How PCIe Solid State Drives Stack Up to Traditional SATA Solid State Drives

Solid state drives offer the advantage of faster seek and read/write times an order of magnitude faster than traditional disk drives. However, the cutting edge speed of solid state drives has reached a bottleneck: the SATA interface. Currently, SATA 3.0 provides a limit of 600 MB/s for read and write speeds. For most applications, this may seem like an appropriate speed.

However, with large CAD designs and media files that need to be loaded to system memory, such as in the auto and film industries, going beyond this limit provides a higher rate of productivity; uncompressed project files continue to grow in size and complexity. Utilizing the higher bandwidth of PCIe slots on a system’s motherboard makes this possible.

PCIe Solid State Drive Performance Benefits

When it comes to sheer performance, PCIe cards such as The HP Z Turbo Drive G2 offer read speeds up to 2510 MB/s. This is up to four times the speed of a traditional SATA Solid State Drive for copying files. Relevant applications where these performance enhancements can be felt are in video editing and complex engineering simulation such as finite element analysis.

Drawbacks of PCIe Solid State Drives

Although these performance enhancements may seem like a sure-fire reason to make the switch from SATA to PCIe, it is important to understand the limitations of PCIe Solid State Drives. For example, the current price per gigabyte is more than SATA. It is also important to consider the limitations of where other bottlenecks may arise. For example, having twice the bandwidth to load a file to a local machine’s memory can be advantageous; however, this will not improve file transfer over a network if the bandwidth is not supported.

Another issue is workflow. For example, a 3ds file requires unpacking and compressing upon loading and saving, respectively. This requires that files loaded from a drive need to be handled by the system processor, resulting in little to no performance improvement with a PCIe card over a SATA card. Finally, another issue is the number of write cycles a PCIe card is capable of handling over its lifetime. This is stated as about one third that of SATA drives, although drives have been shown to outlive these benchmarks in production.

Weighing the Pros & Cons of PCIe SSDs

While this technology is not appropriate for every desktop, PCIe drives can provide a breakthrough if your particular application supports the added benefit. Shorter lifespans and higher cost can be overlooked if quadruple the speed for a particular application can be realized.

It is important to consider that the evolution from SATA to PCIe is an iteration rather than a leap as it was from mechanical to solid state drives. If your workflow utilizes the constant reading and writing of large uncompressed files for a local machine, it may be advantageous to get a cutting edge technology to improve your process. Do you see a potential use for PCIe solid state drives in your enterprise?