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31-07-2014


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SSD-drive ASUS HYPER EXPRESS with interface SATA Express: review and testing

For many users the interface SATA Express appeared almost out of nowhere and quickly broke into the familiar environment of computer technology. And all thanks to company Intel and its partners. The first provided its integration into hipsets Intel of 9 series, and the second the implementation into new motherboards that are based on the above mentioned chipsets. It is noteworthy that until the spring 2014 only computer enthusiasts and dedicated experts knew the development of specifications SATA Express (SATA 3.2). What is SATA Express? What is its purpose? What should we wait in future?

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

To give satisfactory answers to these questions let's look at the history of ATA-interface, because everything in our life is interconnected and any event is a logical conclusion on the one hand, and the other is the reason for the subsequent accident.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

So, let’s come back to 2003, when the first generation of SATA interface, known as SATA 1,5 Gb/s was introduced. It replaced the AT Attachment, later renamed to Parallel ATA (PATA). Since AT Attachment had "rose" from the standard Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) developed by Western Digital, many users remember it as an IDE. Why did it became necessary to replace the PATA-interface? Firstly, the problematic issue was the further increase of its capacity, which has increased from 16 to 133 MB/s. Secondly, there was a fairly complex and expensive realization of cables, which have used 40 or 80 lines. In addition, they were uncomfortable when laying in computer housings, and took much space. Thirdly, it should be recalled the impossibility of "hot" replacement of PATA-drives. Fourthly, do not forget about the problematic implementation of priority protocols in data processing. These and other reasons forced to refuse the parallel interface and move to a more compact and coherent perspective.

SATA interface has rather quickly evolved and in 2009 a version SATA 6 Gb/s with a maximum theoretical bandwidth to 600 MB/s or 4.8 Gb/s was appeared. In practice the speed reaches 550 MB/s, which is currently more than enough for most casual users, for example for SSD-drives.

But the same reasons, which led to the refuse of PATA and the transition to SATA, appeared in the further development of this interface. When the specialists began work on another increase in capacity of SATA (specification SATA 12 Gb/s or SAS 3.0), they’ve noticed that to achieve the desired results is difficult. Firstly, logic implementation is considerably complicated, which leads to the need to integrate additional blocks, the increases controller’s area and increase the cost of its manufacturing. Secondly, the complexity of implementation the protocol operation is significantly increased. Thirdly, not all the lines are stable at higher data rates up to 12 Gb/s. Another negative factor was the increase of power consumption, which is absolutely unacceptable in today's realities, because energy efficiency is one of the priorities in the development of new devices. In the end, the effective operation at the limit indicators interface SATA 12 Gb/s would take a few years.

What was the way out from this situation? Pretty simple: take a familiar and perspective interface. We are talking about PCI Express. Recall that in the specification of PCI Express 2.0 one line provides data transfer at a rate of 500 MB/s in each direction, that is the obtained overall rate was at level of 1 GB/s, which is higher 600 MB/s for ATA 6Gb/s. The number of affected lines can be increased to ensure excellent scalability, and the transition to the new version of the standard will also improve the speed performance. In particular version PCI Express 3.0 presupposes the speed at level 985 Mb/s in each direction (1970 Mb/s in both directions). For PCI Express 4.0 this figure would be at the level of 1969 MB/s (3938 MB/s in both directions). As you can see, the potential is enormous.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

What else can offer PCI Express? Firstly, very wide integration, because desktop processors have the controller of this bus. Secondly, it is quite energy efficient. Thirdly, the use of architecture Separate Reference Clock with Independent Spread Spectrum Clocking or SRIS, which was designed and implemented by ASUS engineers, allows to refuse the need for host controller of a separate clock generator. It provides a transition to cheaper PCIe-cables and ensures correct recognition SATA Express-devices.

Summing all of these factors gives us the ultimate ease of implementation, ease of building performance levels are relatively low financial costs of further development and relatively high efficiency.

Again, note the similar historical moments: for better compatibility SATA Express is based on the standard SATA, and uses the base ATA for easy replacement of interface PATA.

As you may have guessed, SATA Express is a "bridge", which translates computer equipment for high-speed interface PCI Express, while maintaining compatibility with traditional plug. That is why the IT-specialists define SATA Express primarily as a specification of a new type of connector that allows routing of signal of interfaces PCI Express and SATA.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

Together with SATA Express actively appeared interface M.2, which is just a smaller implementation of the same SATA Express, but with the additional lines USB 3.0. However, the final destination of these interfaces the same: to make the transition from SATA to PCI Express.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

What do we have at the moment? First motherboards use interface SATA Express with two lines PCI Express 2.0. That is their maximum capacity is 2 GB/s or 16 Gb/s. In practice the figure reaches a level of 10 Gb/s. For motherboard ASRock Z97 Extreme6 company ASRock used four lines PCI Express 3.0 for slot Ultra M.2, which theoretically increase its capacity up to 32 Gb/s.

As for the SATA 6 Gb/s, it will still be present in the market for a long time, and only gradually will be replaced by the interface SATA Express or subsequent versions of PCI Express. For example, Western Digital has stopped shipment of PATA-drives only at the end of 2013. That is for another 5-7 years (and maybe more) SATA interface will be the active component of computer systems.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

SSD drives of series Intel SSD DC P3700 with interface NVM Express

For the most productive SSD-drives, which are used in servers and cloud storage, there is widely used interface NVM Express. It is an optimized version of the PCI Express designed for SSD drives, presented in the form of expansion cards and traditional 2.5-inch devices. In this case, the read and write speed is at level of 2800 and 2000 MB/s respectively. In the future these solutions must appear in bulk systems.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

And now let's move on to the hero of this review, drive ASUS HYPER EXPRESS (A256TU1D190004 SSD 256), and on its example will examine the practical advantage of the interface SATA Express.

The specification:

Producer and model

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

(A256TU1D190004 SSD 256)

Form-factor

2,5"

Interface

SATA Express

Controller

ASMedia ASM1062R

Inner drive

Type

mSATA

Model

Memoright MS 801

Quantity

2

Total volume, GB

480

Operation mode

RAID 0

Dimensions, mm

100 х 70 х 9,5

Producer website

ASUS

Since the novelty is an original concept, to find information about it on the official website is not possible.

Appearance
For testing we have an engineering sample, therefore packaging content is not possible to evaluate. Note that the box of ASUS HYPER EXPRESS has a fairly large and perfectly protects it from external damage during transportation.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

Inside the package is the drive and cable for data transfer and power supply. It is possible that the retail sample will contain complete instruction and also some additional "bonus", but this minimum set for most people will be enough.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

The drive has a pleasant appearance thanks to the label on the top cover, which mimics the pattern on the polished metal. Housing is metal, but has the usual black matte finish. The reverse side of ASUS HYPER EXPRESS contains several labels indicating its serial number and the list of received certificates. Inscription «Concept Edition» says that we are not dealing with an engineering sample, but the concept of the new device. Consequently, the retail version of the drive may be significantly modified and improved.

Housing is made in a standard 2.5-inch format and has a thickness of 9.5 mm. In this case, all the mounting holes are also in the usual places, making it compatible with the relevant compartments for conventional SSD.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

One of the main features is the interface for data transfer presented as the latest SATA Express. Next we will look at it in more details.

Internal device

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

Unscrewing the four screws allows us to get access to the hardware of the drive. It is represented by circuit board with components placed on it; including two ports for installation mSATA drives a corresponding form factor.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

In the role of internal SSD two drives Memoright MS 801 (MRMAL5A256GTUM2C00) with a volume of 256 GB are used. Their technical specification is as follows:

Producer and model

Memoright MS 801
(MRMAL5A256GTUM2C00)

Form-factor

mSATA

Interface

SATA 6 Gb/s

Capacity, GB

256

Controller

Marvell 88SS9187

Memory type

MLC Toshiba

Storage temperature, °C

-40 … +85

Operating temperature, °C

0 … +70

Humidity, %

5 … 95

Max consistent data transfer rate, MB/s

read

520

write

420

Max transfer rate of casual 4 KB blocks, IOPS

read

80 000

write

62 000

Mean time between failures, hours (MTBF)

 

> 2 100 000

Dimensions, mm

51 x 30 x 3,4

Producer website

Memoright
Product page

The centerpiece takes controller Marvell 88SS9187. Banks Toshiba TH58TEG9DDJBA89 with multi-level structure, made according 19-nm technology process, are used as memory chips. The chips are placed on both sides of drives, and the volume of each of them is 64 GB. Also, there is the use of an additional cache of Micron production (marking 2TE12). New products support a number of certificates, among which are FCC, CE and RoHS.

Among the advantages of complete SSD it is important to note a significant time between failure which is more than 2.1 million hours, which is very important because these drives are running in mode RAID 0, and the failure of one of them will lead to the loss of all the information.

Do note that the total capacity of the two drives is 512 GB, but 1/16 of this amount (32 GB) is reserved for the efficient system use of all the memory cells through special algorithms.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

Inside of ASUS HYPER EXPRESS is used circuit board of own production, which clearly alludes to the inscription «ASUS COOPER».

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

Prominent place takes controller ASMedia ASM1062R, designed to create RAID 0 array with two installed drives. Judging by the numerous reviews in the network, it does not support the technology TRIM, which is designed to completely remove the information from the memory cells and release them to the new data.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

Utility trimcheck-0.6 has confirmed this fact. Is difficult to say how it will affect the drive operation, since the technology is designed to eliminate the gradual decrease speed of SSD-drives when you delete unnecessary data. Therefore, its absence may be seen only after some period of time.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

Complete cable on one side has a connector SATA Express to connect to the system board, on the other - an appropriate interface to connect the drive. Additionally, there is a standard connector SATA for the power supply for the novelty.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

The bench motherboard ASUS Z97-DELUXE has two interfaces SATA Express. One of them (SATA Express_1) operates under the control of the controller ASMedia ASM106SE and is combined with the next to it interface M.2, therefore simultaneously operate can only one of them. The operation of the second connector, designated as SATA Express_E1 is provided by chipset Intel Z97, while it is also combined with a two ports USB 3.0 (USB3_E56) and interface PCI Express x16 (PCIe x16_3). By default, the board automatically determines which of the connectors are used to connect the device.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

In the lower right corner of the board also are special connectors (SATA_E_1_CLK and SATA_E_E1_CLK). Its usage allows us to specify about the use of appropriate interfaces SATA Express. They allow to avoid some unpleasant moments, such as when the drive with interface SATA Express is not detected by the system. Shorting leads to the fact that the unit has a synchronizing signal of a certain frequency, thus, BIOS card recognizes correctly the drive. The need to use jumpers should soon be eliminated as a frequency generator will be placed directly on the PCB storage (architecture SRIS). We'll check speed performance in mode of automatic identification and with installed CLK-jumper, to find out which of them is more preferable for the end user.

ASUS HYPER EXPRESS

Utility HD Tune Pro confirms the absence of support for TRIM, while noting the support of monitoring system S.M.A.R.T. and hardware installation of Command Queuing NCQ:

  • NCQ (native command queuing) – hardware command queuing, which allows to optimize the performance of the drive;
  • S.M.A.R.T. (self-monitoring, analysis and reporting technology) - a monitoring system that monitors the status of the drive, making possible to predict the time of its failure.

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