SSD manufacturers have rapidly run into a tricky problem - namely the SATA 6Gbps interface. The rapid advances in NAND and controller tech must have surprised the most optimistic of SSD designers, and while old Lucifer himself will be limbering up for the final reckoning before the performance of spinning disks threaten the 6Gbps interface, some mainstream SSDs are close to flooding the interface right now.

High-performance drives are bumping their heads on the SATA ceiling, so what's a manufacturer to do? Well, there are a couple of options, both of which are based around the PCIe bus of the motherboard.

There is the hybrid of SATA and PCIe, unimaginatively called the SATA Express interface, which probably won't see commercial sampling until around 2014 at the earliest. It's only just begun its road to ratification by the SATA-IO (the Serial ATA International Organisation), but SATA Express is specified to deliver up to 1GB/s via PCIe 2.0, or up to 2GB/s using PCIe 3.0. The interface also has the promise of delivering up to 16GB/s in the future.

The other option, and the one that KingSpec has used to great effect before, is to build a drive on a PCB that fits into an existing PCIe slot on your motherboard. OCZ has also been using this method for quite a while with its RevoDrive and RevoDrive X2 drives (now in their third generation), which are aimed primarily at the workstation market using a PCIe x4 connection. Its Z-Drive and VeloDrive ranges are targeted at the enterprise segment, and come supporting PCIe x8.

How much?

KingSpec - a Chinese company formed in 2005 - has been in the flash-based storage game since its conception, but its products have only recently become available in the UK. Like OCZ's Z-Drive and VeloDrive ranges, KingSpec's MultiCore drives are aimed at the server segment, but as with most things in the computer world, if you have a large enough wallet these distinctions become somewhat blurred (Jeremy is still running a £1,400 Xeon in his X79 machine, for example).

We reviewed the original KingSpec MultiCore 1TB drive not so long ago and, although it offered great performance (at a price), we wondered how fast a drive would be with a more up-to-date controller and some better NAND.

The original drive was running the last generation of SandForce memory controllers designed for the SATA 3Gbps interface, and we were keen to get our techy mitts on an upgrade. Well, we didn't have to wait long, as such a drive is now among us in the form of the MultiCore MC1S81M1T.

It's another 1TB capacity drive with an equally large price tag. The MC1S81 family also features two other cards. These include a 500GB model, the M500, which will set you back a mere £824. If that's knocked you to the floor, don't get up yet as there's also a 2TB model, the M2T, costing (and you really had better sit down for this) £3,599. The M1T's £1,700 price tag looks quite reasonable by comparison.

It's a 170mm-long PCB fitted with eight of KingSpec's own 120GB mSATA drives (four on the front of the board and four on the rear). Each of these mSATA drives uses four 32GB 25nm MLC NAND chips, and has its own LSI SandForce SF-2281 controller. Yep, that's eight slices of SandForce's finest pumping data around your machine.

The whole shooting match is looked after by more LSI SandForce silicon sitting under a heatsink at one end of the board: an LSI SAS2008 SAS controller. That's a PCIe to eight-port 6Gbps SAS/SATA controller with integrated RAID, as if you didn't know.

Just like its predecessor, this card uses a PCIe x8 interface. All of those interesting numbers, names and chips add up to a blisteringly fast drive.

Benchmarks

Sequential read performance
AS SSD: Megabytes per second: Higher is better

KINGSPEC MULTICORE MC1S81M1T: 2,122
KINGSPEC MULTICORE 1TB: 1,475
OCZ REVODRIVE 3 X2 480GB: 767

Sequential write performance
AS SSD: Megabytes per second: Higher is better

KINGSPEC MULTICORE MC1S81M1T: 989
KINGSPEC MULTICORE 1TB: 370
OCZ REVODRIVE 3 X2 480GB: 475

4K random write performance
AS SSD: Megabytes per second: Higher is better

KINGSPEC MULTICORE MC1S81M1T: 59
KINGSPEC MULTICORE 1TB: 53
OCZ REVODRIVE 3 X2 480GB: 69

4K random read performance
AS SSD: Megabytes per second: Higher is better

KINGSPEC MULTICORE MC1S81M1T: 28.91
KINGSPEC MULTICORE 1TB: 21.9
OCZ REVODRIVE 3 X2 480GB: 25.9

File transfer performance
100GB mixed folder: Seconds: Quicker is better

KINGSPEC MULTICORE MC1S81M1T: 202
KINGSPEC MULTICORE 1TB: 420
OCZ REVODRIVE 3 X2 480GB: 600

How fast?

If the original was mindboggling quick, the boggle will continue as this drive is even faster. The quoted sustained read/write performance for the MC1S81M1T is 2GB/s in each direction. Yes, that's right, 2GB/s, and even these astonishing figures turn out to be a tad conservative when the card is put through its paces by the ATTO benchmark.

How do you feel about a read score of 2,843MB/s (or 2.8GB if you like more rounded numbers), and a write score of 2,553MB/s? The previous MultiCore managed reads of 2,150MB/s and writes of 1,855MB/s, which neatly shows the difference between the first generation SandForce controller and the current SF-2281 chip used by the MC1S81 series.

When it comes to these headline figures, the OCZ RevoDrive X3 loses out to both the KingSpec drives as it uses a PCIe x4 interface compared to the higher bandwidth PCIe x8 interface of the two KingSpec units.

As we're dealing with SandForce controllers, the question of the differences in performance between incompressible and compressible data inevitably rears its ugly head. As we can see from the AS SSD benchmark, which uses incompressible data as standard, the sequential read performance drops a little to 2,122MB/s and the write performance, predictably, drops off even more to 989MB/s. That's still an impressive result, especially given that the previous MultiCore offered half the write performance this updated version gives. Writing at almost 1GB every second is really nothing to be sniffed at.

Where this PCIe drive falls down, much like its older sibling, is in the 4K random results. Neither of the KingSpec drives is particularly good at dealing with small bitty files, which sadly make up most of what it will be chucking around in general operating system use. But this is a symptom of this big drive being targeted at the enterprise market, not the home and consumer sector. The environment these PCIe drives are aimed at mainly calls for large files to be shifted around as fast as possible. Really fast, in fact.

Synthetic benchmarks only tell us part of the story, though. Real life tests are where the KingSpec drive really shines. Copying a 100GB folder of mixed files and file types to another folder on the drive took three minutes 22 seconds. That's over four minutes faster than the previous MultiCore drive, never mind a standard high performance SSD drive. A standard 480GB SSD took 10 minutes in comparison, if you're interested. Copying across a 17GB Blu-ray image took a mere 36 seconds, while a 4GB image took a blink-and-you'll-miss-it eight seconds.

We did run into an unexpected glitch while trying to load Windows on the drive, though. It kept freezing with error messages during the install, and it wasn't apparent what was happening until we pulled the card out of the slot and inadvertently touched the heatsink covering the LSI SAS controller. It was hot - very hot - and that heat was causing the problems.

Once we'd installed it in a chassis with more airflow, there were no more problems. It loaded Windows and ran very demanding benchmarks without a murmur, so if you're tempted by this drive, just make sure you have good case ventilation.

When we reviewed the earlier version of the MultiCore drive, we wondered aloud just how fast it would be with a decent controller and maybe some good NAND, and we now have the answer. Although LSI SandForce's SF2281 is getting a bit old in the tooth, bunging eight of them in a drive controlled by a SAS controller does make for a some quite astounding throughput rates.

If you need large files transferred very, very quickly and have a huge budget, there really is only one game in town. There's no point in discussing the relative value of the KingSpec drive; it really is only for those wanting the very fastest, in the same vein as the GTX Titan and the Sandy Bridge E processors.

If you want the holy trinity of over-specced kit, this KingSpec SSD will ably take care of all your mini-supercomputer storage needs.