Plextor M9Pe SSD Review

Plextor will release its new flagship M9Pe NVMe SSD in early 2018 to get ahead of the coming wave of SSDs powered by 64-layer NAND. These are the fastest SSDs Plextor has ever released, but they are also the first SSDs to come with a splash of RGB.

It will undoubtedly be a very competitive year for NVMe SSDs. We'll see more new products introduced than ever before with higher capacities, new controllers, and lower price points. The frenetic pace of development, particularly on the flash controller side, is actually more interesting than when TLC swept in to become the low-cost MLC alternative. We've already spotted Samsung's new Polaris controller, multiple controllers from Toshiba, four new models from Silicon Motion, and two from Phison.

But Plextor is taking a different path. The Marvell 88SS1093 controller, which debuted in 2015, returns with 3D NAND compatibility. As the eldest statesmen in the group, the Marvell 88SS1093 is at a disadvantage. The controller tends to run warm and can get downright hot even during moderate workloads. For this series, Plextor paired the controller with new 64-layer TLC BiCS NAND. The new wave of 64-layer flash offers increased performance, but it also requires advanced error correction technology that consumes more power. Combining faster performance and more robust error correction can cause an SSD controller to ramp up temperatures even faster. 

A hot SSD controller can lead to thermal throttling, which is when an SSD enters a lower-performance state to prevent the controller from overheating. We tested Plextor's M8Pe in 2016 and the M8Se in 2017. During our testing, we found that the Marvell controller needed a cooler to prevent thermal throttling. The M8PeG, an M.2 SSD with a small heatsink, fought back throttling long enough that the condition didn’t interfere with most of our testing. The same SSD without a heatsink began throttling very early in our testing.

Plextor bought the heatsinks back with the same three-tier product strategy, but the designs are a little sleeker this round. The Y model, which has an M.2 SSD in an add-in card with a large heatsink, gains RGB lighting. You can't control the light show, but it changes colors based on drive activity.

Unlike the M8Se TLC SSD that came to market in mid-2017, the new M9Pe comes with a more competitive price tag. It's still early in the year, and we haven't seen pricing for the other NVMe drives slated for release. For now, the M9Pe’s pricing looks good compared to what's already available.

Specifications

The M9Pe comes to market in three capacity points and has three separate models for each. The first axis of segmentation is straightforward; 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB. The different versions for each capacity are a bit more complicated.

The M9PeY model is an M.2 2280 SSD slotted into an add-in card, and it's also the first RGB SSD. You need a PCIe x4 slot (or larger) to accommodate the card. This is the most expensive option because it includes a large heatsink that covers the full length of the card.

The M9PeG is an M.2 2280 SSD with a slim heatsink that spreads the heat from the controller to a larger surface area. We've found this to be an effective way to increase the length of time and the amount of data transferred before the drive enters a controlled thermal throttling state.

The M9PeGN is a pure M.2 2280 SSD without a heatsink. This drive is compatible with NVMe-capable notebooks and other devices that may not have room for a heatsink on the drive.

Aside from the RGB lighting, Toshiba's BiCS Flash is the exciting new component that separates the M9Pe from previous models. Plextor chose the latest 64-layer 3D TLC because it is denser, but the NAND actually has a relaxed lithography compared to 15nm planar NAND. This allows the controller to program twice the amount of data in a single sequence, which boosts performance. Currently, BiCS stores 256Gbit (32GB) per die, but there's a 512Gbit (64GB) version coming in the future. Plextor should be able to use the larger die to produce 2TB SSDs.

The MP9e wields Marvell's 80SS1093 "Eldora" eight-channel NVMe controller. This is the third Plextor SSD to use this controller (it was on both M8xe drives). The Eldora is Marvell's first-gen tri-core controller that supports the NVMe 1.1 protocol. It's built on the 28nm process and supports up to 1TB of addressable capacity. Marvell added the L1.2 low power state and NANDEdge Low-Density Parity Check (LDPC) error correction.

Plextor doesn't change the performance rating based on form factors, but each capacity does have unique performance specs. The company claims up to 3,200 MB/s sequential reads for the two largest capacities, but that drops to 3,000 MB/s for the 256GB. There is a much larger sequential write drop off. The spacious 1TB drive can write up to 2,100 MB/s, but that drops to 1,000 MB/s for the 256GB model.

There are even wider gaps in random performance between the 256GB and the 1TB models. The 1TB model delivers up to 400,000 random read IOPS, but that drops to 340,000 IOPS for the 512GB and 180,000 IOPS for the 256GB model. Random write performance begins at 300,000 IOPS for the 1TB model and drops to 280,000 and 160,000 for the 512GB and 256GB capacities, respectively.

Features & RGB Lighting

Like other SSD manufacturers, Plextor uses custom names for proprietary technology that every company develops in various forms. For instance, "Plex Nytro" is Plextor's trade name for its SLC cache technology. SLC caching has become standard for every TLC-based SSD on the market.

Plextor was the first company to release a retail M.2 SSD with a heatsink. The heatsink extends the amount of time the SSD can operate under load before the controller restricts performance as a self-preservation measure.

The M9PeY model steps up the game with RGB LEDs along the outside edge of the add-in card. The heatsink features a cutout with a diffused clear panel that allows the light to shine through. It seems like every new motherboard has RGB and it has started to manifest in other components like system memory, video cards, and soon, sound cards. We hoped for programmable software to control the lighting so that we could match other RGB LEDs in our system, but it's automatic. RGB lighting is controversial; some love it, and others hate it. This is how Plextor describes the lighting:

Exclusively on the Add-In-Card version M9PeY, its RGB design shows red light once powered on and interchanges to different colors while on standby mode. It displays an awesome full spectrum of colors during read/write processes. It definitely delivers an incredibly splendid visual effect.

Pricing, Warranty & Endurance

Series
Form Factor
Model Number
Capacity
MSRP
Plextor
M9Pe
M9PeY
HHHL - Add-in Card
MX-256M9PeY
256GB
$146.59
MX-512M9PeY512GB
$245.49
MX-1TM9PeY1TB
$451.79
M9PeG
(M.2 With Heatsink)
MX-256M9PeG256GB
$122.10
MX-512M9PeG512GB
$221.00
MX-1TM9PeG1TB
$427.39
M9PeGN
(M.2 Without Heatsink)
MX-256M9PeGN256GB
109.89
MX-512M9PeGN512GB
$208.79
MX-1TM9PeGN1TB
$415.19

The M9Pe series is more price-competitive than the M8Pe and M8Se were. The series undercuts the Samsung 960 EVO across the board, and the M.2 models go toe-to-toe with low-cost NVMe products. The bare M.2 2280 M9PeGN starts at just $109.89 and jumps to $208.79 for the 512GB model. It sells at MyDigitalSSD BPX 480GB prices, which is a good place to be in early 2018. For $222 you can add a thin but effective heatsink, and for $256 you can upgrade to an add-in card with a very large heatsink that reduces, or even eliminates, throttling during normal desktop workloads. You can also remove the drive from the add-in card if you want to use it in an M.2 slot or notebook.

The series ships with a limited five-year warranty. The MP9e has generous endurance that scales based on capacity. The 1TB model has the most endurance at 640 TBW.

Packaging

Plextor kicks off the 9-Series with a fresh look that includes an eye made from a jet engine. The M9PeY package is essentially a larger version of the M9PeGN. The back side of the package lists performance specifications, features, and warranty information.

A Closer Look

These are images of the M9PeY and its M.2 SSD. Plextor's M.2 "GN" model is identical to the bare M.2 2280 drive in the images, sans a Plextor sticker that covers the controller, DRAM, and NAND. The M.2 "G" model appears nearly identical to the M8SeG released last June.

The Half-Height Half-Length (HHHL) add-in card looks great. It uses the same heatsink as the M8Se, but a red bubble replaces the blue one on the old design. Plextor says the new heatsink is 30% more efficient than the M8Pe's solid aluminum version that came with a smooth surface. The fins cut into the surface reduce weight but also increase the surface area to boost cooling efficiency.

There are two LED areas on the outside edge. The Plextor logo lights up with a blueish-tint white color, but the long strip changes colors depending on the status of the drive. We would have preferred a user-adjustable RGB arrangement, but Plextor still did a very good job with the lighting. There isn't a way to turn it off, so I hope you like rainbows!

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  • das_stig
    Seriously $12-$13 to slap on a bit of metal to cool down the M9PeG, talk about ripping off the customer !