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Conclusion

Hands-On: A Second mSATA-Based SSD Emerges
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When it comes to solid-state drives for consumer-oriented systems, the 2.5” form factor is the predominant standard. This is because most notebook designs work with such drives by design, and they easily slide into enthusiast desktops as well.

However, 2.5” drives are too large for sleek notebooks like the Apple MacBook Air. This is where mSATA comes into play: it shrinks storage to the footprint of a Zippo lighter and utilizes a proven interface type, mini PCI Express, for SATA signaling. The SATA-IO already has it standardized, and Intel started trumpeting it earlier this year as well. Now, Intel and Samsung share a common goal: they want to enable a broad adoption of solid-state storage.

Larger 3.5” SSDs only make sense in server scenarios, and 2.5” will definitely remain predominant in the mainstream. The 1.8" form factor is far less prevalent. However, putting system storage onto an mSATA drive facilitates the creation of thinner notebook designs, and even SFF systems can benefit. An mSATA-based storage device could even be mounted on the back-side of a motherboard and not take away any precious PCB space that might be wanted for PCI Express slots or memory sockets (Ed.: Gigabyte has done one better, integrating Intel's SSD 311 on its Z68XP-UD3-iSSD motherboard; neither the Samsung drive we're testing here nor the Intel SSD 310 are great caching solutions due to their MLC-based flash).

Because of space constraints, some mSATA vendors might feel tempted to limit the number of flash memory chips and channels used. This can be a performance issue, but it isn't always the case, depending on the workload in question. Samsung's mSATA drive is a bit slower than the 2.5" model, but the differences aren't very significant for consumer systems. More than anything else, consumer systems require throughput and small latencies, which the drive we tested facilitates using the mSATA form factor. Its write performance is stronger than Intel's SSD 310-series, too.

For us, mSATA is the next logical step to push towards greater integration on highly mobile platforms, because this form factor reduces the physical size of solid-state storage to an absolute minimum. Enabling caching (in the case of Intel's SSD 311) and SSD large enough to serve as boot drive (using this Samsung drive or Intel's SSD 310) doesn't require a big plastic enclosure. It's clearly possible using a compact slot.

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  • 0 Hide
    compton , July 15, 2011 4:14 AM
    I for one am a fan of Gigabytes mSATA Z series caching solution -- more so than Z68 caching itself if that makes any sense. As I start looking around, I start to see more and more possible uses for mSATA SSDs.

    I'm still a little confused about compatibility though with current miniPCIe notebook slots.

    Thanks for shining some light on a murky subject area.
  • 0 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , July 15, 2011 6:20 AM
    Nice, but I'm still not ready to jump on the SSD bandwagon yet until 1TB SSDs become affordable and mainstream.
  • -1 Hide
    Hotobu , July 15, 2011 6:35 AM
    I don't get why they don't make 3.5 SSDs. I understand that 2.5 is nice because it can go into desktops and laptops, but why not make a cheaper 3.5 form factor SSD? There are plenty of folks that just want an SSD for their PC and cheaper per/GB solution would probably sell very well.
  • 0 Hide
    bavman , July 15, 2011 6:48 AM
    Why is the samsung m7e listed as $129 on the cost, cost/gb page? Its 45-50 on reputable sites like newegg and microcenter.
  • 1 Hide
    bavman , July 15, 2011 6:52 AM
    HotobuI don't get why they don't make 3.5 SSDs. I understand that 2.5 is nice because it can go into desktops and laptops, but why not make a cheaper 3.5 form factor SSD? There are plenty of folks that just want an SSD for their PC and cheaper per/GB solution would probably sell very well.


    Larger form factor wont drop prices. Prices are high because the cost of flash memory. The reason 2.5'' are made because there's plenty of room to squeeze in 256gb of memory, and so laptops can join in on the fun too.
  • 2 Hide
    damianrobertjones , July 15, 2011 7:11 AM
    Why not review this against the sandisk mSata devices that are in the Asus EP121 and Acer W500 as they are the likely candidates for upgrade?

  • 1 Hide
    lucb , July 15, 2011 7:53 AM
    Please fix the units for the volumes in the table. they should be in cm^3 not cm^2
  • 1 Hide
    Pyree , July 15, 2011 8:56 AM
    HotobuI don't get why they don't make 3.5 SSDs. I understand that 2.5 is nice because it can go into desktops and laptops, but why not make a cheaper 3.5 form factor SSD? There are plenty of folks that just want an SSD for their PC and cheaper per/GB solution would probably sell very well.


    Chips don't get infinitely cheaper as it gets older. It become more expensive to produce lower density chips using older chip making process compared with current process after a certain point. So if you put more older chip to make up for the density for the same storage space, you will end up with a physically larger disk which use more electricity and makes more heat that costs more and no one wants that.
  • -1 Hide
    jacobdrj , July 15, 2011 2:22 PM
    PyreeChips don't get infinitely cheaper as it gets older. It become more expensive to produce lower density chips using older chip making process compared with current process after a certain point. So if you put more older chip to make up for the density for the same storage space, you will end up with a physically larger disk which use more electricity and makes more heat that costs more and no one wants that.


    Desktop users might... And more heat compared to other SSD's, but less compared to 15,000 RPM/10,000 RPM and even some 7200 RPM drives... That is what drive-bay fans are for anyhoo...
  • -1 Hide
    dgingeri , July 15, 2011 4:01 PM
    Imagine using these with an adapter in a raid. get an adapter that fits in a 3.5" bay, holds 4 mSATA drives, and has external connectors for a SFF-8087 (used either with a SFF-8087 cable to a raid controller or a breakout cable to connect up the Intel ICHR from the motherboard) hook in 4 of these and run in raid 0. Super fast! Imagine the performance!
  • 0 Hide
    WyomingKnott , July 15, 2011 4:17 PM
    dgingeriImagine using these with an adapter in a raid. get an adapter that fits in a 3.5" bay, holds 4 mSATA drives, and has external connectors for a SFF-8087 (used either with a SFF-8087 cable to a raid controller or a breakout cable to connect up the Intel ICHR from the motherboard) hook in 4 of these and run in raid 0. Super fast! Imagine the performance!

    That is basically one of these: http://www.tomshardware.com/news/RevoDrive-SSD-PCI-E-VCA-Daryl-Lang,13079.html
  • 0 Hide
    ashburner , July 15, 2011 4:40 PM
    I just installed a 120GB Renice K3vlar mSATA as the primary (OS) drive into my Lenovo T420s and it is night and day difference from the 320GB 7200 which is now on data duty only. The Renice is very nice and built with the Sandforce 1200 controller. I would love to see Tom's test one.
  • 0 Hide
    dgingeri , July 15, 2011 5:42 PM
    WyomingKnottThat is basically one of these: http://www.tomshardware.com/news/R [...] 13079.html


    yes, for half the price. :) 
  • 1 Hide
    sap chicken , July 16, 2011 8:22 AM
    lol Volume is in cubic centimeter, those 2's has to be 3's in the Form Factor Comparison chart.
  • 0 Hide
    EXT64 , July 17, 2011 3:25 AM
    Even crippled (and very small) those SSDs are fast!