We will see more division with SSD products in 2015; the stage is already set, low-cost SSDs will dominate the SATA space. Products like the new Crucial BX100, the Mushkin Reactor, and others will give users acceptable performance at very low prices, and unlike in the past few years, larger capacities.
On the other side of the coin, performance products can no longer live within the constraints of SATA 6Gb/s, and will move on to the PCIe bus. We've had PCIe drives for years, mostly with RAID controllers, and more than one SATA to flash controller pieced together. These products work really well with workstation workloads, but low queue depth performance is actually slower than simple SATA-based products. After you tack on a price higher than the cost of purchasing an equal number of 2.5" SSDs, it's easy to see why all-in-one RAID products never caught on with enthusiasts, gamers, or power users.
By June, the market will be flooded with native PCIe SSDs in many form factors. These products will eventually tip up in M.2 gum stick-like parts, PCIe cards that are either native or hold the M.2 parts, and finally SATA Express, a standard that routes two PCIe 2.0 lanes to a 2.5" form factor drive.
Plextor is one of the few companies to release a native PCIe SSD to the market. We've tested native PCIe parts from SanDisk in the A110, the Samsung XP941, and the original Plextor M6e, but only Plextor's part is a full retail unit that you can purchase from more than just a handful of specialty stores.
Specifications, Pricing, and Availability
The new Plextor M6e Black Edition shares the same specifications as the original M6e we tested at this time last year. The Black Edition evolves the M6e product line by adding an aluminum heat sink to dissipate heat from the M.2 form factor SSD that rests under the cover, and also supports Plextor's new PlexTurbo 2.0 cache software - neither were available on the M6e. The original M6e does work with PlexTurbo after a firmware update now; it just wasn't available when the product launched.
The M6e Black Edition comes in three capacities, 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB. Today we're focusing on the largest capacity, but in the coming days, we will follow up with the other two models as performance testing concludes.
The PX-512M6e-BK reads sequential data at 770 MB/s, and writes sequential data at 625 MB/s. This is the fastest model in the trio offered by Plextor. To achieve those speeds, the M6e Black Edition uses a PCIe 2.0 x2 bus. The faster interface to the host PC also allows the M6e Black Edition to handle random data faster than SATA 6Gb/s devices. The 512GB model delivers 105,000 random read IOPS, and exactly 100,000 random write IOPS.
The spec list shows us something we rarely see on these types of devices, non-Windows OS support. Plextor states the M6e Black Edition will work with different Linux operating systems.
At the time of writing, the new M6e Black Edition products are not available from the usual outlets like Newegg and Amazon in the US. The new products should turn up any day now. We're not going to speculate on the final price, but we should know more by the time we finish testing the other two capacities. The M6e Black Edition comes with a five-year warranty from Plextor.
Plextor M6e Black Edition 512GB PCIe SSD
The Black Edition theme carries over to all aspects of this product, including the retail packaging.
Plextor lists the specifications for all three capacities on the back of the package, and also includes a list of features.
Inside, we found the card tucked away with dense foam securing the card for shipping.
In the package, you will receive a paper installation manual, a card with support contact numbers, the M6e Black Edition PCIe SSD, and a screw for installing the card in your PC.
The M6e Black Edition looks quite a bit different than the original M6e Plextor released last year. The new heat sink sets the tone right away, and the black PCB is a nice touch as well; together, the black and red combination will match a large number of motherboards and video cards on the market. All of the extra bling is actually functional as well.
These gold fingers bring the power and data into the SSD, and allow the M6e Black Edition to run on the PCIe bus.
During operation, air will flow past the heat sink on the card, and out of the rear of the back plate while exiting your system.
A look from the back shows the flame design. Plextor put a lot of thought into designing this product.
Thermal transfer material passes heat from the M.2 card to the heat sink.
The thermal transfer material covers the entire length of the M.2 SSD.
Although not used on this product, it appears Plextor worked on a version of the adapter card that put capacitors on the M.2 to PCIe adapter.
We didn't need to use it on our high-end enthusiast motherboard, but the M.2 adapter card has a SATA power plug, just in case you have any issues with your motherboard not being able to supply enough power to the M6e Black Edition.
The card also has pins for connecting LEDs to show SSD activity. The easiest way to use this is to unplug the HDD activity LED lead from the motherboard, and plug it directly into the M6e Black Edition.
The actual M.2 'gum stick' is cut for both M and B keys, so if you feel the desire to void your warranty, you can remove it and install the SSD in another device. There isn't any reason to do so at this time, but over time, you may want to install the SSD in a notebook; compatible models are coming to the market right now.
Plextor paired the Marvell 88SS9183 controller with Toshiba A19 flash.
In a standard system with the motherboard facing the intended direction, this is the side you will see. The black PCB looks a lot better than the standard green.
Test System Setup and Initial Performance
Desktop Test System
Lenovo T440 - Notebook Power Testing with DEVSLP and Windows 8.1 Pro
Nearly all of the performance tests run on the desktop system, but we use a Lenovo T440 to run the power tests. The T440 is the latest addition to our client SSD test lab, and allows us to test the notebook battery life offered by an SSD with advanced features like DEVSLP enabled.
Initial Performance Evaluation - 4-Corner and then Some Tests
Sequential 80% Read 20% Write
The sequential tests show us that the read performance is over 700 MB/s at reasonable queue depths. The sequential write performance tops 600 MB/s when dealing with larger block sizes.
Random 80% Read 20% Write
We don't measure random performance at high queue depths in this section, but we'll look at the hero numbers later in this review. The 512GB M6e Black Edition gets really close to breaking into the 10K random IOPS area at QD1. The performance scales really well on the read chart as the queue depth increases. The write test chart shows very little difference between QD4 and QD10.
Benchmarks - Sequential Performance
HD Tune Pro - Sequential Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 5.50
There are just a few native PCIe M.2 based SSDs on the market today. These include the Plextor M6e / M6e Black Edition, and the Samsung XP941 (an OEM drive that enterprising e-tailers like RamCity in Australia managed to sell). Samsung has a successor to the XP941 that will be in our hands in a couple of days, and Plextor, along with several other Marvell customers, will have a PCIe four-lane controller named Altaplus soon as well.
We have a handful of drives in the charts today that are currently available. The M6e was tested with earlier firmware, but can be updated to the same firmware found on the Black Edition. From what we can tell, in this test with a single worker (QD1) and 64KB block sizes, the older firmware is faster than the shipping firmware on the Black Edition.
We noticed the same thing with the performance between the two Plextor drives in the sequential write test. On paper, the 512GB Black Edition should be faster than the 256GB standard M6e in nearly every test, but in this corner case with the older firmware, the original drive is faster.
HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes
Version and / or Patch Used: 22.214.171.124
After a reasonable number of sequential and random writes to turn on wear leveling, we tested the Plextor M6e Black Edition 512GB in HD Tach to measure 128KB sequential reads and writes. The M6e Black Edition managed to keep the sequential writes at high speeds throughout the test. We did observe two spikes in data flow, and one went down to as low as 250 MB/s.
Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities
Anvil Storage Utilities
Version and / or Patch Used: RC6
So, what is Anvil Storage Utilities? Anvil Storage Utilities is a storage benchmark for SSDs and HDDs where you can check and monitor your performance. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests; you can run a full test, or just the read or the write test, or you can run a single test, i.e. 4k QD16.
Anvil Storage Utilities is not officially available yet, but we've been playing with the beta for several months now. The author, Anvil, has been updating the software steadily on several international forums, and is adding new features every couple of months.
We can use Anvil several different ways to show different aspects for each drive. We've chosen to use this software to show the performance of a drive with two different data sets. The first is with compressible data, and the second data set is incompressible data. Several users have requested this data in our SSD reviews.
0-Fill Compressible Data
Compressible and incompressible data flow at nearly the same rate on the M6e Black Edition.
Low Queue Depth Read IOPS
None of the native PCIe drives we've tested to date have managed to break the 10K random read IOPS mark, but the M6e Black Edition does compare better to the XP941 now that the firmware has been updated. From an end-user point of view, you wouldn't be able to notice a difference between the M6e Black Edition and the XP941 when reading random data.
High Queue Depth Read IOPS
At high queue depths, the M6e Black Edition trails behind the XP941 512GB, but most of us will never load a SSD enough to get into these high queue depths.
Low Queue Depth Write IOPS
With random data writes, the Black Edition does well against the XP941 again. The new firmware is also a major upgrade over the original M6e release firmware.
High Queue Depth Write IOPS
The Plextor M6e Black Edition does very well at high queue depths, and moves the performance outside of the SATA 6Gb/s bounds.
Benchmarks - Mixed Read / Write Workloads
Sequential Mixed Read / Write Workloads
In this series of tests, we measure mixed workload performance. We start with 100% read, and then add data writes to the mix in 10% increments until we get to 100% writes. We believe this will be the next major area SSD manufacturers will address, after performance consistency.
Sequential Mixed Workload Bandwidth
To be fair, none of the PCIe based SSDs on the chart today do very well in our mixed workload test with the drives in steady state. The M6e Black Edition 512GB does a little better in some places when compared to the original M6e, but a little worse in others.
Sequential 80% Read / 20% Write Bandwidth
The 80% read / 20% write test is important because it's the same mix of reads and writes that most computer users run on a daily basis.
Random Mixed Workload Response Time
Using mixed read and write workloads with random data fares a bit better on the Black Edition. The new firmware performs much better than the original firmware on the M6e, and also allows the drive to perform better than the XP941 products.
PCMark 8 Consistency Test
Futuremark PCMark 8 Extended - Consistency Test
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.0.228
Heavy Usage Model:
Futuremark's PCMark 8 allows us to wear the test drive down to a reasonable consumer steady state, and then watch the drive recover on its own through garbage collection. To do that, the drive gets pushed down to steady state with random writes, and then idle time between a number of tests allows the drive to recover.
1. Write to the drive sequentially through up to the reported capacity with random data.
2. Write the drive through a second time (to take care of overprovisioning).
1. Run writes of random size between 8*512 and 2048*512 bytes on random offsets for ten minutes.
2. Run performance test (one pass only).
3. Repeat one and two, eight times, and on each pass, increase the duration of random writes by five minutes.
Steady state Phase:
1. Run writes of random size between 8*512 and 2048*512 bytes on random offsets for 50 minutes.
2. Run performance test (one pass only).
3. Repeat one and two, five times.
1. Idle for five minutes.
2. Run performance test (one pass only).
3. Repeat one and two, five times.
PCMark 8's Consistency test provides a ton of data output that we use to judge a drive's performance. Here we see the three states of performance for the select SSDs, light use, consumer steady state, and worst case.
Storage Bandwidth - All Tests
Here we get our first taste of PlexTurbo 2.0. The black line represents the Plextor M6e Black Edition, and the red line represents the M6e Black Edition with PlexTurbo 2.0 enabled. The results show PlexTurbo doesn't increase performance under heavy workloads, even in a system that allows for 4GB of system DRAM to work as a cache for the SSD. The drive needs to recover from strenuous use before PlexTurbo actually increases performance.
Storage Bandwidth - Heavy Load
Under heavy use, the M6e Black Edition is mildly faster than the original M6e SSD, but is still not in the same league as the Samsung XP941.
Storage Bandwidth - Typical Consumer Load
Even with PlexTurbo enabled, the M6e Black Edition trails behind the XP941 drives in all capacities. We also observed the original M6e (with the launch firmware) is actually faster than the new Black Edition under consumer workloads.
PCMark 8 Consistency Test - Continued
Total Access Time - All Tests
The access time test measures the total latency across all 18 tests. This is one of, if not the most important of all tests we run at this time for consumer SSDs. When your latency is low, your computer feels fast; it's just that simple.
Even though the original M6e has higher throughput in some tests, the latency test shows the M6e has some serious issues under heavy load. The new Black Edition tames the high latency, and with PlexTurbo enabled, does even better.
Total Access Time - Heavy Load
Latency, or more specifically, the lack of latency is what makes your computer feel fast. The M6e Black Edition handles heavy workloads better than the original drive, but is still outmatched when compared to the XP941 in 256GB and 512GB capacities.
Total Access Time - Typical Consumer Load
The consumer workload tests show us the same outcome. The M6e Black Edition with PlexTurbo enabled does better than the first version, but is still off the mark in comparison to Samsung's solutions.
The Plextor M6e Black Edition 512GB is a mixed bag the way it sits right now. On the performance side, the drive isn't that much better than the premium 2.5" SATA products on the market today. We still don't know about the price, but given the premium Plextor products tend to have at launch, I suspect the Black Edition 512GB pricing will be fairly high. The drive is very stable and mature, and the firmware on our test unit is version 1.05, so the company has spent quite a bit of time making changes over the past year.
Both of the M.2 PCIe based drives on the market right now are held back by the AHCI instruction set. NVMe is around the corner, but I wouldn't expect anything to hit the market on the consumer side until around Computex this June. Until then, the XP941, its successor (which you will read about next week), and the M6e products will have to hold us over. In the case of the M6e Black Edition, the drive can deliver very high sequential file transfers, but the random reads and writes at low queue depths are a bit slower than Samsung's 850 Pro/EVO, and SanDisk's Extreme PRO SSDs. What really hurts Plextor is that those products will cost less than the M6e Black Edition when it finally launches.
We suspect the difference in cost between a premium 2.5" SSD and the M6e Black Edition in the 512GB capacity will be significant. The original M6e that hit the market one year ago sells at Newegg for $570, and we expect the Black Edition pricing will be even higher given the added heat sink and revised PCB color.
Plextor backs the M6e Black Edition with a five-year warranty, and the M6e Black Edition is compatible with PlexTurbo 2.0. Since the company's first PCIe SSD released last year, the M6e Series has gotten better, but performance consistency is still a low point. Plextor has worked really hard on improving the consistency of the M6 Pro SATA drives; hopefully the next M6e Black Edition firmware will increase performance as well.
|Quality including Design and Build||95%|
|Bundle and Packaging||90%|
|Value for Money||90%|
The Bottom Line: Plextor's M6e PCIe SSD is a solid product for now, but we know something faster will hit the market before the end of the year. The GC scheme sometimes works against the performance grain and would limit the use in A/V applications.
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