Today I am taking a look at the HighPoint SSD6204 PCIe Gen3 M.2 RAID card. This is a full-height PCIe 3.0 x8 card that is host to four PCIe 3.0 M.2-22110 slots and allows RAID 0 and 1 functionality. This card is like the Gen 3 baby brother to the HighPoint SSD7540 which we previously reviewed. I happen to have used several of the SSD6204 in builds over the past year, and since I was building a server with one anyways I decided to take a quick look at the card for STH.
HighPoint SSD6204 M.2 PCIe RAID Card
The HighPoint SSD6204 is a full-height PCIe x8 card dominated by its large, passively-cooled heatsink.
The 8-slot HighPoint SSD7540 was actively cooled, while the SSD6204 is passive. The heatsink is still impressively large and with even a moderate amount of airflow should be able to keep most drives under control.
Beneath the heatsink are the 4x M.2 slots, each allowing up to M.2 22110-sized (110mm) SSDs to be installed. This card is only a PCIe 3.0 x8 design, which means that fully populated there is zero chance of a full bandwidth 4-drive RAID 0 array. These SSDs are connected to a Marvell 88NR2241 NVMe switch.
The 88NR2241 switch handles the RAID 0 and RAID 1 functionality, as well as the host PCIe connectivity. As a result, this card does not require bifurcation to operate. Unfortunately, the while the 88NR2241 supports PCIe x8 for the host interface, each individual M.2 drive is only supported at x2 in a 4-port configuration. This will have consequences for performance down the line, which we will get to.
For my testing, I once again used the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus drives provided by Sabrent. These drives are over-spec for the SSD6204, since they are Gen 4 drives, and the SSD6204 tops out at Gen 3, but for the purposes of my quick testing, they will work just fine.
HighPoint SSD6200 Series specs
The SSD6204 I have today is part of the SSD6200 series cards, available in 2 or 4-slot designs.
The 2-slot variants, the SSD6202 and SSD6202A, only support M.2 2280 size drives. With that said, they are half-height models. In addition, it is possible that per-drive performance would improve on the SSD6202 and SSD6202A because the 88NR2241 controller supports x4 connections in a 2-port deployment, but I have not personally tested a SSD6202 model so I cannot verify that is the case.
The model I have today is the basic SSD6204. The A-suffix models include an out-of-band management port in the form of a Type-C connector, plus onboard LEDs for indicating RAID health. My basic SSD6204 omits both of those features.
On Windows, the management of the SSD6204 is handled through HighPoint’s RAID Management GUI.
From this GUI, RAID arrays can be created and monitored. This is an interface that I have seen many times over the years, and it seems almost unchanged from my time with a HighPoint RocketRAID 2720SGL that I owned many years ago.
One important part of this interface is the health inspector interface. Individual drive SMART reporting is not passed through to the operating system, so the SHI tab on the RAID interface is where that data can be accessed.
The RAID management utility is also capable of sending alerts in the case of a failure or pending failure detected by SMART. There is also a physical beeper on this card, which I always appreciate.
Test System Configuration
My basic benchmarks were run using my standard SSD test bench.
- Motherboard: ASRock X670E Steel Legend
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 7900X (12C/24T)
- RAM: 2x 16GB DDR5-6000 UDIMMs
HighPoint SSD6204 Performance Testing
The HighPoint SSD6204 is equipped with 4x Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus 2TB SSDs and put through a small set of basic tests. As mentioned in the title, this is a bit of a mini-review and I did not have time to run the full test suite, but I wanted to give a general idea of the performance you might encounter. In addition, please keep in mind the SSD6204 card is not heavily marketed for its performance, and you will see why shortly.
The first test I ran was a single drive connected to the SSD6204. As I mentioned, individual drives are only connected at PCIe Gen 3 x2, a fact which is borne out in the sequential performance results. The sequential results here indicate a fully saturated PCIe Gen 3 x2 interface, and this is the best you will get given those limitations.
Next, I did a 2-drive RAID 0 array run. Performance has doubled relative to the single drive performance, which is in line with expectations. As a result, performance is now in line with a single PCIe Gen 3 x4 drive, which is not exactly exciting.
Lastly, I did test a 4-drive RAID 0 array and achieved the best performance to date. These results are in line with expectations of a saturated PCIe Gen 3 x8 interface.
That speed is closer to a single PCIe Gen4 x4 NVMe drive.
With all of that said, the SSD6204 was never going to be a performance superstar given its specs. What I am interested in it for is the RAID 1 support, so I tested that.
The performance here is actually pretty encouraging. Write speed in RAID 1 is limited to the performance of a single disk as you might expect, but read speed is pulling data from both drives and performs well. This is the configuration I will be using in my server build, and these results are fully acceptable for my deployment.
VMware OS Support
The HighPoint SSD6204 has a trick up its sleeve; it works with VMware ESXi. If you have read my build articles in the past, you might remember that most of the servers I build run VMware. The SSD6204 is a relatively inexpensive path to a RAID 1 NVMe array on an ESX host, and that is exactly what I am using it for. The pictures I showed earlier and the benchmarks I ran were under Windows, but the SSD6204 can also be configured via an ESX command-line utility or even pre-boot in an EFI environment. If you have read this whole article and wondered “But why?” then this is my answer; because this card works in ESX.
The HighPoint SSD6204, to me, is a means to an end. I want RAID 1 support on inexpensive ESX hosts, and the SSD6204 does that. My card was purchased for around $360, which to me is an acceptable price to pay for RAID 1.
This solution is not for everyone, but it happens to be the perfect solution for my particular scenario. STH still has at least one more M.2 accelerator card review coming; we are going to delve into some of the cards that require bifurcation next. Until then, if you just need RAID 1 out of your M.2 NVMe drives and you are not too concerned with top-end performance, then the SSD6200 series might work well for you.