The CTO of SSD controller manufacturer Phison spoke on the topic of heat generation and cooling in SSDs. As performance increases, fan-cooled SSDs are also becoming an issue, but the new connectors could prevent that.
In interviews, Sebastien Jean, CTO at Phison, discussed the new challenges in the field of SSD cooling. voiced.
Active SSD cooling will soon be a problem
The statement that got a lot of attention in the media is this: “As we move to Gen5 and Gen6, we may need to consider active cooling‘ said Phison’s CTO. In his opinion, SSDs will develop similarly to CPUs and GPUs and will get hotter and hotter with ever-increasing performance and thus eventually require active cooling.
“We’re doing a lot of things to keep the SSD power within a reasonable range,” Jean said, “but SSDs will undoubtedly be hotter, in the same way that the CPU and GPU got hotter in the 1990 A As we move to Gen5 and Gen6, we may need to consider active cooling.”
Even high-end PCIe 4.0 SSDs feature a real heatsink, while a copper foil on the label is usually enough for PCIe 3.0 generation. Ultimately, however, the need always depends on the place of use: In a very well-ventilated case, it is easier to do without an SSD cooler than, for example, in a fanless compact mini PC.
One indication that fast PCIe 5.0 SSDs are becoming a “hot potato” is the return of the AiC (add-in card) form factor, which has all but died out in the PC segment. MSI did not present the prototype of its first Phison E26 SSD in the compact M.2 form factor, but as a plug-in card for the PCIe slot, as the title image shows. In any case, M.2 SSDs in this performance class should not be expected without a heatsink.
Strategies Against Performance Hunger
To keep the power consumption of PCIe 5.0 SSDs with performance doubled at 14 GB/s to a level similar to that of PCIe 4.0 SSDs with around 7 GB/s, Phison is considering various strategies. For one thing, a finer 7nm process can be used for the controller, allowing for higher clock speeds at lower voltages.
We’re trying to stay within about the same power level as a 7GB/s SSD as we scale up to 14GB/s by making lots of other changes.
On the other hand, due to the now much faster NAND interfaces, it is now possible to exhaust PCIe 4.0 and even PCIe 5.0 with only four instead of eight memory channels. Reducing the number of NAND channels has the potential to reduce SSD power consumption by 20 to 30 percent, Jean said.
You can potentially overwhelm the host interface with four NAND channels, and reducing the number of back-end channels reduces total SSD power by 20 to 30 percent.
However, none of the measures mentioned are used in the company’s first PCIe 5.0 SSD controller. As has been known since January, the next Phison E26 (PS5026-E26) will again be produced at TSMC using the 12nm process and will again have eight NAND channels. Thus, the CTO should already allude to a successor.
On the importance of real M.2 screws
Aside from copper sheets and heat sinks, “bare” M.2 SSDs already have means of dissipating heat. For example, one part is already bypassed via the connection pins in the M.2 socket. However, the small screw that is used to lock the M.2 module has a much bigger hand: according to Jean, the screw means “70 percent of the heat conduction path from the SSD to the motherboard“. In this context, the way some manufacturers replace the screw with a plastic bracket for cost reasons is problematic as it cuts off an important path for heat dissipation.
The screw represents 70 percent of the thermal conduction path from the SSD to the motherboard,” said Jean. He added that some vendors have started using a nylon screw on the motherboard to save money, which eliminates the most important driveway.
A new connection is needed
For the M.2 form factor, Sebastien Jean sees the limit reached with PCIe Gen 5. To further increase performance, a new type of connector is needed that improves signal integrity and heat dissipation. New connectors are said to be under development and will appear in the next few years. According to Phison’s CTO, this could prevent the use of fans in consumer SSDs.
If you look at the most important question of where PCs are headed, it is understood that, for example, the M.2 PCIe Gen5 card, as it is today, has reached the limit of where it can go. The connector will become a bottleneck for future speed increases, […] Therefore, new connectors are being developed and will be available in the coming years. They will greatly increase both signal integrity and the ability to dissipate heat through conduction to the motherboard. These new connectors may allow us to avoid putting fans on SSDs.
Provisions have long been made for the server area: The new Enterprise & Data Center Storage Form Factor (EDSFF) is available there in various versions, which also allow a power consumption of up to 40 watts with corresponding waste heat. However, these modules, which have a much wider connector than M.2, are typically located directly in the airflow of loud and loud fans in the server case. Requirements in the consumer area are more sensitive.
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