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Toshiba Introduces New Tiny NVMe SSD Form Factor (anandtech.com)
271 points by discreditable 71 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments

I can definitely see the perks of the form factor here, and totally see SSD cooling hardware as being the next big thing, and it sounds like they're prepared for that here.

But I mourn how fast the interface format is changing now, because I don't have the hardware to support all of these formats. I've got a handy USB to SATA adapter that did the job for, I don't know, a decade and a half, and now there's eight different types of SSD sockets out there.

I think this new format is nice because it requires no tools to install, like most other components e.g. RAM.

In contrast, current M2 NVMe have this annoying screw that requires a fairly specialized screwdriver and tends to get stuck in some motherboards. Not a good design. So Toshiba's new form factor looks like a step forward.

I refuse to replace my NVMe for this reason alone. That screw is going to get stuck somewhere and I'm going to have to take the motherboard out completely to get it, hoping the whole time I didn't fry anything.

Why. Why make a screw that small. It's torture.

It sucks. Lots of NUCs come with a very small capacity Optane drive already installed. Many users want to replace it with a regular SSD. The nasty surprise is that the screw is overtightened. So when they try to unscrew it, a common outcome is to ruin the motherboard.

Some laptop modding anecdotes: Thinkpad X61's mini-PCIe Wi-Fi adapter has the same problem and is well-known among hardware modding users - the screw is tightened and glued in place. When someone tries to unscrew it, one must carefully apply a torque with a high-quality screwdriver, otherwise the consequence is ruining the screw. I made the mistake and killed that screw when I first encountered that screw.

Fortunately there was a simple fix: just use a Dremel tool to cut the screw through the circuit board of the Wi-Fi adapter. The PCB of the Wi-Fi adapter is ruined, but you can now replace it and install a new screw without a problem. (and I think the ground plane is under the screw, just copper without other traces, so the original card may even be fully working, but if you've spent so much trouble to remove it for your upgrade, it's definitely not something you'd like to continue using...)

Since then I went to get a set of high-quality screwdrivers and never had the same problem on other similar machines.

They're M2 x 3mm? That's small but not ridiculous.

Place a magnet on the screwdriver blade.

I find it a bit odd how most motherboards seem to use M2 screws, but most of the add-in card M.2 adapters I've dealt with use M3 screws, and the M.2 spec only talks about M3 screws.

In the end the size of the screw doesn't matter as long as it fits in the hole. Your M.2 isn't going to just pop out because the screw is half a millimeter smaller in radius!

Half a Millimeter is huge! Just finished replacing a part of my truck that required a 5.5mm socket. I had a 5mm, 6mm, 1/4, and 3/16, none of them worked.

The M.2 slot requires downward pressure.

on most motherboards you could probably leave the screw off and it would be fine forever. not that I've done that. yet.

The connector requires a small amount of downward force to slot the nvme device. Without a screw, the device can easily pop out of the slot.

If only engineers working on that sort of product had some kind of way of using a plastic tab or something to hold things into place. Like have lunch with the memory socket or PCIe people and talk shop.

I was shopping for an Apple 2013 SSD to PCIe or SATA converter yesterday, and I've found that some adapters have a configurable clip on the PCB instead of a screw. You insert the clip on the PCB according to the size of the SSD and viola.

Someone buy that engineer a beer.

I just built a new computer and didn't seem to have an issue that I can remember installing the M.2 NVMe storage. Now I'm slightly worried I might have missed something, lol.

Granted, I've had a set of tiny screw screw drivers for a while now, so maybe that's what you're referring to? These screw drivers aren't that specialized, are they? They're still just Phillips-head, right? Just smaller?

What kind of ram requires tools to install? (apart from the stuff that's soldered on..)

I think they mean that, like RAM (and other components like CPU, SATA drives, etc.), this drive doesn't require any tools to install.

I constantly see adapters (big old metal trays with a relatively dump circuit for connection) for adapting M2 drives to fit in PCI slots.

On one hand, I'm inclined to agree with you; but on the other, we've seen huge growth in disk speeds, density, and affordability. All though, I think we've hit a slow-down in improvement if the garbage that is QLC is any evidence. Seriously, I can't believe that manufacturers are trying to force that down our throat.

Its crazy my 2.5" SSD died last week and I opted to go from 2 different SSDs to 1 2 tb nvme SSD. I too have a USB to Sata adapter but now I can't use it on my personal computer.

I do have a thunderbolt external nvme adapter they have got a lot cheaper.

Is the Thunderbolt adaptor you're using the same as my Transcend JetDrive 855? I successfully tested it with an Intel 660P 2 TB into an M.2 to Mac adaptor.

Just get a new USB 3 adapter. Here's one for M.2 for 5 bucks https://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/bq4e19rS

SATA, M2, now this. What other interfaces are there?

Less common and I might be mangling terminology , but there's also PCIe, PCIe-Mini, mSATA, SATA Express (same connector as SATA). There's also a variety of m.2 form factors

Don't forget U.2 - NVMe in a (usually) 2.5" form factor.

There's also M.2 "M key" and M.2 "B key" because why not have two different types of connector in your brand new standard. There's also "M+B" which reminds me of the days of CD-RW and CD+RW with CD+/-RW thrown in to try and unify things.


This is annoying because some dual M.2 adapter cards have one of each, so you can't use two M-type cards in it.

Because this fixes the issue of "i plugged it in but it doesnt work" issue, as you already know it wont work because it doesnt fit. Kinda like DDR slots

If DDR memory had screws I'm not sure we'd be happier. We'd be bitching all the time about the freaking tiny screws that kept getting lost in the case.

I can't think of another standard made so deliberately difficult to install. A distant second is the 6/8 conductor PCIe power connectors that are a giant pain to use. Why couldn't they just force 8 for everyone and be done with it? Instead we have these crappy split connectors.

I think it was made due to laptops. Everything has to be flat. Using clips like on DDR wouldnt really "fit" as then youd have a waste of space, and DDR is a generic component nowdays. The other option is to use PCI-E cards, of course.

Make a screw-sized clip. Done.

I’m rooting for SCSI to make a comeback - I have a box full of cables ready to go!

Wonder if we'll see these on the Raspberry Pi 5 and other embedded boards?

This is pretty amazing; much better than the current eMMC and SDCard based storage solutions on a lot of dev boards.

RockPi has a full size M.2 connector that accepts most NVMe drives:


I bought a Rock Pi 4 and the whole kit-n-kaboodle. Just finished doing some benchmarking and it has pretty impressive performance, but it definitely needs assistance staying cool. The case I have is aluminum with the bottom of the case being a whole-board heatsink, and I still had to set it on top of ice packs with a fan blowing to keep it from throttling under heavy benchmarking load.

I think one thing people don't think about with SBCs is that we are making pretty significant thermal performance trade-offs. I wish somebody made a case with a clean flow through and at least 1 120mm fan in it.

Or... you could make your own Extra Fancy case: https://twitter.com/mrm/status/1157820493098934272

I bought one of these for fun, with the whole kit, NVMe drive and a nice aluminum case... not sure what I am going to do with it but it's a really nice little PC and amazing what it can do.

Ongoing work on the reverse-engineered Panfrost OpenGL ES driver for Arm Mali GPUs has turned the RK3399 SoC into a very attractive platform to try out Wayland on ARM devices.


Is it better than SD Express though, which also supports PCIe and is backwards compatible with existing cards?

This doesn't seem to be targeted at the frequently-swapped use cases that SD cards are made for. It's more about adding repairability/upgradability to internal primary storage in small devices. For that use case, the 4x throughput advantage is probably reason enough to rule out SD Express.

I don't think the connector is the problem but the devices you connect to. RPis are notorious for having a poor lifespan due to reading/writing from the SD cards, but I think that's mostly due to the cost tier of a $30 computer.

> RPis are notorious for having a poor lifespan due to reading/writing from the SD cards

How does the Raspberry Pi deteriorate from the interaction with the SD card?

I'm running a batch of SBCs which boot from SD cards as home or forgettable servers. None of them died due to SD card failure yet. A good SD card with a little optimization keeps the flash media wear out at bay.

What little optimizations?

Like writing logs to RAM and syncing back to disk daily or only on reboots/shutdowns, keeping high-write applications on a USB drive and providing the biggest cache possible by slimming down the OS memory footprint.

This two things reduce the hits to SD card substantially.

It has more to do with the garbage $2 power supply someone had "lying around".

Never happening on something in the RPi price range; that socket will be far too expensive.

Hardkernel saw this need and addressed it; their boards use an eMMC daughterboard with a standardized connector that I could swear I've seen picked up by a few other vendors now.

I wonder if they'll switch over to this on some future generation.

Please correct me if I’m wrong but no RaspPi has a PCIe interface, yet. From the embedded side of things, I would expect that to be a whole Pi generation out. Even then, I’m honestly not sure what the use case is, the Pi is doing amazing things with SPI and USB.

The USB 3.0 controller on the Pi 4 is connected via PCIe.


The RPi 4 uses PCIe to interface with the USB 3 controller. However it doesn't provide an external interface for it.

You can, of course, hack your own together :)


We’ve come full circle back to primary storage that drops into a socket.

All things considered, that’s not a bad looking socket system. With thermal limitation the issue, it seems BGA+heat sink will still outperform but at the cost of not being upgradable. Still, seems like a fair idea to have a PCIe4 MicroSD.

> We’ve come full circle back to primary storage that drops into a socket.

What are you referring to?

A cassette of course :)


Presumably the days when socketed memory was primary storage for PCs.

Definitely nice for SFF... but I don't think that higher performing devices will be able to dissipate enough heat from the lid alone. Most PCIe gen 4 SSDs have relatively large heat spreaders because of the load.

Similarly, I keep thinking it would be cool to have a GPU socket format that could sit adjacent to the CPU so that a large heat pipe / cooler could be attached to both.

>I keep thinking it would be cool to have a GPU socket format that could sit adjacent to the CPU so that a large heat pipe / cooler could be attached to both.

That's pretty much exactly how modern high end laptops with dedicated graphics processors work

That bracket reminds me a lot of a CPU bracket. It's not hard to imagine a hole in the top so you could mount a heatsink with direct contact to the card.

Something that I think people are glancing over, this has some huge potential in the laptop / pro tablet space. I don't think someone like Apple would ever move to something like this, but standard NVMe mounting solutions are probably taller than they need to be. This is also a screwless solution which while not a huge deal, is pretty neat.

In my eyes, this sort of connector gives manufacturers no reason to solder on storage. There's the cooling issue, but looking at something like the MacBook I could see it integrated into the CPU block or even the bottom case. Hell, if they did the bottom case it might even give some support to the logic board and they won't have as many issues with the board flexing. No rubber pads needed!

Who cares about laptops and tablets? They already have fast ports. You already can put a real NVMe drive into a USB enclosure and get ridiculously fast external storage.

This new form factor would be perfect for cameras that shoot RAW video or high-bandwidth video. Until recently you'd need to buy very expensive and fast SD cards or proprietary RED mags to be able to record high quality high resolution video. BMPCC4K was the first (very affordable) camera that allowed recording directly into a USB SSD.

Seeing as how most premium laptops today are using some sort of PCI-E storage... I would say professionals that are using their laptops as workstations care. This isn't an interconnect made for external use per se, but for replaceable storage. In the article it specifically is mentioned as a replacement for soldered BGA storage. The way the mechanism works (which is very similar to old full size SIM card slots on old feature phones) is meant to act as a more permanent socket than something like a spring loaded SD card slot or USB port. It's more akin to a CPU socket.

For laptops and tablets this could be a huge move, partially because of the user-serviceable upgrade potential, but also because of data recovery. Instead of the flash chips and their controller being on the same board as the CPU, GPU, muxes, power management systems, etc, they can now fit in a secure, low profile and low footprint socket. Take newer MacBook Pros for instance. They have soldered on storage and no way to access that data if the logic board dies. Previously, Apple had outfit the board with a "lifeboat" connector that allows for data transfer from the soldered on storage (assuming it's still intact) without having a fully working board.

Louis Rossmann, of course, went over this in a video just a couple days ago. He had a customer that sent a machine in that is a few-months-old MacBook Pro 13". It has a dead T2 chip which renders the entire logic board useless. There is no way (short of desoldering the flash chips and possibly putting it on a working donor board, but then you run into a whole slew of other issues) to recover data off of that machine.


Because having a USB drive hanging off the side of your laptop is a PITA, having to unmount it to disconnect before packing your laptop, etc.

This new form factor changes nothing for cameras since cameras have proprietary storage for the sole reason of squeezing producers for more cash. RED mags just have cheap (not even high-end) M.2 SATA SSDs inside them, and the camera has a DRM check to ensure that it's one sold by them so you can't just swap it out for a higher capacity one.

Why would they ever adopt an open standard when they can charge thousands of dollars for a proprietary one instead?

Of course, the RED mags that you're referring to just use normal SATA with the pins moved around.

What’s the power needs of an SSD vs an SD card?

A PCI-E based SSD will definitely require more power.

How is this an "innovative connector design"? This is exactly how sim card slots worked on many old Nokias, the mechanism is literally identical.

Innovation doesn't equal inventing new stuff. I think it is quite innovative how they use an old mechanism for a new use case.

It's not a new use case, it's still used to connect a card to a board. Just like the hinged connector used for microSD before this [0]. It's more USB 3.0 type A connector vs. the USB 2.0 type A.

Neither the connector itself nor the application are innovative. Which is why nobody is pointing out the particular innovation in the connector.

[0] https://www.yamaichi.de/products/connector-solutions/card-co...

Using it for a smaller NVMe SSD, however, is. Quite clearly.

You can call just about anything "not innovative" if you're sufficiently reductionist about it. The idea that the only "true" innovation is some totally unknown, totally revolutionary idea that came completely out of nowhere fully formed is a toxic one that robs people and companies of just praise for coming up with interesting and useful new things, while others get lauded for making a whizbang concept prototype that's never going to be commercially viable.

This is something no one has done before, even if many of the parts have been done in different ways. That's innovation.

I had this type of connector for memory cards in some old devices. This was a while before the push-push connectors came into fashion.

The requirements back then were much lower than what this connector delivers. No real need to dissipate heat or handle PCIe signals.

Toshiba calls it an "innovative connector design" referring explicitly to the connector itself. You don't have to be a "reductionist" to see that it's not really that innovative. MicroSD cards have been using the hinged connector for years [0]. Now the fact that they connect this type of card instead of the other type of card is indeed new.

I appreciate them improving on the current situation and I love that I'll get SSD performance with SD convenience but it doesn't have to be innovative for me to do that.

[0] https://www.yamaichi.de/products/connector-solutions/card-co...

> Neither the connector itself nor the implementation are innovative.

This is a market innovation, not a technical one.

So this slide [0] describing the connector's design, manufacturing, and operation, with a bullet list of mechanical and electrical features refers to a "market innovation"?

[0] https://images.anandtech.com/doci/14711/Screen%20Shot%202019...

The marketing slides? Ye

Last week I purchased an NVMe drive for a small home server I'm building. Take into consideration the last time I bought components was about 6 years ago so it absolutely blew my mind seeing how small the NVMe drive was, like the size of a chocolate bar and barely more than 1mm tall. I took photos of it in the palm of my hand!

Seeing they're looking into shrinking these things even further is even more incredible to me!

How it is comparable to microSD express(with pci-e 3.1 and nvme) announced February this year? https://www.extremetech.com/mobile/286390-sd-association-ann...

SD Express is almost certainly going to be adopted by more people than Toshiba, for one. Though it could die like UHS-III.

thanks for asking the real questions

I would love a Raspberry Pi-like device with one of these sockets.

Seems like a good thing for mini-PCs and laptops.

I am really into mini-PCs. Like the Mini-STX DeskMini GTX/RX is my favorite thing at the moment even though I don't really need it. It uses MXM (laptop) graphics cards such as even a 1080.

I am wondering, with an external power brick like the DeskMini GTX/RX uses, could you make the systems even smaller than Mini-STX? Maybe there could be a way to separate out the components package from a cooling solution that would be attached.

I like the combination of portability, easily plug-able components, and power.

Maybe I’m too much of a sysadmin but this looks like they’re trying to make a successor to the SATA DOM form factor that also works for embedded use cases.

Cool! I read the announcement and visited the product page[1], but I didn't see any indication of when this will start to be available. Anyone have any clues?

1: https://business.toshiba-memory.com/en-jp/product/memory/xfm...

No mention of starting capacities...

They're only announcing the form factor today, not a final product. But we should see at least 512GB, and probably 1TB. Their current 1TB BGA SSD is a bit thicker than XFMEXPRESS.

I worry about the spring force of those pins after so many extreme temperature changes. Or AMD spring connectors design are similar to these?

EDIT: I meant "Intel spring pin connectors"

It seems like it's basically like CPU socket spring pins, which I would assume have much higher thermal loading.

by just pictures Intel spring pins are shorter and broader on the base side and with a steep rising angle. These look (quite) longer and with a lower rising angle. I guess these pins are more feeble and imprint less force than CPU spring pins.

You're talking about heat cycling? What affect does that have on a spring? Are the temperatures here even extreme for a piece of metal?

The angle of insertion seems like a total deal breaker for any sort of embedded device.

I mean, you could create a different housing for an embedded device like a cell phone that receives the same card.

I remember when SIM cards used to go in at an angle and flip down like in the diagram, but now all the housings are just slide-in with spring loaded contacts.

Back when cell phones had removable batteries you'd just put a connector like this under the battery. These days it seems like a fairly major oversight. Maybe someone will figure out a slide in socket that will be compatible? Depends on how the pins are arranged on the memory card. It might be tricky to pull off depending on the pinout of the card.

Is that considered 'non-standard' or is the connector part and an enclosing case all that matters?

Love the form factor and I hope to see something like this in raspberry pi devices.

when all else fails, add another row of connectors!

Not sure if this will end up in consumer devices but it would be a hell of a lot better than SSD chips soldered onto laptop motherboards. The latest ultraportables all seem to have soldered SSDs because once Apple did it and the world kept spinning, that made it okay for Dell and everyone else to follow suit. Of course the SSDs themselves would have to become easily available for people to upgrade their laptops or it will just be the next MXM standard, upgradeable in theory but no one actually does it.

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