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mSATA: Little Dimensions Can Still Mean Big Performance

Round-Up: 10 mSATA SSDs From Adata, Crucial, Mushkin, And OCZ

The first mSATA-based SSDs that emerged frankly didn't do much to impress us. It was cool to get our hands on a device the size of a mini-PCI Express card with, at the time, 80 GB of capacity (Intel SSD 310 80 GB: Little Notebooks Get Big Storage Flexibility). However, smaller dimensions translated directly to compromises in performance, since Intel was only able to populate five of its controller's 10 channels using TSOP memory. 

Today, the story is a lot different. Higher memory density and BGA packaging make it possible for vendors to fully utilize some of today's fastest storage controllers. And the fact that we're seeing 256 GB drives means you don't have to lean on mSATA-based SSDs for caching; they're able to stand in as a primary target for your operating system, performance-sensitive applications, and games.

And then there's pricing. At launch (and even today), Intel wanted $180 bucks for its SSD 310 80 GB, a drive we see bringing up the rear of our benchmarks. Now, you can find a 256 GB Crucial m4 for $200. That's well under $1 per gigabyte, and exactly as much as the company's 2.5" version of the same drive. Gone are the premiums on mSATA-based drives (at least, the ones we'd recommend to you).

Cost Breakdown
Market Price
Price Per GB
Adata XPG X300 64 GB
Adata XPG X300 128 GB
Adata XPG X300 256 GB
Crucial m4 mSATA 64 GB$70
Crucial m4 mSATA 128 GB$115
Crucial m4 mSATA 256 GB$200
Intel SSD 310 80 GB
Mushkin Enhanced Atlas 60 GB
Mushkin Enhanced Atlas 120 GB$120
Mushkin Enhanced Atlas 240 GB$210
OCZ Nocti 120 GB$130

In fact, breaking down the cost of each drive tested today, eight of the 11 models sit around $1/GB or less. The notable exceptions are Adata's XPG 64 GB, Intel's SSD 310 80 GB, and Mushkin's Atlas 60 GB. Incidentally, based on what we saw in the benchmark results, we'd recommend against all of those models. And although its price per gigabyte is a little more attractive, we'd add Crucial's m4 64 GB to that list for its low capacity and modest performance. We'd also add OCZ's Nocti 120 GB for its performance and price proximity to much more attractive options.

The 120 and 128 GB SandForce-based drives are pretty appealing. Adata's XPG SX300 and Mushkin's Enhanced Atlas 120 GB are both strong contenders. So too are the 240/256 GB versions of those same SSDs. But we're most eager to single out Crucial's 256 GB m4. Yes, the 128 GB version is a little more accessible at $115. However, the 256 GB model enjoys the lowest cost per gigabyte of any SSD in our comparison, its power consumption is well within where we'd want to see it, and performance remains impressive, despite the age of its architecture.

I never had an opportunity to give one of our Best of Tom's Hardware awards, and we're revising our awards somewhat to better reflect their true intention. So, it's a privilege to hand out our first Tom's Hardware Elite award to Crucial's 256 GB m4 in the mSATA form factor. This recognition is deserved because the drive demonstrates consistent performance at a price we're comfortable paying. It's unclear if we'll ever see a dramatically faster SSD for the mSATA interface. But, seeing as this one already comes close to saturating a 6 Gb/s connection in sequential reads, and is well-established as a reliable solution, there isn't another option we'd recommend as an alternative. The 256 GB m4 takes our highest honor, and is the drive to buy if you need mSATA-based storage.

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