Today I am taking a look at the HighPoint SSD7540 PCIe Gen4 M.2 RAID card. This is a full-height PCIe 4.0 x16 card that is host to 8x PCIe 4.0 M.2-2280 slots, and allows RAID 0, 1, and 10 functionality. Sabrent participated in this review by graciously providing eight of their Rocket 4 Plus 2TB drives, and I am very grateful to them as it would be hard to review something like this without fully populating the card with identical drives. This review is the first in a series of PCIe M.2 RAID cards, so stay tuned for future reviews! For now, let us see how the SSD7540 fares.
The first impression I had of the SSD7540 was simply its size; this card is very large.
The front of the SSD7540 is dominated by its large heatsink equipped with twin fans. M.2 SSDs are known to generate quite a bit of heat, and 8x of them will definitely require active cooling.
On the end of the card, we have one of the fan connections, as well as a 6-pin power connector. Removing the heatsink reveals the good stuff inside.
Eight PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2-2280 slots flank the Broadcom PEX88048B0 PCIe switch chip in the center. This chip hosts enough PCIe lanes to allow each individual M.2 SSD their own dedicated PCIe 4.0 x4 lanes. The main advantage of using a PCIe switch chip like this is that bifurcation is not required on the PCIe slot where this card is connected. Other than the large PCIe switch chip, there is no controller on this card. That is because fundamentally we are dealing with a software-based RAID solution.
The connection to the host interface is a PCIe 4.0 x16 slot, so there is a 2:1 lane oversubscription at play, but there is clearly a lot of bandwidth available. For users that demand even faster performance, HighPoint has a technology they call ‘Cross-Sync RAID’ that allows you to utilize a pair of SSD7540 cards in tandem for double the performance, though this is not something we tested.
Compared to the front of the SSD7540, the rear has almost nothing going on. Most of what you see on the rear of the card is part of the M.2 mounting points.
HighPoint SSD7500 Series specs
The SSD7540 I have today is part of the SSD7500 series cards, available in 2, 4, or 8 port capacities.
For the most part, other than the port count and physical size, these cards are very similar. The SSD7505 (4-port card) supports M.2-22110 size SSDs, while the other two top out at M.2-2280.
In addition, the SSD7540 we have today is the only dual-fan model, as well as the only model that can draw power from a 6-pin power header. That power header is optional depending on the SSDs you use; my 8x Rocket 4 Plus drives were happy to operate without the 6-pin power header connected, but it is possible that more power-hungry drives could necessitate the use of external power.
Driver support exists for Windows, Linux, and Mac, though the ability to boot to his card varies depending on OS. Notably absent from that list – at least to me – is VMware ESXi support. For that I will be reviewing the HighPoint SSD6204 in the future, along with some other non-HighPoint products.
On Windows, the management of the SSD7540 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, and 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.
Speaking of health, that big heatsink did a good job keeping my army of Rocket 4 Plus drives nice and cool during my testing; I never saw temperatures hit 60C.
Test System Configuration
My basic benchmarks were run using my standard SSD test bench.
- Motherboard: ASUS PRIME X570-P
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X (12C/24T)
- RAM: 2x 16GB DDR4-3200 UDIMMs
In addition to my test bench, Patrick tested the SSD7540 in a Supermicro AS-5014A-TT as well as a Lenovo ThinkStation P620 system, which are more the target market for an accelerator like this.
Both systems were also configured with professional NVIDIA GPUs like the NVIDIA RTX A4500 and RTX A6000.
SSD7540 Performance Testing
The HighPoint SSD7540 was equipped with 8x Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus 2TB SSDs and put through a small set of basic tests in both RAID 0 and RAID 10. The point was not to comprehensively catalog the performance of the SSD7540. As you will see shortly, it generates some big numbers that you can rely on. The performance you encounter will depend on which drives you choose to populate the card with, along with the RAID level you choose. I simply wanted to give some kind of a general idea as to the performance profile you might encounter.
RAID 0 Testing
CrystalDiskMark is often used to highlight the sequential throughput potential of a drive or accelerator card, which is the purpose it is serving here.
Following the standard I set for my single-drive testing, I tested at both the 1GB and 8GB test sizes. If you came to this review just to look at big numbers, here you are. Nearly 25000 MB/s sequential read and north of 26000 MB/s sequential write is just absurd. Even more absurd is the fact we are limited by the PCIe 4.0 x16 slot interface; in theory, the combined performance of our 8x Rocket 4 Plus drives could be above 55000 MB/s.
One interesting bit to look at is the Q1T1 sequential performance, which barely improves over a single drive; one Rocket 4 Plus 2TB clocks in around 4200 MB/s read and 5900 MB/s write in Q1T1. You really need a highly threaded and highly parallel workload to necessitate something like the SSD7540 in the first place. 4K random read and write numbers are also not improved by a solution similar to this.
I did not expect this card to care about the larger test set, and as expected it performed very similarly at 8GB.
I only ran the one AS SSD test, the larger 10GB set. Once again, sequential performance is frankly amazing, which is what you would expect. 4K random performance is improved over a single Rocket 4 Plus, but not anywhere to the degree of sequential performance.
RAID 10 Testing
I repeated my test set, this time with the 8x Rocket 4 Plus drives in a RAID 10 array.
As expected, even in RAID 10 the sequential read performance is largely unchanged compared to RAID 0. I am unsure if this is because the RAID array is smart enough to read from both sides of the RAID 1 array, or simply because even if you cut the potential combined read performance of our eight drives in half, there is still enough performance on the table to max out a PCIe Gen4 x16 link.
Write performance, however, was a surprise to me. I conferred with HighPoint and my results are as they expect; write performance in RAID10 will be half that of RAID0. In my head, though, I make a distinction between “half the RAID0 performance” and “half the combined performance of the 8 drives” and those are different numbers. Half the RAID0 performance is exactly what we have received; RAID0 write are around 26000 MB/s and RAID10 writes are 13000 MB/s. However, the combined write performance of half of our drives should still be able to deliver 26000 MB/s. I suspect the limitation here a side effect of the SSD7540 being a ‘software’ RAID adapter. The end result is that RAID 10 write performance with 8 drives installed is more like the combined performance of two drives than four.
Just like with RAID 0, the larger CDM test performs just as well as the smaller one.
Lastly, I have AS SSD, which like CrystalDiskMark showed a drop in write performance in RAID 10 compared to RAID 0.
The HighPoint SSD7540 is a very interesting card. Over the course of examining it, I came to consider it more in the context of an accelerator card and less in the context of a ‘normal’ mass storage device or SSD. I do not know if HighPoint would agree with that line of thought, but it is what I consistently thought of when considering this card.
At $1100, I see some plausible use cases for something like this. If you fully populate this card with moderate to large SSDs, the $1100 may very well get lost in the overall price of the device. As an example, the SSD7540 + the cost of the Rocket 4 Plus drives would come to somewhere in the neighborhood of $3500 for 16TB of (RAID 0) storage; that price point is high, but very large SSDs do exist like 15.36TB units such as the Seagate Nytro 3031 and one of those is in the neighborhood of $4800. While obviously comparing a single Nytro 3031 15.36TB drive with the SSD7540 monstrosity is an exercise in apples to oranges to say the least, the SSD7540 is both less expensive and higher performance. This is one of the reasons that I think of the SSD7540 more like an accelerator; if I had some need for a large scratch volume such as temporary storage for data warehousing processing, then the SSD7540 may very well scratch that itch.
Perhaps the biggest market for this card currently is with folks that are doing video editing or creators. Many of those folks have largely sequential workloads, and the performance of PCIe Gen4 NVMe SSDs is fine. What they need is a lot of local storage and so being able to put two of these with 8x 8TB NVMe SSDs, as an example, gives 128TB of storage in only two PCIe card slots.
I think the biggest strength of the SSD7540 is the “what if?” type possibilities that it enables users to consider. In addition to allowing some pretty crazy sequential performance numbers, the SSD7540 also allows you to build some very large storage devices using off-the-shelf hardware. Nobody serious about the long-term protection of their data should ever store it on an 8-drive RAID 0 array, but the read and write performance of the RAID 10 array was nothing to sniff at as well and certain usage scenarios like scratch volumes may not be bothered by the inherent data insecurity of so many drives in RAID 0. For professionals copying network storage media locally to work with at higher speeds, this solution is fine.
At the end of the day, the HighPoint SSD7540 is simply neat, and I enjoy the possibilities that it enables me to ponder. At STH, we are going to have a few other multi-drive solutions coming that we are excited about.