Fitting A Flash Drive Into A PCI Express Slot

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I have looked at products from Apricorn before like its Aegis Padlock 3 encrypted USB 3.0 hard disk drive (see Secure USB 3.0 Hard Drive). I actually use it to back up important data on my servers. I carry the flash drive version on trips so I have my passwords and accounts handy.

I recently had the chance to install their Velocity Solo x2 (Fig. 1) in an older PC in the lab. This PC was new enough to have PCI Express slots (I have older PCs that do not) but not as new as the one I built using Gigabyte's GA-X58A-UD7 motherboard (see Gigabyte's Core i7 Motherboard) with SATA III support.

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Figure 1. Velocity Solo x2 is a x2 PCI Express card with a Marvell, dual port SATA III controller. One port is designed for an on-board flash drive. A SATA socket provides support for a second drive.

The Velocity Solo x2 is essentially a SATA III dual port controller based on a Marvell chip. There is not much other than the Marvell chip on one side of the card. On the other side there is a socket for a disk drive drive. The drive can be a hard drive or flash drive What I did put in that space was a 240 Gbyte flash drive, SanDisk's Extreme. This product like actually tops out at 480 Gbytes. It only uses 0.6W and supports 6 Gbit/s SATA III. It can deliver 44K/46K random IOPS (read/write) and it has a sequential bandwidth of 540/460 Mbytes/s (read/write). It is an ideal match for the Apricorn drive.

The x2 PCI Express interface may seem odd but it does mean that you need at least a x2 PCI Express interface. Most motherboards have x1, x4 and x16 slots. The card fits in the latter two.

The reason the card needs this additional lane is the bandwidth of the SATA III interface. A x1 PCI Express interface would work but the bandwidth of the drive would exceed the PCI Express bandwidth.

Installing the system was trivial. The holes are standard to it was just a matter of dropping the drive into the socket and adding four screws. Next I plugged the card into the PC. The card shows up a a normal SATA controller.

The drive could be used by itself or in conjunction with other drives. The second SATA III port is available but the drive needs to be located off-card.

There is really no difference between using a drive on the card or one plugged into the motherboard's interface. It can be the primary boot drive. Apricorn also provides EZ Gig cloning software for PC users wanting to migrate from another, typically hard disk, drive.

I planned on upgrading the system so I actually installed a new version of Fedora Linux. No surprises here. The system simply runs very fast.

I suspect that those upgrading their systems will find this platform preferable to trying to add another hard disk or solid state drive to their system. Unless you resort to a second drive, everything is on the single card. Some compact systems will have an open PCI Express slot but may not have a second drive slot. Overall I like the card. Now if they had just put in a USB 3.0 chip and socket I would really be happy.

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William Wong

Bill Wong covers Digital, Embedded, Systems and Software topics at Electronic Design. He writes a number of columns, including Lab Bench and alt.embedded, plus Bill's Workbench hands-on column....
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