February 15, 2011, 11:03 AM — While I've reviewed many solid-state drives (SSD) in the past, I've never reviewed a mini-SATA (mSATA) SSD. So when Intel sent me one of their first such drives, the Intel Solid-State 310 (which shipped last month), I hoped it would perform like the big boys.
[ See also: USB 3.0 vs. eSATA: Is faster better? ]
The first thing to note is that several drive manufacturers believe mSATA will become the industry standard for mobile computing platforms. And Intel is not alone in the mSATA market; last month, Samsung began shipping its own mSATA SSDs to system manufacturers. Samsung's PM800 line of mSATA drives offers capacities of 32GB, 64GB and 128GB.
Mini-SSDs close a technology gap created when SSDs were first introduced several years ago. To date, SSDs have been designed using traditional 2.5-in. hard drive form factors to offer an easy upgrade path for users and to give computer equipment manufacturers flexibility in their choice of storage devices, according to Jeff Janukowicz, an analyst at research firm IDC.
But the 2.5-in. form factor approach doesn't take advantage of one of the key attributes of SSD -- its form is flexible because it's essentially made up of chips on a circuit board. Mini-SATA SSDs let vendors and system manufacturers design and develop drives with unique sizes and shapes depending on what buyers want.
"As a result, I expect [computer manufacturers] to increasingly leverage nontraditional, flexible form factors, like Intel's 310 mSATA modules, to meet the device's ... requirements," Janukowicz says.
Overall, IDC expects the use of SSDs to increase at a 67% compound annual growth rate from 2009 to 2014. "I expect the use of flexible form factors, like mSATA modules, to grow to almost 60% of shipments by 2014," Janukowicz says.
Improving dual-drive systems
Mini-SATA drives are about one quarter the size of a standard 2.5-in. laptop SSD and one-third the thickness. Each one weighs just a third of an ounce. They are mainly being marketed to equipment manufacturers planning to incorporate small-form-factor SSDs, about the size of a business card, in portable devices such as tablets.
It is also ideal for dual-drive systems. The Serial ATA (SATA) data transfer protocol (which is supported by the SSD 310) allows data to be moved seamlessly between a hard disk drive and the smaller SSD over a PCI Express (PCIe) mini-connector.