Sabrent's new NVMe SSD raises plenty of questions about DirectStorage

Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus G on a colourful background.
(Image credit: Sabrent)

Microsoft's DirectStorage API is the most hotly anticipated release on the storage calendar. It's the missing ingredient that will unlock the true potential of our NVMe SSDs to allow our games to load speedily—in as little as a second, according to the Forespoken devs. The question is, will the wealth of PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs that are already out there support the storage API? A question that has just got a whole boatload more complicated with the release of the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus G.

Sabrent is pitching this new SSD as a DirectStorage drive. It works as a normal speedy NVMe SSD of course, but this one is focused on gaming. The info page for the new drives has lines like: 'Never let your personal gaming adventure be cut short or hampered by glitchy playback', and, 'Sustain high levels of performance throughout your long gaming session, without ever missing a beat.' 

The big change over previous SSDs is that the Rocket 4 Plus G features new O2 GO firmware, which has been 'built from the ground up' to make the most of DirectStorage and has been combined with new 1,600MT/S 3D TLC NAND flash. This should make this a speedy drive for sure, although Sabrent is happy at this point to simply state that it manages over 7GB/s, which is in line with what the current Rocket 4 Plus offers.

This is all fine and well for the release of a new drive, but it does raise plenty of questions about what is required by Microsoft DirectStorage. Will existing PCIe 4.0 drives, such as the Rocket 4 Plus, not support the API? Will they need firmware updates? 

We reached out to Sabrent's Sr. Technical Marketing Specialist, William Harmon, for answers, and he got straight back to us:

PC Gamer: There doesn't appear to be any change in the throughput figures over the Rocket 4 Plus, is it the same?

William Harmon: These new SSDs operate at 1600MT while most others are at 1200MT. The new Rocket 4 Plus G is faster.

Will the current Rocket 4 Plus or any other drives be getting a firmware update?

No new Firmware on the Rocket 4 Plus’s. The new Rocket 4 Plus G has some additional hardware changes.

Is this new firmware needed for DirectStorage to work? Or just work better? Is it down to supporting sustained transfers?

Yes, the new Firmware is needed for DirectStorage to work.

This sounds like the Rocket 4 Plus doesn't support DirectStorage. Surely that's not the case?

It is possible to flash firmware to meet the DirectStorage requirements. However, the results of that may not be that great. We opted to reform our hardware and Firmware to not only make the Rocket 4 Plus class better but to take better advantage of DirectStorage abilities.

Remember I said most SSDs on the market now run at 1200MT/s as our Rocket 4 Plus currently does also. Our new G version runs faster at 1600MT/s making it even faster than a normal Rocket 4 Plus and able to handle DirectStorage even faster.

In our testing, a normal flashed Rocket 4 Plus falls behind the new G.

We have made hardware changes to improve the Rocket 4 Plus to better take advantage of DirectStorage and not just that, be a better performer for games that do not use DS.

Finally, does the G stand for gaming?

Yes, the G stands for Gaming… but it really is just a regular SSD that anyone can use, plus it's faster at 1600MT. Benchmarks will be out today I believe.

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(Image credit: Future)

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This reads like the Rocket 4 Plus G is the only drive that really supports DirectStorage. And while it may well be the case that it is optimized for the technology, Sabrent can't really be suggesting that all the other PCIe 4.0 drives out there simply won't work. 

The fact that DirectStorage works fine on the Xbox Series S/X shouldn't be overlooked either. That console has a customized NVMe SSD connected over a PCIe 4.0 x2 interface, capable of hitting 2.4GB/s, or 4.8GB/s of uncompressed data. This is why we've been focusing on 5GB/s for PC NVMe SSDs where possible.

That we may need to flash existing drives to actually use DirectStorage isn't the end of the world, especially as SSD toolkits tend to be quite easy to use. My only fear here is that it could lead to some drives needing to be formatted—not exactly ideal.

Essentially, my take on this is that Sabrent is over-selling the benefits of its new drive a little bit when it comes to Microsoft DirectStorage. While I'm willing to believe it's going to be better than some existing drives, I don't believe that it'll be the only option when games start actually using the technology on PC. That simply doesn't make sense.

Of course, what we really need at this point is for Microsoft to explicitly state what the hardware requirements are for DirectStorage.

Alan Dexter

Alan has been writing about PC tech since before 3D graphics cards existed, and still vividly recalls having to fight with MS-DOS just to get games to load. He fondly remembers the killer combo of a Matrox Millenium and 3dfx Voodoo, and seeing Lara Croft in 3D for the first time. He's very glad hardware has advanced as much as it has though, and is particularly happy when putting the latest M.2 NVMe SSDs, AMD processors, and laptops through their paces. He has a long-lasting Magic: The Gathering obsession but limits this to MTG Arena these days.