SSD M.2 NVME to PCI-E 4.0 X4 Riser Card Replacement PCI-Express X4/X8/X16 M Key Adapter Card Computer Accessory (WHL #72)

More computer stuff this week, but with parts directly shipped from China.

With the somewhat recent upgrade from a socket 2011 to a 2011-3 desktop board, I also made the switch from Windows 7 to 10. Not that I like any of those, but more and more software will only work with the latter, and some specific tool that I wanted to try basically requires 10 or defaults into a non-hardware accelerated mode that is simply pointless to use. As I had a Win 10 diagnostics M.2 drive handy, that was my starting point.

Thing is – since I cheaped out on the board revision for a significant discount, it does not support v4 CPUs (which I’m fine with), and it also does not support NVMe booting (which would have been nice). The board itself does not offer M.2 slots in any revision, but Fujitsu sells pretty expensive PCIe card adapters for the B2 version. Well, fuck that, of course I’m going to use generic parts. As for the boot issue: That’ll be part of the very next blog post, stay tuned.

I already have a dual M.2 to PCIe adapter ready that offers one slot for PCIe drives, and another slot for SATA drives, just as a mechanical adapter to SATA plus power from the PCIe. That thing even works fine in the “big” Lenovo 2503 docking station for my Thinkpad T400, meaning that twelve year old brick is able to interface with the most recent NVMe drives – at significantly reduced speed, of course. The reason for not using it in the desktop computer however is a layout thing from the main board – the PCIe arrangement doesn’t really fit all that well. It’s as follows, from CPU to the bottom slot:

3.0 x4
3.0 x16
2.0 x4
3.0 x4
3.0 x16
2.0 x1
2.0 x1

First slot is unfortunately blocked by the CPU cooler, second and third one are fully occupied by the GPU, and sixth and seventh are only single lanes with slower 2.0 speeds, which are clearly subpar for x4 3.0 devices like the SSD and my Mellanox 10GbE card. So they will need to occupy #4 and #5 – but they do block airflow to the graphics card a little. The NIC is smaller than the M.2 adapter, but it still shadows like one third of the fan intake. Moving the GPU down to the second x16 slot isn’t an option, as that blocks access to all the ports on the bottom and one would need to make sure no wiring can come into contact with the open fan blades.

Well, 3.58€ (including shipping and 19% VAT) and a couple weeks later, this card showed up:

Of course the screwdriver is ridiculous and the anchor for non-2280 drives will get lost instantly as there is no on-PCB holder for it, but that looks promising overall. It’s a purely mechanical adapter except for two buffer capacitors for 5V/3V3 and one LED plus limiting resistor (more on that later). The adapter comes in PCIe x16 configuration but thanks to a dense line of drilling holes, the gold fingers can be snapped off to make an x8 or x4 version if necessary.

Size comparison of both adapters – the new one really doesn’t have much overlap to any side, and given M.2s aren’t all that large on their own, I have no issues running that without a slot bracket for stability. That might be different if one needs to cut it to x4 configuration, but that low x16 adapter is perfectly fine by me.

SSD transferred and ready to go:

And this is it inside the case (I do apologize once more for such photos, but that’s what you get in rackmount cases). Yes, there’s still a little bit of overlap, but much better than before and I think it can stay that way indefinitely. The adapter does comply to PCIe specs (at least 3.0), as the drive is used in x4 3.0 configuration as determined by HWinfo.

I’d still like to get my hands on one of the Delock 89561 or similar adapters that offer a 90° mount of a single M.2 drive into the PCIe slot, which might just barely fit on the top slot of the board. For now, however, that’ll do. I don’t expect a 3+ NVMe configuration anytime soon, and if that happens I’d likely also need to upgrade to platform again to something more modern (2066, maybe? Or a lovely Threadripper?). Multiple onboard M.2 should be standard by then…

As for any China gadget: Of course it does have an annoyingly bright LED to make sure you know it’s there. For some strange reason this one uses a green one instead of blue, but still, this is by far the brightest indicator light in the entire enclosed metal case, easily surpassing the already noticeable bright eight status indicators of the board. Well done, now I know the 3V3 rail does indeed supply around 3-ish volts. Bravo! :roll:

Description of the Clover USB NVMe boot system will follow in a separate article next week – although not directly supported by the main board, I do use this card with the shown M.2 SSD as regular boot drive without issues.

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