The mSATA (mini-SATA) standard represents a new category of SATA storage devices first developed by Samsung and then adopted as an industry standard format that is about 3cm x 5cm (about 1.2-inch x 2-inch) in size. The format is especially suitable for Ultrabooks and other thin-and-light notebooks. mSATA-compatible mini-PCIe slots have also been provided in some larger notebooks which offer the option of using an SSD as a boot drive for speed alongside a conventional hard drive for capacity.
The m4 mSATA SSD on top of a 9.5mm thick 2.5" HDD
Until recently mSATA SSD capacities stopped at 128GB. However, several brands of 256GB mSATA SSDs have recently appeared with pricing which is not placing a large premium for small size (unlike small notebooks). Consequently, adding or upgrading an mSATA SSD is now an affordable option. I had been holding off on buying a Samsung NP900X4C ultrabook because of its limited storage capacity (available in the UK), but when I spotted that the Crucial m4 256GB SSD was available, and at a price much lower than I had expected, I immediately placed orders for the SSD and the Samsung ultrabook.
Crucial is the retail part of Micron, one of the major global memory manufacturers and the Crucial m4 mSATA SSD is the retail version of Micron's C400 mSATA SSD. Crucial / Micron have already established a good reputation for its m4 / C400 series of 2.5" SATA SSDs as providing good performance with aggressive pricing. Does the mSATA m4 live up to sharing the name?
The mSATA m4 has much in common with the 2.5-inch version. I'm surmising that it shares the same firmware since firmware 000F on the mSATA SSD is also the latest firmware for the larger sibling. As such, the problems that have occurred with the m4 during the past year should be flushed out. The Marvell SSD controller is one of the few controller designs that are used by most SSD manufacturers (Sandforce is the other leading third party controller while Samsung and Intel, until recently, use their own).
In total, this SSD contains six noteworthy chips: The controller, buffer memory and two NAND memory packages are on the top side with two more memory packages on the bottom. A capacity of 256GB in a component not much bigger than a RAM module!
The only way I could test the SSD's full performance capabilities was to place it inside the Samsung NP900X4C ultrabook (which uses Intel's latest Ivy Bridge platform). After cloning the existing SSD with the help of a mSATA to 2.5-inch SATA adapter in a 2.5-inch HDD USB 3.0 enclosure, it was time to get out the screwdriver.
Now let's take a closer look at the performance ...
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