NVMe was a great thing to happen to SSDs. The per-IO reduction in latency and CPU overhead was more than welcome, as PCIe SSDs were previously using the antiquated AHCI protocol, which was a carryover from the SATA HDD days. With NVMe came additional required support in Operating Systems and UEFI BIOS implementations. We did some crazy experiments with arrays of these new devices, but we were initially limited by the lack of native hardware-level RAID support to tie multiple PCIe devices together. The launch of the Z170 chipset saw a remedy to this, by including the ability to tie as many as three PCIe SSDs behind a chipset-configured array. The recent C600 server chipset also saw the addition of RSTe capability, expanding this functionality to enterprise devices like the Intel SSD P3608, which was actually a pair of SSDs on a single PCB.
Most Z170 motherboards have come with one or two M.2 slots, meaning that enthusiasts wanting to employ the 3x PCIe RAID made possible by this new chipset would have to get creative with the use of interposer / adapter boards (or use a combination of PCI and U.2 connected Intel SSD 750s). With the Samsung 950 Pro available, as well as the slew of other M.2 SSDs we saw at CES 2016, it’s safe to say that U.2 is going to push back into the enterprise sector, leaving M.2 as the choice for consumer motherboards moving forward. It was therefore only a matter of time before a triple-M.2 motherboard was launched, and that just recently happened - Behold the Gigabyte Z170X-SOC Force!
This new motherboard sits at the high end of Gigabyte’s lineup, with a water-capable VRM cooler and other premium features. We will be passing this board onto Morry for a full review, but this piece will be focusing on one section in particular:
I have to hand it to Gigabyte for this functional and elegant design choice. The space between the required four full length PCIe slots makes it look like it was chosen to fit M.2 SSDs in-between them. I should also note that it would be possible to use three U.2 adapters linked to three U.2 Intel SSD 750s, but native M.2 devices makes for a significantly more compact and consumer friendly package.
With the test system set up, let’s get right into it, shall we?
A quick look at storage
** This piece has been updated to reflect changes since first posting. See page two for PCIe RAID results! **
Our Intel Skylake launch coverage is intense! Make sure you hit up all the stories and videos that are interesting for you!
- The Intel Core i7-6700K Review - Skylake First for Enthusiasts (Video)
- Skylake vs. Sandy Bridge: Discrete GPU Showdown (Video)
- ASUS Z170-A Motherboard Preview
- Intel Skylake / Z170 Rapid Storage Technology Tested - PCIe and SATA RAID
When I saw the small amount of press information provided with the launch of Intel Skylake, I was both surprised and impressed. The new Z170 chipset was going to have an upgraded DMI link, nearly doubling throughput. DMI has, for a long time, been suspected as the reason Intel SATA controllers have pegged at ~1.8 GB/sec, which limits the effectiveness of a RAID with more than 3 SSDs. Improved DMI throughput could enable the possibility of a 6-SSD RAID-0 that exceeds 3GB/sec, which would compete with PCIe SSDs.
Speaking of PCIe SSDs, that’s the other big addition to Z170. Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology was going to be expanded to include PCIe (even NVMe) SSDs, with the caveat that they must be physically connected to PCIe lanes falling under the DMI-connected chipset. This is not as big of as issue as you might think, as Skylake does not have 28 or 40 PCIe lanes as seen with X99 solutions. Z170 motherboards only have to route 16 PCIe lanes from the CPU to either two (8x8) or three (8x4x4) PCIe slots, and the remaining slots must all hang off of the chipset. This includes the PCIe portion of M.2 and SATA Express devices.
Subject: General Tech, Systems, Storage | May 30, 2015 - 06:14 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: zotac, zbox, SFF, raid, mini server, media server
Zotac recently launched a new line of tiny ZBOX PCs under the new R Series that support two drive RAID 0 and RAID 1 setups. The series currently includes the ZBOX 1323 and ZBOX R1531. Both systems can be mounted vertically or horizontally and strongly resemble the company's existing ZBOX computers. The top and bottom panels are black with a silver bezel around the sides. A Zotac logo sits in the corner and a large blue circle sits in the center of the top.
The front panel hosts two audio jacks, an SDXC ard reader, COM port, IR reciever, and power button. Around back, the ZBOX boasts two antennas for the internal wireless module, two Gigabit Ethernet jacks, two USB 3.0 ports, and DisplayPort and HDMI video outputs. A third USB 3.0 port sits along the top edge of this small form factor PC.
Internally, Zotac is using Intel processors, a small form factor motherboard with two SO-DIMM slots (up to 16 GB), a Mini PCI-E slot for the 802.11ac (plus Bluetooth 4.0) wireless card, and support for up to two 2.5" SATA drives. The motherboard supports RAID 0, RAID 1, and JBOD configurations for the SATA drives, and the R1531 SKU adds a mSATA slot for a third drive.
The ZBOX R1323 is equipped with a 11.5W dual core Intel (Haswell) Celeron 2961Y processor clocked at 1.1 GHz with 2MB cache and Intel HD Graphics clocked at up to 850 MHz. The ZBOX R1531 steps up to a 15W dual core (plus Hyperthreading) Broadwell-based Intel Core i3-5010U clocked at 2.1 GHz with HD 5500 graphics clocked at up to 900 MHz.
Both versions will be offered as barebones systems and the R1531 is additionally be sold in a PLUS model that comes with a 64GB mSATA SSD and 4GB of RAM pre-installed.
The new ZBOX R Series PCs would make for a nice home server with a mSATA drive for the OS and two storage drives in a RAID 1 for redundancy. The Core i3 should be plenty of horsepower for streaming media, running backups, running applications, and even some light video transcoding. The included COM port will also make it suitable for industrial applications, but I think this is mostly going to appeal to home and small business users.
Zotac has not yet revealed pricing or availability though. Hopefully we are able to find out more about these mini PCs at Computex!
Subject: General Tech | May 21, 2015 - 04:40 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: linux, EXT4, raid, bug
On Tuesday a bug was discovered to have been introduced to Linux 4.0 kernel when a fix was added to deal with RAIDs where the chunksize not a power of 2, a problem present since Linux 3.14-rc1. This fix has been causing corruption on RAIDs and the file system on that RAID, making many an unhappy Arch Linux user. Only users of rolling release flavours will be effected, distros with scheduled updates like RHEL or Ubuntu are not effected at this time. The good news is that as of today there is a fix available if you wish to apply it, as well as defining the fix which caused the issue. Check out both at Phoronix.
"A few days ago we reported on an EXT4 file-system corruption issue being discovered within the stable Linux 4.0 kernel series. The good news is the issue has been uncovered and a patch is available, but it could still be a few days before it starts getting sent out in stable updates."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Boffins have devised TERMINATOR style LIQUID METAL – for an antenna @ The Register
- Build A 1000W LED Flashlight @ Hack a Day
- Qualcomm to step out of TSMC top-5 client list in 2H15 @ DigiTimes
- Take Our Survey: Best Linux Hacker SBCs for Under $200 @ Linux.com
- 'Millions' of routers open to absurdly outdated NetUSB hijack @ The Register
- Google Fiber has taken on a piracy policing role @ The Inquirer
Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | January 6, 2015 - 07:32 AM | Allyn Malventano
Tagged: synology, raid, NAS, iosafe, ces 2015, CES, 1515+
We've reviewed the awesome fireproof and waterproof ioSafe storage products in the past, first in combination with Synology NAS products. Then we later reviewed an ioSafe N2, which was basically a 2-bay Synology NAS *within* an ioSafe fireproof and waterproof enclosure. They didn't stop there, and have since expanded to 5-bay versions of the same. Today ioSafe launched an upgrade to one of those models - the ioSafe 1515+
With 5 bays, the 1515+ is considerably taller than prior models.
Here's what the inside looks like. A sealed waterproof enclosure sits behind a consumable fireproofing material, and inside that enclosure sits five 3.5" HDD's.
The rear is fairly simple, but if you note the quad Gigabit Ethernet, you realize this is actually a NAS powerhouse. When linked to an appropriate business oriented server (Windows Server 2012, ESX Server, etc) with a quad Gigabit link, 450MB/sec can be achieved. Similar read speeds are possible even with the integrated hardware AES-256 encryption enabled, but write speeds will then be limited to just under 200 MB/sec. Additionally, multiple 1515+'s can be chained together to support up to a single 90TB array. I'll leave you with a cool photo of a NAS on fire, followed by the full press blast after the break.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at http://pcper.com/ces!
Subject: Storage | December 8, 2014 - 07:40 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: 3d nand, tlc, 256 bit aes, 850 EVO, raid, RAPID, Samsung, sata, ssd
Not only does Samsung's new 850 EVO family introduce us to three dimensional triple level cell NAND, it also incorporates an SLC cache to boost write speeds. The Tech Report received the 250GB and 1TB models to test, with a spotlight on how they fared against the 840 Pro and 840 Evo. Their testing shows that the new way of creating NAND has helped mitigate the reduction in speed which accompanied the first generation of TLC drives. There is no question that the SLC write cache also helps as long as it has space available but this new technology does come with a price, expect $500 for the 1TB and $150 for for the 250GB model. The 5 year warranty is a nice touch for those who have reliability concerns.
Make sure to ready through Al's review as well, along with single drive benchmarks you can see how these drives perform in RAID.
"Samsung's long-awaited 850 EVO SSD employs three-dimensional NAND with three bits per cell. It augments that TLC storage with an SLC write cache, and it has a higher endurance rating and longer warranty than most MLC drives. We've taken a closer look to see how it holds up against the competition."
Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:
- Samsung SSD 850 EVO @ Benchmark Reviews
- Samsung 850 EVO SSD @ The SSD Review
- AMD R7 240GB SSD Review @ Hardware Canucks
- Silicon Power Stream S06 4TB USB 3.0 3.5" External Hard Drive Review @ NikKTech
Introduction, Specifications and Packaging
Mid last year, Samsung introduced the 840 EVO. This was their evolutionary step from the 840 Pro, which had launched a year prior. While the Pro was a performance MLC SSD, the EVO was TLC, and for most typical proved just as speedy. The reason for this was Samsung’s inclusion of a small SLC cache on each TLC die. Dubbed TurboWrite, this write-back cache gave the EVO the best write performance of any TLC-based SSD on the market. Samsung had also introduced a DRAM cache based RAPID mode - included with their Magician value added software solution. The EVO was among the top selling SSDs since its launch, despite a small hiccup quickly corrected by Samsung.
Fast forward to June of this year where we saw the 850 Pro. Having tested the waters with 24-layer 3D VNAND, Samsung revises this design, increasing the layer count to 32 and reducing the die capacity from 128Gbit to 86Gbit. The smaller die capacity enables a 50% performance gain, stacked on top of the 100% write speed gain accomplished by the reduced cross talk of the 3D VNAND architecture. These changes did great things for the performance of the 850 Pro, especially in the lower capacities. While competing 120/128GB SSDs were typically limited to 150 MB/sec write speeds, the 128GB 850 Pro cruises along at over 3x that speed, nearly saturating the SATA interface. The performance might have been great, but so was the cost - 850 Pro’s have stuck around $0.70/GB since their launch, forcing budget conscious upgraders to seek competing solutions. What we needed was an 850 EVO, and now I can happily say here it is:
As the 840 EVO was a pretty big deal, I believe the 850 EVO has an equal chance of success, so instead of going for a capacity roundup, this first piece will cover the 120GB and 500GB capacities. A surprising number of our readers run a pair of smaller capacity 840 EVOs in a RAID, so we will be testing a matched pair of 850 EVOs in RAID-0. To demonstrate the transparent performance boosting of RAPID, I’ll also run both capacities through our full test suite with RAPID mode enabled. There is lots of testing to get through, so let’s get cracking!
Subject: Storage | November 14, 2014 - 07:00 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: btrfs, EXT4, XFS, F2FS, 530 series, Intel, raid, unix humour, linux
When you use Linux you have a choice as to which file system you wish to use, a choice that never occurs to most Windows users but can spark an argument every bit as vicious as the eternal debate over EMACS versus VIM versus whichever text editor you prefer. There has not been much SSD benchmarking done on alternate files systems until now, Phoronix has benchmarked the Intel 530 series SSD in numerous configurations on Btrfs, EXT4, XFS, and F2FS. With four of the 120GB model available they were able to test the speed of the drives in RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, and 1+0. There is obviously still some compatibility issues as some tests failed to run in certain configurations but overall these drives performed as expected. While the results did not vary widely it is worth reading through their article if you plan on building a high speed storage machine which will run Linux.
"Following the recent Btrfs RAID: Native vs. Mdadm comparison, the dual-HDD Btrfs RAID benchmarks, and four-SSD RAID 0/1/5/6/10 Btrfs benchmarks are RAID Linux benchmarks on these four Intel SATA 3.0 solid state drives using other file-systems -- including EXT4, XFS, and Btrfs with Linux 3.18."
Here are some more Storage reviews from around the web:
- Samsung XS1715 (1.6TB) @ The SSD Review
- Angelbird SSD2go Pocket USB 3.0 External Solid State Drive @ eTeknix
- Silicon Power Thunder T11 120 GB @ techPowerUp
- Silicon Power Armor A80 2TB USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive Review @ NikKTech
- Patriot Memory Stellar Boost XT 64GB USB 3.0 OTG Drive Review @ Madshrimps
- Synology DiskStation DS1815+ @ Legion Hardware
- Western Digital Red Pro (WD4001FFSX) 4 TB @ Tech ARP
Subject: Storage | September 13, 2013 - 08:23 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: Thunderbolt 2, SANlink 2, raid, promise, 4k
Promise Technology has announced that it is launching new storage solutions with Intel's new Thunderbolt 2 interface. Shown off at IDF 2013, the storage products include the Pegasus 2 series and SANLink 2 Thunderbolt 2 to 8G Fiber Channel bridge. The Pegasus 2 series is a RAID 5 external storage array that connects to Windows or Mac machines using Thunderbolt 2. The SANLink 2 bridge product allows users to connect a PC using Thunderbolt 2 to Promise Technology's VTrak or VTrak A-Class shared SAN storage.
The storage products are aimed mainly at professional video editors that are working with 4K content. According to Promise Technology, the 20Gbps bi-directional Thunderbolt 2 connection enables video editors to simultaneously transfer and display 4K video content.
Promise Technology CEO James Lee was quoted as saying:
"With the industry now poised for the widespread adoption of 4K video, the Pegasus2 Series with Thunderbolt 2 technology will revolutionize how video creators are managing 4K workflows in addition to delivering unprecedented performance to artists and enthusiasts who love to create captivating content."
Both the Pegasus2 and SANLink2 products with Thunderbolt 2 will be available in Fall 2013 for so-far undisclosed prices. The full press blast is below, for more information.
Subject: Storage | April 19, 2013 - 10:10 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: trim, ssd, sandforce 2281, sandforce, ROG, raidr, raid, PCIe SSD, asus
ASUS is reportedly adding two new PCI-E Solid State Drives (SSD) to its Republic Of Gamers lineup. Dubbed RAIDR, the new PCI-E SSDs use 19nm Toshiba MLC NAND flash driven by two SandForce 2281 controllers. In turn, the two SandForce drives are put into a hardware RAID 0 configuration for maximum speed. The RAIDR SSD internals are encased in a stylized EMI shield along with a ROG-branded back-plate. In all, ASUS’ RAIDR SSDs measure 157 x 120 x 20mm.
The ASUS RAIDR drives show up as a single disk driven by a standard AHCI controller, which allows the two RAID 0 SSDs connected via the PCI-E bus to be boot-able and support the TRIM command. Both RAIDR solid state drives also support Native Command Queuing (NCQ), SMART, Secure Erase, Windows 8 Secure Boot.
According to specifications provided by Sweclockers, ASUS is launching 120GB and 240GB versions of the PCI-E SSDs. Both capacities feature 100,000 IOPS, 128-bit AES encryption, and 620,000 MTBF ratings.
The 120GB RAIDR SSD supports up to 765MB/s sequential reads and 775MB/s sequential write speeds. On the other hand, the 240GB RAIDR drive supports up to 830MB/s sequential reads and 810MB/s sequential writes.
Additionally, ASUS is bundling its RAIDR drives with Kaspersky Antivirus 2013 and a number of ASUS utilities (including SSD TweakIt). The drives should be available sometime next month, but pricing is still unknown. Adding PCI-E SSDs is an interesting move by ASUS that should help the company diversify and expand its ROG branding. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing how the drives stack up when they are released (and hopefully a PC Perspective review)!