PCIe 5.0 SSD for Alder Lake: MSI Spatium in card form-factor

Lack of PCIe 5.0 M.2 slots on Alder Lake platform sets stage for the return of add-in card SSDs

This November, Intel Alder Lake CPUs have brought PCI Express 5.0 support to desktop computers (but not notebooks). Its high bandwidth is now of most use for SSDs, but unfortunately the Alder Lake platform does not offer PCI Express for M.2 slots. However we will still get SDDs for PCI Express 5.0. MSI and Phison have now revealed their Spatium disks designed as a card for PCIe 5.0 slots, circumnavigating the absent M.2 support.

At CES 2022 the MSI company has introduced a high end SSD developed in cooperation with Phison, opting for a design compatible with the PCI Express slot, thus being able to utilize the connectivity of PCI Express 5.0 ×4, with a theoretical bandwidth up to 16GB/s (however, in practice it’s going to only achieve between 14 and 15 GB/s with NVMe SSDs, due to overheads). This SSD will belong to the Spatium line, which is a brand MSI has been using ever since it branched into making its own SSD. This Spatium SKU is based around the E26 controller by Phison. The SSD is clearly heavily based on Phison’s reference implementation, so the company’s involvement is relatively significant.

The card can be seen on the photos: it is a low profile adapter and the card’s PCB appears to be about 17 centimeters long. The card has a PCI Express 5.0 ×4 connector physically, however it will likely be installed into a ×8 or ×16 slot linked to the CPU in desktop motherboards. The Z690 and H670 mainboards will be ideal for this, since they allow splitting the lines of the PCIe 5.0. ×16 interface for graphics into ×8/×8, in order for the second slot to remain available for GPU (or a second SSD, should you want such, while being content with processor’s integrated GPU).

MSI Spatium with Phison E26 controller at the CES 2022 (Source: MSI)

The card is likely still in a prototype stages currently and the specifications have not been revealed yet. We only know that it uses the NVMe 2.0 protocol and should achieve very high reading and writing speeds. TechPowerUp states that the representatives at CES have also mentioned a bandwidth above the 10 GB/s line, but how far above that is currently unknown.

The reference implementation’S PCB by Phison might have been originally aiming primarily at server use, since the edge of the card has multiple positions obviously intended for power-loss protection backup capacitors. Those will unfortunately not be included in the desktop version of the disk (or rather card), so the resilience of the card against unexpected power outages will be just basic.

On the other hand the final version might have some RGB LEDs and similar decorations, this remains to be seen. The final card will likely be fully covered by a passive heatsink, while the prototype on display is only fitted with some kind of metal sheet or foil. Which is surely not the definitive look of the cooler, especially because it has an opening to showcase the controller, for demonstration purposes.

PCB for SSDs with Phison E26 controller (Source: techPowerup)

Phison has a reference design for M.2 modules with a Phison E26 controller and PCI Express 5.0 ×4 support as well. Such will require to be installed into an add-in-card adapter for the ×8 or ×16 slot, to be used on Alder Lake/LGA 1700. Directly attaching them into M.2 slots might only become possible on Intel’s upcoming W790 highend platform with Sapphire Rapids CPUs. Or in a more distant future on platforms by AMD, because the AM5 socket will also have PCI Express 5.0 support. But it has to be said that it is not yet known whether PCIe 5.0 will extend to M.2 slots on AM5.

MSI has unfortunately not shared when this SSD might arrive on the market. Last year, Phison expected that modules containing the E26 controller might enter sales in the second half of this year, which means that a lot of time still has to pass before this card will be available for purchase. We do not know whether these plans have been pushed forward in the meantime for a but quicker introduction.

Besides this MSI Spatium with E26 controller, an SSD capable of utilising PCI Express 5.0 has also been announced by Adata, but its release date is so far also unknown. Adata’s prototypes are M.2 designs, not PCIe slot-based cards ready for direct installation into current the Z690/Alder Lake platform motherboards.

More: PCIe 5.0 SSD for Alder Lake, Adata is preparing two M.2 modules

Source: techPowerUp, MSI

English translation and edit by Jozef Dudáš, original text by Jan Olšan, editor for Cnews.cz

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