This week, consumer-grade PCIe 5.0 M.2 drives have finally hit the U.S. market, well over a year since the first client PC platforms supporting PCIe Gen5 became available. The new drives offer higher performance than the flagship PCIe 4 drives they supplant, albeit with some trade offs such as high prices and a greater need for good cooling. Meanwhile, for better or worse, the current crop of drives are largely interim solutions; as faster NAND becomes more readily available later this year, drive vendors will be able to push out even speedier drives based on the same controllers.

Up to 10 GB/sec Now for $170/TB

Gigabyte and Inland (a Micro Center brand) are the first companies to offer PCIe Gen5 consumer SSDs in the U.S. Gigabyte's Aorus Gen5 10,000 and Inland's TD510 drives come in a 2TB configuration and are rated for a maximum sequential read speeds of 10GB/sec and maximum sequential write speeds of 9.5GB/sec. Compared to the 7GB/sec or so limit of high-end PCIe 4 drives, this is a notable improvement in sequential read speeds for the same form factor.

Both drives are based on Phison’s PS5026-E26 controller (Arm Cortex-R5 cores, special-purpose CoXProcessor 2.0 accelerators, LDPC, eight NAND channels with ONFI 5.x and Toggle 5.x interfaces at up to 2400 MT/s data transfer speeds) as well as 3D TLC NAND memory. To sustain high performance levels even under high loads, Gigabyte equipped its SSD with a massive passive cooling system with a heat pipe.

Whereas Gigabyte has built their own drive, the drive that Inland/MicroCenter sells is thought to be made by Phison itself (or at least under its supervision). The company not only offers turn-key solutions featuring controllers with firmware and reference design, but can also produce actual SSDs and let its partners resell them under their own brands. Compared to the Gigabyte drive, the Inland drive comes with a rather compact cooling system, but this one is equipped with a small fan that is expected to produce a decent bit of noise (as small fans are wont to do).

Since these are the first PCIe Gen5 SSDs for client PCs on the market and they carry 2TB of raw 3D NAND memory, it is not surprising that they are quite expensive. Amazon and Newegg charged $340 per drive, but quickly sold out the units they had. Micro Center offers its product for $399, but with an immediate $50 discount it can be obtained for $349 once it back in stock.

But Faster Drives Incoming

While these current crop of drives are already hitting 10GB/sec reads, as we often see for first-generation products, they are still leaving performance on the table. Because the NAND needed to make the most of the Phison E26 controller has only recently become available (and only in small quantities at that), these initial drives, as fast as they are, are being held back by overall NAND throughput.

After Phison formally introduced its PS5026-E26 controller in September, 2021, it demonstrated prototypes E26-powered SSDs with 12.5 GB/s reads and 10.2 GB/s writes for a number of times. In fact, a number of the company's partners, such as MSI, even announced E26-based drives with similar performance characteristics, but Gigabyte's Aorus Gen5 10,000 and Inland's TD510 instead start things off a bit slower.

Under the hood, with 8 channels of NAND to pull from the E26 controller needs NAND running at 2400 MT/s in order to saturate its own internal throughput. These data rates, in turn, only recently became available via NAND built to the new Toggle NAND 5.0 and ONFi 5.0 standards. Micron's ONFi 5.0 232-layer 3D TLC NAND chips were used for Phison's prototype drives, but while Micron is slowly ramping up production of 232-layer NAND in general, the company slowed the ramp of 232-layer NAND running at 2400 MT/s. Meanwhile, Phison has yet to validate SK Hynix's 2400 MT/s NAND with its controller.

As a result, due to scarce availability of 2400 MT/s NAND, SSD makers have to use 1600 MT/s NAND with their PCIe Gen5 SSDs for now. Once faster NAND is more readily available, they can start using them to build E26-based drives that will be able to hit 12.3 GB/sec and make the most of the E26 controller, surpassing the performance of this initial generation of drives.

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  • Dizoja86 - Friday, March 3, 2023 - link

    What are the actual consumer use cases for these kinds of speeds? I'm running high-end PCIe 4.0 drives for gaming, and they're still overkill as DirectStorage remains painfully absent in PC games.

    I do benefit from NVME speeds in some games regardless (mainly ones that rely on high IOPS for asset loading), and I definitely utilize a couple GB/s for image processing, but I know most of these things would look pretty similar even at PCIe 3.0 speeds.
  • Samus - Friday, March 3, 2023 - link

    There aren't any. PCIe 5.0 NVMe storage reminds me of ATA\133. The interfaces (specifically, M.2 NGFF and IDE) are\were ancient and needed a modern replacement to keep pushing.

    The reason to replace M2 is obviously different than IDE, but there are some similarities. It really comes down to M2's form factor being quite terrible for cooling. It solved the problem of SATA\U2 2.5" SSD's with packaging, but was not thought out well enough to be future-proof like SATA was. How could engineers a decade ago really know that NAND flash and controllers would become so incredibly hot that packaging it in 20x80 would present a throttling nightmare.

    There is no good concept for a laptop replacement, but numerous companies have presented an M2 successor in the desktop and server space, notably Intel with the "ruler" SSD and the slowly adopted E1.L and E1.S, all of which are enterprise focused at the moment.
  • The Von Matrices - Friday, March 3, 2023 - link

    The M.2 standard was designed for laptops and mobile devices, and it is a great standard for that purpose. The problem was that it was carried over to the desktop where it was put on ATX motherboards in places like underneath the GPU where there is no airflow.

    SATA Express was what was intended for desktop, and it failed (IMO) because it was a 2-lane standard so it was only slightly faster than SATA (1 GBps vs 600 MBps). U.2 really should have been the desktop standard, and I'm not sure why it never was widely adopted.
  • twotwotwo - Friday, March 3, 2023 - link

    +1; they're making these because they can, and maybe because there are some enterprise use cases that will use all the bandwidth and IOPS you can possibly come up with.

    With luck it leads to price drops for high-end PCIe4 SSDs, or, as another way of looking at it, increases the performance expected of midrange SSDs. Of course it's still extra perf you don't necessarily need, but that's not so bad if you aren't paying a lot for it.
  • WaltC - Friday, March 3, 2023 - link

    I agree that there aren't any. The payoff will come much later when these drives become commonplace commodities and the price drops while the engineering gets better--so that heat sinks won't be a necessity.
  • ballsystemlord - Friday, March 3, 2023 - link

    How about looking really awesome inside of your case?
    Seriously, the GB one is so cool it's on fire... not because of it's need for thermal dissipation.
  • nandnandnand - Friday, March 3, 2023 - link

    PCIe 4.0 is overkill for many users, but now priced reasonably and doesn't need active cooling. PCIe 5.0 SSDs will reach that point eventually. I assume new M.2 SSDs using the 2580/25110 sizes will all be PCIe 5.0, and they could see capacity bumps or other small improvements with the extra area.

    Console SSDs were overhyped and extra RAM could bridge any gap that exists between a PC and PS5. We'll have to see if any storage faster than PCIe 4.0 matters throughout the 2020s.
  • meacupla - Friday, March 3, 2023 - link

    The only one I could think of was acting as a crutch for very poorly optimized games that seem to have serious loading time issues, even on high end PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD.
  • Euphorical - Saturday, March 4, 2023 - link

    Yeah but a single PCIE 4.0 drive with ram cache already surpasses these 5.0 drives with 12Gbps R/W
    And 1.5m iops
    With out needing ac and for way cheaper.
  • FL Guy - Saturday, March 4, 2023 - link

    For use cases ... Sure this is leading edge, ahead of the curve, tech for now.

    However, high res photo & amateur video are becoming increasingly common even among consumers, not to mention the number of people generating video content of one form or another for social media or other small business uses (YouTube, drone video etc.), and will only get more common, and will continue to produce larger files.

    Loading large files for editing does take time, perhaps more of an issue, several versions of files are often created for each event, location or client (different stages of proofing, color grading and other editing, with and without watermarks, logos, text or transitions, etc.), and manipulating and backing up large sets of files takes less time and will be done more often when transfer times are manageable. Sure, some of this can (eventually) be moved to slower media, but as there will still be a need for rapid access to large amounts of current or recent files for these types of users.

    So while I agree that this tech isn't needed or justifiable for most mainstream users, I wouldn't go so far say that there are no use cases, or that those cases won't become more common - history suggests, probably more rapidly than we anticipate now. My $.02 fwiw, ymmv as always.

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