For high-capacity storage needs, the average consumer turns to hard disk drives (HDDs). They’re generally not as speedy or reliable as SSDs, but they’re a heck of a lot cheaper. The Apex Storage X21 add-in card (AIC) currently making its rounds on the Internet isn’t about using the most cost-effective storage, though. Instead, the expansion card, which looks to be a debut product from a not-yet-known storage company, is for people or businesses willing to spend what it takes to stock the card with up to 21 8TB NVMe PCIe 4.0 M.2 SSDs.
Tom’s Hardware first spotted the website for the X21 on Sunday, and Henry Hill, in engineering and sales at the company, confirmed the product to Ars Technica via email. He said the product will cost $2,800, with discounts available for volume purchases, which will ship by Q2. Samples are already available to volume customers, he said, and consumer shipments will start “before the end of 2023.”
MIke Spicer, listed as Apex Storage’s founder and CEO, launched a Kickstarter in 2021 with a concept that’s similar to the X21. Instead of 21 M.2 SSDs, the Apex Storage Scaler claimed to support a modest 16 SSDs. It’s unclear how many, if any, of these cards reached backers. However, in July, Spicer hinted at a “V2” of the product on Twitter.
The X21’s product page says the AIC works in a standard PCIe 4.0 x16 slot. Images show 10 slots and a heatsink inside a pair of printed circuit boards (PCBs).
There are also 11 slots on the PCB’s exterior. The card is reportedly full-height and full-length and supports QLC, TLC, MLC, and Intel Optane drives. In terms of operating systems, there’s support for Windows 10, 11, and Server, plus Linux.
“The card is PCIe fanout, so RAID support would be provided via software or third-party hardware solution, like Graid,” Hill told Ars Technica.
Apex Storage is also looking forward to the AIC being able to support up to 336TB should 16TB M.2 2280 SSDs come to market.
Speaking of forward-looking, this component isn’t technically future-proofed, since it doesn’t support PCIe 5.0 (it’s backward-compatible with PCIe 3.0). But while the X21 doesn’t target budget-prioritizing users who would opt for HDDs, using PCIe 5.0 SSDs would be even more prohibitively expensive. The AIC’s cooling requirements would also increase. As it stands, the X21 requires 400 LFM (linear feet per minute) airflow.
In terms of performance, Apex Storage is claiming sequential read and write speeds of up to 30.5 and 26.5GBps, respectively, while a multi-card setup claims 107GBps and 70GBps, respectively. Apex Storage’s website also points to 7.5 million IOPS random reads and 6.2 million IOPS random writes with one card, with those figures expanding to 20 million and 10 million, respectively, in a multi-card configuration.
Apex Storage sees the X21 being used for a NAS or SAN array, 8K video editing, artificial intelligence and machine-learning training, and other use cases, including markedly enterprise ones. Considering the high price of 21 PCIe 4.0 SSDs, the company can make a more realistic plea to businesses than individuals. Filling the AIC could cost upward of $21,000 for a regular consumer, plus the price of the card itself. Alternative products, like the HighPoint SSD7540, can run you about $1,099 but have smaller max capacities (64TB in the SSD7540’s case).
Without any previous products, it’s hard to know if this self-described “PCIe AIC design firm” based in Utah will be able to meet its promises. But it’ll be interesting to find out.