SOLID STATE DRIVES (SSD)

Solid state drives have become popular with many gaming machines. Changes in the industry will be bringing extreme performance for mainstream gaming rigs.

TYPES

SSD products started off with digital cameras. The move to video motivated the industry considerably. When mobile machines were equipped with SATA based products, it revolutionized their capabilities, it did not take long before they began making the move into mainstream desktop systems.

SATA

SATA SSD products have been very popular with notebook machine users. SATA SSD products also use less power which is desirable for mobile use. Generally these products are much faster than mobile hard disk. As the capacity increased more and more desktop users began using SATA SSD in order to improve the boot time with Windows etc..

SATA was designed for hard disks and this is a bottleneck for SSD. The problem is the old ATA command set never envisioned random access devices.

M.2

The new Z170 platform features the new M.2 connectors which are designed for SSD. These are provisioned with 4 lanes of PCI Express. The new non volatile memory express (NVMe) provides a dramatic boost in performance. M.2 slots can reach 2000 MB/s and random access is extremely fast. The smaller size of the M.2 SSD does limits capacity to 512GB at present.

Some motherboards offer a second M.2 slot for a Wi-Fi card, however PCI Express Wi-Fi cards have the bracket to mount antennas which are lacking with M.2.


PCI EXPRESS

The server market has long been a user of PCI Express cards. The top cards use PCI Express 3.0 x8 slots to achieve extreme speeds. Consumer models using x4 slots are increasingly popular.

The Intel 750 PCI Express 1.2 TB card reaches 2500 MB/s of bandwidth and they are designed for the Z170 and X99 platforms which feature PCI Express 3.0 slots and the NVMe support.  The Intel 750 is only a half-height half-length single slot card and it uses a passive heat sink which easily fits ATX machines. We envision this card as best installed below the video cards in the bottom slot. Then the Wi-Fi card can be installed in an available x1 slot.

We have seen PCI Express x16 cards with four M.2 slots. Such cards are expensive but they can offer insane bandwidth that matches main memory. The card has a RAID0 controller which then spreads the bandwidth across all 16 lanes.

PERFORMANCE

The move from SATA to M.2 can achieve more than a 500% increase in throughput. The PCI Express directly feeds the data to the CPU. The same approach is seen with the PCI Express cards. Benchmarks are currently designed for hard disks which make it hard to compare but the performance of the M.2 slot with a low cost 512MB SSD justifies the adoption of the new Z170 platform.

Using the x8 slots for a pair of video cards, this leaves the x4 slot ready for the PCI Express card for extreme performance with the bottom slot. This would be the most powerful configuration for desktop gaming.

SYSTEM DISK

Using the new low cost M.2 512GB SSD for the system disk is ideal. Windows 10 well positioned for new M.2 and PCI Express 3.0 based platforms. Low cost ATX motherboards are readily available for upgrades.

The hard disk bays can be used for media libraries and backups. Hard disks have much larger capacity which is helpful for video libraries. Our Corsair Carbide 300R can easily be upgraded to the Z170.

PRICE DECLINES

Following a flat period in the summer of 2012, SSD prices have began to fall precipitously. Recently prices have fallen well below $1 per gigabyte. Prices are 1/3 of what they were in 2010. This implies the price deflator tracks the semiconductor industry tightly. We expect that by 2015 that SSD prices may approach hard disks which are now under 10 cents per gigabyte.

There is a problem with triple level NAND over performance which degrades as the feature size falls. New designs have overcome the problem which means the move to 11nm foundries seems to be practical. Intel and Samsung are mass producing 32GB V-NAND chips and we expect 64GB chips will become available in 2016 or 2017 when new lines are opened. Intel is now projecting to have 30TB SSDs by 2018, and passing 100TB by the end of the decade.