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Bat's How To: Taming the wild M.2 SSD

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batboy

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Jan 12, 2001
Location
Kansas, USA
Taming the wild M.2 NVMe PCIe 3.0 X4 SSD

Or, how to keep your high speed M.2 drive happy and cool.

Introduction:

That’s a mouthful of abbreviations--here's what it means: M.2 is the new form factor of a small and fast version of the solid-state drives (SSD). NVMe stands for Non-Volatile Memory express. This drive utilizes the PCI-express (version 3.0) and can use up to four lanes (X4) of this bus.

Photo 1: M.2 drive is about the size of a stick of gum. They are small and fast and can get hot (not my photo).
Samsung 960 Pro size.jpg

I first learned of this type of “hard” drive earlier this summer. Laptops were the first to utilize the M.2 drives, but the high performance desktop folks were quick to jump in too. I know SSDs (both SATA 2.5” and especially the M.2 NVMe) are currently below the radar of the average consumer, but my batty senses tell me SSD will soon be the way of the future.

Photo 2 comparing HDD vs. 2.5" SSD vs. M.2 SSD; yesterday, today, and tomorrow (photo and witty title borrowed from cyber space)
Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow ressized.jpg

Most people know that internal solid state drives come in two primary flavors: 2.5" SATA and M.2 NVMe. Both styles of SSD have pros and cons. I will limit discussion here to the M.2 NVMe SSD.

The M.2 is 22mm in width, but the length can be variable (a common size is 80mm long). Most M.2 connectors will allow different lengths. To make it more confusing, there are different M.2 sockets (i.e. "B key" and "M key"). Many M.2 drives are keyed to fit in either B or M key sockets. M key allows up to 4 lanes on the PCIe bus while B key restricts you to a maximum of 2 lanes. Go with the M Key and X4 lanes of PCIe, not the neutered B key.

Another thing to remember, just because the NVMe SSD drive is capable of using X4 lanes on the PCIe bus, doesn’t mean it will have 4 lanes available (depending on what motherboard is being used and how it’s configured).

Keep it cool

These small drives are fast, but can get very hot unless you take some precautions. This article documents what I did to my Samsung 960 Pro. Mainly, I'm gathering my previously posted photos and notes that are scattered throughout the forum.

I bought a Samsung 960 Pro 512GB to use as a boot drive for my new system I was building. I heard the gossip and read the reviews. The 960 Pro was the fastest and also one of the hottest. Heck, I've had years of experience cooling electronic components, no problem. Right?

I dug through my box of cooling junk and found an unused RAM sink kit made by Thermaltake (years ago). I used the 0.5mm thermal pad that came with it and stuck it onto the Samsung label. Later I copied Nebulous and used zip ties to secure the sink even better.

On the Samsung, the label has copper in it and they designed the label to act as sort of a heatsink (supposedly runs 30% cooler with this special label on). I left it on, for that reason and also I didn't want to void the warranty. I found out that Nebulous had independently found the same type of heatsink and installed it on his drive. I don't mean to imply you have to use this same exact sink, I'm just showing you what I did. Maybe it'll give you an idea for something similar or spur a brainstorm for something totally different.

Photo of my M.2 drive with sink attached, installed onto the motherboard (yellow circled area is the M.2 drive and heatsink).
SSD heatsink.jpg

Check out this article, it has thermal images of the drive during operation and it's blazing hot, especially the controller (close to the edge contacts).

http://www.guru3d.com/articles-pages/samsung-960-evo-m-2-1tb-nvme-ssd-review,7.html

I wish that I had "before" data, but I installed the sink during the build and installation. I've heard of people getting temps up into the 70s and even approaching 80 degrees. With the sink attached and passive cooling (no fan attached to the sink), I saw a max load temp of about 66 degrees C. during the CrystalDiskMark benchmark. There are two SMART temperature sensors on these M.2 drives. The most important one is the hotter of the two (labeled "drive temperature 2"). That will be the thermistor closest to the controller. It's my understanding you'll begin to get thermal throttling at about 70 degrees C. My goal is to stay below 60 if possible.

I have decent case ventilation, so I initially ran the drive with just a passive heatsink. Later, I tried putting various fans on top of the heatsink (or as close as possible) to make it active cooling. A loud, high-speed fan cooled the drive down several more degrees (probably because air was being forced under the drive to cool the backside). But, tiny low speed fans did nothing, because they didn't flow much air. (see pic).
strorage 09 trial fitting fans.jpg

Results summary (max load temp on sensor #2 during the CrystalDiskMark benchmark using HWiNFO64 to monitor temps.)

960 Pro with no heatsink = not tested
960 Pro with heatsink attached onto label with thermal pad = 66
960 Pro with passive heatsink and improved case ventilation = 64
960 Pro with low noise 2 X 25mm fans = no difference
960 Pro with low speed 40mm fan = 63
960 Pro with high speed 40mm fan (7,500 rpm, ear bleed loud) = 58
960 Pro with high speed 40mm fan (6,000 rpm, louder than I like) = 60
960 Pro with high speed 40mm fan (5,000 rpm, a bit loud, but tolerable) = 62

I tried the active cooling thing for a while, but didn't like the extra noise or how it looked (40mm fan is too big for the heatsink). I decided the passive heatsink was good enough after monitoring normal operational temps for a few days (temps average in the 40s to 50s under load). One other note, I pulled the drive out and tried to remove the heatsink to test it without mods, but that thermal pad I used sticks better than I thought. Not wanting to cause damage, I decided to leave well enough alone.

Here's a link to see what Nebulous did with his drive:

http://www.overclockers.com/forums/showthread.php/783352-Cooling-a-HOT-M2-NVMe-drive

Sentential talked about getting this to try. Not sure if he ever did or not. Looks nice, but not sure how well it'll cool.

https://www.ekwb.com/shop/water-blocks/ssd-blocks/m2-heatsinks

That about wraps it up. What's your reward for running a cool M.2? Longevity and blazing fast speed. Here are the results from CrystalDiskMark for my Samsung 960 Pro SSD drive:
Samsung 960 Pro m.2 SSD Crystal resuts 01.jpg

Let's compare that to my Samsung 850 EVO 2.5" SATA SSD:
850 EVO without fan resized.jpg

Guess I need to run the benchmark on my HDD too (Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM hard disk drive).
storage 12 HDD benchmark scores.jpg

Wow, look at those scores and tell me which drive you'd rather have?

If I left anything out, let me know. If there is something else I can test for you, let me know.

The second part of this article will be called Bat's How To: Unleashing the Wild M.2 SSD (I will post it in a separate thread).

This ends Bat's How To: Taming the Wild M.2 SSD
 
Last edited:

Blaylock

"That Backfired" Senior Member
Joined
Jun 5, 2013
Location
Go Blue!
My initial thought was "Sure they get hot, but I'm sure they're within factory specs." So I did a little research and found the suggested operating temp from Samsung to be from 0C - 70C (as measured by SMART Temperature). Per the Guru3d link you posted it seems they are in fact reaching above these suggested max temps.

TL;DR I think your (and Nebs) implementation of the ram Heatsink should be a very viable solution. Especially on a drive that gets heavy use for extended periods. It would be great to see some before and after temps to see what type of improvement you are seeing.
 

Nebulous

Señor Senior, Senior
Joined
Oct 11, 2002
Location
The Empire State
The label on my PNY drive did not contain any copper. In fact is was just a normal paper material sticker, but with a waxy feel to it. Like the wax paper you would use to wrap a sandwich in.

Excellent write up batz! :thup:
 
Last edited:
OP
batboy

batboy

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To those wanting actual data, sheesh, give me time to finish the article. ;)

Thanks for all the info and help you provided, ole buddy Nebulous.

Teaser: I void the warranty on two new Samsung SM961 M.2 drives and attempt to install them in RAID 0 mode. Watch for Bat's How To: Unleashing the Wild M.2 SSD (coming soon).
 
OP
batboy

batboy

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At idle, the 960 PRO's temperature hovered between 39 ºC and 40 ºC. When pushed hard, these temps climbed up to 71 ºC where the drive's Dynamic Thermal Guard (DTG) technology was triggered, reducing performance. It took a lot to do this though

This quote was from an article (CDR lab) I found when I was surfing the net.

I might note that my idle temp is 29-31 which is 10 degrees cooler than the above reference. My load temps I posted above were max values during the Crystal benchmark. The max was always a brief spike during the second to last test. Sustained load temps usually were in the low 50s to mid 50s when benching. I looked at a couple other reviews and looks like they reported average temps which is a big difference from what I did.
 
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batboy

batboy

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I never took a temp reading of the Sammy Pro since I put in a better front case fan. So, I ran CrystalDisk again exactly as before and this is what I got. Another reason I posted this is to show the average temp which is like 20 degrees lower than the max. The third reason I posted this is to brag a little. I have tortured this 960 Pro for the last few weeks and it still says 100% remaining life.

Samsung 960 Pro m.2 SSD HWinfo temps.jpg
 
OP
batboy

batboy

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Holy cow! 80 degrees across the board, even the average. That's smokin'!

Think I can live with what I got now. It's a passive heatsink, so no hassles and no noisy fan.
 

Nebulous

Señor Senior, Senior
Joined
Oct 11, 2002
Location
The Empire State
Yeah, lol. Funny I put my finger on it and it's puke warm, but not burning hot. If it wasn't for the sink & fan, this drive would've been dead already ;)
 
OP
batboy

batboy

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So that explains it, the drive is hot, but the sink is not. Might need to double check the contact interface.

Teaser alert: watch for my upcoming Bat's How To article/thread... Unleashing the Wild M.2 SSD... I'll attempt to run two M.2 NVMe drives in RAID 0 mode.

Teaser photo: I void the warranty on two Samsung SM961 256GB drives.

storage 07 voiding warranty.jpg

I think the 2 larger chips on the left are the flash memory and the larger one on the right is the controller. But, what's the smaller one in between?
 
OP
batboy

batboy

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Sweet, that's some good info. So, it's the cache package. I didn't know if it got hot or not, but figured sitting there next to the controller, it probably did. I actually found a small sink that fit on there. Shhh, I'll say no more.
 

Woomack

Benching Team Leader
Joined
Jan 2, 2005
How do you like vertical M.2 socket on your asus mobo ? :p ... for me it's a design fail. Somehow other manufacturers found place between PCIE slots and ASUS couldn't. It's even worse when you find out that more expensive motherboards share the same PCB.
 
OP
batboy

batboy

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I have complained about that one M.2 mount next to the RAM DIMMs. I haven't actually installed it yet, but I did a trial fit and it sucks. That bracket is almost 5" long and is going to be in the way of one of my waterloop hoses. Probably tomorrow morning since I just got all my backups done.

There is a lot of things I like and love about this motherboard, but that ain't one of them. Another thing (since you got me going), the slots for cards are too cramped together. Well, part of the problem is this wifi card with a big heatsink. Maybe I should go back to a hardwire (which means I need to run some CAT 5 around a doorway). It'll be a pain because I have to take the molding/trim off and sawzall a groove in the drywall, etc. etc, mumble, mumble.
 

Woomack

Benching Team Leader
Joined
Jan 2, 2005
btw. PCIE SSD are not visible in all PCIE slots. In one of them OS can't see my drives ( don't remember exactly which one was it ).
 

EarthDog

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So that explains it, the drive is hot, but the sink is not. Might need to double check the contact interface.

Teaser alert: watch for my upcoming Bat's How To article/thread... Unleashing the Wild M.2 SSD... I'll attempt to run two M.2 NVMe drives in RAID 0 mode.

Teaser photo: I void the warranty on two Samsung SM961 256GB drives.

View attachment 193383

I think the 2 larger chips on the left are the flash memory and the larger one on the right is the controller. But, what's the smaller one in between?
dram cache? Look it up and see. :)
 
OP
batboy

batboy

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Yes, from that link Nebulous posted, it is the cache. I actually found a small sink that fits on that cache package IC chip.

Here's a photo of some various sinks I'm trial fitting (nothing attached in this shot).
storage 08 trial fitting different sinks.jpg

I had a few different sinks to choose from, I not only had a small box with odd or leftover or used sinks, but I also found some that were still brand new in the package.
storage 10 heatsinks galore.jpg