High-end PCIe 5.0 NVMe SSDs apparently require active cooling: Phison talks solutions to circumvent this on laptops and compact PCs
Phison’s official blog recently posted a compiled interview with the company’s Chief Technical Officer Sebastien Jean, where he reveals that upcoming PCIe 5.0 NVMe SSDs may get quite hot and could require active cooling. On the other hand, Phison is aware that such measures are impractical for laptops or small form-factor desktop PCs, and Jean also talks about ways to mitigate the rising temperatures without employing bulky cooling solutions. The first consumer grade PCIe 5.0 NVMe SSDs are expected to be available later this year, and, with Phison being the premier provider of SSD controller chips, the company has been testing out heat management solutions, as increased speeds, I/O throughputs and higher capacities can lead to greater heat generation.
While PCIe Gen4 SSDs are most of the times fine without a heat spreader, Gen5 is upping the ante and Jean estimates that for each additional GB/s of speed, an SSD would require approximately one more watt of power. Since PCIe 5.0 typically operates at 10-12 GB/s, that would mean an additional 6 W over the current Gen4 designs. It might not seem much, but for tightly packaged NAND chips, this completely changes the thermal specs that need to be adjusted in order to avoid thermal throttling.
Jean continues by pointing out that NAND memory typically operates without problems between 0 and 70-85 degrees Celsius, depending on the memory grade. “And as heat goes up, retention of data in NAND goes down. The controller and all the other components […] are good up to 125 degrees Celsius, but the NAND isn’t, and the SSD will go into critical shutdown if it detects that the temperature of the NAND is above 80 degrees Celsius or so.” Optimal operational temperatures for SSDs usually range between 25 and 50 degrees Celsius.
One solution to keep PCIe Gen5 SSDs from getting too hot in laptops and compact desktop builds is to use smaller production nodes. Jean explains that NAND chips could get better thermal management by going down from 16 nm to 7 nm nodes. “Smaller process nodes can operate at higher frequencies with lower voltage. Also, less energy is needed to toggle the transistors, which in turn lowers the power used. Using less power means the SSD generates less heat.” However, this may also add to the production costs.
Another way to mitigate rising temperatures is the reduction of NAND channels. Thanks to an improved ONFI bus speed, “you no longer need eight channels to saturate the Gen4 and even Gen5 PCIe interface. You can potentially saturate the host interface with four NAND channels, and reducing the number of back-end channels reduces the total SSD power by typically 20 to 30 percent,” explains Jean.
For future SSD generations, Jean recommends changing the connector altogether. “The connector will become a bottleneck for future speed increases. So new connectors are being developed and they’ll be available in the next few years. They will greatly increase both the signal integrity and the heat dissipation capability through conduction to the motherboard. These new connectors may allow us to avoid putting fans on SSDs.”
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