Over the last couple of years, consumer SSDs had to serve two masters - desktops and notebooks. The more SATA Express for desktops and M.2 for notebooks / ultrabooks frees both systems from interoperability. The M.2 form factor is great for notebooks, embedded devices and even desktop motherboards, but the 2.5" form factor, freed from the notebook, means manufactures can be creative.
The push to 7mm and then 5mm meant innovative designs using 9.5mm and even 15mm with two and three layers all but stopped for enthusiasts. With SATA Express, the next ASUS ROG RAIDR Express could be a 2.5" design with a 15mm z-height, with dual controllers and a PCIe switch to increase performance.
Another option, along the same innovative line, is increased density beyond the typical eight or sixteen NAND packages. The new Samsung 840 EVO mSATA 1TB uses four NAND packages with 16 NAND die in each package. Although expensive, sixteen packages per PCB with two PCBs in a 9.5mm z-height would deliver a massive 8TB of capacity. We've already tested a dual PCB SSD in a 12mm case from Photofast many years ago. That was the golden age of SSD innovation, when companies actively redefined boundaries, a time before product managers had to build the same drive, using the same sizes, with the same specifications, to deliver another cookie cutter product that appealed to a wide range of host products.
I'm not saying those day are coming back entirely, but if I was a fabless SSD manufacturer, I'd look at separating myself from the flash fab companies and not try to follow along. That's a losing strategy because they will always have a price advantage. Large companies tend to play within limits, outside those limits is where opportunity lies.
SATA Express aids in opening up opportunities, even if it's current, well soon to be, form is a stop gap to PCIe 3.0. In the article, we mentioned having four products based on the Marvell native PCIe controller. The performance we published today with the SanDisk A110 covers all of them pretty well. That's what SATA Express will deliver in the first round, until LSI SandForce releases SF3700.
The SF3700, like the SF2281 before it, should reach the highest levels of performance offered by the new interface. At AIS, we posted images of SF3700 achieving 1800 MB/s sequential read with four PCIe 2.0 lanes. SATA Express offers half the number of lanes, so it's safe to assume 900 MB/s, or there about, on the table.
On the enthusiast side, PCIe overclocking has always been a way to squeeze more performance out of video cards. This is an area ASUS has experience with and one that I'm excited to explore further when the time comes.
That leads us to where we are today, waiting for the new technology to become available. ASUS has made it clear they are ready to proceed.