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mSATA: Completely New

Intel SSD 310 80 GB: Little Notebooks Get Big Storage Flexibility
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Wait. Haven't we seen drives like the SSD 310 before? No, mSATA is completely different from the flash-based devices loosely based on the mini PCI Express standard seen previously.

Why is this important? Frankly, the mini PCI Express standard has been modified one too many times. The standard basically went out the door as one company after another modified it to suit their purposes.

First we had Asus with "Flash Con," which was a proprietary version of mini PCI Express used in its Eee PC as a connector for a supplemental hard drive. These used a pin-out design specific to only Asus Eee PCs and had a non-standard height (71 mm), so it wouldn't fit into any other notebook, even if you tried.

Then we had the notebooks like the Dell Mini 9, which also used a modified version of the mini PCI Express standard that brought PATA signals to the same edge connector, so you could use a PATA-based SSD that also had the same form factor specified by the original mini PCI Express standard (51 mm x 30 mm).

The variations on the standard are why you can't install existing "mini SSDs" into just any old mini PCI Express slot. Think of OCZ's RevoDrive X2 that runs off a standard x4 PCIe slot. You can drop this in any desktop because all motherboards employ the PCIe standard at the slot level. For notebooks, we have mutants, and I'm not talking about the save-the-world-types. Proprietary variations use a bridge chip before the PCB traces reach the slot. The slot, while it has the same pin count and form factor, is completely incompatible with the specified mini PCI Express standard.

Now, you can't drop mSATA-based devices like Intel's SSD into any current notebook with mini PCI Express either, as they require specific mSATA slots. Fortunately, future mSATA-based SSD drives won't be compatibility limited, and we think it takes a company like Intel to make a technology like this standard-enough for other vendors to start backing.

Notebooks with mSATA, like Lenovo's IdeaPad Y560, are already shipping. More are expected to pop up shortly, and we are told the technology should become a standard option on many of the mobile platforms that roll out later this quarter.

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