mSATA FAQ: A Basic Primer

Discussion in 'Lenovo' started by LoneWolf15, May 1, 2011.

  1. LoneWolf15

    LoneWolf15 The Chairman

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    There have been a lot of questions regarding this new, really cool development in laptops, and so I figured I'd put what I do know into a FAQ that might benefit others. If you see any errors or think there may be useful additions, feel free to PM me, and I'll correct them. I myself do have an Intel 80GB mSATA drive in my ThinkPad 420, and so far, I'm really liking it. :)

    Note that because this is the Lenovo forum, it addresses Lenovo notebooks specifically. For non-Lenovo owners, your mileage may vary, but note that some of Dell's newest Latitude models also support mSATA; check with your vendor for compatibility.

    mSATA Frequently Asked Questions

    What is mSATA?

    Mini-SATA (mSATA)
    is a relatively new format for ultra-small Solid-State Disks (SSDs), developed by Intel. mSATA SSDs take a form factor similar to mini-PCI Express cards, and are ideal for notebooks and netbooks due to their diminutive size.

    [​IMG]

    Can any notebook take an mSATA SSD?

    No
    . Despite the mini-PCI Express form factor, a mini-PCI Express slot must have support for the electrical connections an mSATA drive requires. For this reason, only certain notebooks are compatible with mSATA drives. Most compatible systems are based on Intel's newest Sandy Bridge processor architecture, using the new Huron River platform.

    Which Lenovo notebooks support the mSATA platform?

    Lenovo's newest T-Series, W-Series, and X-Series ThinkPads released in March-April of 2011 have support for an mSATA SSD card in their WWAN card slot. The ThinkPad Edge E220s/E420s, and the Lenovo IdeaPad Y460/Y560 also support mSATA. More models may have support available; this thread will be updated as-needed for corrections.

    Can I have an internal mobile broadband card in my ThinkPad and still have an mSATA SSD?

    No
    . If you wish to have an mSATA SSD, it will take up the WWAN card slot used for mobile broadband. Your best bet is to either tether wirelessly to your cellular phone or a mobile cellular wifi hotspot (i.e., the MiFi 2200) if you wish to have an mSATA SSD.

    Who makes mSATA SSD cards?

    Currently, Intel is the largest supplier, with their Intel 310 "Soda Creek" mSATA SSD available in 40GB and 80GB configurations. The 80GB version is faster than the 40GB, and worth your consideration if you can afford the price difference. Another relatively young company, Renice, has production of mSATA SSD drives based on Sandforce controller chips and has pledged Lenovo compatibility; the drives are available in 30, 60, and 120 gigabyte capacities. MyDigitalSSD, also a recent vendor, offers their "Bullet Proof" SSD , based on a Phison controller chip, in 30, 60, and 128GB capacities. Other manufacturers may follow. Toshiba is producing some mSATA drives, but at this time, they appear to be for OEM procurement only; Samsung may be doing so as well.

    Does an mSATA SSD have the same performance as a standard SATA drive?

    The current mSATA standard supports 1.5Gbps and 3.0Gbps transfer rates, but not the newer, faster 6.0Gbps transfer rate of standard SATA SSDs. They are much faster than mechanical hard drives, but a touch slower than the newest, fastest SATA solid state disks.

    Then why would I want one?

    The advantage of having an mSATA SSD is that you can have it for your boot drive, and then have a much larger yet less expensive mechanical hard drive at the same time to handle your storage needs.

    What is the best way to install (both hardware and software) an mSATA SSD in my Lenovo system?

    Using Lenovo's Hardware Maintenance Manual for your system, look at the instructions for removal and replacement of the WWAN card, and follow these, using your mSATA SSD instead of the WWAN card for the install. Once done, it is recommended you temporarily remove any secondary mechanical hard drive you may have prior to installing your operating system (you can place it back in when you're done) to avoid confusion.

    A clean install is the best way to install the operating system on an mSATA SSD. Attempts to clone data to an SSD or restore from a backed-up image will result in an SSD's sectors being out of alignment, causing reduced performance and increased wear on the memory cells of the SSD. While it is out of the scope of this post, there are several guides available on the NotebookReview forums regarding doing a legal, clean install.
    Note that using Lenovo's Recovery Media that you created when you purchased your notebook is not considered to be a clean install, as it restores via a recovery image. Your best bet is to boot from an actual Windows install CD, install the OS from scratch to your SSD, and then update your system's drivers either manually, or by using
    Lenovo's ThinkVantage System Update.

    EDIT: It appears that Lenovo Recovery Media is SSD-aware, capable of restoring an SSD in an aligned state, and with attention paid to SSD-specific details (i.e., system restore and scheduled defragmentation turned off). Kudos to mazzmond for providing the thread with useful information and details (see page 4).

    Also note that unlike previously thought, your ThinkPad BIOS does not need to be set to UEFI-only mode for proper recognition of an mSATA SSD as a boot device.


    UPDATE (6/21/11): At this time, there have been reports of issues with some ThinkPad X220 models and mSATA drives. The problem seems to be an issue for ThinkPad X220 systems shipped as WWAN-capable or WWAN-ready; systems without WWAN capability are not affected, and should work. Lenovo has pledged a BIOS update in July to fix the issue, but at this time, your new X220 may or may not support an mSATA SSD out of the box.

    Lenovo Forums - X220 with USB3.0, no mSata SSD possible ? (p. 8)

    UPDATE - It appears that newer BIOS updates have resolved most (if not all) issues with mSATA SSDs in the ThinkPad X220.
    http://forums.lenovo.com/t5/X-Serie...SB3-0-no-mSata-SSD-possible/m-p/486373#M27837
     
  2. EZjijy

    EZjijy Notebook Geek

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    Lenovo provides videos of most if not all of their models removing and replacing components at lenovoservicetraining.com.
     
  3. chaosphoenix

    chaosphoenix Notebook Consultant

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    This, or a thread with sort of a "Current Model Thinkpad FAQs" should be stickied at the top of this forum. Too many repeated questions.
     
  4. ferganer80

    ferganer80 Notebook Consultant

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    LoneWolf, thanks for putting all these together.

    Re: "Make sure at this time you also set your system's BIOS to UEFI-only mode to allow your system to boot from the mSATA SSD."

    I don't believe you have to choose UEFI Only / GUID Partition Table (GPT) to boot from mSata. I can't imagine why the mSata wouldn't work with Legacy BIOS with MBR.
     
  5. Epsilon748

    Epsilon748 Notebook Evangelist

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    Might also want to add in MyDigitalSSD. They're rebrands of the Renice. mSATA Solid State Drives | My Digital Discount

    They've got the 64GB for $140, which blows away the 40GB Intel 310 for $99. The speeds on the Renice/MyDigitalSSD's are 270/200 compared to 170/70 for the intels. I'm considering the 64GB for mine (the 128GB is prohibitively expensive- I'll just order one of the slim 500GB internal hard drives to go with it if the 250GB isn't enough)
     
  6. LoneWolf15

    LoneWolf15 The Chairman

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    For purposes of the thread, I linked to source companies so that I didn't promote one vendor over another.

    As said before, Intel's 310 SSD's have two different speeds.

    The 40GB = 170MB read, 35MB write (peak)
    The 80GB = 200MB read, 70MB write (peak)

    The Renice drive is faster according to listed specs. On the other hand, Intel has a reputation for the highest reliability of major SSD vendors. The Soda Creek drives also have a three-year warranty (when purchased OEM aftermarket), as opposed to the 2 years of MydigitalDiscount.

    It comes down to a question of which is more important to the end-user.

    EDIT (6/16/11): - I have added MyDigitalSSD as a vendor, noting that they make separate drives from Renice, with different controller chips (Phison, rather than Sandforce).
     
  7. MisterWuf

    MisterWuf Notebook Enthusiast

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    In my research I found some 70mm mSATA cards (built for tablets and/or netbooks). It should be worth noting that the cards for ThinkPads are 50mm in length so the 70mm models should be avoided.

    -darren
     
  8. LastQ

    LastQ Notebook Enthusiast

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    Thanks, this primer is very helpful!
     
  9. John Ratsey

    John Ratsey Moderately inquisitive Super Moderator

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    Is Samsung another source of these? See this announcement from 2009 (and were, I believe, used by Dell). The Samsung ZX310 / 900X3A uses one of these storage devices (currently 128GB but 256GB was also mentioned when the notebook was launched). However, they seem to be hard to find in the retail chain.

    John
     
  10. LoneWolf15

    LoneWolf15 The Chairman

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    It could easily be. Any flash-memory vendor could jump on board pretty easily. I'm guessing that like Toshiba, they could make drives but not have them in the retail channel.

    I wouldn't be surprised if Crucial comes up with something down the road, given the Intel-Micron flash partnership, and that they're already in the SSD business.

    Intel and Micron Open Singapore NAND Flash Memory Operation | techPowerUp
     
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