NVMe SSDs in the AiC form factor (add-in card) were considered almost extinct. However, with the upcoming PCIe 5.0 standard, the format celebrates a comeback thanks to the Phison E26 controller, as a now shown MSI PCIe 5.0 prototype from the Spatium series shows.
MSI PCIe 5.0: Spatium SSD prototype with Phison E26
MSI has not yet revealed any concrete details about the new PCIe 5.0 prototype in AiC format, with the exception of two pictures. However, the pictures at least show that the SSD card is part of the Spatium series and uses the Phison E26 controller. Details about the performance of the SSD with NVMe 2.0 support and PCIe 5.0 x4 connection are missing, though.
According to Phison, the E26 can achieve speeds of 12 GB/s in sequential read and up to 11 GB/s in sequential write. The latter, however, only in SLC mode. At least if the used motherboard has a correspondingly fast interface. MSI uses the MEG Z690I Unify in mini-ITX format in its picture.
It will be exciting to see which motherboards actually allow such a fast connection. Intel’s new Alder Lake platform including the 600 series motherboards are able to offer PCIe 5.0 on the CPU side, but not via the usual M.2 SSD slots.
Instead, the high performance of PCIe 5.0 is only used for the regular PCIe slots. However, a corresponding PCIe-5.0 M.2 SSD can only be used there with the help of an adapter card.
Return of the AiC-SSDs?
This might be the main reason for the renaissance of the add-in card plug-in format that MSI shows with the prototype. Especially with earlier SSDs with PCIe 2.0 and PCIe 3.0 connectivity, such cards were still very popular.
However, the choice of the form factor might also have thermal reasons. After all, the larger surface area of the cards allows the use of much larger coolers than is the case with M.2280 SSDs.
However, the Phison E26 will also be used in M.2 SSDs, which was already shown at CES 2022. There, the manufacturer showed corresponding SSD reference designs in M.2 and AiC format. However, it is still unclear how this can be reconciled with performance and cooling.
ASRock has already shown the compatibility with 600 series mainboards for M.2 SSDs with PCIe 5.0 with the DeskMini B660 PC system, while MSI still presented the PCIe 4.0 SSD MSI Spatium M480 Play in the M.2280 form factor at the trade show.