PCIe to SSD adapter for Thunderbolt 3 enclosure reuse
I was thinking of using the enclosure itself to install a SSD array: The enclosure internal dimensions allow for a card of max 11 by 14 cm, you can see the different parts in the picture below.
I have seen some PCIe cards that allow booting from them, others that allow SoftRAID, access to Intel VROC features, etc... I suppose that is too complicated to make it work on an eGPU enclosure but I would like to install at least 2 or three SSDs, starting from less and adding more as I need them, in JBOD configuration, etc... And of a fast enough type to profit from the TB3 speeds: NVMe I suppose.
Has anybody knowledge of a card that fits those characteristics and is shown to work in external enclosures?
@jangoloti_1 I'm very curious about using a quad-M.2 PCIe card through Thunderbolt 3 enclosure as well. Currently the most affordable PCIe card for this purpose is the ASUS Hyper M.2 x16 card. A single NVMe SSD would saturate the Thunderbolt 3 22Gbps bandwidth so it's more applicable for capacity or multiple volumes through one cable.
Smaller ones I have seen have only one or two slots, mixed NVMe/SATA usually:
I have not found anything in between.
ASUS Hyper M.2 x16 card requires a slot that supports PCIe bifurcation. Those are usually motherboard slots, not Thunderbolt 3 enclosure slots.
You need a card with a PCIe switch and those are expensive.
IO Crest makes a card with 2 slots. Amfeltec, Highpoint, Sonnet make cards with 4 slots. Amfeltec has one with 6 slots.
Do you think the card below will work?
It does not say if it needs PCIe bifurcation, and I do not find the manufacturer's website.
That's for SATA M.2 devices (Key B or Key B+M). It uses a SATA controller with 5 ports.
There's a picture that shows the difference between SATA and PCIe M.2 devices. It shows that only SATA devices are compatible.
If you want to use fast NVMe drives, then you need a card that supports PCIe M.2 devices (Key M). One that has a PCIe switch. PCIe switches are expensive because reasons.
Or you can go with SATA M.2 devices. The device you linked only does PCIe 3.0 x2 though (16Gbps) which is less than the max of Thunderbolt 3 (22 Gbps). Each SATA device is limited to 6 Gbps; usually you can get 550 MB/s. RAID 0 : 550 MB/s x 5 = 2750 MB/s = exactly 22 Gbps but RAID has overhead and maybe you want to add some parity or keep one drive out of the RAID for boot.
@joevt You are right it is written with big letters. Looking for a PCIe adapter with more than two slots made me forget to look for NVME compatibility too. There are not that many of them after all.
On the other hand, the seller has replied to confirm it works with slots with or without PCIe bifurcation, and on Mac OS too.
Anyway, I am waiting for the Wavlink TB3 enclosure for NVMe SSD I ordered, I think I will buy a 1 TB Sandisk SSD and be set for a while and hope there will be a bigger choice of PCIe adapters in the future.
I believe the Glotrends will work fine. I like the compact size and the fact they also include Sub Cards for connecting normal SATA 2.5" and 3.5" drives. I don't understand why a PCIe 3.0 x2 card needs an x16 connector though.
If you have USB 3.1 gen 2 ports (Thunderbolt ports can also do USB 3.1 gen 2), then you can get 10 Gbps from a NVMe to USB enclosure. It's much cheaper than a Thunderbolt enclosure. It's faster than two 6Gbps SATA SSDs. It's compatible with computers that don't have Thunderbolt. You could use a slower/larger/cheaper NVMe drive (Intel SSD 660p 2TB) and still get max USB 3.1 gen 2 performance from it.
I'm retiring my Akitio Thunder2 enclosure soon and so started looking into using it for storage. Here are the possibilities I found:
$10–15 1x m.2 NVME to PCIe 3.0 x4 (32 Gbps) adapter cards. Many brands: Adwits, Vantec, IO Crest/Syba. You obviously only get 1 slot here, but faster speeds than USB 3.1 gen2 (10 Gbps ~ 1250 MB/s). You will likely be limited by the TB2 (16 Gb/s ~ 2000 MB/s) or TB3 (31.5 Gb/s ~ 3940 MB/s) speed of the enclosure or the speed of the drive, whichever is slower. Not really any benefit over a much smaller TB3 SSD enclosure except that you can daisy chain (not sure any portable enclosure provide 2 ports?). When sold used, my Thunder2 is about the same price as a new TB3 SSD enclosure, so cost is about the same. There are some cards that also include 2x SATA-III slots, but you would need to connect SATA drives via data cable to a motherboard somehow—obviously not useful in an external enclosure.
~$50+ multi-slot NVME cards that lack a PCIe switch and rely on PCIe bifurcation on the motherboard: TB enclosures only see the drive in the first slot, ignoring the rest, so no better than 1 slot cards.
~$300 multi-slot NVME to PCIe cards that include a PCIe switch, so you get PCIe bifurcation in the card. I assume they do hardware RAID too? For about the same price, you can get a $280 OWC Express 4M2, which has 4x NVME slots in external TB3 enclosure. It doesn't do hardware RAID but includes SoftRAID to do it via software (on a Mac).
$40–100 5x m.2 SATA to PCIe 3.0 x2 adapter cards. These are interesting since they have 5 slots of m.2 SATA-III, with max total 16 Gb/s (TB2) speeds, and don't need PCIe bifurcation. They all use either Jmicron JMB585 or JMS585 chipsets and support TRIM. (I can't find any info on the difference: they have the same listed speeds.) Some sellers say they work in MacOS, others use them for software RAID servers like unRAID: I guess they just automagically appear as individual drives to the computer? One commenter notes that one or two slots will run at ~570 MB/s each but slows to ~375 MB/s each with all 5 in use. One seller showed a benchmark of 5 disks in striped RAID0 running at 1660 read/1475 write (MB/s). So you need 5 disks to get up near the speed of 1 NVME drive. But there aren't any 5TB or 10TB NVME drives on the consumer market, and I guess you could get near there with this. Models include:
- unbranded (Succmass Direct) PCIe Gen3 X16 to 5 Ports M.2 NGFF B-Key SATA 6Gbps Adapter, $40 aliexpress
- Jeyi JMS585-X16, $60 aliexpress
- Syba/IO Crest 5 Slot M.2 B-Key SATA Base Pci-E 3.0 X2, $70 amazon
- Sedna PCIe 16X Five M.2 SSD SATA 6G Raid Adapter, $94 amazon
- Glotrends 5-Bay M.2 Adapter, $100 amazon (mentioned above)
The more expensive ones include aluminum heatsinks and/or cooling fans. Some also provide m.2 to SATA adapter cards and SATA data cables in case you want to use 2.5" or 3.5" drives with them (but you would need a separate PSU to power them). @joevt asked why a PCIe 3.0 x2 card needs an x16 connector—it seems clear the PCIe 3.0 x2 speed is the limit of the JMicron chipset, so does the x16 slot help with power? In any case, I'd need to check the length of these, some might be too long for the Thunder2 enclosure.
2.5” or 3.5" SATA
Traditional NAS and server setups use an HBA (host bus adapter) PCIe card with 1 or 2 SAS ports that break out to 4 SATA III drives per port (so 8 total on a 2-port card). Enterprise-grade LSI cards are well regarded and can be had used ~ $40 (popular LSI models include 9211-8i, 9210-8i, and cheaper Dell Perc H310 [not the mini] and IBM M1015 that can be flashed with LSI firmware). But these only connect SATA data cables to 2.5"/3.5" drives. You need to provide separate power cables from a PSU to each drive, and put the large drives in a rack mount or tower enclosure. This starts to get expensive, although you could use an old PC case and PSU. And all the professional equipment is built for 3.5" hard drives, not for 2.5" SSDs. It doesn't make sense to buy adapters to use flash drives in this setup, when you can use one of the 5x m.2 SATA cards described above. This could be an option if you want to set up a NAS server and all the hardware for it though. Presumably you'd run the SAS to SATA breakout cables out of the TB enclosure and into a separate case with your drives, power etc. I have no room for that.
There's also an unbranded 5x SATA-III to PCIe 3.0 x2 (16 Gbps/TB2 speed) card that also uses Jmicron JMB585 for $18–25 on aliexpress. SATA data cables not included. Not sure if it's as bulletproof as LSI, but it's recent and cheap.
There are a few $50–70 Syba cards with 4x mSATA slots to PCIe 2.0 x4, but mSATA is a dying format and mSATA SSDs actually cost more than m.2 SSDs, so there's no way this makes sense.
I'm torn. The WD 2.5" portable hard drives I've used for backup in the past often fail within 2–3 years, usually just outside of warranty. (The bean counters have it down to a science.) I'd rather never buy another spinner again. But I'm considering dropping $100 for a 5TB HD for cold storage (of video files mostly), and using a 1TB NVME in a portable USB3.1 gen 2 enclosure for files I'm moving around or working on. I could eventually drop another NVME in the Thunder2 or just sell it.
The other option is to start building up a five-slot m.2 SATA array. I could buy 1TB drives one at a time as I need them (and as prices eventually fall, hopefully). But a few things are holding me back: I'd prefer to run them as a striped RAID4 or RAID5, but would need $180 SoftRAID to do so—and it sounds like software RAID4 isn't necessarily reliable and is better handled by hardware. So I would probably use them as RAID0 or JBOD. Either way, I would probably still need a 5TB spinner backup. And it just feels wrong to start buying 1TB SATA SSDs constrained to ~500–600 MB/s when for almost the same price I can buy NVME ones with 2x or 3x the speed. The m.2 SATA array will be a couple hundred cheaper in the long run since I'd save on buying enclosures for all the NVMEs I'll eventually accumulate, and won't have 5 drives hanging off dongles, but seems less future proof. Maybe there will be a USB4 array down the line into which I'll be able to throw all the 1TB NVMEs I'll amass?