year. Moreover, the closing of the Suzhou facility will see the layoff of a further ~2,200 employees.

Optane is Intel’s latest memory technology. The long-term goal for Optane is for it to be used as a supplemental system memory, caching storage, and primary storage inside PCs. Intel claims that Optane is faster than Flash NAND, only slightly slower than DRAM, has higher endurance than NAND, and, due to its density, will be about half the cost of DRAM. The catch with all of these claims is that Intel has yet to release any concrete data on the product.

What we do know is that Lenovo announced that they will be using a 16GB M.2 Optane drive for caching in a couple of their new laptops during Q1 2017. Intel also announced that another 32GB caching drive should be available later in the year, something we’ve been looking into following CES 2017. This article will look into what Intel Optane actually is, how we think it works, and whether it's actually a viable device for the enthusiast market.

PNY announced their CS2030 line of M.2 NVMe SSDs this week. The CS2030 will be available in two capacities at 240GB and 480GB, and both drives will follow the M.2 2280 form factor.

The new CS2030 drives will utilize a Phison PS5007 controller with MLC NAND Flash memory to provide sequential read speeds of 2,750 MB/s and sequential write speeds of 1,500 MB/s for the 240GB model. The larger CS2030 480GB version will provide sequential read speeds of 2,800 MB/s and sequential write speeds of 1,550 MB/s.

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