For high-capacity storage needs, the average consumer turns to hard disk drives (HDDs). They are generally not as fast or reliable as SSDs, but they are quite a bit cheaper. However, the Apex Storage X21 add-in card (AIC) currently making the rounds on the Internet is not about using the most cost-effective storage space. Instead, the expansion card, which appears to be a debut product from an as-yet-unknown 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 site 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 that 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 similar to the X21. Instead of 21 M.2 SSDs, the Apex Storage Scaler claimed to support a modest 16 SSDs. It is unclear how many, if any, of these cards reached the backers. But in July, Spicer hinted at a “V2” of the product Twitter.
The X21’s product page says that the AIC works in a standard PCIe 4.0 x16 slot. Pictures show 10 slots and a heatsink inside a pair of printed circuit boards (PCBs).
There are also 11 slots on the outside of the circuit board. The card is said to be full height and full length and supports QLC, TLC, MLC and Intel Optane drives. In terms of operating systems, there is support for Windows 10, 11 and Server plus Linux.
“The card is PCIe fanout, so RAID support will be provided via software or third-party hardware solution, like Graid,” Hill told Ars Technica.
Apex Storage also expects the AIC to support up to 336TB if 16TB M.2 2280 SSDs come to market.
Speaking of future-proofing, this component is not technically future-proof as it does not support PCIe 5.0 (it is backwards compatible with PCIe 3.0). But while the X21 isn’t aimed at budget-conscious users who would opt for HDDs, using PCIe 5.0 SSDs would be even more expensive. AIC’s cooling requirements would also increase. As it stands, the X21 requires 400 LFM (linear feet per minute) of airflow.
In terms of performance, Apex Storage claims sequential read and write speeds of up to 30.5 and 26.5 GBps respectively, while a multi-card setup claims 107 GBps and 70 GBps 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 numbers 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 cases. Given the high price of 21 PCIe 4.0 SSDs, the company may be making a more realistic plea to businesses than individuals. Filling the AIC can cost up to $21,000 for the average consumer, plus the cost of the card itself. Alternative products, like the HighPoint SSD7540, can run you around $1,099, but have less maximum capacity (64TB in the SSD7540’s case).
With no previous products, it’s hard to know if this self-described “PCIe AIC design company” based in Utah will be able to deliver on its promises. But it will be interesting to find out.