M.2 expansion for your NVMe SSDs - EZDIY adds, Angelbird Wings adds and cools, Amfeltec Squid adds, cools, and quadruples

Posted by Paul Braren on Dec 6 2016 (updated on Mar 26 2018) in
  • Storage
  • HomeLab
  • HomeServer
  • Introduction

    Such adapter cards pass signals from your M.2 NVMe device right through to your motherboards PCIe slot, with no speed degradation. You can see these simple wire traces in the close-look video that's featured below, so there's no special drivers needed. Modern PCs and servers simply "see" the NVMe drive, whether it's in a motherboard socket, or installed in any of these adapters. A nice perk, if your system can boot from NVMe, it can likely boot just fine from any of the M.2 NVMe devices mounted in any of these cards. Note, these items were all purchased, and some of the shopping links below are affiliate links, see detailed disclaimer and disclosure below every article.

    EZDIY M.2 SSD to PCIe 3.0 x4 Adapter

    • PCI Express M.2 SSD NGFF PCIe Card to PCIe 3.0 x4 Adapter (Support M.2 PCIe 22110 ,2280, 2260, 2242
      B01GCXCR7W
    • Available at Amazon.

    Simple and affordable (around $22 USD) way to add M.2 NVMe to your PCIe equipped system, best speeds if your PCIe is 3.0 x 4 lanes. Because it's longer than the Lycom DT-120 I wrote about a year ago, it can handle not just the common 2280, but also those supercapacitor-equipped enterprise 22110 length drives. You know, the ones you might need for those future vSAN tests you're pondering.

    In the video, you may notice I've covered up the too-bright LED on this card, since I sometimes run the system with the lid off at demonstrations and VMUG events. The fix was simple, LightDims Original Strength LED covers.

    The Good

    Simple, looks good, and affordable, and it includes full height and half height backplates.

    The Not So Good

    That blue LED is way too bright, but that's easily fixed.

    Note that the new Samsung 960 PRO/EVO (that one TinkerTry visitor already has!) is said to run cooler under load than the 950 PRO partly because of the new Polaris controller, and partly because of the heat-spreader copper layer under the sticker, which better spreads the heat out. The idea here is to prevent thermal throttling whenever possible, and even with throttled, it's still way faster than any 2.5" SATA3 SSD. Simply having your M.2 storage up off the motherboard can mean that this affordable card lets you run cooler longer.

    Angelbird

    Angelbird Wings PX1 PCIe x4 M.2 Adapter

    B018U79YQK-rotated-cropped

    Haven't fully tested this yet, as the need for supplemental cooling for my beloved and (formerly) world's-fastest consumer SSD is only rarely, such as when I want to run extended duration benchmarks without cranking the chassis fan to max. I don't benchmark to show off, I benchmark to determine whether I'm getting roughly the expected performance of my investment. This does require application of a special adhesive strip to your NVMe, thermally connecting it to the large aluminum passive cooling surface.

    But people love this thing, and the construction and look sure seems of high quality, have a look at the video below.

    The Good

    Looks good, great construction quality, haven't fully tested.

    The Not So Good

    No half-height backplate included.

    amfeltec

    Amfeltec Squid PCI Express Gen3 Carrier Board for 4 M.2 SSD modules

    SKU-086-34
    • SKU-086-34 SQUID PCIe Gen 3 Carrier Board for 4 M.2 SSD modules (M.2 key M)
      (full or half-height bracket; x16 or x8 PCI Express Adapter)
    • Available at Amfeltec site which has you contact Amfeltec sales via email to get the latest pricing
    • Hardware Manual
    • Active cooling fan moves provides laminar airflow across all 4 slots, at the cost of ~16dB noise increase, but that's at an 8" distance with no PC cover in place.

    Now this is pretty spectacular. A way to get 4 M.2 NVMe drives into one PCIe 3.0 x16 slot. Do the math. Samsung 960 PRO/EVO likes PCIe 3.0 x 4, and we have x 16 in those longer slots, such as those found in the Xeon D. No, it's not RAID, or a RAID controller, it's just a way for me personally to use my 128GB Samsung SM951 alongside my Samsung 950 PRO 512GB, and soon my Samsung 960 EVO 1TB.

    They also make a more affordable 2 M.2 slot and Gen 2 versions, see the whole product line, Squid PCI Express Carrier Boards™ for M.2 SSD modules. , but if you want to be able to use several more M.2 devices over time, this device should serve you well for years to come. Note, if your motherboard supports Intel RST/RSTe, it's often for SATA only, so don't assume that means you can RAID M.2 NVMe. Check your motherboard or system documentation.

    The Good

    • initial tests, seen near the end of the video below, do indicate that the speeds I'm getting from my M.2 drives are just as fast as when they were mounted right on the motherboard, this is good
    • no drivers needed, it just works
    • the cooling fan does seem like it might be effective, but I haven't really tested it yet

    The Not As Good

    • unfortunately, you can't get pricing easily online, but hopefully this Canadian company will work on easier availability worldwide, see also their current list of distributors
    • it is pricey (hundreds), you should , to ask for a quote shipped to your address
    • fan noise can be a concern for some use cases, but it's easily detached (demonstrated in the video) for users who have already have adequate airflow

    VMware Considerations

    4-NVMe-devices-in-my-SuperServer
    Yep, that's 4 M.2 drives in my Supermicro SuperServer Bundle 2, in one slot! I could have actually had a 5th NVMe drive in the motherboard's M.2 slot, but I ran out.
    • no driver needed for any of these card, they pass signals through that seamlessly, so picky OSs like VMware "see" each mounted M.2 NVMe device natively
    • did my brief testing under ESXi 6.5 (see video), but NVMe has been supported since 5.5, works fine
    • there seems to be little reason to worry VMware HCL listing such adapters as compatible, because they're invisible to the ESXi hypervisor, nice!

    Video

    M.2 PCIe for NVMe SSDs - EZDIY adds, Angelbird Wings cools, Amfeltec Squid quadruples & cools - Dec 06 2016
    How does copying over 200GB from one Samsung 950 PRO to another in under 3 minutes sound? - Nov 17 2015
    Samsung 950 PRO x2- ATTO Disk Benchmark tests run on C: and D: simultaneously, results barely slowed - Nov 11 2015

    Dec 15 2016 Update

    saelig-sku-086-34

    I have found a US based reseller of Amfeltec products:


    Mar 26 2017 Update

    Without asking, Amfeltec in Canada decided to send me 2 more of their latest product offerings. Because there is no affiliate program (no commissions) and prohibitive return shipping fees, I decided to keep the 2 items, and disclose how they were obtained.

    Recording the unboxing of the items while recording in 4K gives you a very detailed look, admittedly uncut and unedited. Since the recorded video is a massive 5GB in all, editing this for small gaffes and gaps just wasn't feasible in any reasonable amount of time.

    4 M.2 slots

    pci-express-gen-3-carrier-board-for-4-m-2-ssd-modules

    2 M.2 slots

    pci-express-gen-3-carrier-board-for-2-m-2-ssd-modules

    1 M.2 slot

    pci-express-gen-3-carrier-board-for-m-2-ssd-module-cropped

    This last model features a metal retainer clip that could thankfully easily be removed (off camera), since for Xeon D systems like my Supermicro SuperServer SYS-5028D-TN4T, this could touch some nearby motherboard jumpers.

    All of Amfeltec's PCI Express Gen 3 Carrier Boards can be found at:

    Unboxing Amfeltec PCI Express Gen 3 Carrier Board for 2 M.2 SSD modules and 1 module [4K]

    May 03 2017 Update

    See also:

    AOC-SLG3-2M2

    TinkerTry Udo Keller commented:

    ...as soon as you change the BIOS setting for PCIe bifurcation from x16 to x4x4x4x4, both slots are recognised.

    6d8b39577162c8d99c75d6efa084662ebf05bae240593335f12599f0eb55a90e
    Image courtesy of Udo Keller.

    Mar 18 2018 Update

    HYPER-M-2-X16-CARD-cropped

    This is a big development. I have now succesfully tested the Supermicro SuperServer SYS-5028D-TN4T with the HYPER M.2 X16 CARD! There's a catch: I only got this working by using a PCIe ribbon cable slot extender to run the Hyper card externally. It's a full height PCIe card, so there's no other way.

    But because this Xeon D system doesn't need a card with a PLX on it, it works fine with this card by just turning on x4x4x4x4 Bifurcation in the BIOS. That's right, no RAID, just JBOD style passthrough of 4 M.2 x4 devices at full speed, seen as native NVMe devices under VMware ESXi 6.5U1, for example. Should work fine with any OS though, since it's just passing M.2 devices right through.

    Here's the ASUS HYPER M.2 X16 CARD Product Page, with the list of compatible models filled with X299 gaming-centric motherboards:

    With Intel® Virtual RAID on CPU (VROC), unused CPU PCle® lanes can be assigned to storage, allowing you to create a bootable RAID array with multiple M.2 SSDs. Unlike motherboard PCH-based RAID, VROC isn't confined by the 32 Gbps DMI bottleneck, so multiple drives can be teamed to provide incredible throughput.

    HYPER-M-2-X16-CARD-cropped-more
    Click to visit the Product Page.

    Shop

    HYPER-M-2-X16-CARD-cropped

    ASUS HYPER M.2 X16 CARD

    Thermaltake TT Gaming PCI-E x16 3.0 Black Extender Riser Cable 200mm AC-053-CN1OTN-C1
    I can't seem to find the exact model number of the ribbon cable I used from 2 years ago, as featured in the video above. But this Thermaltake readily-available ribbon cable seems appears to be of the same specifications, and is likely to work just fine with the ASUS HYPER M.2 adapter, or whatever other PCIe device you are interested in testing.

    C_00003084
    2018-03-18_21-01-36
    HYPER-M2-in-SuperServer-SYS-5028D-TN4T--TinkerTry

    Mar 26 2018 update

    Full article on this project is planned, with video. For now, here's a picture of the card situated inside my SYS-5028D-TN4T, and I was able to put the cover back on without any issues. I had to remove the aluminum cover/heatsink to get it to fit though. You'll notice the power lead for the fan is detached, since it won't do any good without the aluminum cover. I also used some 3M 03614 Scotch-Mount 1/2" x 15' Molding Tape to fasten it without any possibility of shorts, since the Hyper card's entire back surface is painted. The red foam tape cover that's visibile was used to protect the capacitors on the front from any inadvertent bumps, when installing/removing the lid. If you look closely, you'll see my 960 PRO still on the motherboard's M.2 slot. That's right, I now have FIVE M.2 NVMe devices, all running at full PCIe 3.0 x 4 lanes of speed, at a much lower price point. This is great, and things I'll keep in mind as I begin my quest for future Xeon D-1500 and Xeon D-2100 chassis designs, and beyond.

    HYPER-M-2-X16-CARD-inside-my-SYS-5028D-TN4T--TinkerTry
    Hyper M.2 X16 PCIe card installed inside my Supermicro SuperServer SYS-5028D-TN4T.
    978377631094714368

    See also at TinkerTry