The first native PCI Express SSD has finally arrived!
The Plextor M6e is the first native PCI Express SSD we’ve been able to get our hands on, so we’re excited to finally see what an SSD can do when it’s not hobbled by the SATA interface and its 550MB/s bottleneck. Instead of SATA or a 2.5-inch device, this drive utilizes the M.2 form factor along with a PCI Express interface, so it can plug into any late-model motherboard and is bootable. The M.2 interface was designed for notebooks as a replacement for mSATA, as it allows for much higher capacities along with different size devices, so it can be mounted in a wider variety of locations compared to mSATA. To create the M6e, Plextor took a “gum stick” drive and mounted it to a PCI Express 2.0 x2 add-in card. Since each PCI Express 2.0 lane allows for 500MB/s of bandwidth, the two lanes connected to this card allow up to 1GB/s of bandwidth, which is around 800MB/s after deducting overhead. This isn’t a massive increase over SATA 6Gb/s speeds, but it’s a decent bump.
Note: This review was originally featured in the June 2014 issue of the magazine.
Unpacking the XFX HD 7950 Black Edition caused a bit of déjà vu. The card bears a strong resemblance to its big brother, the HD 7970 Black Edition (reviewed April 2012), clad in svelte brushed aluminum. If graphics cards dressed up for black tie galas, then the XFX Black Edition is ready to attend.
XFX pushes the reference clocks higher than stock, hitting 900MHz for the core clock and 1,375MHz for the memory clock. The additional memory cycles translate to a peak memory bandwidth of 5.5 gigabytes per second—the same as the HD 7970, and higher than the 5GB/s of the stock 7950. The question is: Can the GPU keep up? There’s always a balance between memory bandwidth and how much of that bandwidth the GPU cores can actually use. Plus, as more games become shader- and tessellation-intensive, bandwidth isn’t as big a part of the equation.
AMD’s reference HD 7950 board sets its core clock at 800MHz and memory at 1,250MHz, using the default cooling system. Sapphire takes this reference board, adds dual 12cm fans, and juices the core clock to 900MHz. The memory clock remains at 1,250MHz—but that’s 3GB of 1,250MHz GDDR5. Priced at around $480, it’s worth seeing how the card compares with Nvidia’s GTX 580. Note that we’ve also included results from the XFX Radeon HD 7970 for your reference, but excluded that card from the direct comparisons.
For direct comparison we turned to two different versions of the GTX 580—the slightly overclocked EVGA GTX 580 SC with 1.5GB of GDDR5 and the ultra-beefed-up EVGA GTX 580 Classified with 3GB of video RAM—as well as the XFX Radeon HD 7950 Black Edition reviewed next.
The Sapphire card ships with a slight memory bandwidth disadvantage compared with the XFX card (5GB per second versus 5.5GB/s) due to running its GDDR5 frame buffer at the reference clock speed. This shows up in a few benchmarks, where the Sapphire card places just a little behind the XFX card, but the differences are pretty small.
The original Linksys E4200 (you can read our review at goo.gl/TEfmG) delivered two 150Mb/s spatial streams on its 2.4GHz radio and three 150Mb/s spatial streams on its 5GHz radio (for theoretical throughput of 300- and 450Mb/s, respectively). This updated model features a new chipset that delivers theoretical throughput of 450Mb/s on both its radios.
So all the changes are under the hood—the enclosure’s industrial design is identical, and that includes the lid that prevents us from plugging hooded Ethernet cables into the four-port gigabit Ethernet switch. We didn’t encounter any problems getting the router to power up a 2.5-inch USB hard drive this time, but it could be because we switched to a newer 500GB drive (we had been using a Verbatim Clōn; we’re now using a Western Digital My Passport Essential). There’s a UPnP media server onboard, but the router is not DLNA certified. If network-attached storage isn’t important to you, the USB port can be used to share a printer instead.
Can't afford a top-shelf videocard like the screamin' XFX model reviewed here? Take comfort in the knowledge that EVGA has an impressively overclocked version of the only slightly less powerful GeForce 7900 GT: Its $360 street price is $230 lower than the aforementioned 7900 GTX card.