Kingston M.2 2280 SATA 120GB SSD Review
Thanks in no small part to Intel and their Z97 motherboards, the new M.2 storage form factor is quickly gaining attention. There are a number of reasons for this surge in popularity like the diminutive size of these SSDs being perfect for small form factor systems and the actual performance being brought to the table. Despite what may seem like an oddball interface, these are PCI-E based drives so throughput is typically quite impressive. Kingston has seen an opportunity in this niche and have created the 2280 in an effort to capitalize on what will likely be a growing segment.
Past its obvious size and performance advantages, M.2 actually has a lot of different modes that an attached drive can use. For the purposes of this review the main three are: NVMe which will be used by future drives, PCIe mode that SSDs like the Plextor M6e series use and a final Legacy SATA mode. The M.2 2280 120GB drive makes use of the latter and Kingston hopes it is also a great example of what SATA M.2 drives have to offer consumers: low cost, high value, and acceptable performance.
This 'legacy' mode of the M.2 standard is what has allowed new entry level and value-oriented drives like the M.2 2280 to be quickly built and brought to market. This is because these drives donít rely upon a new and expensive PCIe or NVMe based controller. Instead any SATA controller will work since SSDs like the 2280 are for all intents and purposes smaller and cheaper to produce SATA drives, just ones that use the M.2 form-factor instead of a 'classic' 2.5" form-factor. The only caveat to using Legacy mode is that the M.2 socket has to be capable of Legacy SATA mode (not all motherboards are) or otherwise the new drive just wonít work.
With a model name of '2280' some consumers could easily be forgiven for thinking this was SandForce-based device but Kingstonís nomenclature refers to the form-factor of the drive itself. Just as M.2 drives can use various modes that have been laid out in the standard so too have numerous lengths and widths been baked right into this standard.
To break down a four digit M.2 form-factor designation you have to first understand what the various digits means. The first two digits state the deviceís width (in millimeters), and the second set of two numbers tell you how long it is (also in millimeters). For the time being all M.2 consumer grade models will be 22mm wide and thus the 22 can be safely ignored so that second set of numbers is what matters for motherboard and notebook compatibility. In this case '2280' means Kingstonís drive is 22mm wide and 80mm long.
Thankfully since it is a M.2 device, just one look at the naked PCB will remove any questions over what controller Kingston uses. Also as mentioned this is a dual-sided, maximum height, 80mm long M.2 drive. As such it uses four NAND ICs, a single RAM module and an SATA controller. In this instance Kingston -for the time being - opted for four Toshiba 19nm Toggle Mode NAND modules. These are high performance NAND chips and itís great to see them being used on a budget drive. The single RAM IC is a Nanya branded DDR3-1333 256MB IC and it is fairly par for the course.
Sadly, while Kingston did have the freedom to choose from any SATA controller available (SandForce, Marvel, Intel, Samsung, etc) they opted for the low priced Phison PS3108 which can be found in entry level SSDs like the Corsair Force LS. Considering this drive has a somewhat expensive MSRP of $95 -or a good ten dollars more than Kingston's own highly capable entry level 2.5" SATA drives- it does put into question what itís supposed to compete against. However, if the performance is high enough maybe the M.2 2280's unique blend of features and price will be enough to create an entirely new market niche for entry level M.2 SSDs.
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