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The Curious Case of the 12-pin Power Connector: It's Real and Coming with NVIDIA Ampere GPUs

Over the past few days, we've heard chatter about a new 12-pin PCIe power connector for graphics cards being introduced, particularly from Chinese language publication FCPowerUp, including a picture of the connector itself. Igor's Lab also did an in-depth technical breakdown of the connector. TechPowerUp has some new information on this from a well placed industry source. The connector is real, and will be introduced with NVIDIA's next-generation "Ampere" graphics cards. The connector appears to be NVIDIA's brain-child, and not that of any other IP- or trading group, such as the PCI-SIG, Molex or Intel. The connector was designed in response to two market realities - that high-end graphics cards inevitably need two power connectors; and it would be neater for consumers to have a single cable than having to wrestle with two; and that lower-end (<225 W) graphics cards can make do with one 8-pin or 6-pin connector.

The new NVIDIA 12-pin connector has six 12 V and six ground pins. Its designers specify higher quality contacts both on the male and female ends, which can handle higher current than the pins on 8-pin/6-pin PCIe power connectors. Depending on the PSU vendor, the 12-pin connector can even split in the middle into two 6-pin, and could be marketed as "6+6 pin." The point of contact between the two 6-pin halves are kept leveled so they align seamlessly.

PCI-Express Gen 6 Reaches Development Milestone, On Track for 2021 Rollout

The PCI-Express gen 6.0 specification reached an important development milestone, with the publication of its version 0.5 first-draft. This provides important pointers to PCI-SIG members on what features and design changes gen 6.0 hopes to bring, and what its all important number is - bandwidth. PCIe gen 6.0 quadruples per-lane bandwidth over gen 4.0 to 64 GT/s (double that of gen 5.0), resulting in bi-directional bandwidth of 256 GB/s in an x16 configuration.

The spec also introduces a new physical layer change, with PAM4 (pulse amplitude modulation) signaling replacing NRZ (non-return to zero), a key ingredient in the generational bandwidth doubling effort. Despite this, PCIe gen 6.0 retains backwards-compatibility with all older generations of PCIe, which could mean the PCIe slot on motherboards may not look any different. PCIe gen 6.0 also introduces FEC (forward error-correction), and has similar per-channel reach as PCIe gen 5.0. Our older article on Intel's proprietary CXL outlines a key feature of PCIe gen 5.0 besides its bandwidth doubling over gen 4.0 - scalability. Although targeting completion in 2021, it could take several more years for the technology to transcend enterprise computing segments and reach the client. PCI-SIG anticipates the need for gen 6.0 kind of bandwidth in the industry by 2025.

KIOXIA First to Deliver Enterprise and Data Center PCIe 4.0 U.3 SSDs

The PCI Express 4.0 specification was designed to double the performance of server and storage systems, pushing speeds up to 16.0 gigatransfers per second (GT/s) or 2 gigabits per second (Gb/s) throughput per lane, and driving new performance levels for cloud and enterprise applications. Today, KIOXIA America, Inc. (formerly Toshiba Memory America, Inc.) announced that its lineup of CM6 and CD6 Series PCIe 4.0 NVM Express (NVMe ) enterprise and data center solid state drives (SSDs) are now shipping to customers.

An established leader in developing PCIe and NVMe SSDs, KIOXIA delivers never-before-seen performance. KIOXIA was the first company to publicly demonstrate PCIe 4.0 SSDs and is now the first to ship these next-generation drives. The CM6 and CD6 Series SSDs are compliant to the latest NVMe specification, and include key features such as in-band NVMe-MI, persistent event log, namespace granularity, and shared stream writes. Additionally, both drives are SFF-TA-1001 conformant (also known as U.3), which allows them to be used in tri-mode enabled backplanes, which can accept SAS, SATA or NVMe SSDs.

KIOXIA PCIe 4.0 Enterprise NVMe SSDs Take Storage Performance to New Heights

KIOXIA America, Inc. (formerly Toshiba Memory America, Inc.), the U.S.-based subsidiary of KIOXIA Corporation, today announced that its lineup of PCIe 4.0 NVMeTM enterprise solid state drives (SSDs) has achieved PCI-SIG compliance for PCIe 4.0 and University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL) certification. KIOXIA's CM6 Series successfully passed interoperability tests at the August 2019 PCI-SIG Compliance Workshop - the first workshop to include official PCIe 4.0 specification tests. KIOXIA America will be on hand at Supercomputing 2019 later this month to showcase new levels of flash performance enabled by its CM6 Series SSDs.

The first company to publicly demonstrate PCIe 4.0 SSDs, KIOXIA has established itself as a leader in developing PCIe 4.0 NVM Express SSDs and continues to push the limits of flash storage performance. The CM6 Series brings planned performance improvements of 3x over its PCIe 3.0 predecessors and is 12x faster than SATA drives. KIOXIA's lineup of Gen4 PCIe SSDs also includes the CD6 Series, which is targeted to cloud and scale-out environments.

PCI-Express Gen 6.0 Specification to Finalize by 2021

With 64 Gbps bandwidth per lane, 256 Gbps in x4, and a whopping 1 Tbps in x16 (128 GB/s per direction), PCI-Express 6.0 will debut in 2021 as 5G adoption hits critical mass in markets across the globe, to support server nodes, high-bandwidth network infrastructure, and lighting fast I/O for HPC and AI applications. Development of the new standard is already underway, with the specification having achieved a pre-release version 0.3, according to the PCI-SIG, the body that develops and maintains the PCI IP.

Further development, prototyping, and testing of the standard will run through 2020 as drafts of the standard are dispatched to interested parties. With the specification published in 2021, the first devices implementing it could arrive the following year. Granted, very few devices need 1 Tbps bandwidth, but the exercise of doubling bandwidth every 3 or so years has its maximum impact on devices that only have wiring for one PCIe lane, and directly impacts bandwidth of other I/O specifications that are derived from PCIe, such as USB, Thunderbolt, CXL, etc.

Toshiba Memory America Charts Course for PCIe 4.0 SSDs

Toshiba Memory America, Inc. (TMA), the U.S.-based subsidiary of Toshiba Memory Corporation, participated in the PCI-SIG (Peripheral Component Interconnect Special Interest Group) Compliance Workshop #109 in Burlingame, California, where several prototype and engineering samples of the company's upcoming PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs underwent PCI-SIG FYI Gen 4 testing.

The fourth generation of the PCIe interface, PCIe 4.0, doubles available bandwidth for graphics cards, SSDs, Wi-Fi, and Ethernet cards. The new standard will enable SSDs in particular to provide much higher performance than previous PCIe 3.0 SSDs, especially sequential read performance. An early participant seeking to enable PCIe 4.0 technologies, Toshiba Memory leverages its technology leadership role and actively collaborates with PCI-SIG and other member companies to accelerate adoption of the new interface standard.

"We realized years ago that the future of flash storage would be built on the NVMe architecture," noted John Geldman, director, SSD Industry Standards for Toshiba Memory America, Inc. and a member of the NVM Express Board of Directors. "This new and faster PCIe standard will maximize performance capability - unlocking systems' full potential."

AMD 300-series and 400-series Motherboards to Lack PCIe Gen 4 with Ryzen 3000

This shouldn't really need to be spelled out, but AMD clarified that you can't have PCI-Express gen 4.0 running an upcoming Ryzen 3000 "Matisse" processor on older socket AM4 motherboards based on AMD 300-series and 400-series chipsets, and that the processor's PCIe root-complex will run at PCI-Express gen 3.0 speeds. AMD's official reason for this is that the older motherboards can't guarantee reliable signaling needed for PCI-Express gen 4.0 and hence the company decided to blanket-disable PCIe gen 4.0 for the older platforms. This statement was put out by Robert Hallock, senior technical marketing head for CPUs and APUs, on Reddit.

Unofficially, though, we believe there are technological barriers standing in the way of PCI-Express gen 4.0 on the older motherboards, the least of which are the lack of external PCIe gen 4.0-certified re-driver/equalizer components, and lane-switching on boards that split one x16 PEG link to two x8 links. There may be other less technical issues such as PCI-SIG certification for the older platforms. Intel faced a similar challenge with its 3rd generation Core "Ivy Bridge" processors, which introduced PCI-Express gen 3.0 to the mainstream desktop platform, and were backwards-compatible with Intel 6-series chipset (eg: Z68 Express). The older 6-series motherboards could only put out PCIe gen 2.0 with the newer processors.

PCI-SIG Achieves 32 GT/s with New PCI-Express 5.0 Specification

PCI-SIG today announced the release of PCI Express (PCIe ) 5.0 specification, reaching 32 GT/s transfer rates, while maintaining low power and backwards compatibility with previous technology generations. "New data-intensive applications are driving demand for unprecedented levels of performance," said Al Yanes, PCI-SIG Chairman and President. "Completing the PCIe 5.0 specification in 18 months is a major achievement, and it is due to the commitment of our members who worked diligently to evolve PCIe technology to meet the performance needs of the industry. The PCIe architecture will continue to stand as the de facto standard for high performance I/O for the foreseeable future."

"For 27 years, the PCI-SIG has continually delivered new versions of I/O standards that enable designers to accommodate the never-ending increases in bandwidth required for next generation systems, while preserving investments in prior generation interfaces and software," noted Nathan Brookwood, research fellow at Insight 64. "Over that period, peak bandwidth has increased from 133 MB/second (for the first 32-bit parallel version) to 32 GB/second (for the V4.0 by16 serial version), a 240X improvement. Wow! The new PCIe 5.0 standard doubles that again to 64 GB/second. Wow2. We have come to take this increased performance for granted, but in reality, it takes a coordinated effort across many members of the PCI-SIG to execute these transitions so seamlessly."

Intel Reveals the "What" and "Why" of CXL Interconnect, its Answer to NVLink

CXL, short for Compute Express Link, is an ambitious new interconnect technology for removable high-bandwidth devices, such as GPU-based compute accelerators, in a data-center environment. It is designed to overcome many of the technical limitations of PCI-Express, the least of which is bandwidth. Intel sensed that its upcoming family of scalable compute accelerators under the Xe band need a specialized interconnect, which Intel wants to push as the next industry standard. The development of CXL is also triggered by compute accelerator majors NVIDIA and AMD already having similar interconnects of their own, NVLink and InfinityFabric, respectively. At a dedicated event dubbed "Interconnect Day 2019," Intel put out a technical presentation that spelled out the nuts and bolts of CXL.

Intel began by describing why the industry needs CXL, and why PCI-Express (PCIe) doesn't suit its use-case. For a client-segment device, PCIe is perfect, since client-segment machines don't have too many devices, too large memory, and the applications don't have a very large memory footprint or scale across multiple machines. PCIe fails big in the data-center, when dealing with multiple bandwidth-hungry devices and vast shared memory pools. Its biggest shortcoming is isolated memory pools for each device, and inefficient access mechanisms. Resource-sharing is almost impossible. Sharing operands and data between multiple devices, such as two GPU accelerators working on a problem, is very inefficient. And lastly, there's latency, lots of it. Latency is the biggest enemy of shared memory pools that span across multiple physical machines. CXL is designed to overcome many of these problems without discarding the best part about PCIe - the simplicity and adaptability of its physical layer.

ASMedia to Continue as Chipset Supplier to AMD, But X570 an In-house Chipset

AMD's socket AM4 and socket TR4 chipsets are originally designed by ASMedia. With its "Zen" family of processors being full-fledged SoCs, the motherboard "chipset" only serves to increase connectivity, and ASMedia already holds certifications for key groups such as the PCI-SIG, USB-IF, SATA-IO, NVM-Express group, etc. It's being reported now that ASMedia will develop some, if not all 500-series chipsets, with the exception of X570. The X570 will be an in-house design by AMD, which will use its own foundry partners (likely GloFo 14 nm) to manufacture it. This presents AMD with an opportunity to harden it against vulnerabilities, and have greater control over pricing, not to mention overcoming key design shortfalls of "Promontory," such as downstream PCIe connectivity.

This flies in the face of speculation that AMD would discontinue ASMedia's supply of chipset, especially in the wake of the "Chimera" vulnerability affecting "Promontory" 300-series and 400-series chipsets. The supposedly security-hardened 500-series chipset will feature PCI-Express gen 4.0 certification. What this means is that the chipset bus between the AM4/TR4 SoC and the chipset will be PCI-Express 4.0 x4 (64 Gbps), translating to double the bandwidth. It remains to be seen if the downstream PCIe lanes put out by the chipset are gen 4.0, too. Current 400-series chipsets continue to put out stale gen 2.0 lanes, compensated for by additional gen 3.0 lanes put out by the SoC. Sources also mention that ASMedia-supplied chipsets will only hit the market toward the end of 2019, which means AMD X570 could be the only 500-series chipset option between the mid-2019 launch of 3rd generation Ryzen, and late-2019. You should be able to run these processors on older socket AM4 motherboards via BIOS updates, though.

SD Express is a New Memory Card Standard That Leverages PCIe and NVMe

The SD Association announced today SD Express which adds the popular PCI Express and NVMe interfaces to the legacy SD interface. The PCIe interface delivering a 985 megabytes per second (MB/s) maximum data transfer rate and the NVMe upper layer protocol enables advanced memory access mechanism, enabling a new world of opportunities for the popular SD memory card. In addition, the maximum storage capacity in SD memory cards grows from 2 TB with SDXC to 128 TB with the new SD Ultra Capacity (SDUC) card. These innovations maintain the SDA's commitment to backward compatibility and are part of the new SD 7.0 specification.

"SD Express' use of popular PCIe and NVMe interfaces to deliver faster transfer speeds is a savvy choice since both protocols are widely used in the industry today and creates a compelling choice for devices of all types," said Mats Larsson, Senior Market Analyst at Futuresource. "The SD Association has a robust ecosystem with a strong history of integrating SD innovations and has earned the trust of consumers around the world."

AMD 400-series Chipset Surfaces on PCI-SIG, PCIe 3.0 General Purpose Confirmed

AMD's second-generation Ryzen processors, which debut some time in Q1-2018, will be accompanied by the company's new 400-series motherboard chipset, even though they are expected to work with existing socket AM4 motherboards based on 300-series chipsets (with BIOS updates). The 400-series Promontory chipset surfaced on the PCIe Integrators List of PCI-SIG, the standards governing body of the PCI bus (which also oversees PCIe specifications development).

The listing seems to confirm that 400-series chipset will feature PCI-Express gen 3.0 general purpose lanes. These are downstream PCIe lanes put out by the chipset, to run the various external onboard controllers on the motherboard, and usually wired to the x1 and x4 PCIe slots. The current 300-series chipset only features up to 8 PCIe gen 2.0 general purpose lanes, and that was seen as a drawback. AMD Ryzen socket AM4 processors put out additional gen 3.0 lanes besides the 16 lanes allocated to PEG (one x16 or two x8, physically x16 slots); and 4 lanes serving as chipset bus. These additional gen 3.0 lanes typically drive a 32 Gb/s M.2 slot. With 400-series chipset bringing gen 3.0 general purpose lanes, one can expect newer socket AM4 motherboards with more than one 32 Gb/s M.2 slot (one from the SoC, another from the chipset).

PCI-SIG: PCIe 4.0 in 2017, PCIe 5.0 in 2019

After years of continued innovation in PCIe's bandwidth, we've hit somewhat of a snag in recent times; after all, the PCIe 3.0 specification has been doing the rounds on our motherboards ever since 2010. PCI-SIG, the 750-member strong organization that's in charge of designing the specifications for the PCIe bus, attribute part of this delay to industry stagnation: PCIe 3.0 has simply been more than enough, bandwidth-wise, for many generations of hardware now. Only recently, with innovations in storage mediums and innovative memory solutions, such as NVMe SSDs and Intel's Optane, are we starting to hit the ceiling on what PCIe 3.0 offers. Add to that the increased workload and bandwidth requirements of the AI field, and the industry now seems to be eager for an upgrade, with some IP vendors even having put out PCIe 4.0-supporting controllers and PHYs into their next-generation products already - although at the incomplete 0.9 revision.
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