Storage

Western Digital's experimental NVMe-linked SD card could be world's fastest

NVMe capable SD cards could be the potential solution to the slow speeds of SD cards, making high speed use cases such as DSLR cameras more efficient.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Western Digital has built a concept NVMe capable SD card, which is faster than the fastest available SD cards on the market.
  • The company also unveiled PCIe-linked M.2 drives in 2230 and 2242 lengths, which appear to be the first such drives.

Western Digital demonstrated a proof-of-concept NVM Express (NVMe) capable SD card at the 2018 Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. In benchmarks, the card was able to achieve read/write speeds of 888/430 MB/s respectively.

The proof-of-concept is unlikely to hit store shelves particularly soon, as NVMe-linked SD has not yet been standardized by the SD Association. According to Anandtech, the capacity of the card, memory type, or controller used in the demonstration were not disclosed.

In terms of technical limitations, the maximum speed possible of PCIe 3.0 x1 is just under 1GB/s, though future versions of the PCIe standard will increase that speed. As it is, UHS-III—the current high speed standard for SD cards—is somewhat rare. While that can reach maximum read speeds of 624 MB/s, it is found practically only in DSLR cameras. Manufacturers of smartphones and laptops are resistant to incorporating UHS-III capable card readers as most consumers will not need that level of performance.

SEE: Quick glossary: Storage (Tech Pro Research)

Furthering the miniaturization of NVMe-linked storage, WD also unveiled the SN520 series of SSDs, marketed under the Sandisk brand. The SN520 utilizes the popular M.2 connection format, and is available in 2230, 2242, and 2280 sizes, at capacities of 128, 256, or 512 GB. The specifications sheet touts read/write speeds of 1700/1400 MB/s for 512 GB SKUs, 1700/1300 MB/s for 256GB SKUs, and 1500/800 MB/s for 128GB SKUs, all of which easily outclass SATA3 SSDs. (Of note, speed is not affected by the length of the drive, for this model, a 2280 length drive is as fast as the 2230 or 2242 length versions.)

As most M.2 SSDs use the 2280 form factor, this miniaturized SSD is intended for embedded and IoT use cases. Though the press materials make no mention of this, the SN520 appears to be the first M.2 2242 or 2230 sized SSD which has PCIe capabilities, as previous drives have only featured SATA connections.

It is possible, then, that these could be used to upgrade certain laptops such as the ThinkPad W550s, T550, and others, though this requires that the M.2 slots on the motherboard be properly wired for PCIe (the M.2 specification allows for a combination of SATA, USB, and PCIe). That said, the Broadwell-based ThinkPad examples support only slower PCIe 2.0 signaling, and had only a relatively paltry 12 available lanes, though it is unclear from the documentation how this is configured.

Pricing and availability information for the SN520 series was not disclosed.

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Image: iStockphoto/monsitj

About James Sanders

James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.

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