We've seen a bunch of custom SSD form factors with the arrival of Ultrabooks as well as systems like the MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro. The need is simple: standard 7mm or 9.5mm SSDs are too big for some of these machines, and you don't actually need all of that volume to build a fast drive. mSATA cards work as a small form factor solution but they are only available in a single size. We need flexibility both on length (to allow for higher capacities) as well as on the interface side to enable higher performance. The NGFF specification gives us just that.

The spec allows for SATA, PCIe x2 or PCIe x4 interfaces. It also includes definitions for five different card lengths. 

The proposed spec includes two connector definitions: Socket 2 and Socket 3. Socket 2 allows for SATA or PCIe x2 interface for SSDs, WWAN or other non-storage devices. Socket 3 is strictly for high-performance storage, offering up to 4GB/s of bandwidth in a tiny little package. 

This is super exciting as far as I'm concerned. We've strayed too far from standardization and upgradability in the pursuit of ultimate mobility. Now all we need is a smaller form factor user replaceable memory standard.

Update: I just got some hands on shots with a few NGFF samples:

mSATA on the left, NGFF on the right

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  • Guspaz - Thursday, September 13, 2012 - link

    Except mSATA is not half the size. while the Apple style is roughly 24mm x 109mm x 3.9mm, while the mSATA drives are 51mm x 30mm x 4.9mm.

    It's half the length, yes, but it's 25% wider and thicker. That'd make it harder to fit in a lot of places where thickness or width is important.
    Reply
  • nerd1 - Friday, September 14, 2012 - link

    http://cdn.arstechnica.net//wp-content/uploads/201...

    MBA one is indeed narrower, but rMBP one is WIDER than mSATA.
    Reply
  • darwiniandude - Saturday, September 15, 2012 - link

    That's what she said. Reply
  • Alexvrb - Thursday, September 13, 2012 - link

    The B and M keys of the new standard also irritates me a bit. If you're going to make a new standard to replace mSATA, and it's got PCIe in both sockets 2 and 3 (2X vs 4X), why not just make them all socket 3 PCIe 4X and standardize on that? If you want SATA there's still mSATA. Reply
  • macuser2134 - Friday, September 14, 2012 - link

    Good question. When they debated and discussed the standard, will have been some kind of careful rationalization for their decision to keep SATA compatibility. I am guessing they just really want to give their new standard best chances for being adopted by the industry. All of today's successful SSD designs are SATA III. It is so much cheaper for the manufacturers to re-cycle a current SATA 3 design, just re-work it onto the new PCB form factor.

    As for the argument that mSATA is good enough. Well, unfortunately it really isn't. the only thing mSATA was ever suited for is small cache drives and small boot drives. It's simply not big enough to accomodate enough NAND chips.

    Forgetting PCIe for now, and thinking only about SATA drives: the new standard is still far more suitable to notebook + SSD makers than mSATA. Because a) they can make much larger capacities which were not possible with mSATA, and/or 2) use the much cheaper lower density NAND chips with the sensible choice(s)/options for PCB area. Meanwhile, the overall size of your notebook or mobile device remains almost exactly the same.

    Now about the PCIe lanes, and having 2 physical connectors: Well, these standards people probably realized they didn't know the answers to some very important questions:

    Will the faster PCI 4x lanes connector ever be needed? By the time we have reached the 2GB/s limit, then PCIe 4.0 specification will be already released, and version 4.0 of PCI consortium are aiming again to double the bus speed over the previous PCI specification. So that speed increase (4GB/s) might equally be achieved by staying with the original SATA-compatible connector, rather than wheeling out the PCI-only connector. Nobody knows yet.

    And if the PCI bus is made faster, then the problem is deffered. The question then becomes: will 8GB/Sec speeds be needed in 2015+... and again nobody currently knows or can predict that either. However by then the SSD manufacturers will have had plenty of time to stop making SATA 3 drives completely, and instead we will have a healthy market for the first-gen PCI 3.0 2x lane drives. At that time, when SATA finally dies, the notebook makers will all be making their new laptops with the 2nd kind of PCI-only slot. So then it doesn't really matter. Any remaining consumers still hanging on to 5-year old notebooks will still be able to buy 2Gigabyte/sec 2-lane SSDs for them. Just like you can buy very cheap Vertex 2's today. Its really the same thing as SATA 1 backwards compatibility.
    Reply
  • Alexvrb - Saturday, September 15, 2012 - link

    Deferring the problem? Until what day? Until Intel comes in and fixes the problem, and in doing so creates another proprietary connector? You're endorsing their lazy stopgap measure. 4 lanes is 4 lanes. It would be twice as fast today, and twice as fast when they implement PCIe 4.0, whenever that eventually happens. If they pushed Socket 3 only, we'd have a lot more machines with that instead of Socket 2, with the then-defunct SATA half and gimped bandwidth. By the time PCIe 4.0 comes around, I fully expect both mSATA and the SATA half of Socket 2 to be obsolete.

    We already have PCIe-based SSDs. Manufacturers seem to be capable of building them. If there was a real demand, they'd build tons of them, and costs would plummet. I'd prefer to see a healthy market of 4 lane devices, instead of ending up with a split market. So like I said, I think they would have been better off sticking with mSATA for the current generation less-expensive SATA III compatible interface, and then phasing it out entirely for a pure PCIe setup. Have you even looked at any mSATA drives recently? They've got 256GB M4 and XPG drives on Newegg. The prices aren't even all that bad, for that density.

    Anyone that needed more speed, capacity, or the new form factor could then use a Socket 3 4-lane solution, which should supersede mSATA over time. Others could stick with mSATA if it suits their needs, for cache drives or even primary storage in some devices. Instead, now we have mSATA, and not one but two new sockets, one of which has... SATA and 2 lanes. The two lanes part is barely faster than SATA 3, why bother? Again, by the time PCIe 4.0 comes out, mSATA should be phased out anyway for this sort of application.

    Imagine if (when PCIe was first introduced) there were two PCIe interfaces, and two incompatible connector types, one was pure PCIe. The other was half PCI, half PCIe (with half the lanes of the same size PCIe connector). On top of this, you can't connect older PCI cards. You can build cards that fit both slots, but they only use half the PCIe lanes if connected to a pure PCIe slot. It's not quite a perfect comparison, but it's just about as silly.
    Reply
  • Pessimism - Friday, September 14, 2012 - link

    Guaranteed Apple will still make some subtle tweak to theirs, an extra pin, a different voltage to keep their stranglehold over parts supply. Reply
  • web2dot0 - Friday, September 14, 2012 - link

    Please refrain from conjecture and speculation until the facts are in. Just makes you look like a Apple Hater.

    The previous posters said, Apple needed proprietary specs because they needed SSD of non-standard dimensions and high capacity SSD drives.

    If you don't like it, don't buy them. Let the market speak, not your mouth.

    I thought we are all for the market? What happened to capitalism?
    Reply
  • extide - Friday, September 14, 2012 - link

    Yeah but they changed the pinout on their drive several times for no reason other than to have stranglehold over parts supply. Reply
  • Pessimism - Monday, September 17, 2012 - link

    The previous posters are speculating as much as you claim I am. Somehow every other major manufacturer manages to make thin and light laptops using industry standard, MSATA parts. The argument that Apple NEEDS to use their own oddball, vendor locked size of part to manufacture a laptop is pretty weak. As the other poster below mentions, this is not the first time nor will it be the last that Apple modifies standard components to only work with their systems. Google "Apple hard drive firmware". Also, their OS disables TRIM on non-apple SSDs. Their OS used to cripple non apple optical drives. Reply

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