CES 2015: SanDisk updates affordable SSD Plus, expands Ultra II SSD to mSATA

Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | January 5, 2015 - 09:00 AM |
Tagged: ces 2015, CES, Ultra II, SSD Plus, ssd, sandisk, msata

SanDisk has launched a few items of note this morning. There is a combination USB 3.0 / OTG capable flash drive, but the truly big news is a few updates to existing product lines.

First is an mSATA form factor of their existing and very popular Ultra II SSD. This is expected to perform similarly to its 2.5" SATA brother, but in the smaller form factor needed for some laptops, tablets, and so equipped desktop motherboards.

The other and perhaps most significant launch is the 'SSD Plus'. This is a sequel to SanDisk's original desktop SSD product, and is aimed squarely at the budget consumer that wants an SSD but doesn't necessarily need the best performing product.

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The SSD Plus is SanDisk's attempt to beat the competing SSD prices right out of the gate, with launch MSRP's at $70 for 120GB ($0.58/GB) and $110 for 240GB ($0.46/GB). Those are among the lowest launch MSRP's we've seen to date, and that's not taking into account the sales that typically take place in the months after a given SSD launches.

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We are going to be reviewing these as soon as we get them in. They are not meant to be super fast, but we doubt they would be what would be considered slow. So long as they are decent performers, that's a very good launch price.

Full press blast after the break.

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Source: SanDisk

CES 2015: MSI Z97I Gaming ACK Mini-ITX Motherboard

Subject: Motherboards, Shows and Expos | January 5, 2015 - 03:24 AM |
Tagged: z97i gaming ack, z97, video, msi, M.2, ces 2015, CES

We have definitely seen our share of Z97 motherboards using the Mini-ITX form factor by now, but the new MSI Z97I Gaming ACK offers a couple of unique twists worth noting. First, the board features both wireless and wired Killer Networking components, has four SATA 6 Gb/s ports and a total of six USB 3.0 ports. Click BIOS, OC Genie and Command Center are all MSI specific features found on the ACK.

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The most interesting feature though is the rear-mounted M.2 port that allows the user to install a full 10 Gb/s M.2 storage device on the back side of the motherboard! Obviously you will have to be sure that the stand offs on your case will allow the spacing required for an M.2 device, but MSI doesn't think it will be a problem for most cases. It's a very interesting way to integrate more hardware on a design that is incredibly space limited. (Note: you'll have to watch the video to see the rear mounted M.2 port.)

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CES 2015: MSI AG240 4K Edition Gaming All-in-One

Subject: Systems, Shows and Expos | January 5, 2015 - 03:01 AM |
Tagged: msi, ces 2015, CES, all-in-one, AIO, ag240, 4k

Our review of the MSI AG270 Gaming AIO was pretty eye opening; I really didn't expect to find that kind of gaming capability inside an all-in-one chassis. Building on that success, MSI is preparing for a March release of the AG240 4K Edition, which as the name suggests, includes a 24-in 4K IPS monitor.

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Other hardware specifications include a 4th Generation Haswell processor, a yet-to-be-named GTX 900-series mobility GPU from NVIDIA and up to 3x mSATA SSDs running in RAID-0 (MSI sure loves its SuperRAID). The 4K screen itself definitely looked nice though I am curious about the choice to only include a single GPU in a system with that many pixels. You can still play your games at 1080p though should GPU horsepower be a concern.

I'm sure we'll have a review sample sometime this quarter, so stay tuned!

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CES 2015: Storage Visions Sightings Part 1: HGST He8, DriveSavers, and SanDisk

Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | January 4, 2015 - 10:34 PM |
Tagged: CES, storage visions, ssd, sandisk, hgst, He8, DriveSavers, ces 2015

Many of the storage announcements this year are under embargo until tomorrow or later in the week. Fortunately there was plenty of things on display out in the open - meaning fair game for me to photograph and present to you in this quick photo walkthrough.

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The HGST Ultrastar He8 was on display. This is a 7-platter Helium filled HDD. The lower density atmosphere enables more platters and higher spin speeds without producing too much heat for the drive to handle.

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The added platters also enable a very large capacity of 8TB, all while consuming less power than most other available non-He HDD's, which is attractive for enterprise usage where racks upon racks are filled with these drives.

The display model we saw here was covered with plexiglass, but the DriveSavers folks had one completely open in all of its glory:

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Seeing the head pack out of a drive is rare, as you're supposed to only get to that point in a clean room environment (unless you don't want your data back, that is). DriveSavers told us the challenge to recovery from an He HDD is getting the Helium back into the housing prior to closing it back up after a failed component replacement. Here's a closer look at that head pack. Note the small logic die built into the ribbon - this component needs to be mounted as close as possible to the heads to minimize interference and signal loss from the very high frequency signal coming from the read heads:

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DriveSavers also has recently announced data recovery capability and partnership with SanDisk. There is a separate announcement we will be covering later in the week, but since we're talking about SanDisk, here is a look at the non-embargoed products we were allowed to show for now:

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From left: UltraDIMM, FusionIO Atomic, Optimus Max, Optimus MAX (opened), Optimus ECO. More interesting here is that SanDisk is able to pack 4TB into the Optimus form factor. They accomplish this by a unique folding PCB design shown below in unfolded form:

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That's it for this update, more to follow shortly.

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CES 2015: NVIDIA Tegra Press Conference Live Stream

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 4, 2015 - 07:41 PM |
Tagged: video, tegra, press conference, nvidia, live stream, live, ces 2015, CES

Tonight at 8pm PT / 11pm ET NVIDIA will be hosting its annual press conference from CES 2015. While I fully expect the majority of the information to be on Tegra-related products, there is a chance they could slip in some GeForce products as well. I leave nothing past NVIDIA with a 2 hour window.

You can watch the live stream of the event right here and I am going to be live blogging from the event as well, pending Internet capability inside the conference room.

 

Live Blog NVIDIA CES 2015 Press Conference

 

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CES 2015: MSI Implements USB 3.1 and USB Type-C Connector

Subject: Motherboards, Storage, Shows and Expos | January 4, 2015 - 07:21 PM |
Tagged: usb type-c, usb 3.1, msi, ces 2015, CES

If you are like me, you probably thought the world of USB was going to be stable for a bit. Not so much as it turns out! MSI was showing off a couple of new products in its suite at CES 2015 that showcase new performance levels for USB as well as a much-needed new connector type.

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First up, USB 3.1, the upgrade that includes performance as high as single channel Thunderbolt, 10 Gbps. MSI will be shipping USB 3.1 on a new revision of the GT72 gaming notebook as well as on the X99A Gaming 9 ACK motherboard shipping in February or March. Each will feature two ports of USB 3.1 capable of some impressive speeds.

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These results are based on a RAID-0 implementation of a pair of Intel SSD 730 SSDs running on a prototype USB 3.1 capable controller that MSI didn't want us to show you. Seeing USB speeds reaching as high as 694 MB/s are impressive, exceeding that of the best USB 3.0 speeds we have seen at 470 MB/s. Considering we are looking at very early devices and software implementations, MSI's results on this board are fantastic.

Maybe more exciting than a speed boost to some USB users is implementation of the USB Type-C connector on the MSI Z97A Gaming 6 motherboard due in the same time frame.

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There are several advantages to this new connector for both users and OEMs. First, it is reversible meaning you can plug plug the connector in upside down and it will work (finally!). It is also small, able to fit on the slimmest phones and tablets. Both sides of the cable are going to be the same, so any device that can use a Type-C connector will be able to use most any cable.

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Power delivery also improves - 10 watts (5V at 2A), 60 watts (12V at 5A) and even up to 100 watts (20V at 5A)! And all of this power can be sent through that tiny Type-C connector as well leaving the possibility of charging your laptop through the same connector as your phone.

Expect both USB 3.1 as well as Type-C connectors to be a big shift in the middle of Q1.

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CES 2015: Storage Visions: Western Digital SATA Express SSD+HDD Spotted

Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | January 4, 2015 - 05:15 PM |
Tagged: CES, western digital, storage visions, ssd, SATA Express, hybrid, hdd, ces 2015

At the SATA-IO booth at Storage Visions, they have a functional demo of Western Digital prototype hybrid HDD/SSD's.

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These are not hybrid in the traditional sense, as the SSD portion (128GB JMicron based controller driving Toshiba flash in the case of these prototypes) is logically separated from the HDD portion (a standard 4TB Black in this case).

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Given that a SATA Express link can simultaneously pass a PCIe 2.0 x2 link in addition to a SATA 6Gbit/sec link, this one unit can link an SSD and an HDD simultaneously and independently. Above you see the standard SATA Express connector, and below is how those pins are connected at the drive itself:

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Note the additional pins at what is usually the black side of the connector.

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The rest of the connector is mostly a standard SATA connector that you are used to seeing.

At the demo, we saw a single 3.5" hybrid unit booting from the SSD portion and using the 4TB HDD for mass storage, all from the same device. The second demo had a separate boot drive and linked a pair of these prototype units in a dual RAID. Configured through Windows dynamic volumes, a RAID of the HDD's offered the increased performance you might expect from a pair of 4TB WD Blacks. The SSD portion of each unit was also RAIDed, and we saw their combined throughput as just over 1GB/sec. That was not much more than what a pair of RAIDed SATA 6Gb/sec SSDs would do, but realize this was being accomplished in addition to (and independently of) the HDD portions.

We were not allowed to start removing screws, but here's a look at the accessible portion of the logic board for this drive:

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There is a JMicron controller paired with a single package of Toshiba flash. Toshiba has shown they can contain 128GB in a single package, so no problems there.

We're not sure where this technology is headed as the recent trend has been towards sticking with the standard SATA link for mass storage and M.2 SSDs plugged directly into the added port we've been seeing in many recent motherboards. We'll keep an eye on this technology moving forward, but for now at least we have seen it in the flesh and fully functional.

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CES 2015: MSI GS30 Shadow Notebook with Discrete GPU Dock Station

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 4, 2015 - 04:26 PM |
Tagged: shadow, msi, gs30, gpu, docking station, ces 2015, CES

Laptops with external graphics - we have been chasing this ghost for a long time everyone. We have seen them attempted through ExpressCard slots and more recently through Thunderbolt. MSI has a different plan with the GS30 Shadow - a physical PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot.

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The GS30 Shadow starts with a laptop - a 13.3-in 1080p design that is surprisingly slim and sleek. It includes a Core i7-4780HQ processor with Iris Pro 5200 graphics, 16GB of DDR3 memory, RAID-0 performance with a pair of M.2 slots and Gigabit networking. Battery life is likely pretty low on its own as there doesn't seem to be much space for a large battery.

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But what really makes the GS30 Shadow stand out is the docking station included. This is a base measuring about a foot long by 6 inches wide and tall. It connects to the laptop through a physical x16 PCIe 3.0 slot along the back of the machine and mechanically latches into place. There is a very old-style feeling to the connection - you pull a latch and use a physical lock button to keep it in place. But once installed, the GS30 sits on top of the docking station and is ready for use.

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The docking station ships with a 450 watt desktop style power supply and supports a full size, desktop-class dual-slot graphics card. Also included are a set of speakers embedded in the front, four USB 3.0 ports as well as audio input and output connections. You will also be able to install additional storage inside the docking station; it adds room for a 3.5-in hard drive.

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The GS30 Shadow with docking station will ship this month and has an MSRP set at $1999. If you value the laptop alone at $1400-1500 then you are paying a premium of around $500 for the docking station capability. This is another new device from MSI that we are eager to test and see if it stands up to real-world usage scenarios as well as it sounds like it might. Could we finally have a good option for mobility + gaming that works for gamers?

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CES 2015: MSI GT80 Titan SLI 18-in Gaming Notebook with Cherry MX Brown Keyboard

Subject: Mobile, Shows and Expos | January 4, 2015 - 04:02 PM |
Tagged: titan, sli, msi, GTX 980M, gt80, cherry mx brown, ces 2015, CES

Back in late October MSI announced the GT80 Titan gaming laptop that included an impressive array of features, the most interesting of which was the full-size Cherry MX Brown keyboard embedded in the chassis. Seriously.

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At CES this week we got hands on with the beast and I have to say I came away pretty impressed. Hardware powering the system includes an Intel Core i7-4980HQ processor, a pair of GTX 980M GPUs running in SLI, 24GB of DDR3 system memory, up to quad M.2 SSDs in RAID-0, Killer wired and wireless networking and more. All of that hardware sits under the top portion of the bottom of the notebook - the LED backlit Cherry MX Steel Series keyboard takes up the entire depth of the GT80 in the bottom portion.

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Despite its appearance, the GT80 Titan is similar in size to some of the other 17/18-in Alienware notebooks currently selling, but they obviously don't include a Cherry keyboard will full travel switches. MSI also claims that access to the system memory, M.2 storage, 2.5-in HDD location and optical drive through the top panel allows for reasonable upgrade options down the road. Even the two MXM modules for the GTX 980M cards can be changed through the bottom of the GT80. (Mobile GPU upgrades have always been problematic.)

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The GT80 Titan will be available next week and will start at $3299 with a $3499 option including the faster Intel processor. That is an incredibly high price for a gaming machine that is less "portable" than "transportable" but it would be hard to get more gaming horsepower in a smaller package anywhere else. We are looking forward to a review unit showing up shortly after our return! Stay tuned!

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CES 2015: MSI Announces GTX 970 Gaming 100ME - 100 millionth GeForce GPU

Subject: Graphics Cards, Shows and Expos | January 4, 2015 - 03:56 PM |
Tagged: msi, GTX 970, gaming, ces 2015, CES, 100me

To celebrate the shipment of 100 million GeForce GPUs, MSI is launching a new revision of the GeForce GTX 970, the Gaming 100ME (millionth edition). The cooler is identical that used in the GTX 970 Gaming 4G but replaces the red color scheme of the MSI Gaming brand with a green very close to that of NVIDIA's.

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This will also ship with a "special gift" and will be a limited edition, much like the Golden Edition GTX 970 from earlier this year.

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MSI had some other minor updates to its GPU line including the GTX 970 4GD5T OC with a cool looking black and white color scheme and an 8GB version of the Radeon R9 290X.

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