NGFF spec promises smaller SSDs

Move over, mSATA. Intel has a new standard for ultra-small-form factor SSDs. Dubbed the Next Generation Form Factor, or NGFF, the standard should enable drives that are smaller than existing mSATA models. mSATA offerings typically have a footprint of 51 x 30 mm and a thickness of around 5 mm. The smallest NGFF designs will be 42 x 22 mm and less than 3 mm thick. There are provisions for double-sided cards under 4 mm thick and larger versions up to 110 mm long. According to Intel, the new form factor allows for a more efficient distribution of NAND chips, which should enable capacities up to 512GB.

NGFF isn't just for SSDs. In addition to supporting Serial ATA drives, the add-in card format can accommodate PCIe devices. There will be three kinds of sockets. SSDs will be available with Socket 2 and Socket 3 interfaces, which will offer two and four lanes of PCIe connectivity, respectively. A Socket 1 interface will exist for Wi-Fi cards only; presumably, it will have a single PCIe lane attached.

The mSATA connector is already mechanically compatible with Mini PCI Express slots, but those are limited to a single lane. NGFF's support for multiple lanes will provide more bandwidth for future devices. It's unclear whether SATA-based SSDs will be able to take advantage of the additional lanes. However, future drives with native PCIe connectivity should have no problem. Indeed, Intel indicates that Socket 3 is designed exclusively for storage devices.

Socket 3 SSDs are a ways off, but we should see Socket 2 models as early as next year. Intel expects SSD caches and smaller drives to stick to Type 2242 NGFF cards, which meaure 42 x 22 mm. Larger SSDs will likely use Type 2280 cards that stretch out to 80 mm long. It would be nice if notebook makers stuck to those two formats—and made the cards accessible to end users to facilitate easy upgrades.

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