SATA-IO reveals SATA Express, µSSD interface standards

SATA-IO, the governing body behind the Serial ATA specification, has announced a couple of new interface standards, one in development and the other completed.

The first, dubbed SATA Express, will meld the SATA feature set with PCI Express 3.0 transfer rates. We’ve seen PCIe-based storage devices before, of course, for server-class systems, but they plug into PCIe expansion slots and have onboard SATA controllers to talk to the host system. SATA Express promises fast connectivity over a more traditional disk interface and at a lower cost. The spec will include "new device and motherboard connectors that will support both new SATA Express and current SATA devices."

Providing a faster interface for increasingly quick solid-state drives motivates the SATA Express effort, and there should be a lot of bandwidth on tap. The official press release mentions interface speeds of 8Gb/s and 16Gb/s, suggesting implementations that use one or two lanes of PCIe 3.0 connectivity.

SATA-IO President Mladen Luksic said he expects the SATA Express spec "to be completed by the end of 2011."

At the other end of the spectrum, the new µSSD standard defines a streamlined interface for mobile and embedded systems. Unlike mSATA, which uses a Mini PCIe connector, µSSD controller chips will hook directly into host systems via their ball-grid array—the bit that’s soldered to the circuit board. Eliminating the separate connector module should make µSSD devices particularly appealing for ultra-thin notebooks and tablets, says the SATA-IO press release.  Intel’s new class of Ultrabook systems is expressly mentioned.

The document doesn’t provide specifics on supported speeds, but it looks like 6Gbps is a lock. SanDisk already has a 128GB µSSD device with a 6Gbps interface.

Comments closed
    • Farting Bob
    • 8 years ago

    Seems to be a lot of negativity to SATA in this thread so far. I guess what SATA is lacking is superfast PCIe style speed for the next gen controllers which will likely be able to top what SATA 3 is capable of. And of course, power needs to be delivered seperately, which is a pain since its usually only a small amount that could be easily serviced by the sata cable like USB does (particularly for SSD’s and 2.5″ drives, maybe not for 3.5″.

    One day i guess we’ll see a nice single cable to power our superfast SSD’s operating at speeds currently reserved for CPU cache.

    • Arclight
    • 8 years ago

    µSSD interface must die, quickly and painlessly. SSDs are way too expensive to have them hooked like that to a computer.

      • Palek
      • 8 years ago

      Remember, we are talking about the personal computing industry where margins are already razor-thin, so even relatively small savings are highly desirable.

      Sockets and cables are pretty expensive parts, especially ones used for high-speed interfaces and such. Manufacturers can probably save quite a bit by eliminating the need for a SATA cable and a SATA socket on the PCB, and soldering the “drive” directly onto the board.

      And, like the press release says, µSSD drives will show up mostly in high-end tablets and super-thin notebooks where user-serviceability is not possible anyway in most end products.

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 8 years ago

    I would hope that SSDs which are so fast and obviously intended for data center work would just go native PCIe and talk directly with the CPU, no SATA or spiderweb of links to the southbridge in the way.

    It seems even sillier to permanently attach a drive to the board and then tack something extra on for a low power device. That’s all fine and dandy that we use SATA for swapping around a limitless number of different types of drives, but when you need a soldering iron to take it off, why bother at all?

    SATA seems to be floundering around in an attempt to just keep pace with new technology, rather than driving it. The problem here is that they’re going to yet again require a new controller be integrated into southbridges, which takes time for adoption, but by that time, all sorts of things will have moved to a system on a chip, which could potentially just omit SATA.

      • stdRaichu
      • 8 years ago

      If the flash is going to be used as a filesystem then it’ll need to go through the IO layer of the OS, which is (currently) inextricably linked to either the ATA or SCSI protocol stacks. You can’t really do DMA between the CPU/memory and flash directly (but DMA between the SATA express controller and memory will deliver big speed benefits).

      SATA-over-PCIe will just enable the OS to cut out a lot of overhead and hopefully spur the creation of direct PCIe-to-flash controllers rather than the PCIe-to-SATA-bridge-to-flash-controller-to-flash that we currently see on most of the cheaper PCIe SSD’s; the reason things like FusionIO are so crazy fast is that their controller links the flash directly to PCIe – none of that “let’s RAID0 ten of our SATA controllers together!” nonsense.

      On the back of this, it’d be nice to see either a modified SCSI stack or a new IO protocol that dispenses with most of the driver and filesystem hackery that’s been built in over the years to compensate for the latency of spinning discs (such as SSD users enabling the noop IO scheduler in linux, which doesn’t waste CPU cycles re-ordering IO requests for best platter performance).

      Agree that SATA-IO and PCI SIG should have seen this coming years ago though, the writing’s been on the wall since flash drives first started entering the enthusiast segment over five years ago.

      • bcronce
      • 8 years ago

      There is no current standard to have a bootable PCIe device. That’s what we need to get rid of SATA.

    • Bensam123
    • 8 years ago

    USB 3 trumps SATA, SATA trumps USB 3…Thunderbolt trumps…

    …firewire?

    • thermistor
    • 8 years ago

    As long as there is a way to get at the HDD, *someone* will figure out how to replace.

    Maybe not as easily as swapping out via a couple of screws and a cable, but some how.

    No one would want to throw away a perfectly good notebook with merely a fried HDD.

      • PeterD
      • 8 years ago

      Except the salespersons, of course…
      We just shouldn’t be so stupid to by such a thing.

        • indeego
        • 8 years ago

        Wouldn’t this cost the manufacturers more in sales / shipping costs considering you’d have to ship something much bulkier/heavy as opposed to just a drive? I would never buy a system where the entire device was enclosed and I couldn’t replace it myself (i.e. iphones without serious hassle to remove battery).

        I imagine it’ll have a way to remove a drive, seeing as its probably the most common user-replaceable item in laptops/desktops…

    • colinstu
    • 8 years ago

    BGA SSDs?

    Oh, we know who will be moving to that soon! #Apple #MacBookAir No more DIY SSD upgrades…

      • mesyn191
      • 8 years ago

      I’d be surprised if they didn’t offer at least some SATA ports for upgrading on their laptops and maybe some tablets.

      For the really space constrained stuff though, yea it’ll probably all be non upgradable.

      • Farting Bob
      • 8 years ago

      You dont need to type #apple #macbookair with a hash, this aint twitter thank god.

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