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Hands-On: A Second mSATA-Based SSD Emerges

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.

A few years ago, you didn't really have to worry about the form factor of your storage device. Conventional 3.5” hard drives went into servers and desktop PCs. Smaller 2.5” drives dropped into notebooks. And more niche packages like 1.8" and 1" (IBM Microdrive) disks slid into mobile solutions and consumer devices.

But the world has changed. Today, 2.5” drives conquer the data center by serving up storage density. That means IT professionals figured out you could cram more capacity and I/O throughput into a given rack-mounted enclosure using smaller drives compared to an array of 3.5" disks. Moreover, the advent of solid-state drives basically makes larger form factors obsolete from a purely technical standpoint. But how small can we go without jeopardizing performance, capacity, flexibility?

The Serial ATA International organization announced mSATA back in September of 2009. It's important to note that mSATA, which stands for mini-SATA is a form factor; it has nothing to do with the micro interface connector used to attach 1.8" hard drives.

mSATA is based on a physical mini PCI Express interface, but it runs conventional SATA 3 Gb/s electrical signaling. One mSATA product is Intel’s 310 series SSD, and you will also find the same physical drive format in Apple’s MacBook Pro (although it is not compatible with mSATA). With Intel having recently adopted the standard and Samsung standing by to supply more of these devices to the industry, we believe that the mSATA standard has a real chance to be widely adopted.

Why is mSATA necessary, anyway?

Great question. After all, we've already seen that it's possible to use PCI Express links to attach flash-based storage and a SATA controller on the same small circuit board. We recently saw a variation on this concept in The OCZ RevoDrive 3 X2 Preview: Second-Gen SandForce Goes PCIe.

But while that might be a viable approach when it comes to high-performance products like the RevoDrive, it doesn't work as well on the mobile side because it prevents maximum integration. While today’s notebooks are based on two, three, or four silicon-based components (the processor, the chipset, wireless, and oftentimes a discrete graphics controller), future designs aim at reducing the total number of pieces to help minimize total system cost. Utilizing SSD storage that requires its own controller would add unnecessary complexity. And it would be difficult to integrate mini PCI Express-based storage with systems such as Intel’s Z68 Express chipset that allow these drives to be utilized as fast caches.

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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!