An mSATA SSD has a smaller form factor than a standard SSD and is designed for use with portable, power-constrained devices such as laptops, tablets and netbooks. The mSATA SSD has also seen use in commercial products such as digital signs, point-of-sale devices, retail kiosks and multifunctional printers.
An mSATA SSD is roughly the size of a business card. Advantages of mSATA SSDs include the small form factor, low power consumption, shock/vibration resistance and fast boot/shutdown capabilities. The maximum bandwidth of an mSATA SSD is 6 gigabits per second (Gbps).
Specification for mSATA
The mSATA specification describes how to map SATA signals onto a Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) mini-card connector to enable use with a wide range of applications.
Like SATA, mSATA uses the Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) command set to transfer data between a host computer and target storage device. The main differences between an mSATA SSD and a SATA SSD are physical size and the connector.
The SATA International Organization (SATA-IO) started development of the mini interface connector in 2009. The mSATA specification emerged in 2011 as part of SATA revision 3.1. Vendors who contributed to the mSATA specification included Dell, Hewlett-Packard (now known as Hewlett Packard Enterprise), Lenovo, Samsung, SanDisk, sTec (which was acquired by HGST, a Western Digital company, in 2013) and Toshiba.
SATA-IO initially referred to the specification as mini-SATA, but the organization later simply called it mSATA.
M.2 SSD vs. mSATA SSD
M.2 SSDs and mSATA SSDs and are both high-performance storage devices designed for use with small devices such as notebook and tablet computers. An mSATA SSD uses only the SATA interface, while M.2 SSDs support SATA or PCIe.
The M.2 form factor emerged in 2013, approximately two years after the mSATA specification. The PCI Special Interest Group consortium of technology vendors defined the M.2 specification; SATA-IO described the SATA version of M.2 in the 3.2 revision of the SATA specification. M.2 SSDs also support SATA Express (SATAe), which is defined in the SATA 3.2 revision and enables SATA or PCIe connectors. The SATAe-based M.2 drive tells the host if it is PCIe or SATA. However, few commercial products support SATAe.
The newer M.2 form factor allows for variations in drive dimensions, whereas full-size mSATA SSDs ship in only one size. Half-size mSATA SSDs are also available.
An M.2 SSD is able to extend the data rate beyond the 6 Gbps limitation of a SATA SSD or mSATA SSD. A PCIe-based M.2 SSD can support up to four lanes of PCIe at a per-lane rate of up to 1 gigabyte per second. In addition, a PCIe-based M.2 SSD that supports NVM Express can boost performance and reduce latency over devices that use the ATA or Small Computer System Interface command set. SATAe-based M.2 SSDs can support up to two lanes of PCIe, but they are not in common use.
The technology industry has largely shifted to M.2 SSDs over mSATA SSDs. M.2 SSDs are used in client devices and, to a lesser degree, in enterprise systems.
Technology comparison: mSATA vs. mini PCIe
An mSATA SSD is similar in size and appearance to a mini PCIe card, and both fit into the same mPCIe slot on the motherboard of a space-constrained computing device. However, an mSATA SSD uses the SATA storage bus interface and must have a direct connection to the SATA host controller. An mPCIe card supports PCIe and universal serial bus signals.