Computex 2017: Intel unleashes NVMe RAID for X299

The unveiling of Intel's X299 chipset has made a big splash here at Computex 2017. The major motherboard manufacturers are all aflutter showing off all the RGB LEDs—ahem, compelling features that set their X299 boards apart. Buried in all the noise are hints of new RAID functionality that Intel developed to accompany X299. The company doesn't seem to have directly disseminated any information about what it is or how it works, but we've managed to cobble together a rough idea by talking to Intel's motherboard partners.

For starters, the new RAID functionality is called Virtual Raid On CPU, or VROC. Users dropping high-speed NVMe storage into M.2 and spare PCIe slots can select arbitrary subsets of those drives to create a blazing-fast RAID 0 array. Here's where the waters get muddied a bit. Some Asus guy with pretty solid storage credentials who goes by the Gasior surname asserts that those arrays are bootable. However, Gigabyte told us that VROC depends on Intel's RSTe driver, which is software you run on top of Windows. These two claims would seem to be at odds, at least at first sight.

VROC header on EVGA's X299 FTW K

At the end of the day, it would appear that Intel's out to make a quick buck (my words, not the manufacturers'). X299 boards may optionally include a VROC header on the PCB. Support for RAID 0 NVMe arrays is free, but you have to shell out $99 for a physical VROC key to plug into the header to unlock RAID 1 and RAID 10. For RAID 5, there's a more expensive key (we heard both $199 and $299 are possible). These keys aren't being channeled through motherboard manufacturers, so as far as we know Intel will be selling them directly.

Since the implementation details of VROC are nowhere to be found, we don't know whether the key contains any real mojo or not. All signs point to it merely being a sort of physical DRM. We'll keep you posted as we learn more.

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