M.2 vs mSATA case study – Crucial M500 240GB & Plextor M6e 256GB
ASRock Z97 Extreme6
Offcourse we couldn’t test the performance of the M.2 and mSATA storage solutions without a proper motherboard testbed. Before getting down to business we will take a look at two motherboards, representing the top models from the classic line (not Gaming or OC) of ASRock and Gigabyte.
The first in line is the ASRock Z97 Extreme6 which is the only motherboard on the market with an Ultra M.2 port. This routes 4 lanes of PCI-E 3.0 from the CPU straight to your storage device, leaving just 8 lanes for you discrete GPU or 8x / 4x if you are planning to use two GPU’s in CrossfireX (SLI doesn’t allow to be activated if you don’t have at least 8x / 8x bandwidth). Anyway don’t worry about the performance drop between 16x and 8x when running a single video card, because with modern PCI-Express 3.0 GPUs and normal resolution (1080p) you will see around 1% performance penalty.
The motherboard is shipped in a medium sized box, while the printing on it reveals some of the features that we will find on the motherboard itself. Being the top model we can find some really nice features on the motherboard: dual Gigabit LAN, 10 x SATA 3, SATA Express, regular M.2 port, Ultra M.2 port, Purity Sound 2 audio technology and a mini-PCIe if you have a WiFi card around.
The PCB of the Z97 Extreme6 is kept nice and clean, with the masive VRM and PCH heatsinks dominating the color spectrum with their blueness. The Ultra M.2 and the mini-PCIe are situated between the first and second 16x PCI-Express slots, while the normal PCI-E 2.0 2x slot is placed between the second and the third. The dual BIOS feature is also present on the board together with a switch that can toggle between them. On board Power and Reset buttons together with a Debug LED and an on-board USB 2.0 port for your USB flash disk will please for sure the overclocking crowd.
Another interesting feature is the HDD Saver, through which you can power a maximum of two HDDs or SSDs straight from the motherboard. With the A-Tuner software you can switch the storage drives on or off as you wish, but note that this feature is password protected. I find this feature very useful for privacy but also for power saving and HDD / SSD lifespan, just bear in mind that it works only in AHCI mode (not IDE and not RAID mode).
Purity Sound 2 is the name of the integrated audio card, featuring an EMI shielded Realtek ALC1150 DAC together with low noise Nichicon Fine Gold caps for filtering. The Differential Amplifier and the cap less Direct Drive technology are the same as the original Purity Sound so we see no change here.