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Form Factor Comparison

Hands-On: A Second mSATA-Based SSD Emerges
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When it comes to storage, the 3.5” and 2.5” form factors are most popular. But they're not always suitable for notebooks and netbooks. Samsung is the second vendor to introduce an mSATA-based SSD, after Intel demonstrated its SSD 310 earlier this year.

Form Factor ComparisonmSATA1.8"
(no housing)
1.8"2.5"3.5"
low profile
3.5"
Depth
50.95 mm78.5 mm78.5 mm100 mm146.05 mm146.05 mm
Width
30 mm54 mm54 mm70 mm101.6 mm101.6 mm
Height
3 mm3 mm8 mm9.5 mm15 mm25 mm
Volume
4.6 cm²12.7 cm²33.9 cm²66.5 cm²222.6 cm²371.0 cm²


The 3.5" form factor isn't really relevant in the SSD world. Everything fits so well in a 2.5" housing, and the amount of flash it'd take to fit a 3.5" enclosure would be financially prohibitive. Rather, the 2.5” form factor is most prevalent in the SSD world, and the 1.8” form factor has effectively disappeared from the desktop and notebook markets.

Disk manufacturers tell us that 1.8” hard drives make less and less sense, which is probably the reason for their disappearing act. Netbooks might have accelerated this development, as most devices utilize 2.5” hard drives for cost reasons. So, due to the high production volumes, mechanical 2.5" drives are among the cheapest available. There are also 2.5” single-platter hard drive designs that monopolize less than the typical 9.5 mm height.

However, flash storage is compact enough to require less space than even the 2.5” form factor provides. We also find an increasing number of possible scenarios in which it makes little sense to physically install a drive into a system using screws and a drive bay. As the mSATA products show, SSD storage devices can be small enough to be directly plugged onto a host motherboard.

All of this is nice for enthusiasts, who may want an SSD in addition to a hard drive to help augment performance. However, it’s also relevant in thin-and-light notebook and netbook designs where the manufacturer wants to do away with a hard drive bay entirely. Entire systems with processing cores, graphics, and I/O on a single piece of silicon will be available within two years’ time (Intel's Sandy Bridge and AMD's Llano architectures already achieve this to a limited degree), turning 2.5” storage devices into disproportionally large components. And finally, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, and gigabit Ethernet (or 10 GbE) will make external storage more viable in the future.

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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!