MSI is upping its M.2 add-in card game with an all-new M.2 expander card, which the motherboard and graphics card manufacturer announced at Computex. Known as the M.2 Xpander-Aero Slider Gen 5 (what a mouthful), the card supports up to two 22110-size M.2 drives at Gen 5 speeds.

The main selling point of MSI’s new expander is the way the M.2 drives are installed. Compared to other models that require you to take off the heatsink and install the drives on ordinary M.2 slots, MSI’s new expander card has two M.2 bays that can be accessed from the rear PCIe slots. This not only gives you access to the drives at any time but also enables hot swappability, which MSI’s card officially supports.

MSI M.2 Xpander-Aero Slider Gen 5 PCIe Card
(Image credit: Future)

The card itself is painted in a matte black finish, featuring a single fan cooler design. If you didn’t know any better, you could easily mistake this add-in card for an entry-level GTX 1650, given its dual-slot proportions. The fan will automatically shut off if it does not detect any M.2 drives installed in itself. It also features a manual off/on switch when drives are installed. The manual fan functionality is great for lower-powered M.2 NVMe SSDs — particularly Gen 3 and Gen 4 drives — which don’t require active cooling.

If you only need two M.2 slots, MSI’s new card is arguably one of the best add-in options for M.2 drives on the market. No other mainstream M.2 expansion card that we know of offers hot-swappability, and drive slots that can be accessed right from the rear PCIe slots.

This is stuff you generally only see in the enterprise/server space, but can be very useful in the consumer space as well. Say you want to back up your data to a super fast M.2 SSD but want to take it with you to keep safe, having a hot swappable solution is much better than having to disassemble the card to access the drive(s).

Sure, you could just buy an M.2 SSD enclosure with a high-speed USB 3.2 port and get a similar experience, but you won’t be able to get Gen 5 speeds with typical USB enclosures. Plus, if you use your “external” M.2 drives for any extended period time connected to the system, it is nice having them tucked away inside of a PCIe card, rather than hanging off of one of your front-mounted USB ports.

Pricing and availability were not disclosed to us, but we expect MSI’s new expansion card to be on the more expensive side due to Gen 5 support and the fact it is one of the only consumer M.2 expansion cards with hot-swappable drive bays.

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