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[OCN Labs] Plextor M8Se NVMe Review by Jeffrey Edson

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Plextor is a world-leading developer of storage and is dedicated to professionals, consumers, and enterprise development. If you're familiar with storage trends then you know NVMe is the new kid on the block when it comes to performance. What's problematic when it comes to NVMe is price, but since TLC NAND became more affordable and reliable prices are now more consumer friendly.

Today we will be looking at the latest NVMe drive from Plextor the M8Se. I will be testing the 512GB m.2 version and compare the drive to some other modern NVMe drives. The M8Se offers three types of drives, a PCIe HHHL card, m.2 with a heatsink, and the single sided m.2 that we will be covering. Each M8Se drive offers four capacities ranging from 128GB - 1TB. In each drive, Plextor gives you the full capacity of NAND with losing some from over provisioning.




The specifications are as follows:

Performance:
  • Sequential Read Speed (MB/s)- Up to 2,450
  • Sequential Write Speed (MB/s)- Up to 1,000
  • Random Read Speed (IOPS)- Up to 210,000
  • Random Write Speed (IOPS)- Up to 175,000

Reliability:
  • Power Requirement- DC 3.3V 3.0A (Max.)
  • Temperature- 0°C ~ 70°C / 32°F ~ 158°F (Operating)
  • Shock- 1500G (Max.) , at 1 msec half-sine
  • MTBF- >1,500,000 Hours
  • Endurance (TBW)- 320
  • Warranty- 3 years

Compatibility:
  • Operating System Supported- Microsoft Windows 8.1, 10/ Linux OS
  • Agency Approval- UL, TUV, FCC, CE, BSMI, VCCI, RCM, KCC, EAC, ROHS, WHQL
  • Command Set Support- TRIM, S.M.A.R.T, IO queue, NVMe command
  • Interface- M.2 PCIe Gen 3 x4 with NVM Express
  • Firmware- Upgrade Supported

Form Factor:
  • Form Factor- M.2 2280
  • Power Connector- M.2 connector for DC 3.3V input
  • Data Connector- M.2 Connector

Dimensions:
  • Dimension- (L/W/H) 80 x 22 x 2.3 mm / 3.15 x 0.87 x 0.09 inch
  • Weight- (Max.) 10g / 0.35oz

Why should I care about NVMe?



As with everything in the computer world It's constantly changing and the technology that comes with it. The storage industry has become affordable in the SSD market but is trending towards NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) as a replacement. NVMe SSDs are the enthusiast topic of interest right now. What NVMe does is it allows you to bypass the SATA standard altogether.

Traditional SATA has been limited to MB/s and NVMe allows you to reach in the range of GB/s! NVMe takes advantage of your PCIe lanes instead of the SATA interface which can be a bottleneck compared to PCIe and the advantages NVMe brings to the table. Modern motherboards and Intel CPUs take advantage of having the PCIe lanes tied directly to the CPU. This can be great for taking advantage of those m.2 drives that are available on most z97 boards and above.

The typical style of NVME drives you will see are in the m.2 variant or a PCIe card similar to a GPU. NVMe doesn't require a full x16 slot or the bandwidth from it and is closer to the bandwidth of an x4 slot. Please keep in mind on some older motherboards to make sure you check your manual because certain slots can disable other ones due to bandwidth limitations.



Intel's latest z270 platform offers full NVMe support over m.2 and has more than enough bandwidth through either Skylake or Kaby lake CPUs.  X299 as an enthusiasts platform is also another great choice for NVMe drive support. Be on the look out for Intel's latest technology called Intel Optane technology. This is similar to NVMe with additional performance improvements. AMD with its new Ryzen CPUs and new enthusiasts motherboards also has additional support for NVMe drives.

Shipping



The drive comes in standard packaging and contains nothing special other than the model name and performance metrics on the back. NVMe drives are small and really don't require any fancy packaging to transport the product. On mine, it says 512GB so I'm each drives packaging must differ in drive size & performance.



The accessories included are as follows:
  • M8Se m.2 drive
  • m.2 screw set

The packaging and accessories are minimal here and you shouldn't expect anything more either. The only difference I've seen is some companies provide an extra screwdriver for you, but typical m.2 drives come with m.2 screws and the drive. The only big thing that stands out is the green PCB board, but this isn't the only drive that uses this design and color. I prefer a black PCB as most gaming or enthusiasts boards are darker in color but Let's be clear that a green PCB or not NVMe is about performance. I'm hoping the TLC flash can provide decent performance per dollar.

As a side note, if you do end up buying one with the heatsink, it's black with a hint of blue, so most of the green PCB is covered.

Design



The M8Se drive was designed around TLC NAND flash and it's flagship controller. It does offer LDPC error correction and exclusive PlexNitro technology. This essentially caches the NAND and allows write acceleration. Using the TLC NAND will help keep costs down but still offer consumers decent performance for everyday use. The PlexNitro tech is also important because it offers as a buffer removing the need for over provisioning.



The thing about NAND and TLC, in general, is life expectancy and read/write errors over time. However, with current standards, this is not as worrisome as it used to be when SSDs first came to the market. Also, Plextor has flawless quality control when it comes to testing their SSDs. They call this the "Zero Error" policy and they test their drives for a life cycle of 1.5 million hours or Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF). This means the M8Se will provide astonishing hours of use between failures and with the three-year warranty give you a peace of mind.



MLC NAND is capable of storing more than a single bit of information, You can read more about it here.  SSDs consist of SLC, MLC, and TLC. SLC is considered the best due to the state of being in a single cell on or off. This reduces the possibility of errors and has the longest life span. If you're interested more in the different types check this out. TLC is (Tripple Level Cell) and does triple the number of bits. This is where SSDs became more affordable because TLC offers more storage for less but has a much higher error rate and last a lot less read/write cycles. This is ideal for consumers and not industrial.

With the "Zero Error" policy from Plextor, the TLC error rate isn't really a concern as it used to be. While it's true TLC offers a higher number of errors, most manufacturers have found ways to reduce this and still provide excellent performance.

Main features of the M8Se:
  • Data Accuracy - Offers latest LDCP technology
  • Advanced Endurance - Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) of 1.5 million hours
  • Lasting Performance - Using TruSpeed tech each Plextor SSD offers like new performance even after prolonged use
  • Heat Resistant - Ability to withstand high operating temperatures
  • High Speed - Take performance to the next level using PCIe vs traditional SATA



The new M8Se offers 15nm Toshiba TLC NAND and uses the Marvell 88SS1093 controller. The 88SS1093 is Marvell's first NVM Express SSD controller, and it utilizes PCIe 3.0 x4 for it's expected NVMe performance. Marvell also offers its low-density parity checking technology to keep the drive running smoothly; along with 1GB of DDR3 DRAM cache which adds to the overall performance of the drive.



The drive is single sided so there are no IC's or packages on the back of the drive.

Testing & Setup




Setting up an NVMe m.2 SSD is not really that difficult to set up but does require a few settings to make it bootable so you can install your operating system (OS) to it. If you're not installing your OS to it then you can let Windows initialize the drive as long as the slot is enabled. Every manufacturer has different settings so it would be very difficult to go over every UEFI BIOS out there. I am covering the ASUS ROG Z270G STRIX, but if you look at your UEFI manual I'm sure the settings are similar but may contain different verbiage.

The first thing you want to do is find where your settings show your m.2 info so you can enable the slot or slots the drives are installed to. Once you know the appropriate slots are enabled you can configure the drive and prepare it for the main boot drive. Above for the Z270G board, it is required to enable Intel Rapid Storage so the drive can be recognized and also for most modern motherboards you need to disable CSM so the UEFI can boot to the NVMe drive. You will find unless you do this the drives are not recognized during the booting process. I personally have seen this over an ASRock Z270 board and this ASUS one.

Unless you're doing RAID you shouldn't have any issues letting Windows 10 recognize the enabled m.2 drive.  If you do set up a RAID volume for NVMe drives you do have to load the correct RAID driver like usual during the Windows setup process.



Testing can differ slightly from system to system. I am going to test the M8Se using ATTO Disk Benchmark, and the AS SSD benchmark. I will be testing this NVMe drive vs the Toshiba RD400 NVMe, the Samsung 950 PRO, ZOTAC Sonix, and an SSD drive. By doing this, we can see any difference by controller choices, or by driver level variances. The SSD will be able to show how much of an advantage NVMe is over tradition SATA.

Another treat I have is my FLIR ONE. By using this thermal imagery I can show you how hot these m.2 NVMe drives get and why there have been some issues with overheating like here. This tool is fantastic because it will allow tech enthusiasts and reviewers to show visual results for thermal testing. It is a next generation thermal camera that works with iOS and Android devices. If you want to buy one look here.

My test bench is as follows:
  • ViewSonic XG2703-GS Monitor
  • Motherboard- Asus ROG STRIX Z270G mATX
  • CPU: Intel Core I7 6700K
  • Network Card- Netgear AC 1200 (USB 3.0)
  • Router- Netgear Nighthawk x10
  • Cooler- Cooler Master Master Liquid 240
  • Memory- Corsair LPX DDR4 3000 MHz
  • Video Card: Nvidia GTX 1060
  • Storage- Toshiba OCZ VX500GB SSD / Toshiba OCZ RD 400 256 GB NVMe/ Samsung 950 Pro 512 GB NVMe / ZOTAC Sonix 480 GB NVMe / Plextor M8Se (Boot)
  • Power Supply- Corsair RM650X
  • OS: Windows 10 x64 Pro
  • Mouse- Logitech G403 Wireless Gaming Mouse
  • Keyboard- Logitech G413
  • Headphones- Logitech G533 7.1 Surround Sound Wireless Headset

I also want to point out I did not have all these drives plugged in at the same time and these were all tested independently. This was necessary due to bandwidth limitations currently with NVMe and I did not want any bottlenecks.



Plextor claims to have some sort of heat resistance to the drive, but this was marketed towards all of them, and I am thinking maybe they meant the versions with heatsinks. Either way, the drive is supposed to be cooler with a heatsink and that isn't always the case as we've seen with MSI's issue with overheating NVMe drives. You can actually buy thermal covers for your drives similar to this one here. At 53.4 (°C) I'm not too concerned with an open air test bench but it is something to watch out for. This could be a problem depending on m.2placementt for added heat to your system.

The white spots are the warmest and it would appear the Marvel controller is the warmest part of the M8Se drive. If the controller gets too overworked it could cause the drive to fail if not properly cooled or monitored. I've seen more controllers fail as opposed to NAND.



Booting Windows on this the M8Se is super fast. It only took about 9 seconds to get into Windows 10 x64 fully loaded. This is a bit faster than regular SSDs and is much faster than traditional SATA drives.



I went ahead and converted the scores to MB/s so you could see a clearer picture of performance across the different drives. I also took the highest recorded Read / Write speed and that is what is displayed by each drive. You can see the M8Se drive definitely keeps up with performance, but as a TLC drive drags behind a little. The ZOTAC Sonix does have a clear advantage with the use of a Phison controller. The SSD is where as expected as well which should be around 500 - 550 MB/s. For a budget friendly TLC NVMe drive, the M8Se is definitely worth your time.



AS SSD shows some real improvements for the M8Se. AS SSD is my favorite benchmark because it offers quick accurate results. You can see controller level variances here and each drive stays consistent in performance levels. The M8Se tests showed the drive performing extremely well even though the Sonix still takes a lead with a different controller. For the cost of this drive and the performance, you get it definitely stays up there vs higher performing drives.



I loaded PREY onto the M8Se and the loading times were dramatic compared to a standard SSD. It only took about 8 seconds to load PREY compared to 35 seconds on an AHCI SSD. Each map load point only took about 3 seconds between loading times.

Conclusion



NVMe is the new trend when it comes to enthusiasts machines. Having the ability to offer competitive pricing only helps the market. There is nothing wrong with offering a TLC variant of an NVMe drive but don't expect the highest level of performance when comparing it to more expensive solutions like the SONIX or Samsung 950 PRO. What you can expect is a significantly better performing drive by bypassing the SATA interface and giving you almost double the performance of a normal SSD.

Currently, there has been a shortage of NAND across all drives and has increased all prices a bit. I highly recommend these drives and definitely recommend RAID if you can afford it. You will need at least two drives but the performance is acceptable to the cost of another drive.

If you're looking for the jump into the NVMe market the M8Se just might be the deciding factor. I highly recommend one of these drives and when released you will be able to buy this 512Gb variant for $240.00. The M8Se version with the heatsink is available now on NewEgg with the 128GB being 99.99 / 256GB is 159.99 / 512GB is 289.99 / and 1TB is 509.99.



Pros: Cost effective NVMe solution compared to others / Performance

Cons: Thermals


Edited by Jedson3614 - 7/5/17 at 8:39am
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post #2 of 23
What sort of load was on the drive during the temperature testing? 54C isn't at all bad for full load (like a mixed r/w benchmark), but would be pretty unimpressive for idle or light load.

Somewhat wary of planar TLC, but I haven't had any failures yet, so I may have to consider this drive.
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post #3 of 23
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blameless View Post

What sort of load was on the drive during the temperature testing? 54C isn't at all bad for full load (like a mixed r/w benchmark), but would be pretty unimpressive for idle or light load.

Somewhat wary of planar TLC, but I haven't had any failures yet, so I may have to consider this drive.

Here are some things I plan on fixing for next time and actually usually do. That was a normal temp load without benchmarking, as I stated its high but nothing so crazy that I'm freaking out, some NVMe drives do run quite hot depending on what's going on. I really think it comes down to how active the controller has to work or the memory or memory cache. I plan to next time include a temp while benchmarking but my point was to show its already warm during normal conditions with this drive, that why I didn't state it was while benchmarking.We are aware from my FLIR ONE image it already runs hot despite Plextor claiming it has heat resistant technology for the drive. From what I can tell about the heat resistant tech they refer to it just meaning it can withstand higher operating temperatures, and really that just means it can hold up to the controller working harder with the TLC NAND and memory caching.

Some other things to take into consideration is some motherboards depending on where things are laid out due to added heat from the motherboard and other items and features, so being an mATX board it was closer to the GPU and near my radiator. I was also using an open air test bench so maybe some air loss is happening to and there isn't any real direct airflow over the drive. I bet temperatures may be a bit lower in an enclosed case with some airflow.
Edited by Jedson3614 - 7/3/17 at 1:42pm
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post #4 of 23
Thanks for the clarification.

Yeah, 53.4C idle isn't too impressive...same ballpark as my M6e with no supplemental cooling, and I could easily get this drive to throttle under heavy load before I stuck some thermal pads under it to transfer the controller's heat to the motherboard.

The heat resistance Plextor mentions sounds like some sort of manufacturing process (special solder or underfill) to make things less likely to break during thermal cycling.
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post #5 of 23
I always thought the "heat resistance" was referring to the single sided heatsink it usually sells with and the 70 degrees Celsius max operating temp spec.

Also thank you Jedson3614 for the review. smile.gif
post #6 of 23
Nice review. Thank you.
post #7 of 23
Quote:
Plextor claims to have some sort of heat resistance to the drive, but this was marketed towards all of them, and I am thinking maybe they meant the versions with heatsinks. Either way, the drive is supposed to be cooler with a heatsink and that isn't always the case as we've seen with MSI's issue with overheating NVMe drives. You can actually buy thermal covers for your drives similar to this one here. At 53.4 (°C) I'm not too concerned with an open air test bench but it is something to watch out for. This could be a problem depending on m.2placementt for added heat to your system. The white spots are the warmest and it would appear the Marvel controller is the warmest part of

The white spots are the warmest and it would appear the Marvel controller is the warmest part of the M8Se drive. If the controller gets too overworked it could cause the drive to fail if not properly cooled or monitored. I've seen more controllers fail as opposed to NAND.o NAND.

Great review, really need to get myself a thermal camera, they look super useful!!

Small edit to your review to remove a duplicate sentence. thumb.gif
    
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post #8 of 23
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Roxborough View Post

Great review, really need to get myself a thermal camera, they look super useful!!

Small edit to your review to remove a duplicate sentence. thumb.gif
\

Hey, thanks for the correction really appreciate that, not sure that happened while being typed and more of a copy/paste issue! I did go ahead and remove it, and glad you enjoyed the article.

Yes. the FLIR ONE has been a game changer for testing hardware, it has become a crucial part of my testing methodology.
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post #9 of 23
I wonder what the temps would be on this Plextor with one of those AlphaCool aluminum pieces on it.....Though it doesn't look like that AlphaCool design fits most m.2 mounting position, am I right?
   
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TheFattenedCalf
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post #10 of 23
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bigceeloc View Post

I wonder what the temps would be on this Plextor with one of those AlphaCool aluminum pieces on it.....Though it doesn't look like that AlphaCool design fits most m.2 mounting position, am I right?

That's right it's risky, I would say realistically it's probably going to be okay for m.2 slots without any concealment or covers on them, like in some of the newer x299 boards. I will try and get some for you guys and see what compatibility is like across multiple m.2 drives, I have a wide variety of them we could check!
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MyDigital BP5e CoolerMaster MasterAir MA410P windows 10 x64 pro Viewsonic xg2703-gs 
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Overclock.net › Forums › Overclock Labs › Hardware Reviews Program › [OCN Labs] Plextor M8Se NVMe Review by Jeffrey Edson