ASUS Z87 based SATA Express Prototype
Even though the rest of the market isn't ready to deliver SATA Express, ASUS certainly is. The company was kind enough to send us a new prototype motherboard used for testing SATA Express. The boards' label reads Z87 Deluxe / SATA Express, and it follows the same look found on many of the company's current award winning products.
What makes this product different is the inclusion of two SATA Express ports on the lower right hand corner. The first connector links to the Intel PCH directly and the second to a third-party bridge.
For years, we've heard rumblings about dedicated PCIe based storage on Intel platforms. The current chipsets offer flexible placement with enough PCIe to dedicate lanes to storage.
Here we get our first look at the new connector. Each provides two SATA III ports for two devices or one SATA Express port for a single device.
Essentially, what SATA-I/O managed to develop is a PCIe lane ran through a SATA connector. Two SATA connectors carry two PCIe lanes, but that's still not enough pins to transmit the full signal. SATA uses 7 pins, but the full SATA Express pin count is 18, thus we have an extra block off to the side.
Traditional SATA cables in SATA Express.
SATA Express cables in the new interface.
At this time, ASUS is putting the finishing touches on the design and cable markers are as well. Eventually we plan to see more refined cables with bundled in a single sleeve.
As we mentioned, there aren't any SATA Express SSDs available at this time, at least not in this specific form factor. Since SATA Express is PCIe Express, it's possible to convert the SATA Express signal into a PCI Express slot for PCIe form factor products like the recently reviewed ASUS ROG RAIDR Express.
ASUS provided us with a special adapter to do just that. The prototype name is "Runway".
Two additional pins carry the PCIe clock signal to the adapter.