Are hard drives M.2 dead?

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This right here is the Sabrent eight-terabyte M.2 NVMe drive, available for you to upgrade your laptop with and I’m about to use it to make this Asus G14 very, very happy. When Apple released the 60-inch MacBook Pro, there was something about this machine that was unprecedented, the fact that it could be equipped with up to eight terabytes of high-speed NVMe storage. There was nothing like that available for the PC, that is, until now.

GlassWire’s the tool that shows you which apps are slowing down your connection in real time. It’s used by security pros to monitor for malware, block bandwidth wasters and detect suspicious activity. Get 25% off with offer code Linus, down below. (upbeat music) We’ll start by taking a closer look at the ssd itself, but unfortunately, not this one, because it’s got its stickers, which actually act as a heat spreader, pre-applied.

m.2

Instead, Sabrent actually sent over one that’s got the stickers separate here.

You can actually see the thin line of copper along the edge of it. That (blows raspberry) is a lotta NAND flash loaded onto an M.2. That is kinda incredible, actually. Here, I wanna peel off this sticker as well.

That is one void warranty, ladies and gentlemen. What we’re looking at here is a Phison E12S controller with support for up to eight channels. Even though it’s PCI express Gen 3, I would still expect pretty solid performance outta this. But what’s really notable here is the fact that in order to fit all of these NAND packages onto this M.2, they actually had to shrink the package size of the controller itself, so they could fit not just the NAND flash but also the controller, M.2 are always a good option.

And not one but, there you go, two eight-gigabit DDR3 memory dies.

 

So the reason that you need this memory is in order to store the actual physical locations of the data on the NAND flash for the controller itself. And the more flash you have, the more DRAM you need. So that’s a total of two gigs of RAM on this ssd. That’s right, my friends, this ssd has more memory on it than a lotta Chromebooks.

A ton of DRAM and flash chips isn’t enough to get to eight terabytes of capacity, though. They’re using 96-layer QLC flash from Micron, and QLC has a benefit. That is that you can store four bits per cell, rather than three bits per cell in tlc or two bits per cell in MLC. The downside of that, sorry, excuse me one moment. I just have to un-void my warranty here real quick.

Not actually how that works. The downside of that is that the endurance, and especially write performance, of QLC flash is not as good compared to NAND that stores fewer bits per cell. However, Sabrent actually has a trick up their sleeves, and I’m gonna tell you about it, actually, while I’m opening up the laptop here.

 

It’s kind of amazing how heavy this thing is, even without the copper sticker, just having twice as many NAND packages on it. It’s crazy, it’s almost like the storage has weight to it.

SLC caching is a performance-boosting trick that ssd manufacturers have been using for quite some time. And what it does is it can take up to, in this case, a quarter of the device’s capacity, so that’s two terabytes, and run it in SLC mode.

 

So that would be effectively about 512 gigs, meaning that it will write at a very high rate temporarily until you use up that cache, and then it will rely on some idle time in order to convert it over to QLC, where it will be stored more efficiently, but at lower performance. Now, on lower-capacity drives, this type of caching can manifest as very inconsistent performance. For example, if you were copying a file off of, say, a Red Mag onto your laptop, it’ll copy at a super high speed for the first little bit, and then absolutely tank because you get not only the penalty of dropping down to tlc or QLC write performance, but the poor drive is struggling to do garbage collection in the background.

 

 

Thing is, with such a high-capacity drive, the likelihood of needing to copy more than 512 gigs of data in one shot is relatively low, so it’s a strategy that makes a ton of sense. With that said, I suspect the 550k IOPS random reads and 660k IOPS random writes that the drive is rated for are while it’s operating under ideal conditions. And none of that does anything about one of QLC‘s biggest pitfalls, and that is its endurance.

 

So you can expect somewhere in the neighborhood of around 1,800 terabytes written with this thing as an expected lifespan. Holy bananas.

In many cases, M.2 mounts, for which there’s no real standard of thickness, as Mark Cerny actually pointed out in the PlayStation 5 architectural discussion, for M.2, so you might run into slots where they’re not actually designed for an M.2 that’s got chips on both sides. Now, this drive looks like we’re gonna get away with kinda chonkin’ it on there like that, and it actually seems like this thermal pad is well-positioned to take care of cooling our controller down here, so that’s good. Remember to install your M.2 NVMe drive very carefully.

 

Gotta remember which side the controller’s on. Nope, not this one, nevermind, that’s kind of a bummer. But hopefully, Sabrent’s customizations that they say they made to the Phison controller to keep CPU power under control are gonna keep it cool enough. Apparently, with all these NAND chips on here, this thing can get pretty toasty. Ooh, it’s flexin’, boys, I don’t like it.

This is a lot of freakin’ laptop in a very, very small space. We got Ryzen 9, we got eight terabytes of storage, 2060 with Max-Q. First things first, your classic CrystalDiskMark. Look at that, that is nuts! Even just seeing that, 6.98 terabytes. That’s your Windows install, little tiny sliver. Right out of the gate, we’re seeing exactly what I was talking about here. There a lot of places where you can buy your M.2 NVMe drive like Amazon.

 

These are some nice PCI Express Gen 3×4 numbers right here for our reads. And look at that, there’s no apparent QLC penalty for writes because it’s using that SLC cache, and this benchmark is only about one gig of data.

If you think about your daily life, how often are you writing more than a few gigs, or at worst, maybe 100 gigs of data on a large game install, at one time? In ATTO, some of the weaknesses of the drive get revealed though. So while our stock drive was definitely gonna be bottlenecked when it comes to just raw sequential throughput, thanks to its PCIe Gen 3 2X, rather than 4X interface, this one right here, the eight-terabyte drive, ends up struggling a little bit when it comes to very, very small transfers. And that can be very meaningful to real world performance, because a lot of the things that you do as you’re just navigating around your operating system involve moving very small amounts of data. Driving this point home is the PCMark 10 storage benchmark, where our Rocket Q falls about 25% behind in terms of access latency compared to our Intel 660p, which, bear in mind, guys, is also a QLC drive, just a one-terabyte one, rather than one that’s loaded up with all these chips that supposedly had to compromise on the power consumption of the controller in order to keep its thermals under control.

 

 

So is the performance of the Rocket Q eight-terabyte groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination? No, but is it a solid enough looking drive that has eight freaking terabytes of storage on it, and that is very unlikely to exhaust its SLC cache while you are transferring files to it? Yes, in fact, I wanna test that right now. Here we go. Now, this might feel like a bit of an edge case, but I’ve actually run into it before, where I was using a laptop that I didn’t realize was actually a tlc ssd, but it had a tlc ssd, and I was just trying to copy over a bunch of Steam game files.

And it was going, going, going, going, it was going great, everything was good, and then suddenly, bam! Fell down to like 60 megabytes a second. So let’s see how long this can handle it. ‘Cause the thing is, we’ve got high enough speed interfaces just on your typical consumer laptop now. Just a simple USB Type-C five gigabit per second or 10 gigabit per second port that you can actually take advantage of having an NVMe ssd in your system, just by plugging in an external drive.

 

 

So here, we’re going at 450 megabytes a second, and this transfer’s gonna take us half an hour. If we have a drive that conks out in the middle of that transfer, well, that can go from taking half an hour to taking hours. Which, if you’re on location working on a project, for example, can be the difference between wrapping up at the end of the day and not. We’re at over 120 gigs transferred now, and it’s still going exactly as fast as it was when we started. By contrast, if we were using a one-terabyte QLC drive with 25% of its area set aside for SLC caching, we would’ve seen a precipitous drop in performance, probably about halfway through what we’ve done so far here.

400 gigs now. I’m expecting it to crap out a little bit before 512. It’s not gonna be just a nice, tidy line, I don’t think.

 

We’re at 256 gigs remaining, and I’m expecting it to crater at around 208. We’ll see how gracefully it handles that transition between writing to the cache and writing to the slower native QLC NAND.

There were some compromises. So Sabrent’s compatibility is not perfect across laptops. Anthony actually tried a couple of Dells, and because of the higher power consumption of this puppy, they were not able to run it.

 

This Asus did it okay, but your mileage may vary, so it’s not just a physical limitation in terms of compatibility. We’re gettin’ close, we’re gettin’ close!

We’re at 220, drum roll! (fingers tapping) 216! My fingers are gettin’ sore. This is supposed to absolutely choke on its own self now. We’re at 208 remaining.

It’s possible that the speed of our Red Mag, which is actually just an mSATA ssd in a fancy enclosure, we made a video about that, you can check it out here, is not fast enough to overwhelm even the native QLC write speed. Well, you would need a much, much faster medium that you’re ingesting from in order for the caching to even be problem for a sustained write like this. Well, now we know. That kinda makes sense, given who the target audience is for these things. They’re targeting enthusiasts, content creators, those sorts of people, so I’m glad it passed the test here.

 

 

I was not really expecting it to. Now that I know that they actually managed that kind of performance, I guess it makes sense. So if you guys are interested in checking this out, as always, we’re gonna have it linked in the video description. IFixit’s Pro Tech Toolkit is designed to help you tackle any electronics repair challenge. It’s got over a dozen different tools, including their 64 steel screwdriver bit kit, the Jimmy, a steel flexible blade that allows for powerful prying, a small suction cup for removing glass panels from a phone or tablet, and the best part is all iFixit tools are backed by a lifetime warranty.

 

 

You don’t need to be a genius to fix your electronics, you just need the right tools, installing an M.2 NVMe Drive it’s super easy and I bet you guys can do it even with the eyes closed.

Read More: Microsoft is testing 1080p xCloud streams for Xbox Game Pass gaming

 

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