Miscellaneous Aspects

The thermal design of external storage enclosures has now come into focus, as high-speed SSDs and interfaces such as USB 3.1 Gen 2 can easily drive up temperatures. This aspect is an important one, as the last thing that users want to see when copying over, say, 100 GB of data to the drive inside the enclosure, is the transfer rate going to USB 2.0 speeds. In order to identify the effectiveness with which the enclosure can take away heat from the internal drive, we instrumented our robocopy DAS benchmark suite to record various parameters while the robocopy process took place in the background. Internal temperatures can only be gathered for enclosures that support S.M.A.R.T passthrough. Readers can click on the graphs below to view the full-sized version. We see that the USB 3.1 configuration finished our benchmarks faster, and the temperature of the internal SSD topped out at 56C. The USB 3.0 case took longer, but, the temperature topped out at 54C. On the other hand, the temperature barely touched 48C when the same benchmark was run using a USB 2.0 port in our testbed.

Storage Enclosure Thermal Characteristics

It is challenging to isolate the power consumption of the storage bridge alone while treating the unit as a black box. We strive to present results in a comparative manner, but, this being the first M.2 NVMe to USB 3.1 Gen 2 enclosure, we can only compare the numbers when different interfaces (USB 3.1 / USB 3.0 / USB 2.0) are used. The numbers for the other storage bridges are only given for reference. Towards this, we processed the same workloads for each case (CrystalDiskMark 5.1.2's benchmark traces with a region size of 8GB and the number of repetitions set to 5). Plugable's USBC-TKEY power delivery sniffer was placed between the host PC and the storage bridge to record the power consumption.

Power Consumption - CrystalDiskMark

Over USB 2.0, the power peaked at 2.8W, while the unit idled at 1.1W. The numbers for the USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 cases were 3.9W / 1.2W and 5W / 1.25W respectively.

SATA - USB storage bridges that support UASP fully can translate the SCSI UNMAP command to TRIM commands for SSDs connected to the downstream port. In the case of M.2 NVMe - USB storage bridges, the bridge chip has to recognize the corresponding NVMe command and pass it downstream appropriately.

Checking for TRIM support has been a bit tricky so far. CyberShadow's trimcheck is a quick tool to get the status of TRIM support. However, it presents a couple of challenges: it sometimes returns INDETERMINATE after processing, and, in case TRIM comes back as NOT WORKING or not kicked in yet, it is not clear whether the blame lies with the OS / file system or the storage controller / bridge chip or the SSD itself. In order to get a clear idea, our TRIM check routine adopts the following strategy:

  • Format the SSD in NTFS
  • Load the trimcheck program into it and execute
  • Use the PowerShell command Optimize-Volume -DriveLetter Z -ReTrim -Verbose (assuming that the drive connected to the storage bridge is mounted with the drive letter Z)
  • Re-execute trimcheck to determine status report

Conclusions can be made based on the results from the last two steps.

As JMicron claims in their marketing material for the JMS583, the M2X enclosure using it has no trouble activating TRIM on the installed SSD.

In the introductory section, I had mentioned that it is very important to ensure that the SSD being used has an appropriate active state power profile. In order to ensure wide compatibility, the enclosure along with the SSD must stay within the minimum guaranteed USB 2.0 power delivery envelop (Update: 500mA @ 5V, corresponding to 2.5W for USB 2.0, and 900mA @ 5V, corresponding to 4.5W corresponding to USB 3.x). Now, it must be noted that the JMicron JMS583 main board, by itself, consumers around 700 mW when active. This leaves around 3.8W for the M.2 NVMe SSD. (Update: Note that this is for connection to a USB 3.x port)

The gallery above presents the active power states information for all the M.2 NVMe SSDs that I had available for testing. All of them worked well in the enclosure. However, I did find one Amazon review indicating the inability to use an Intel 600p SSD inside the M2X. Billy, our SSD reviewer, sent over the supported power states table for the Intel 600p, and it turned out that the lowest active power state was configured by the firmware to be 3.8W. Though it is likely that the SSD would never hit it when operating with a PCIe 3.0 x2 link, we believe that the JMicron bridge chip / firmware takes into account the nature of the USB host as well as the available active power states in the SSD to ensure safe and reliable operation under all possible circumstances. As it stands, as long as the SSD being installed has a sub-3.8W active power state, it should be good to use in the M2X enclosure connected to a USB 3.x port. (Update: Even with USB 2.0 ports, the enclosure with a PCIe 3.0 x2 SSD stays below 2.5W throughout except for a small spike in one of the workloads. It is possible that some legacy systems or power-constrained USB 2.0 ports could have trouble with the enclosure under some specific workloads. However, almost all users are going to be using this enclosure with a USB 3.x port, and we believe this is a minor issue compared to the internal SSD itself not supporting a suitable power state)

Closing Thoughts

Coming to the business end of the review, the M2X enclosure is priced at around $40, depending on the retailer. And while MyDigitalSSD can't claim to be the first vendor to be shipping a JMS583-based bridge – there are plenty of questionable imports available at Amazon and elsewhere – they are the first vendor with a significant North American presence to do so. Which means that, at least for the moment, they're holding the high ground in this market, helped all the more by the fact that the M2X is a complete consumer-friendly package with the appropriate screwdriver and other tools & cables required.

The end result is that MyDigitalSSD has a unique product in the North American market (for now) at the right price point. It might make sense for MyDigitalSSD to also offer a pre-built external SSD similar to the configuration we used (A DIY MyDigitalSSD SBX + M2X, which is at $256 for the 1TB version). Even at the DIY price, the configuration simply blows away the SanDisk Extreme Portable ($210) and the Samsung T5 ($228) in the performance per dollar metric while retaining the same compatibility across a wide range of host systems.

Performance Benchmarks
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  • peterfares - Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - link

    I got one of these, it is pretty nice other than it's a bit hard to slide in the drive with the heat pad on it. I got it to be able to pull an NVMe drive out of a computer to read it externally, and because I had a spare 256GB M.2 drive from a computer I upgraded.
  • repoman27 - Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - link

    "...the enclosure along with the SSD must stay within the minimum guaranteed USB 2.0 power delivery envelop (900mA @ 5V, corresponding to 4.5W)."

    Not sure if that's an error or just a typo, but Vbus for USB 2.0 only offers 500 mA @ 5 V, which is 2.5 W. What you quoted is for USB 3.x, and your power measurements more or less bear that out.

    Seeing as this is a USB Type-C device, it would be nice if they included a port controller that supported USB Type-C Current. This would allow the drive to draw up to 1.5 A (similar to USB Battery Charging 1.2) or 3.0 A at 5 V if those levels were advertised by the host / upstream port, without the expense of implementing USB Power Delivery. Many ports already support USB BC 1.2, and 7.5 W would be sufficient for most SSD's, and certainly 15 W would be plenty once Type-C Current becomes more common. Dissipating more than 7.5 W with an enclosure that size probably wouldn't be happening though.

    These types of bridges look like they're positioned to become the mainstay of affordable, high-performance, external storage. A version that supported USB Type-C current and USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (20 Gbit/s) along with a well engineered thermal solution would be brilliant.
  • ganeshts - Thursday, November 1, 2018 - link

    Thank you very much for pointing out the error. I have added a few updates in that section clarifying the 2.5W vs. 4.5W power envelop, and how it affects this particular enclosure.
  • vailr - Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - link

    Aliexpress offers similar NVMe enclosures with the JMS583 controller chip. "JEYI" and "XT-XINTE" are two brand names offered there, at prices beginning at ~$22 including shipping, direct from China. I have the JEYI branded item, which works ok with a Samsung 960 EVO NVMe drive. Can be configured as a bootable external "Windows to Go" drive. Much faster than a typical USB 3.0 thumb drive.
  • colinstalter - Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - link

    I've been wanting to design a three-SSD Thunderbolt 3-based drive. This is a pretty cool product.
  • netmann - Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - link

    Nice review!
    Simple question: can you use this enclosure as a Windows 10 boot drive? If not, why?
  • vailr - Thursday, November 1, 2018 - link

    Yes, Windows can be configured as a bootable external "Windows to Go" drive. Rufus is one example of free software which allows installation of Windows on an external USB device from a standard installation .iso file.
  • netmann - Saturday, November 3, 2018 - link

    Thanks. But checking Refus website reveals it only works on USB flash drives (thumb drives) and not on USB external SSD or HDD...
  • vailr - Sunday, November 11, 2018 - link

    The Rufus website may be outdated.
    I'm certain that it does work for preparing a "Windows to Go" boot drive. "Windows to Go" is one of the Rufus menu options, which can be used to prepare a bootable USB thumb drive, a bootable USB 3.0 or USB-C external SSD, spinning hard drive, or what have you. However, you cannot simply install Windows on an external USB drive while the system was booted from a normal Windows installation media.
  • akvadrako - Monday, November 12, 2018 - link

    Not really. It only works for Win2Go, which isn't the same as a full install.

    It is possible to install Windows on a normal drive and make a sector-by-sector clone, but it requires a fair bit of tinkering and isn't supported.

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