mSATA: Little Dimensions Can Still Mean Big Performance
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).
|Price Per GB
|Adata XPG X300 64 GB
|Adata XPG X300 128 GB
|Adata XPG X300 256 GB
|Crucial m4 mSATA 64 GB
|Crucial m4 mSATA 128 GB
|Crucial m4 mSATA 256 GB
|Intel SSD 310 80 GB
|Mushkin Enhanced Atlas 60 GB
|Mushkin Enhanced Atlas 120 GB
|Mushkin Enhanced Atlas 240 GB
|OCZ Nocti 120 GB
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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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 y580Reply
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.Reply
Also the award is something new. I guess the "Recommended" and "Approved" awards are gone for 2013?
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.Reply
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.Reply
Excellent article. Nice. Much better than typical.Reply
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.
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.Reply
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.
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.Reply
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.
May I ask why is the Samsung 830 msata drive not present in this review?Reply
as I recall it outperforms the M4 and all the drives here.
oh great, now newegg and crucial are going to jack up the prices on the m4 line.Reply
I love the m4 drives, but now its going to get too much attention.
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.Reply
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...