It was with the appearance of netbooks that the first SSD (Solid State Drive) devices with the mSATA (micro-SATA) connector came about. Some of the more popular models had the capability of using a replacement disk (faster or of a higher capacity), effectively giving an upgrade option to the user. Yet it took the influx of ultrabooks for this sort of peripheral to become interesting to a wider user base in the upper range, not least because ultrabooks actually have the computing power required to make good use of what SSDs can unleash. We've recently tested Acer's M3 ultrabook, which contained a 500 GB HDD and a 20 GB mSATA SSD, the latter being explicitly used for caching purposes. Everything was set up so that the user doesn't even know the SSD is there, except indirectly with the fantastic boot-up times, provided courtesy of the said SSD.
The mSATA format is interesting to PC manufacturers for several reasons. Firstly, it's modular, so that the capacity is changeable whichever way one sees fit. With the utterly tiny dimensions of the device, it's easy to fit even in the thinnest and lightest of notebooks, while its construction (or lack thereof, as there's nothing but a PCB) is ultimately cheaper to make. Furthermore, the weight of mSATA devices is so low that they barely factor in at all, which is a huge plus in today's trend of reducing weight wherever possible. All other features typical of SSDs in general are as welcome as ever: high speed, no mechanical parts (thus resistance to impact and zero noise); there's only the question of price that remains. This is why we tried to make a compromise from an end-user's point of view, and when offered capacities of 30, 60 or 120 GB, opted for the mid-range, as it's likely what most users will find to be the best price/performance ratio that doesn't significantly eat away at the budget.
The packaging consisted of nothing but a discreet cardboard box, so we were clearly not dealing with a retail version, which is likely to be much more shiny and attractive. The contents were equally minimalistic - nothing but a plastic cover containing the PCB complete with the controller and memory chips. Unmounting the existing mSATA SSD was simple enough, but we encountered a huge problem shortly afterwards. With Acer M3's available BIOS settings, there was no way to set up the PC to use the mSATA device as the default bootable option, only a caching device or extra storage. As we hardly appreciated the idea of wasting 60 GB of SSD space on caching, we opted for the latter option and used the SSD to install software that required fast loading.
Nocti supports the SATA II interface, and seems to use it to the max, both by its specs and the results obtained in real-world tests. The memory cells are packed in MLC (Multi-Level Cell) format, which sacrifices performance for a lower price. Yet we couldn't really feel any degradation in this respect, as it was the SATA II interface that ended up as the bottleneck, not the memory chips or the controller. Speaking of the controller, OCZ opted for Intel's SandForce 2141, the very same used for Nocti's 30 GB version. The 120 GB one is bestowed with the 2181 version, which has a several times greater IOPS (Input/Output Per Second), although this can only be felt under very specific conditions, such as keeping a database on the SSD which requires a large number of simultaneous queries/reads/writes. As is fit, TRIM support is implemented as well, so you won't encounter trouble if you read and write data to and from Nocti a lot.
|SIZE||30 x 50 x 3,5 mm|
|OTHER||mSATA interface, SATA II|
|PRICE||~ 85 €|
|ATTO Bench 2.41|
|Read QD4 0,5 / 4 / 8 / 265 / 8192 KB [KB/s]||20.632 / 147.814 / 174.740 /257.838 / 281.970|
|Read QD10 0,5 / 4 / 8 / 256 / 8192 KB [KB/s]||24.514 / 184.495 / 228.854 / 279.474 / 280.790|
|Write QD4 0,5 / 4 / 8 / 256 / 8192 KB [KB/s]||19.584 / 165.961 / 219.998 / 264.220 / 266.305|
|Write QD10 0,5 / 4 / 8 / 256 / 8192 KB [KB/s]||20.960 / 172.105 / 229.998 / 264.220 / 264.729|
|AS SSD Benchmark 1.6|
|Read Seq / 4K / 4K-64 Thrd [MB/s]||105,3 / 12,96 / 50,15|
|Write Seq / 4K / 4K-64 Thrd [MB/s]||49,6 / 40,25 / 51,12|
|Read 16 MB / 4K / 4K-64 Thrd / 512 B [IOPS]||6,56 / 3.318 / 12.838 / 3.128|
|Write 16 MB / 4K / 4K-64 Thrd / 512 B [IOPS]||3,10 / 10.304 / 13.087 / 2.648|
|Copy Benchmark ISO / Program / Game [MB/s]||46,45 / 34,11 / 40,02|
|CrystalDiskMark 3.01 x64|
|Read Seq / 512K / 4K / 4K QD 32 [MB/s]||220,2 / 196,9 / 14,02 / 16,04|
|Write Seq / 512K / 4K / 4K QD 32 [MB/s]||164,6 / 134,7 / 8,177 / 8,045|
|Compressable data (All 0x00, 0Fill)|
|Read Seq / 512K / 4K / 4K QD 32 [MB/s]||221,3 / 197,9 / 15,72 / 16,06|
|Write Seq / 512K / 4K / 4K QD 32 [MB/s]||169,5 / 132,6 / 8,199 / 8,007|
|SiSoftware Sandra Pro Business 2011.SP5a|
|Random Access Time [ms]||0,10|
As you can see from the results charts, Nocti mSATA is very fast and goes a great deal over the standard 2.5" SSD devices. In order to use it as best we could, we installed some everyday heavy-use software onto it, such as Google Chrome and the World of Tanks game, but also transferred the system's TEMP disk onto it, as well as the SWAP file intended for system memory caching. It would've been interesting if we'd transferred the hibernation file as well (used by Windows to transfer the RAM content onto the disk in order to avoid a full shutdown), but this was impossible due to Windows' own limitations (the hibernation file has to be kept on the system disk). Expectedly enough, system boot-up showed no particular improvement, but the usual Windows tasks were made much quicker and all routine operations more agile. Software booted up from Nocti at lightning speed, regardless of type, several times faster than any HDD could hope for and a good deal faster than common SSDs. Add to this the device's accessible price, and this sort of improvement becomes very appealing even with already powerful notebooks, as long as they have an mSATA connector. Depending on how forecoming your manufacturer was in terms of configurability, you may even be able to use Nocti as a system disk (the best option), but it fits the bill even as an auxiliary disk, used for all those heavy-duty applications that take ages to start up. Both cases will ultimately yield you a noticeably faster system, and if you opt for the model with the greatest capacity, you're in for a treat, as it has sufficient room for both the OS and all the accompanying applications.