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Weisswurstsepp
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The truth about z620/z820 NVMe SSD boot

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One of the questions that seem to come up regularly is if a HP z620 workstation can boot from a NVMe SSD, and the often touted answer is that it can't without additional tools or modifying the BIOS.

 

I now want to point out that this answer is NO LONGER CORRECT!

 

While it is true that the z620 (as well as its bigger brother z820) didn't support NVME boot when they were released, HP has added NVME boot into of the later BIOS versions (starting with BIOS 3.84) so that the z620/820 could support Gen2 z Turbo Drives which use NVMe SSDs (G1 used PCIe SSDs), presumably so they could use Gen2 drives as replacement for failed Gen1 drives (adding NVMe support was probably cheaper than keeping separate stock for Gen1 and Gen2 drives). As a result, a z620/z820 updated with the latest BIOS (which currently is version 3.95A) will boot fine from most M.2 and U.2 NVMe drives as long as the machine is in UEFI mode.

 

I tested a number of NVMe SSDs from Sabrent (M.2), Micron (M.2 and U.2) and intel (U.2) in my z620, and the only one which the machine didn't boot from was a 4TB intel P4500 with speciality firmware (HPE/Facebook). All the others booted fine under Windows 8.1/10 and Linux (RHEL, SUSE),  with either 512 byte or 4k sector sizes (both worked fine). I tested the same drives in a system known to not have NVMe boot support (Dell Optiplex XE2) and none of these drives were bootable there, which shows these drives don't just boot because they have a special boot ROM (CSM) - in which case they would have booted in the Dell as well!

 

I've been running NVMe boot drives in z620/z820 for over a year now, and currently run a 3.84TB Micron 9200 U.2 NVMe SSD in 4k mode on a U.2-to-PCIe adapter in my personal z620 running Windows 10. 

 

The reason I posted this was that I still found threads from this year (2020) compiling a long list of steps one supposedly must to do to be able from NVME, which is a complete waste of time when there is now direct NVMe support.

 

Hopefully this information finds people looking for information regarding NVMe in z620/820 before the stumble upon the outdated information that is still promoted by other members.

 

Update:

It seems this thread has turned into a hot mess with lots of speculation and spread of false/incorrect/outdated information some clarification is probably required:

 

1. NVMe boot support *only* works if the machine is in UEFI mode *and* legacy support for storage is *disabled*! However, if you have a drive with UEFI CSM (like the Samsung SSD 970 Pro) then legacy support must be enabled for it to work as boot drive.

 

2. Boot support is limited to NVMe 1.1. This means that drives which are not backwards compatible with NVMe 1.1 (which includes most newer consumer-grade SSDs) will *not* work as boot drives! 

 

3. Sector size is important, some drives boot in 4k mode (which is preferred for NVMe drives) while others will only do so when set to 512byte mode. 

 

4. Namespaces - many enterprise SSDs support namespaces (a way to partition up a physical drive into virtual drives). For such a drive to be able to boot in zx20 machines there should only be a single namespace (usually '0') for the whole drive, configured in a standard 512k or 4k partition. This means if you purchase a 2nd hand enterprise drive then you have to pay attention to how it's configured, and preferably erase all namespaces and then create a new one with the appropriate settings. 

 

It should be remembered that the level of support for NVMe drives in the zx20 is not the same as in it's successor (zx40) or any other modern PC, it's a retrofit of basic NVMe 1.1 boot support which presents certain limitations (Apple did the same with the old Mac Pro 5,1 from 2012 where NVMe support was retrofitted with the last firmware 144.0.0.0, in terms of boot support is it's as picky as the zx20). Later NVMe versions introduced a series of changes to how a drive communicates with the host and other things which affect booting, and especially consumer-grade drives are usually designed around the latest standard with little to no backward compatibility. 

 

So if you expect that you can just go ahead and buy the latest consumer-grade NVMe SSD and it will just work fine as boot drive in a zx20 then you'll very likely end up disappointed. My recommendation is to stick with enterprise-grade NVMe drives from Micron which often go for modest amounts of money on ebay. 

 

Over the longer term it probably would probably make sense to collect a list of drives that are known to work/not work, so I'll make a start (if anyone has tested other drives feel free to send me a message and I'll ad them to the list here!).

 

List of drives known to WORK:

 

Enterprise drives:

  • Micron P9200 - boots just fine fine in 4k mode (512byte mode not tested)
  • Micron P9300 - boots just fine in 4k mode (512byte mode not tested)
  • intel SSD DC P3500/P3600/P3700 - boots fine in 4k mode (512byte mode not tested)

 

List of drives showing MIXED RESULTS:

 

Consumer drives:

  • Sabrent Rocket 1TB - booted fine when set to 4k sectors, however refused to boot after subsequent change of sector size using the Sabrent SSD tool even when set back to 4k sectors
  • HP EX900/920 - some variants seem to work while others don't, however since these are not actually made by HP but by some 3rd party vendor which sells different variants under that label it's difficult to say which specimen works and which doesn't

 

List of drives known to NOT WORK:

 

Enterprise drives:

  • HGST/WDC Ultrastar DC SN200 - doesn't boot in zx20 but works as data drive; this drive can be difficult even in modern systems (could be a firmware issue however since WDC doesn't make firmware updates publicly available it can't be verified if a newer firmware would solve the issue)
  • intel P4500 (HP Specialty Drive with Facebook specific firmware) - doesn't boot, works as data drive

Consumer drives:

  • Samsung EVO/EVO PRO - don't boot but work as data drives

 

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Brian1965
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You didn't by any chance test any of the Samsung EVO/Pro NVMe drives did you? e.g. 970 EVO Plus, etc. Excellent post by the way and quite informative.

 

Can you post a bit more specific details on the NVMe drives that you tested please, (models, drive capacity), and what M.2/U.2 PCIe adapter cards you used? I need to replace my older generation 256GB Samsung SM951 AHCI M.2 boot/OS drive, as I'm quickly running out of space. Knowing which NVMe drives will work as a boot drive in the Z620 is a major help. 

 

 

 

HP Z620 - Liquid Cooled E5-1680v2 @4.7GHz / 64GB Hynix PC3-14900R 1866MHz / GTX1080Ti FE 11GB / Quadro P2000 5GB / Samsung 256GB PCIe M.2 256GB AHCI / Passmark 9.0 Rating = 7147 / CPU 17461 / 2D 1019 / 3D 14464 / Mem 3153 / Disk 15451 / Single Threaded 2551
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Mr_Raven
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@Brian1965 wrote:

You didn't by any chance test any of the Samsung EVO/Pro NVMe drives did you? e.g. 970 EVO Plus, etc. Excellent post by the way and quite informative.

 

Can you post a bit more specific details on the NVMe drives that you tested please, (models, drive capacity), and what M.2/U.2 PCIe adapter cards you used? I need to replace my older generation 256GB Samsung SM951 AHCI M.2 boot/OS drive, as I'm quickly running out of space. Knowing which NVMe drives will work as a boot drive in the Z620 is a major help. 


Posting from my other account now.

 

I did not try Samsung (the EVO/PRO drives have low TBW ratings, are comparatively expensive, and Samsung had a number of annoying bugs in their firmwares over the years), however some of their drives requires non-standard NVMe drivers to work properly, and these drives are unlikely to work in the z620 as boot drive (they don't work as boot drive in many other first gen NVMe systems like the original Apple Mac Pro). 

 

The same is also true for drives which come with OEM firmware, i.e. HPE, Dell, Lenovo or similar re-branded SSDs. Some work, other's don't, and in the case of Dell updating the firmware on a non-PowerEdge system is a PITA so I'd recommend to stay away from OEM drives completely. 

 

What worked:

- intel SSD DC P3500, P3600 and P3700 Series in various capacities (all retail drives with standard intel firmware, not OEM) 

- HP EX920 512GB and 1TB M.2 drives, which worked fine in the HP z Turbo Drive adapter (where they replaced the old 256GB PCIe SSD). 

- Sabrent Rocket 1TB M.2

- Micron 9200 and 9300 U.2 SSDs in various capacities (all with standard Micron firmware)

 

There were some other drives I tried over the years which I can't remember (and I can't find my notes). 

 

I'm mostly using Micron 9200 and 9300 drives as they are very fast, offer a range of capacities up to 15TB, and have high PBW ratings. They are also reasonably priced for enterprise drives. However, they tend to get pretty warm so they need some cooling airflow. The intel drives run a lot cooler and work fine even in uncooled U.2 quick swap bays.

 

As to U.2 to PCI adapters, I used a wide range from cheap no-name to StarTech or Icy Dock and all worked fine. Which isn't surprising as there is no electronics on these adapters, they are merely converting the physical connector format. 

 

teppichtasche
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I run a samsung 970 evo 1TB in a Z620 v2 as a boot drive. Bios version is J61 v03.96. But I still have to run clover on a tiny partion on my 1st (old) sata ssd. The process of upgrading to the 970 evo was relatively easy compared to all the steps described in earlyer posts.

 

These were my steps:

- plug the 970 evo on an inexpensive adapter into slot #16 (pcie 8x) and format it

- clone the existing ssd on sata port #1 to the 970 evo (Samsung cloning tool)

- format the old sata ssd in a second pc with clover*

- put the old ssd back into the z620 on its sata port and boot

- create a partion on the old ssd to use the rest of the space on it.

 

*copy NvmExpressDxe.efi from \EFI\CLOVER\drivers\off to \EFI\CLOVER\drivers\UEFI

 

When I remove the ssd with the small clover partition from the sata port, the system won't boot.

 

The performance of the 970 EVO is really great.

 

 

 

 

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Mr_Raven
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30 29 3 9
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Yes, that's what many people do. It's a crutch required to use PCIe/NVMe SSDs as boot drives on systems that don't support booting from them. 

 

But the point is that the z620/820 actually do support PCIe/NMVe booting, and the reason it doesn't work with Samsung is because of their crap firmware in their consumer drives. Lots of other systems which support PCIe/NVMe SSD boot have problems with these Samsung SSDs. 

 

Considering that the Samsung EVO/Pro SSDs are neither the fastest nor the most reliable SSDs (their write endurance is pretty poor, too) I'd rather use something else than going through the mess of clover just for circumventing the flaws of a Samsung SSD. 

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DGroves
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Misinformation like the above keeps getting posted 

 

the HP z620/820 systems will NOT boot any current nvme device as HP never added the required nvme code to the bios

 

the HP bios's are checksumd/protected against modifications, this is why modded bios that attempt to add the missing code fail to install during a bios update due to a invalid checksum..... currently there is no known way around this short of a bios programer and physical bios chip replacement using a modded rom

 

the only known nvme ssd that could boot on a z800/z820 or z600/z620 was the samsung 950 pro which had the missing nvme boot code included in it's firmware (this ssd is no longer in production)

 

the samsung ahci variants  of the xp941/sm951 will not work in the z600/z800 but do work in the z620/z820 systems

 

the only other bootable SSD for these workstations is the Seagate nytro warpdrive 400/800 GB pci-e cards, but these require addon cooling in the z620 and possibly the z600 as they were meant for servers with 200lfm cooling

 

i personally own z820 systems and have tested many different storage devices personally so i do know what i'm talking about

 

"SDH" who also postes here has experience with the z420/620 and z400/600 systems and if he reads this post will most likely confirm what i have posted above 

 

if you want a bootable nvme drive then the only way to currently do so is with software using clover or DUET/REFIND which i recommend over clover

 

and BTW bios 3.84 is the release that added bootable support for the HP Z TURBO Card which is the non nvme variant that uses AHCI based SSD's (NOT NVME SSD'S)

 

 

Mr_Raven
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DGroves, the only person who spreads misinformation is you. The z620 on my desk which as a only drive uses a Micron 9200 U.2 NVMe SSD alone shows how misguided your overly long and incorrect post is. While this may have been correct some five years ago, it no longer is.

 

Because despite your insistence, the fact remains that HP z620/820 using the current, unmodified BIOS are definitely able to boot from NVMe SDSDs as described in the first message of this thread. You may not believe so but that doesn't change reality. 

 

So please stop spreading your outdated and incorrect information as you are doing everyone a dis-service.  

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DGroves
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it would be nice to see a nvme drive booting in a z620/z820,...............

 

could you please post pictures of the windows  "disk management" screen of your C/D drives

 

and also the device manager screen showing the "storage controller" attached devices along with the attached  "Disk Drives"

 

and the installed cpu's

 

and if it's not to much trouble could you post a pic of your bios screen showing the windows "boot Manager" section

 

this will allow users on this forum to see that what you say is correct

 

 

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Mr_Raven
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SDH
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DGroves.... I run these workstations on Legacy settings and hope you could chime in on whether you are encouraged.  If so I could shift over to UEFI and try it with a clean W10 build.

 

It seems that if HP opened up the possibility intentionally, via a BIOS upgrade, then a Z Turbo Drive G2 with an official HP ZTD G2 M.2 NVMe stick in it should work as a bootable drive now in a testbed Z620 v2 workstation.  I'm running the latest BIOS in all our workstations and I've got spare parts.

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