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M.2 and MSata: What's the difference?


It can be a real pain to keep up with new protocols and connector standards, especially if a lot of time passes between your upgrades or new computer purchases. So, like many people, you might be slightly confused by the seemingly sudden appearance of new connectors meant to hook up SSD storage devices to the rest of your computer.

Left: mSata SDD - Right: M.2 Sata SSD

We had it good for a while. With PATA drives relegated to the dustbin of history all you had to worry about was those neat little SATA connectors, but high-end SSD performance had caught up with the limitations of the SATA protocol and something new was needed. So we began to see PCI-express SSDs. Yes those other PCIe slots, the ones that donít take graphics cards, now actually had a use. PCIe SSDs broke the theoretical speed limit of SATA 3 drives by about 30%, making many benchmark fans very happy indeed.

SATA fought back with the new SATA-express standard raising the theoretical limit to 1250MB/s, 40% more than SATA III could hope for not quite.

So, thatís the backstory. While this fight was going on in the desktop space mobile versions of these protocols had to be found. Very small form factor PCs such as ultrabooks were after all ideal for SSD storage, but the desktop versions of these parts would never fit. Thatís where mSATA or mini-SATA came into play. This was a miniaturisation of SATA III and matched its theoretical performance, but used tiny stripped down PCBs. In the beginning these were small drives under 10GB, but these days 128GB isnít uncommon. mSATA slots then found their way back to desktop board where they were used as unobtrusive storage solutions.

Now youíre welcome to basically forget about mSATA, since itís been replaced with the new and improved M.2 connector. If youíre building something new mSATA is a dead-end. Although youíll find drives to keep a current machine going.

M.2 Sata Port

The M.2 connector is what youíll find on new motherboard, but there is a very important issue introduced by it you should be aware of; There are two types of drive that will plug into M.2, but they arenít cross compatible.

M.2 SATA uses the SATA III protocol at 6GB/s and M.2 PCIe matches SATA Express at 10GB/s, with speed bumps expected for the next generation. Your motherboard will only support one or the other, so make sure which type of controller your M.2 port is connected to before buying a drive!