mSATA: Solid-State Responsiveness On A Tiny Card
The idea of a mSATA-based SSD plugged into your PC's motherboard is cool, but only insofar as the little drive is as fast as more familiar 2.5" models. And it needs to cost the same per gigabyte, too. Paying extra for a slower drive just doesn't make sense, even when it's a small SSD used exclusively for caching. With more and more standard SSDs falling under $1/GB, it's pretty easy to work at least 128 GB of capacity into most desktops.
But in an environment where extra physical space is a luxury (and in some cases not an option at all), mSATA might be the only way to get solid-state storage at all. Ultrabooks are a prime example. With very limited room, you're looking at one 2.5" storage device, an mSATA-based drive, or some combination of the two. Paying a little extra for the functionality of one fast boot drive and a slower disk for user data might be very well be worthwhile in such a compact form factor.
In case you missed Intel SSD 310 80 GB: Little Notebooks Get Big Storage Flexibility, where we first introduced mSATA nearly two years ago, the physical connector we're talking about today looks a lot like mini-PCIe. However, mSATA employs native SATA signaling. Fortunately, some of the boards currently available have the multiplexers necessary to take full-length mini-PCIe cards or mSATA drives in the same slot. From there, you face a performance challenge: some motherboards, such as Intel's DH61AG, enable mSATA at 3 Gb/s transfer rates, handicapping faster SSDs intended for 6 Gb/s connections.
All of that is to say pairing a platform to a compatible mSATA-based SSD is not always an easy exercise. Getting it right, however, can be rewarding. Beyond the interface's purpose as an enabler of caching (which is only of moderate interest to us nowadays), we really do like the idea of 128 GB or more of flash-based capacity and a 500 GB or larger mechanical drive for user data (like music, movies, and pictures).
Seeing that the selection of SSDs designed to drop into mSATA slots is pretty small, we rounded up as many as we could get our hands on from Adata, Crucial, Mushkin, and OCZ.