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mSATA: Little Dimensions Can Still Mean Big Performance

Round-Up: 10 mSATA SSDs From Adata, Crucial, Mushkin, And OCZ
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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
$90
$1.41
Adata XPG X300 128 GB
$130
$1.02
Adata XPG X300 256 GB
$270
$1.05
Crucial m4 mSATA 64 GB$70
$1.09
Crucial m4 mSATA 128 GB$115
$0.90
Crucial m4 mSATA 256 GB$200
$0.78
Intel SSD 310 80 GB
$180
$2.25
Mushkin Enhanced Atlas 60 GB
$75
$1.25
Mushkin Enhanced Atlas 120 GB$120
$1.00
Mushkin Enhanced Atlas 240 GB$210
$0.88
OCZ Nocti 120 GB$130
$1.08


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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  • 4 Hide
    trumpeter1994 , January 7, 2013 3:30 AM
    I just got a 256GB Crucial m4 msata SSD for the laptop I'm typing from. I love the thing its so nice to have in my y580
  • 2 Hide
    weatherdude , January 7, 2013 3:49 AM
    Nice to see mSATA SSD's performing so well. Looks like laptops can now benefit from SSD's without having to compromise on storage space by giving up HDD's.

    Also the award is something new. I guess the "Recommended" and "Approved" awards are gone for 2013?
  • 5 Hide
    cangelini , January 7, 2013 4:43 AM
    weatherdudeNice to see mSATA SSD's performing so well. Looks like laptops can now benefit from SSD's without having to compromise on storage space by giving up HDD's.Also the award is something new. I guess the "Recommended" and "Approved" awards are gone for 2013?

    Approved is still one of the awards we're using. Recommended Buy is replaced by Smart Buy to better-convey the emphasis on value, and Best Of is replaced by Elite to better convey the emphasis on "this is the best damn product in the segment that we can recommend." Elites will continue to be something you rarely ever see, except when we want to make a point to honor a piece of hardware.
  • 0 Hide
    abbadon_34 , January 7, 2013 11:04 AM
    Seems kinda underwhelming, seeing only 4 in the market, 2 of them years old. Ironically puts Intel's SSD and OCZ's in the same boat.
  • 0 Hide
    tsnor , January 7, 2013 11:23 AM
    Excellent article. Nice. Much better than typical.

    Some discussion of trim, and the effects of using drives with a few days of use would have been good. The assumption is that the 'clean drive' performance tested is a good indicator of what people will see when they've used the drive for a month needs to be tested, the perforamnce order might change sharply. A 6 hour random write workload would go a long way to showing what to expect. Especially given the broken TRIM on SF 5 firmware and the slow speed of the fixes to existing SF drives.
  • 2 Hide
    jaquith , January 7, 2013 12:35 PM
    Yep, no argument the Crucial m4 mSATA 256 GB stole the show. It's both the fastest & cheapest -- what's the catch? I hope none.

    BTW - $179.99 or $0.70/GB (Promo Code: EMCYTZT2757) NewEgg - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820148613 Just noticed the sale from a NewEgg email.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , January 7, 2013 12:45 PM
    I've got a 256GB Crucial M4 in the little clip on my Maximus V Gene as the boot drive. It's been performing flawlessly there for months.
    That's a bit crazy I know, but I had originally had it on the underside of an AZRock Z77E-ITX board until that board died.
  • 0 Hide
    sna , January 7, 2013 2:21 PM
    May I ask why is the Samsung 830 msata drive not present in this review?

    as I recall it outperforms the M4 and all the drives here.

  • 0 Hide
    edlivian , January 7, 2013 5:02 PM
    oh great, now newegg and crucial are going to jack up the prices on the m4 line.

    I love the m4 drives, but now its going to get too much attention.
  • 0 Hide
    jacobdrj , January 8, 2013 8:28 PM
    snaMay I ask why is the Samsung 830 msata drive not present in this review?as I recall it outperforms the M4 and all the drives here.

    Because they are pretty much EOL with the 840 series out.


    I want to know when AMD laptops are going to start including msata slots... It is the budget laptop guys that would get the best benefit from msata with a standard HDD together...
  • 0 Hide
    bigcyco1 , January 11, 2013 1:53 AM
    Crucial m4 FTW!
  • 0 Hide
    hytecgowthaman , January 11, 2013 4:28 AM
    Intel is slower than crucial M4 and above 2$ per gb. Interesting !!!
  • 0 Hide
    acku , January 13, 2013 8:04 PM
    snaMay I ask why is the Samsung 830 msata drive not present in this review?as I recall it outperforms the M4 and all the drives here.


    Cause it's not available in retail.

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
  • 0 Hide
    zilexa , January 16, 2013 8:06 AM
    I don't understand why a full blown Samsung 830 SSD needs HALF the energy power compared to Crucial mSATA 64GB.. The mSATA thingie is soo small but needs twice as much power (0.89watt compared to Samsung full SSD 0.4 watt) when idle!?

    Can anyone explain this please? Would be great if you could also test the Samsung 830 mSATA drive (it exists).
  • 0 Hide
    slicedtoad , January 17, 2013 10:54 PM
    ^different controller. Size is mostly unrelated to wattage in ssds. And anything under a watt is tiny.
  • 0 Hide
    Pegger 3D , January 20, 2013 8:33 AM
    my 2 cents:

    I think this comparison is flawed. The Mushkin SSD test is the Atlas model, which is slower and cheaper than the Mushkin DX-7 Deluxe. The DX-7 would be near or at the top of the list.

    Pegger 3D
  • 0 Hide
    Pegger 3D , January 20, 2013 8:35 AM
    Sorry,

    My bad, It is late and I did not see you were comparing mSSDs.

    Pegger 3D
  • 0 Hide
    medeiom , March 25, 2013 1:22 PM
    I'm still a bit puzzled as to why Crucial m4 is considered faster than the Mushkin and AData mSATA ssd's. Mushkin and AData have both Read/Write well over 500 MB/s....and the Crucial is around 500 Read to 244Write. How is that considered the best?

    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
  • -1 Hide
    msahni , March 25, 2013 4:37 PM
    Hi there,

    I am contemplating buying mSATA drives 240GB-256GB range. It is really becoming confusing to purchase a drive considering so many different specs.
    My options are
    1) Crucial m4 mSATA 256GB http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820148613

    2) Plextor M5M 256GB http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820249031

    3) Intel SSD 525 240GB http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820167146

    4) Mushkin Enhanced Atlas 240GB http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820226321

    I have not been able to get a head to head comparison of the drives anywhere. Most of the tech spec shootouts are of these drives against SSDs or older models.
    Could you please advise which of these drives in your opinion would be the most eligible buy in a real world consumer scenario..

    Cheers....
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , April 2, 2013 5:37 PM
    The Crucial M4 has the advantage of not being a Sandfarce drive, so IMHO its reliability is likely to be higher. I am using one as my boot drive (yes, it's mSATA, on my Asus mobo's mSATA card), and it works quite well. Before putting it there, it was the boot drive on the underside of an ASRock Z77E-ITX, and worked well there too until that board died of unrelated causes.
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