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Bat's How To: Unleashing the Wild M.2 SSD

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Senior Moment
Jan 12, 2001
Kansas, USA
Introduction and initial prep:

In my last review, we learned to add cooling to keep your high speed M.2 drive happy.

Now that we can tame them, let's turn them loose. This time we are going to unleash two Samsung SM961 256GB M.2 drives by using RAID 0 (striped). I bought two Samsung OEM drives, which are typically used in servers and enterprise. If you can find them, they are cheaper than the 960 EVO and 960 Pro, even though they are nearly the same.

Photo: front and back of the two new 256GB Samsung SM961 M.2 drives (256GB flash drive included for scale).

For these cheaper drives, I ripped off the label immediately and began searching for heatsinks to mount onto the IC chips.

Photo: Voiding the warranty by pealing off the label (no copper in these labels). Two memory chips are to the left and the larger one to the right is the controller (if you only use one sink, that's the one to put it on). The smaller chip that sits down slightly is the cache package.

Photo: I had lots of different sinks to choose from when I dug around in my computer junk box. Not only did I have leftover and used sinks, but I also found a bunch that were still brand new.

Photo of various sinks that I trial fitted (nothing attached in this shot).

I decided to use Arctic Silver thermal adhesive to permanently affix the sinks to the M.2 module. I decided to sink up one drive and leave the other temporarily naked to see what difference the cooling mods made. Unfortunately, when I mixed the two-part epoxy I squeezed out more than I expected, so I hurried and attached all of the sinks on both drives without thinking. So, we'll have to find some "before" temperature data from other sources.

When you install the heatsinks, be careful not to let it contact the circuitry on the module. If you use AS epoxy that is conductive like I did, don't let the excess squeeze out onto stuff or you'll have a dead drive.

Photo: Beware, there is a lot of tiny electronic circuitry on the module (side view).
storage 11 side view.jpg

I was going to use the adapter card in a PCIe slot, but there was a possibility the card might not work in a RAID unless I used other hardware or purchased a KEY from Intel (that ain't gonna happen). So, I removed the single Samsung 960 Pro boot drive from the MB socket and installed both new SM9961 drives onto the M.2 sockets on the motherboard. That 5 inch (125mm) bracket sticks up perpendicular to the MB.

Photo: Drives installed with their cute little blue heatsinks (upper one mounts vertically and lower one mounts horizontally, each MB is different).
storage14 drives installed.jpg

Build a RAID 0 array and install Windows 10.

Making a RAID 0 array with HDDs or SATA SSDs is easy compared to trying to use M.2 NVMe drives. In fact, it proved rather complicated and time consuming. Of course, I was clueless. Many people say it can't be done on this chipset. They often can get the RAID setup, but then Windows won't recognize it. But, other folks claim it CAN be done.

I wanted to use the UEFI-based method of making the new drives RAID 0 and bootable (you go through the BIOS to set up the RAID). Intel calls it Rapid Storage Technology (RST). There are performance advantages if you can use UEFI to make your RAID (fast boot up times for example). I have a couple of guides bookmarked and printed out, plus a lot of handwritten notes. I provided the links below, but be warned, neither completely worked for me, but they did get me on the right path and helped me figure stuff out.



Maybe I should try to do a how to guide for installing a M.2 RAID on the X299 chipset?

Literally, I was staring at BIOS menus and pulling out my hair for hours. Other times I was googling on my laptop trying to find out more info. I was bound and determined to do it and there seemed to be enough anecdotal evidence online that it could be done

One thing I will mention, it's critical to download official Intel RST (RAID) drivers (so called F6 drivers) and put them on a flash drive. At an early point in the Windows install, you need to load those driver for your striped "volume" to show up in Windows to select as boot drive. Another thing I discovered, disconnect all other drives. Not sure why, but it hinders the process somehow.

I tried to be prepared, I researched and printed stuff out and made notes as I read article... but it still boiled down to trial and error. I would not give up. I just kept trying stuff. Ok, let's move on. Windows shows the two 256GB SSDs as one 512GB drive.

You can bet I was happy when this screen popped up:
storage 16 RAID.jpg

Temps where taken during benchmarking like before. Just normal case ventilation, nothing special besides the passive sinks I showed you already (which are working great).

Load Maximum Temp in C. for sensor 2 (closest to the controller):

Test 1: 48 drive 1 and 48 drive 2
Test 2: 49 drive 1 and 48 drive 2

Now for the Samsung SM961 RAID 0 benchmark scores:
Samsung SM961 RAID 0 CrystalDiskMark 01.jpg

I'll repost my Samsung 960 Pro screenshot again:

Let's compare that to my Samsung 850 EVO 2.5" SATA SSD:

The pair of SM961s running RAID 0 is definitely faster than their single cousin 960 Pro. Maybe not as fast as I had hoped (and/or dreamed?), but definitely better in all benching scores (and dominated in a couple). I bought these two OEM 256GB Sammies for less than a single Samsung 960 Pro. I would say that's a bargain if you're looking for high performance drives. I'm speculating about the only thing that will beat a pair of striped SM961 drives would be twin 960 Pros (and maybe 960 EVOs) in RAID 0 mode.

These drives do run a little cooler than their 960 Pro cousin, plus the sinks attached with thermal adhesive appear to be doing an awesome job. If I were to do it again, I might just try a single sink on the controller and see how that works. The disadvantage is the sinks are permanent.

I give this setup a hearty thumb's up. It makes me smile... when I forget the mental anguish of yesterday.

Just one thing is a little puzzling, I figured the one M.2 by the RAM slot would get warmer due to less air flow (it's in a dead zone for air movement. Maybe mounting it vertical is not a bad idea after all. Once I moved wires and hoses out of the way, it fits in there ok. Next time I take that M.2 bracket off, I'm trimming an inch off it though.

That concludes Bat's How To: Unleashing the Wild M.2 SSD.
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You're a brave man using Arctic Silver thermal adhesive (epoxy) to those M2's! :eek: Here's to not needing any RMA anytime soon :beer:

How are the current temps on those badboys now? Anyt difference between using the long single heatsink with thermal tape and those small sinks attached with AS Epoxy?
Brave? Maybe foolish is the correct word. ;)

Temps? Keep your shirt on, I'm getting to temps. I'm old and slow. Spoiler: temps are excellent.

I would say attaching sinks in this manner works well. I probably did overkill. Yes, all the sinks were attached with AS epoxy... permanently.

I'm also in the middle of trying to do a windows system image recovery, and I'm not having much luck.
Lmao! Hey I'm old and slow too ya know! :rofl: Glad those temps are what you expected. Good luck with the windows image recovery.

Now I'll go hide in the corner :chair:

I had a leftover photo that I didn't post because I changed my plan about using the adapter card. Here are the twins all dressed up in their sinks and ready to rock and roll.

storage 18 sinks etc.jpg
That's what happens when you retire and have too much time on your hands.

ADDENDUM: I've been looking at other reviews for the Samsung SM961 and it might be described as basically an OEM drive that is most similar to the Samsung 960 EVO, but without the TLC controller that Sentential "loves" so much. The SM961 uses the same controller as the 960 Pro.

Also, the SM961 runs cooler then its retail kinfolks. I saw a few reviews that said load temps were in the 50s. So, as I suspected I went into overkill mode with all those sinks. If I had it to do over again, I would just put one decent sink that fit on the controller chip and call it a day.
Strange that you say that batz. I've seen several reviews of the PNY drive that loaded temps were in the mid 50's, but the ones Stereo555 and I got didn't run no where's near those temps. So going overkill in the cooling of them isn't a bad thing. You were being cautious and as we all know cooler hardware is happy hardware :D

I would have never sinked the PNY if it ran mid 50's during activities. Now of course I wouldn't have used the AS epoxy tho. Thermal tape, sink and zipties would have been enough.
You said it, bro. My Samsung 960 Pro gets into the low 60s even with that big sink, so when I saw 48-49 degrees max with both of these SM961s, I had to run the test again to make sure. So, I believe it's a combination that these drives run cooler than some and the sinks are doing an amazing job. But, for those that prefer non-permanent solutions, a good thermal pad will do the trick too (that's what I have on my 960 Pro). Invest in a high quality 0.5mm pad. A lot of stuff out there is a waste of dough.
I saw there was a new BIOS out for my Asus TUF X299 Mark 2 (version 0802 released 9/15/2017). Here are the changes:

TUF X299 MARK 2 BIOS 0802
1.Fixed SanDisk M.2 device issue.
2.Fixed PLEXTOR device issue.
3.Update Intel X-series CPU (6-core and above) microcode.
4.Improved DRAM / system compatibility.
5.Improved secure erase function.
6.Improved Q-Fan function.
7.Improved system performance.
8.Improve PCH PCIe SSD Performance

Cool, look at #8 "Improve PCH PCIe SSD Performance." I download the BIOS update file and flash it. I'm rubbing my hands with glee, my M.2 RAID 0 will be even faster.

Here is the first bench (old BIOS):

Samsung SM961 RAID 0 CrystalDiskMark 01.jpg

Results after flashing to ver. 0802:

Samsung SM961 RAID 0 CrystalDiskMark 04.jpg

Where's my improved performance? Overall, I think scores are down except for a couple. Give me back my freakin' performance.
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Well that sux (also I can't see the attachments, dead links). Sometimes the latest bios doesn't always give better performance. Might fix an issue or two, but that's pretty much it. Maybe going back to the previous bios?
Well that sux (also I can't see the attachments, dead links). Sometimes the latest bios doesn't always give better performance. Might fix an issue or two, but that's pretty much it. Maybe going back to the previous bios?

Knowing Batz he has a copy of them somewhere, let's give him some time and see where this ends up.
Got the images back up. Sorry, not sure what went wrong? I followed a "how to optimize SSDs in Windows 10" guide and they pretty much said everything is automatic now, really not much to set. The scores afterwards looked like a carbon copy of the one I posted in post #11. If the 960 Pro drivers would work, I bet that would speed it up. If you check around the web, some say you can use them and some say you can't.
Thanks for info about BIOS. I wasn't checking that for a while. Btw. I don't know if you can flash older BIOS release. It was impossible when I was trying to flash back from 05.xx to 04.xx and support said it's not possible without making RMA. It's probably possible but not in the easy way. I wonder if new releases are locked to as first one was throwing error about wrong BIOS for my board.
Also you have nice 4K random read results on that SSD. Probably the best I have seen :thup:
Woomack, you have the TUF 2 like I do, right? Asus don't like you to flash back to an earlier BIOS version. The Winflash program grays out the older versions, but I heard there is a way to run it in the command prompt. I have used EZ Update or whatever they call it in the BIOS (UEFI) method the two times I've done it. That way don't like going back either, but I could have swore there was a way in the BIOS to revert back to the previous version. There is also the old fashion way of making a bootable disc and doing it that way. I have no idea if that will work for going back. The manual says to rename the BIOS file to X299TUF2.cap before flashing, which I have done, but is that really needed?
I tried the new Samsung NVMe driver version 2.2, but it won't let me install it with the SM961. Samsung says: "This driver supports Samsung NVMe SSD 960 PRO, 960 EVO and 950 PRO."

I saw one fellow claim it's not the NVMe drivers you want, it's the controller driver. But, there was no mention where that can be found. It's not on the Samsung site. The Samsung Magician software does not support the SM961. There must be a way to hack the drivers and get them to work.