MSI reveals M.2 to Turbo Mini-SAS card
April 17, 2015 // 8:23 p.m.
MSI has today revealed a new adaptor card that will turn an M.2 port into what it calls a Turbo Mini-SAS connection.
The aim of the card is to make its motherboards compatible with new, high speed PCI-E SSDs that use the SFF-8639 connection, sometimes called Express Bay. An example of this is Intel's recent SSD 750, which couples the high bandwidth PCI-E interface with the NVMe specification (instead of the aging AHCI one) to reach massive throughput. Intel's SSD is available as both a PCI-E card that connects directly to a PCI-E expansion slot and as a 2.5in drive that uses the aforementioned SFF-8639 connection.
The problem is, there are currently no motherboards available that natively support SFF-8639. That leaves motherboard manufacturers having to adapt existing PCI-E storage connections to the new standard if they want to support the new breed of 2.5in SSDs. After all, there's no guarantee that all SFF-8639 drives will have PCI-E expansion card versions like Intel's does, and some users may want to reserve their expansion slots for other uses. For example, Asus's new TUF Sabertooth X99 includes a so-called Hyper Kit, which, like MSI's card, adapts an M.2 slot into a HD Mini-SAS connection, which SFF-8639 drives connect to on the motherboard side. Similarly, MSI will be bundling the adaptor card announced today with select motherboards to be announced at Computex, with no current plans to sell the card separately.
Somewhat confusingly, a number of Intel Z97 and X99 boards have been shipped with one or more SATA Express connectors, which is yet another way of getting PCI-E storage. MSI, however, opted out of including native SATA Express connections, though it did offer an adaptor card similar to this one with some motherboards. This was perhaps a sensible move; SFF-8639 is effectively the upgrade to SATA Express, yet there are still no SATA Express drives available. With SATA Express limited to PCI-E 2.0 x2 (maximum bandwidth 10Gb/sec) and SFF-8639 capable of utilising PCI-E 3.0 x4 (32Gb/sec), SATA Express already appears to be dead in the water.
With M.2 connections already able to use up to PCI-E 3.0 x4 in some instances, they're the perfect candidate to adapt to the SFF-8639 standard until the connection starts to appear natively. While MSI's card will work here, it is recommended that users pair it with its so-called Turbo M.2 slots. These are available on MSI's X99 motherboards, and use the full PCI-E 3.0 x4 bandwidth. Z97 boards with M.2 slots are typically limited to PCI-E 2.0 x2 since there are far fewer PCI-E 3.0 lanes available in the chipset. As such, it's likely that it will be MSI X99 motherboards that will have the new card bundled, rather than Z97 ones.
One potential thing to be aware of with the card is that the height of the HD Mini-SAS connection makes the M.2 module much taller than a standard SSD would be. Therefore, it may interfere with dual-slot graphics cards if it's installed in an M.2 slot nestled among the PCI-E expansion slots of a motherboard.