SATA Express: what is it and how will it change computing?

by Jerry Townson 1. August 2014 18:44

SATA Express is a mechanical specification for a new type of connector able to mate with SATA cables and the newer PCIe devices. These devices connect systems via the respective cables to 2.5 inch drives. Transitioning to a new interface can be rough in an industry filled with fast-paced changes. Supporting both SATA and PCIe signaling, SATA Express was designed to provide a common connector for both OEMs and system vendors.

The technology effectively enables SATA connectors to support the higher data rates of PCIe. It is also intended to reduce the labor and cost aspects of transitioning to PCIe devices. While SATA devices run at a 550 MB/s maximum, PCIe Gen2 x2 devices support up to 900 MB/s and PCIe Gen3 x2 products up to 1,800 MB/s. The alternative specification also provides a more power-efficient solution.

Benefits of SATA Express over Previous Technologies

Originally intended to manage spinning disks, SATA later evolved to support disks with an Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI). This allowed for features like multi-threading and hot-swapping. Today, solid state storage is the preferred medium and the processing power used for memory management and security requires an even more advanced technology. The newer Non Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) protocol is a newer protocol designed to work with PCIe based solid state drives to unlock their full potential. SATA Express will support both technologies.

The new standard has a few benefits:

      Scalability – Connectors and drives supporting SATA Express will scale seamlessly with future upgrades as newer faster storage devices are released.

      Speed – The possibility exists for drives to run 4-5x faster than today’s high-end storage systems.

      Unified protocol – The potential for adapters connecting either SATA based SSDs or PCIe based SSD’s with SATA Express connector devices, now that both types of signaling are supported.

      More efficient use of solid state storage when newer PCIe based devices supporting the NVMe protocol are available.

The SATA Express specification addresses the performance and strict energy-saving needs of the current computing industry. It will impact end users, manufacturers, vendors, and others in the PC market.