Plextor M6e 256GB PCIe SSD Review
While Plextor hasnít seen themselves in many headlines these days, their new M6e will likely get folks talking. Indeed, many enthusiasts fondly remember the Plextor PX-716 DVD burner as it was the personification of high end performance in its day. While Plextor has fallen of the radar for all but a loyal following of fans, in the years since their heyday this company hasnít sat idle, deciding to expand their portfolio into the crowded SSD market.
Unlike the early 2000's where their reputation was built upon being the best of the best, Plextor has a budding reputation for providing some of the best bang for your buck SSD's available. They may not manufacture their own controller, or NAND (or any other critical components for that matter) but what they do have is a lot experience in what customers want and how to go about wringing the most from any storage solution. This critical knowledge has been leveraged towards designing custom firmwares for their drives which provides top-tier performance from components many of the competition use for lower-end drives.
Much like the M5 series before it, Plextorís all new M6 series comes in a variety of flavors and form factors, though the M6e does stand out as a rather unique device. PCI-E based solid state drives arenít unique and the new M.2 form factor is something weíll be seeing a lot more of in the coming months. However, what Plextor has done with the M6e is combine an M.2 SSD with a standard PCI-E 2.0 interface through a x4 adaptor card.
The combination of two interfaces gives the drive a level of flexibility rarely seen in the storage market. With one purchase consumers can either use the M6e inside their ATX-based system or, with the turn of a screwdriver, use the M6e inside a small form factor system that uses the new M.2 standard. Doing so will void your warranty but at least the potion is there.
The synergy between PCI-E and M.2 form factors has allowed Plextor to offer an entirely new type of device aimed squarely at gamers: inexpensive, high performance PCI-E based storage. Historically SSDs which use the high speed PCI-E interface come with equal doses of bleeding edge performance and extreme price tags. Seeing $2 or more per Gigabyte is routine for this niche, and while the M6eís $299 cost is a touch high for a 256GB SATA-based drive, itís quite affordable for the segment it plays in.
While 770MB/s read and 580MB/s write throughput is a far cry from classical PCI-E performance levels, it is well in excess of what any SATA SSD can offer right now. The only limiting factor for some users, particularly those using ITX motherboards, is that it takes up a PCI-E slot.
On closer inspection we can see that the Plextor M6e is a puzzling mixture of components. On the one hand it uses a PCI-E 2.0 x4 adapter board which would lead people to believe that the drive attached to the adapter card is in fact a x4 device. However, the SSD portion only has a pair of PCI-E lanes available.
The M6e 256GB SSD sans PCI-E adapter consists of a server-grade Marvel 8SS9183 controller, a single NANYA branded 512MB DDR3 Ram module, and eight Toshiba 19nm Toggle Mode NAND ICs.
On the surface all this is perfectly reasonably but the use of Marvelís 9183 controller is an interesting choice. It is a dual core controller which allows the M6e to bypass the motherboard's PCH and connect directly via two PCI-E 2.0 lanes. This is pretty much par for the course and shouldnít bottleneck the driveís potential bandwidth but we canít forget that four lane M.2 SSDs are on the horizon and Marvell will soon be replacing the 9183 with a suitable controller.
Eight high performance NAND ICs, a good controller and access to two PCI-E 2.0 lanes should prove to be a very good combination considering the M6eís reasonable asking price. Itís also a simple design which doesnít need additional software or user massaging to work properly. Those are important factors for gamers who want a storage device that can offer more than typical SATA-based SSDs.
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