May 012021
 
Picture of NVMe Storage Server Project

For over a year and a half I have been working on building a custom NVMe Storage Server for my homelab. I wanted to build a high speed storage system similar to a NAS or SAN, backed with NVMe drives that provides iSCSI, NFS, and SMB Windows File Shares to my network.

The computers accessing the NVMe Storage Server would include VMware ESXi hosts, Raspberry Pi SBCs, and of course Windows Computers and Workstations.

The focus of this project is on high throughput (in the GB/sec) and IOPS.

The current plan for the storage environment is for video editing, as well as VDI VM storage. This can and will change as the project progresses.

The History

More and more businesses are using all-flash NVMe and SSD based storage systems, so I figured there’s no reason why I can’t have build and have my own budget custom all NVMe flash NAS.

This is the story of how I built my own NVMe based Storage Server.

The first version of the NVMe Storage Server consisted of the IO-PEX40152 card with 4 x 2TB Sabrent Rocket 4 NVMe drives inside of an HPE Proliant DL360p Gen8 Server. The server was running ESXi with TrueNAS virtualized, and the PCIe card passed through to the TrueNAS VM.

The results were great, the performance was amazing, and both servers had access to the NFS export via 2 x 10Gb SFP+ networking.

There were three main problems with this setup:

  1. Virtualized – Once a month I had an ESXi PSOD. This was either due to overheating of the IO-PEX40152 card because of modifications I made, or bugs with the DL360p servers and PCIe passthrough.
  2. NFS instead of iSCSI – Because TrueNAS was virtualized inside of the host that was using it for storage, I had to use NFS since the host virtualizing TrueNAS would also be accessing the data on the TrueNAS VM. When shutting down the host, you need to shut down TrueNAS first. NFS disconnects are handled way healthier than iSCSI disconnects (which can cause corruption even if no files are being used).
  3. CPU Cores maxed on data transfer – When doing initial testing, I was maxing out the CPU cores assigned to the TrueNAS VM because the data transfers were so high. I needed a CPU and setup that was better fit.

Version 1 went great, but you can see some things needed to be changed. I decided to go with a dedicated server, not virtualize TrueNAS, and go for a newer CPU with a higher Ghz speed.

And so, version 2 was born (built). Keep reading and scrolling for pictures!

The Hardware

On version 2 of the project, the hardware includes:

Notes on the Hardware:

  • While the ML310e Gen8 v2 server is a cheap low entry server, it’s been a fantastic team member of my homelab.
  • HPE Dual 10G Port 560SFP+ adapters can be found brand new in unsealed boxes on eBay at very attractive prices. Using HPE Parts inside of HPE Servers, avoids the fans from spinning up fast.
  • The ML310e Gen8 v2 has some issues with passing through PCIe cards to ESXi. Works perfect when not passing through.

The new NVMe Storage Server

I decided to repurpose an HPE Proliant ML310e Gen8 v2 Server. This server was originally acting as my Nvidia Grid K1 VDI server, because it supported large PCIe cards. With the addition of my new AMD S7150 x2 hacked in/on to one of my DL360p Gen8’s, I no longer needed the GRID card in this server and decided to repurpose it.

Picture of an HPe ML310e Gen8 v2 with NVMe Storage
HPe ML310e Gen8 v2 with NVMe Storage

I installed the IOCREST IO-PEX40152 card in to the PCIe 16x slot, with 4 x 2TB Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME drives.

Picture of IOCREST IO-PEX40152 with GLOTRENDS M.2 NVMe SSD Heatsink on Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME
IOCREST IO-PEX40152 with GLOTRENDS M.2 NVMe SSD Heatsink on Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME

While the server has a PCIe 16x wide slot, it only has an 8x bus going to the slot. This means we will have half the capable speed vs the true 16x slot. This however does not pose a problem because we’ll be maxing out the 10Gb NICs long before we max out the 8x bus speed.

I also installed an HPE Dual Port 560SFP+ NIC in to the second slot. This will allow a total of 2 x 10Gb network connections from the server to the Ubiquiti UniFi US-16-XG 10Gb network switch, the backbone of my network.

The Server also have 4 x Hot Swappable HD bays on the front. When configured in HBA mode (via the BIOS), these are accessible by TrueNAS and can be used. I plan on populating these with 4 x 4TB HPE MDL SATA Hot Swappable drives to act as a replication destination for the NVMe pool and/or slower magnetic long-term storage.

Front view of HPE ML310e Gen8 v2 with Hotswap Drive bays
HPE ML310e Gen8 v2 with Hotswap Drive bays

I may also try to give WD RED Pro drives a try, but I’m not sure if they will cause the fans to speed up on the server.

TrueNAS Installation and Configuration

For the initial Proof-Of-Concept for version 2, I decided to be quick and dirty and install it to a USB stick. I also waited until I installed TrueNAS on to the USB stick and completed basic configuration before installing the Quad NVMe PCIe card and 10Gb NIC. I’m using a USB 3.0 port on the back of the server for speed, as I can’t verify if the port on the motherboard is USB 2 or USB 3.

Picture of a TrueNAS USB Stick on HPE ML310e Gen8 v2
TrueNAS USB Stick on HPE ML310e Gen8 v2

TrueNAS installation worked without any problems whatsoever on the ML310e. I configured the basic IP, time, accounts, and other generic settings. I then proceeded to install the PCIe cards (storage and networking).

Screenshot of TrueNAS Dashboard Installed on NVMe Storage Server
TrueNAS Installed on NVMe Storage Server

All NVMe drives were recognized, along with the 2 HDDs I had in the front Hot-swap bays (sitting on an HP B120i Controller configured in HBA mode).

Screenshot of available TrueNAS NVMe Disks
TrueNAS NVMe Disks

The 560SFP+ NIC also was detected without any issues and available to configure.

Dashboard Screenshot of TrueNAS 560SFP+ 10Gb NIC
TrueNAS 560SFP+ 10Gb NIC

Storage Configuration

I’ve already done some testing and created a guide on FreeNAS and TrueNAS ZFS Optimizations and Considerations for SSD and NVMe, so I made sure to use what I learned in this version of the project.

I created a striped pool (no redundancy) of all 4 x 2TB NVMe drives. This gave us around 8TB of usable high speed NVMe storage. I also created some datasets and a zVOL for iSCSI.

Screenshot of NVMe TrueNAS Storage Pool with Datasets and zVol
NVMe TrueNAS Storage Pool with Datasets and zVol

I chose to go with the defaults for compression to start with. I will be testing throughput and achievable speeds in the future. You should always test this in every and all custom environments as the results will always vary.

Network Configuration

Initial configuration was done via the 1Gb NIC connection to my main LAN network. I had to change this as the 10Gb NIC will be directly connected to the network backbone and needs to access the LAN and Storage VLANs.

I went ahead and configured a VLAN Interface on VLAN 220 for the Storage network. Connections for iSCSI and NFS will be made on this network as all my ESXi servers have vmknics configured on this VLAN for storage. I also made sure to configure an MTU of 9000 for jumbo frames (packets) to increase performance. Remember that all hosts must have the same MTU to communicate.

Screenshot of 10Gb NIC on Storage VLAN
10Gb NIC on Storage VLAN

Next up, I had to create another VLAN interface for the LAN network. This would be used for management, as well as to provide Windows File Share (SMB/Samba) access to the workstations on the network. We leave the MTU on this adapter as 1500 since that’s what my LAN network is using.

Screenshot of 10Gb NIC on LAN VLAN
10Gb NIC on LAN VLAN

As a note, I had to delete the configuration for the existing management settings (don’t worry, it doesn’t take effect until you hit test) and configure the VLAN interface for my LANs VLAN and IP. I tested the settings, confirmed it was good, and it was all setup.

At this point, only the 10Gb NIC is now being used so I went ahead and disconnected the 1Gb network cable.

Sharing Setup and Configuration

It’s now time to configure the sharing protocols that will be used. As mentioned before, I plan on deploying iSCSI, NFS, and Windows File Shares (SMB/Samba).

iSCSI and NFS Configuration

Normally, for a VMware ESXi virtualization environment, I would always usually prefer iSCSI based storage, however I also wanted to configure NFS to test throughput of both with NVMe flash storage.

Earlier, I created the datasets for all my my NFS exports and a zVOL volume for iSCSI.

Note, that in order to take advantage of the VMware VAAI storage directives (enhancements), you must use a zVOL to present an iSCSI target to an ESXi host.

For NFS, you can simply create a dataset and then export it.

For iSCSI, you need to create a zVol and then configure the iSCSI Target settings and make it available.

SMB (Windows File Shares)

I needed to create a Windows File Share for file based storage from Windows computers. I plan on using the Windows File Share for high-speed storage of files for video editing.

Using the dataset I created earlier, I configured a Windows Share, user accounts, and tested accessing it. Works perfect!

Connecting the host

Connecting the ESXi hosts to the iSCSI targets and the NFS exports is done in the exact same way that you would with any other storage system, so I won’t be including details on that in this post.

We can clearly see the iSCSI target and NFS exports on the ESXi host.

Screenshot of TrueNAS NVMe iSCSI Target on VMware ESXi Host
TrueNAS NVMe iSCSI Target on VMware ESXi Host
Screenshot of NVMe iSCSI and NFS ESXi Datastores
NVMe iSCSI and NFS ESXi Datastores

To access Windows File Shares, we log on and map the network share like you would normally with any file server.

Testing

For testing, I moved (using Storage vMotion) my main VDI desktop to the new NVMe based iSCSI Target LUN on the NVMe Storage Server. After testing iSCSI, I then used Storage vMotion again to move it to the NFS datastore. Please see below for the NVMe storage server speed test results.

Speed Tests

Just to start off, I want to post a screenshot of a few previous benchmarks I compiled when testing and reviewing the Sabrent Rocket 4 NVMe SSD disks installed in my HPE DL360p Gen8 Server and passed through to a VM (Add NVMe capability to an HPE Proliant DL360p Gen8 Server).

Screenshot of CrystalDiskMark testing an IOCREST IO-PEX40152 and Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME SSD for speed
CrystalDiskMark testing an IOCREST IO-PEX40152 and Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME SSD
Screenshot of CrystalDiskMark testing IOPS on an IOCREST IO-PEX40152 and Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME SSD
CrystalDiskMark testing IOPS on an IOCREST IO-PEX40152 and Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME SSD

Note, that when I performed these tests, my CPU was maxed out and limiting the actual throughput. Even then, these are some fairly impressive speeds. Also, these tests were directly testing each NVMe drive individually.

Moving on to the NVMe Storage Server, I decided to test iSCSI NVMe throughput and NFS NVMe throughput.

I opened up CrystalDiskMark and started a generic test, running a 16GB test file a total of 6 times on my VDI VM sitting on the iSCSI NVMe LUN.

Screenshot of NVMe Storage Server iSCSI Benchmark with CrystalDiskMark
NVMe Storage Server iSCSI Benchmark with CrystalDiskMark

You can see some impressive speeds maxing out the 10Gb NIC with crazy performance of the NVME storage:

  • 1196MB/sec READ
  • 1145.28MB/sec WRITE (Maxing out the 10GB NIC)
  • 62,725.10 IOPS READ
  • 42,203.13 IOPS WRITE

Additionally, here’s a screenshot of the ix0 NIC on the TrueNAS system during the speed test benchmark: 1.12 GiB/s.

Screenshot of TrueNAS NVME Maxing out 10Gig NIC
TrueNAS NVME Maxing out 10Gig NIC

And remember this is with compression. I’m really excited to see how I can further tweak and optimize this, and also what increases will come with configuring iSCSI MPIO. I’m also going to try to increase the IOPS to get them closer to what each individual NVMe drive can do.

Now on to NFS, the results were horrible when moving the VM to the NFS Export.

Screenshot of NVMe Storage Server NFS Benchmark with CrystalDiskMark
NVMe Storage Server NFS Benchmark with CrystalDiskMark

You can see that the read speed was impressive, but the write speed was not. This is partly due to how writes are handled with NFS exports.

Clearly iSCSI is the best performing method for ESXi host connectivity to a TrueNAS based NVMe Storage Server. This works perfect because we’ll get the VAAI features (like being able to reclaim space).

Moving Forward

I’ve had this configuration running for around a week now with absolutely no issues, no crashes, and it’s been very stable.

Using a VDI VM on NVMe backed storage is lightning fast and I love the experience.

I plan on running like this for a little while to continue to test the stability of the environment before making more changes and expanding the configuration and usage.

Future Plans (and Configuration)

  • Drive Bays
    • I plan to populate the 4 hot-swappable drive bays with HPE 4TB MDL drives. Configured with RaidZ1, this should give me around 12TB usable storage. I can use this for file storage, backups, replication, and more.
  • NVMe Replication
    • This design was focused on creating non-redundant extremely fast storage. Because I’m limited to a total of 4 NVMe disks in this design, I chose not to use RaidZ and striped the data. If one NVMe drive is lost, all data is lost.
    • I don’t plan on storing anything important, and at this point the storage is only being used for VDI VMs (which are backed up), and Video editing.
    • If I can populate the front drive bays, I can replicate the NVMe storage to the traditional HDD storage on a frequent basis to protect against failure to some level or degree.
  • Version 3 of the NVMe Storage Server
    • More NVMe and Bigger NVMe – I want more storage! I want to test different levels of RaidZ, and connect to the backbone at even faster speeds.
    • NVME Drives with PLP (Power Loss Prevention) for data security and protection.
    • Dual Power Supply

Let me know your thoughts and ideas on this setup!

Jul 082020
 

Need to add 5 SATA drives or SSDs to your system? The IO-PCE585-5I is a solid option!

The IO-PCE585-5I PCIe card adds 5 SATA ports to your system via a single PCIe x4 card using 2 PCIe lanes. Because the card uses PCIe 3.1a, this sounds like a perfect HBA to use to add SSD’s to your system.

This card can be used in workstations, DIY NAS (Network Attached Storage), and servers, however for the sake of this review, we’ll be installing it in a custom built FreeNAS system to see how the card performs and if it provides all the features and functionality we need.

Picture of an IO-PCE585-5I PCIe Card
IOCREST IO-PCE585-5I PCIe Card

A big thank you to IOCREST for shipping me out this card to review, they know I love storage products! 🙂

Use Cases

The IO-PCE585-5I card is strictly an HBA (a Host Bus Adapter). This card provides JBOD access to the disks so that each can be independently accessed by the computer or servers operating system.

Typically HBAs (or RAID cards in IT mode) are used for storage systems to provide direct access to disks, so that that the host operating system can perform software RAID, or deploy a special filesystem like ZFS on the disks.

The IOCREST IO-PCE585-5I is the perfect card to accomplish this task as it supports numerous different operating systems and provides JBOD access of disks to the host operating system.

In addition to the above, the IO-PCE585-5I provides 5 SATA 6Gb/s ports and uses PCIe 3 with 2 PCIe lanes, to provide a theoretical maximum throughput close to 2GB/s, making this card perfect for SSD use as well!

Need more drives or SSDs? With the PCIe 2x interface, simply just add more to your system!

While you could use this card with Windows software RAID, or Linux mdraid, we’ll be testing the card with FreeNAS, a NAS system built on FreeBSD.

First, how can you get this card?

Where to buy the IO-PCE585-5I

You can purchased the IO-PCE585-5I from:

This card is also marketed as the SI-PEX40139 and IO-PEX40139 Part Numbers.

IO-PCE585-5I Specifications

Let’s get in to the technical details and specs on the card.

Picture of an IO-PCE585-5I PCIe Card
IO-PCE585-5I (IO-PEX40139) PCIe Card

According to the packaging, the IO-PCE585-5I features the following:

  • Supports up to two lanes over PCIe 3.0
  • Complies with PCI Express Base Specification Revision 3.1a.
  • Supports PCIe link layer power saving mode
  • Supports 5 SATA 6Gb/s ports
  • Supports command-based and FIS-based for Port Multipliers
  • Complies with SATA Specification Revision 3.2
  • Supports AHCI mode and IDE programming interface
  • Supports Native Command Queue (NCQ)
  • Supports SATA link power saving mode (partial and slumber)
  • Supports SATA plug-in detection capable
  • Supports drive power control and staggered spin-up
  • Supports SATA Partial / Slumber power management state
  • Supports SATA Port Multiplier

Whats included in the packaging?

  • 1 × IO-PCE585-5I (IO-PEX40139) PCIe 3.0 card to 5 SATA 6Gb/s
  • 1 × User Manual
  • 5 × SATA Cables
  • 1 x Low Profile Bracket
  • 1 x Driver CD (not needed, but nice to have)

Unboxing, Installation, and Configuration

It comes in a very small and simple package.

Picture of the IO-PCE585-5I Retail Box
IO-PCE585-5I Retail Box

Opening the box, you’ll see the package contents.

Picture of IO-PCE585-5I Box Contents
IO-PCE585-5I Box Contents Unboxed

And finally the card. Please note that it comes with the full-height PCIe bracket installed. It also ships with the half-height bracket and can easily be replaced.

Picture of an IO-PCE585-5I PCIe Card
IO-PCE585-5I (SI-PEX40139) PCIe Card

Installation in FreeNAS Server and cabling

We’ll be installing this card in to a computer system, in which we will then install the latest version of FreeNAS. The original plan is to connect the IO-PCE585-5I to a 5-Bay SATA Hotswap backplane/drive cage full of Seagate 1TB Barracuda Hard Drives for testing.

The card installed easily, however we ran in to an issue when running the cabling. The included SATA cables have right angel connectors on the end that connects to the drive, which stops us from being able to connect them to the backplane’s connectors. To overcome this we could either buy new cables, or directly connect to the disks. I chose the latter.

I installed the card in the system, and booted it up. The HBA’s BIOS was shown.

IO-PCE585-5I BIOS
IO-PCE585-5I BIOS

I then installed FreeNAS.

Inside of the FreeNAS UI the disks are all detected! I ran an “lspci” to see what the controller is listed as.

Screenshot of IO-PCE585-5I FreeNAS lspci
IO-PCE585-5I FreeNAS lspci
SATA controller: JMicron Technology Corp. Device 0585

I went ahead and created a ZFS striped pool, created a dataset, and got ready for testing.

Speedtest and benchmark

Originally I was planning on providing numerous benchmarks, however in every case I hit the speed limit of the hard disks connected to the controller. Ultimately this is great because the card is fast, but bad because I can’t pinpoint the exact performance numbers.

To get exact numbers, I may possibly write up another blog post in the future when I can connect some SSDs to test the controllers max speed. At this time I don’t have any immediately available.

One thing to note though is that when I installed the card in a system with PCIe 2.0 slots, the card didn’t run at the expected speed limitations of PCIe 2.0, but way under. For some reason I could not exceed 390MB/sec (reads or writes) when technically I should have been able to achieve close to 1GB/sec. I’m assuming this is due to performance loss with backwards compatibility with the slower PCIe standard. I would recommend using this with a motherboard that supports PCIe 3.0 or higher.

The card also has beautiful blue LED activity indicators to show I/O on each disk independently.

Animated GIF of IO-PCE585-5I LED Activity Indicators
IO-PCE585-5I LED Activity Indicators

After some thorough testing, the card proved to be stable and worked great!

Additional Notes & Issues

Two additional pieces of information worth noting:

  1. IO-PCE585-5I Chipset – The IO-PCE585-5I uses a JMicron JMB585 chipset. This chipset is known to work well and stable with FreeNAS.
  2. Boot Support – Installing this card in different systems, I noticed that all of them allowed me to boot from the disks connected to the IO-PCE585-5I.

While this card is great, I would like to point out the following issues and problems I had that are worth mentioning:

  1. SATA Cable Connectors – While it’s nice that this card ships with the SATA cables included, note that the end of the cable that connects to the drive is right-angled. In my situation, I couldn’t use these cables to connect to the 5 drive backplane because there wasn’t clearance for the connector. You can always purchase other cables to use.
  2. Using card on PCIe 2.0 Motherboard – If you use this PCIe 3.0 card on a motherboard with PCIe 2.0 slots it will function, however you will experience a major performance decrease. This performance degradation will be larger than the bandwidth limitations of PCIe 2.0.

Conclusion

This card is a great option to add 5 hard disks or solid state drives to your FreeNAS storage system, or computer for that matter! It’s fast, stable, and inexpensive.

I would definitely recommend the IOCREST IO-PCE585-5I.

May 252020
 
Picture of an IOCREST IO-PEX40152 PCIe x16 to Quad M.2 NVMe

Looking to add quad (4) NVMe SSDs to your system and don’t have the M.2 slots or a motherboard that supports bifurcation? The IOCREST IO-PEX40152 QUAD NVMe PCIe card, is the card for you!

The IO-PEX40152 PCIe card allows you to add 4 NVMe SSDs to a computer, workstation, or server that has an available PCIe x16 slot. This card has a built in PEX PCIe switch chip, so your motherboard does not need to support bifurcation. This card can essentially be installed and used in any system with a free x16 slot.

This card is also available under the PART# SI-PEX40152.

In this post I’ll be reviewing the IOCREST IO-PEX40152, providing information on how to buy, benchmarks, installation, configuration and more! I’ve also posted tons of pics for your viewing pleasure. I installed this card in an HPE DL360p Gen8 server to add NVME capabilities to create an NVMe based Storage Server.

We’ll be using and reviewing this card populated with 4 x Sabrent Rocket 4 PCIe NVMe SSD, you can see the review on those SSD’s individually here.

Picture of an IOCREST IO-PEX40152 PCIe Card loaded with 4 x Sabrent Rocket 4 2TB NVMe SSD
IOCREST IO-PEX40152 PCIe Card loaded with 4 x Sabrent Rocket 4 2TB NVMe SSD

Why and How I purchased the card

Originally I purchased this card for a couple of special and interesting projects I’m working on for the blog and my homelab. I needed a card that provided high density NVME flash storage, but didn’t require bifurcation as I planned on using it on a motherboard that didn’t support 4/4/4/4 bifurcation.

By choosing this specific card, I could also use it in any other system that had an available x16 PCIe slot.

I considered many other cards (such as some from SuperMicro and Intel), but in the end chose this one as it seemed most likely to work for my application. The choices from SuperMicro and Intel looked like they are designed to be use on their own systems.

I purchased the IO-PEX40152 from the IOCREST AliExpress store (after verifying it was their genuine online store) and they had the most cost-effective price out of the 4 sources.

They shipped the card with FedEx International Priority, so I received it within a week. Super fast shipping and it was packed perfectly!

Picture of the IOCREST IO-PEX40152 box
IOCREST IO-PEX40152 Box

Where to buy the IO-PEX40152

I found 3 different sources to purchase the IO-PEX40152 from:

  1. IOCREST AliExpress Store – https://www.aliexpress.com/i/4000359673743.html
  2. Amazon.com – https://www.amazon.com/IO-CREST-Non-RAID-Bifurcation-Controller/dp/B083GLR3WL/
  3. Syba USA – Through their network of resellers or distributors at https://www.sybausa.com/index.php?route=information/wheretobuy

Note that Syba USA is selling the IO-PEX40152 as the SI-PEX40152. The card I actually received has branding that identifies it both as an IO-PEX40152 and an SI-PEX40152.

As I mentioned above, I purchased it from the IOCREST AliExpress Online Store for around $299.00USD. From Amazon, the card was around $317.65USD.

IO-PEX40152 Specifications

Now let’s talk about the technical specifications of the card.

Picture of the IOCREST IO-PEX40152 Side Shot with cover on
IO-PEX40152 Side Shot

According to the packaging, the IO-PEX40152 features the following:

  • Installation in a PCIe x16 slot
  • Supports PCIe 3.1, 3.0, 2.0
  • Compliant with PCI Express M.2 specification 1.0, 1.2
  • Supports data transfer up to 2.5Gb (250MB/sec), 5Gb (500MB/sec), 8Gb (1GB/sec)
  • Supports 2230, 2242, 2260, 2280 size NGFF SSD
  • Supports four (4) NGFF M.2 M Key sockets
  • 4 screw holes 2230/2242/2260/2280 available to fix NGFF SSD card
  • 4 screw holes available to fix PCB board to heatsink
  • Supports Windows 10 (and 7, 8, 8.1)
  • Supports Windows Server 2019 (and 2008, 2012, 2016)
  • Supports Linux (Kernel version 4.6.4 or above)

While this list of features and specs are listed on the website and packaging, I’m not sure how accurate some of these statements are (in a good way), I’ll cover that more later in the post.

What’s included in the packaging?

  • 1 x IO-PEX40152 PCIe x 16 to 4 x M.2(M-Key) card
  • 1 x User Manual
  • 1 x M.2 Mounting material
  • 1 x Screwdriver
  • 5 x self-adhesive thermal pad

They also note that contents may vary depending on country and market.

Unboxing, Installation, and Configuration

As menitoned above, our build includes:

  • 1 x IOCREST IO-PEX40152
  • 4 x Sabrent Rocket 4 NVMe PCIe NVMe SSD
Picture of IO-PEX40152 Unboxing with 4 x Sabrent Rocket 4 NVMe 2TB SSD
IO-PEX40152 Unboxing with 4 x Sabrent Rocket 4 NVMe 2TB SSD
Picture of IO-PEX40152 with 4 x Sabrent Rocket 4 NVMe 2TB SSD
Picture of IO-PEX40152 with 4 x Sabrent Rocket 4 NVMe 2TB SSD

You’ll notice it’s a very sleek looking card. The heatsink is beefy, heavy, and very metal (duh)! The card is printed on a nice black PCB.

Removing the 4 screws to release the heatsink, we see the card and thermal paste pads. You’ll notice the PCIe switch chip.

Picture of the front side of an IOCREST IO-PEX40152
IOCREST IO-PEX40152 Frontside of card

And the backside of the card.

Picture of the back side of an IOCREST IO-PEX40152
IOCREST IO-PEX40152 Backside of card

NVMe Installation

I start to install the Sabrent Rocket 4 NVMe 2TB SSD.

Picture of a IO-PEX40152 with 2 SSD populated
IO-PEX40152 with 2 SSD populated
Picture of an IOCREST IO-PEX40152 PCIe Card loaded with 4 x Sabrent Rocket 4 2TB NVMe SSD
IOCREST IO-PEX40152 PCIe Card loaded with 4 x Sabrent Rocket 4 2TB NVMe SSD

That’s a good looking 8TB of NVMe SSD!

Note that the cards will wiggle side to side and have play until screw is tightened. Do not over-tighten the screw!

Make sure before installing the heatsink cover that you remove the blue plastic film on the heat transfer material between NVME and heatsink, and the PEX chip and heatsink.

After that, I installed it in the server and was ready to go!

Heatsink and cooling

A quick note on the heatsink and cooling…

While the heatsink and cooling solution it comes with works amazing, you have flexibility if need be to run and operate the card without the heatsink and fan (the fan doesn’t cause any warnings if disconnected). This works out great if you want to use your own cooling solution, or need to use this card in a system where there isn’t much space. The fan can be removed by removing the screws and disconnecting the power connector.

Note, after installing the NVME SSD, and you affix the heatsink, in the future you will notice that the heatsink get’s stuck to the cards if you try to remove it at a later date. If you do need to remove the heatsink, be very patient and careful, and slowly remove the heatsink to avoid damaging or cracking the NVME SSD and the PCIe card itself.

Speedtest and benchmark

Let’s get to one of the best parts of this review, using the card!

Unfortunately due to circumstances I won’t get in to, I only had access to a rack server to test the card. The server was running VMware vSphere and ESXi 6.5 U3.

After shutting down the server, installing the card, and powering on, you could see the NVMe SSD appearing as available to PCI Passthrough to the VMs. I enabled passthrough and restarted again. I then added the individual 4 NVME drives as PCI passthrough devices to the VM.

Picture of IOCREST IO-PEX40152 passthrough with NVMe to VMware guest VM
IO-PEX40152 PCI Passthrough on VMware vSphere and ESXi

Turning on the system, we are presented with the NVMe drives inside of the “Device Manager” on Windows Server 2016.

A screenshot of an IOCREST IO-PEX40152 presenting 4 Sabrent NVME to Windows Server 2016
IOCREST IO-PEX40152 presenting 4 Sabrent NVME to Windows Server 2016

Now that was easy! Everything’s working perfectly…

Now we need to go in to disk manager and create some volumes for some quick speed tests and benchmarks.

A screenshot of Windows Server 2016 Disk Manager with IOCREST IO-PEX40152 and Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME SSD
Windows Server 2016 Disk Manager with IOCREST IO-PEX40152 and Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME SSD

Again, no problems and very quick!

Let’s load up CrystalDiskMark and test the speed and IOPS!

Screenshot of CrystalDiskMark testing an IOCREST IO-PEX40152 and Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME SSD for speed
CrystalDiskMark testing an IOCREST IO-PEX40152 and Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME SSD
Screenshot of CrystalDiskMark testing IOPS on an IOCREST IO-PEX40152 and Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME SSD
CrystalDiskMark testing IOPS on an IOCREST IO-PEX40152 and Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME SSD

What’s interesting is that I was able to achieve much higher speeds using this card in an older system, than directly installing one of the SSDs in a new HP Z240 workstation. However, unfortunately due to CPU limitations (maxing the CPU out) of this server used above, I could not fully test, max out, or benchmark the IOPS on an individual SSD.

Additional Notes on the IO-PEX40152

Some additional notes I have on the IO-PEX40152:

The card works perfectly with VMware ESXi PCI passthrough when passing it through to a virtualized VM.

The card according to the specifications states a data transfer up to 1GB/sec, however I achieved over 3GB/sec using the Sabrent Rocket 4 NVME SSD.

While the specifications and features state it supports NVME spec 1.0 and 1.1, I don’t see why it wouldn’t support the newer specifications as it’s simply a PCIe switch which NVMe slots.

Conclusion

This is a fantastic card that you can use reliably if you have a system with a free x16 slot. Because of the fact it has a built in PCIe switch and doesn’t require PCIe bifurcation, you can confidently use it knowing it will work.

I’m looking forward to buying a couple more of these for some special applications and projects I have lined up, stay tuned for those!