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State-Of-The-Art Standards – SATA Express (Part 3)

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5/15/2014 4:44:48 PM

All Aboard The SATA Express

On August 8 2013, the SATA-IO announced that the SATA Express (or SATA 3.2) revision, which is a new revision that lets the PCI-E bus double as a SATA interface, had been finalized. The SATA Express connector will let users connect new SATA Express devices (most likely in the form of SSDs), traditional SATA devices, and traditional PCI-E devices to a supporting motherboard. In certain cases, adapters may be necessary. As we mentioned above, a single PCI-E 3.0 lane has more than a leg up on SATA III, but SATA Express can utilize up to two PCI-E lanes, which gives it peak data rates of up to approximately 2GBps.

http://rog.asus.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/SATA-Express-connector-early-design-1.jpg

Next Gen: ASUS Z87 Deluxe/SATA Express

Because there are two protocols involved, the terminology used to refer to the new SATA Express devices and components can get tricky. According to the SATA-IO, the SATA Express specification refers to the host (currently a discrete IC separate from the chipset) and device connectors that are capable of supporting SATA or PCI-E devices. SATA Express connectors refer to the physical interface on the motherboard and on the device itself. The SATA Express host refers to a system that has both the SATA Express host connector and the logic to switch between PCI-E and SATA depending on the device connected. The term “SATA Express PCI-E device” refers to a storage devic  e that features a SATA Express connector.

PCI-E 16X for you VGA or PCI-E devices. I/O outputs has DVI/D-Sub/DP

PCI-E 16X for you VGA or PCI-E devices. I/O outputs has DVI/D-Sub/DP

What will the SATA Express connector look like? Depending on the type of hardware it will support, the SATA-IO proposes a few different options. One of the proposed plugs features a uniform row of contacts with notches to support PCI-E devices made for SATA Express. Another supports a pair of standard SATA III cables, doubling as two discrete SATA III ports. This latter design is the one ASUS opted to use on its SATA Express prototype.

AHCI vs. NVMe

SATA Express PCI-E devices need a software foundation that facilitates the exchange of data between them and the attached host system memory. Traditional SATA-based storage devices use AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface), which was supported in Microsoft’s operating systems starting with Windows Vista. This technology enables device- level support for hot plugging (lets the user plug and unplug a given component without first shutting the system down) and Native Command Queuing, which means different things for HDDs and SSDs.

 

All SATA ports support Native Command Queuing (NCQ), hot plugging, ATAPI devices, port multiplier with command-based switching supporting and programmable output swing control to suit eSATA connections

All SATA ports support Native Command Queuing (NCQ), hot plugging, ATAPI devices, port multiplier with command-based switching supporting and programmable output swing control to suit eSATA connections

In mechanical hard drives, NCQ refers to the scheme whereby the drive can reorder the pending read/write commands to better suite where the requested data is located on the platters. It takes longer for the platter to make a single revolution than it does for the actuator arm to skip across the surface of the platter, so NCQ lets the hard drive queue up read and write commands based on a more latency-aware sequence. This effectively decreases the number of revolutions necessary to perform the commands. In SSDs, NCQ offsets host latency by queuing commands and using pipelines to process commands concurrently. The benefit of a SATA Express PCI-E device that relies on AHCI is that it retains compatibility with SATA software environments and most major operating systems currently in use. The drawback, however, is that AHCI was built with mechanical hard drives in mind, not SSDs. As a result, AHCI can only handle 32 simultaneous commands.

 

 

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