Traditional hard drives can store large amounts of data magnetically on spinning disks, but they tend to be slow, loud and power-hungry; they're also easily damaged by magnetic fields, excessive heat and sudden physical shocks. Solid state drives use a different technology which performs better in many situations than magnetic hard drives. SSDs in the Mini PCIe format are built to fit into smaller computers, such as netbooks.
Like the memory card for a camera or a USB flash drive, modern SSDs use non-volatile flash memory to store data. Flash memory, however, has a finite number of read and write cycles that can be performed before the memory fails. SSDs use high-performance memory and built-in wear-leveling software to distribute the read and write cycles evenly across the memory, which increases the reliability of the SSDs to hard-drive levels. SSDs have no moving parts, which eliminates the chance of shock or vibration damage; their lack of moving parts also means their power requirements are significantly lower than those of disk-based hard drives. SSDs can perform much faster than hard drives, operate in higher temperatures, resist damage from magnetic fields and run silently. On the downside, SSDs are much more expensive per storage unit and when they do fail, they do so immediately. Traditional hard drives often display warning signs, giving you time to back up critical data before the unit completely fails.
Mini PCIe Form Factor
Mini PCIe is a smaller version of the Peripheral Component Interconnect Express expansion bus that allows components such as wireless networking cards or graphics cards to be added to your computer. Several proprietary SSDs were released in the Mini PCIe format, which included both the flash memory and an integrated SATA or PATA controller that allowed the flash memory to be seen as an integrated storage device. Only a few computers were released that took advantage of these SSDs, including models in the Asus Eee PC line, some Apple MacBook Airs and certain models of the Dell Mini9 and Mini10. The manufacturers did not necessarily use the same hardware configurations, so an SSD designed for one brand may not work in another.
Confusion With mSATA SSDs
Most of the small SSDs on the market today use the mSATA or Mini SATA format. Physically, it is the same connection as the one used by Mini PCI-e SSDs. Electrically, however, it is vastly different, as the mSATA format is not an expansion bus connection, requiring an integrated drive controller, but a direct connection to the computer's existing controller. Adding to the confusion, some online vendors label mSATA SSDs as Mini PCIe devices, while some newer computers offer Mini PCIe slots that can be configured as mSATA slots.
Choosing the Correct SSD
If you would like to add a Mini PCIe SSD to one of the computers that support it, try searching the name and model of the computer and ensure that your model is listed as compatible in the product description. If the SSD is listed as an mSATA device, it is definitely not compatible. The common manufacturers of Mini PCIe SSDs are Supertalent, Kingspec and Runcore.
- Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images