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Summary:

I’m thinking that Dell didn’t go with a solid state drive module that’s soldered on the motherboard of the Inspiron Mini 9. Actually, that was my first thought when I heard you could configure your netbook for 4-, 8-, or 16-GB of SSD capacity. It’s far […]

Pcicard_smallI’m thinking that Dell didn’t go with a solid state drive module that’s soldered on the motherboard of the Inspiron Mini 9. Actually, that was my first thought when I heard you could configure your netbook for 4-, 8-, or 16-GB of SSD capacity. It’s far less expensive to have one base motherboard with an SSD module that you can add to on the fly.

My second clue was during the LAPTOP Magazine live video stream of the Dell Mini 9. Joanna Stern was kind enough to check the BIOS as I asked in the chat room. When she did that, she saw that the hard drive model was a STEC SSD x.x (sorry, I forget the numbers she read off). Some quick research let me to STEC Inc., which used to be known as SimpleTech, a make of flash memory modules and drives.

I can’t be sure exactly which of their products is used, but my gutleads me to their mini PCI-Express card. That would make the Dells easyfor a "build-to-order" approach. There are some other STEC flashproducts that could be inside, but I think they’re too big, i.e.:they’re the size of traditional hard drives and Dell has already saidthey see the netbook market better served by SSD and not magnetic harddrives. That doesn’t mean they didn’t go this route, but my best guessis that they didn’t.

If I’m right, this could be good news. Why? Two reasons: first, thiscard is also available in a 32 Gigabyte option from STEC. The highercapacity could later be made available as an option for folks whodesire more capacity. Secondly, this module has far better transferrates than the one in the Acer Aspire. According to the STEC product page,reads and write speeds are up to 85 MBps and 25 MBps respectively. Aquick test on the actual device would confirm that, of course, but Idon’t have one. ;)

I have a note into the folks at Dell to confirm this part because Ithink it could play a big role in purchase decisions for some. More tofollow as I’m trying to sleuth this out… bear in mind thisspeculation based on my limited information so far.

Update: thanks to some help from the LAPTOP Mag folks, I can confirm that Dell did use a mini PCI-Express module. Having seen a shot of the Mini 9 guts, I can tell you that I see no room for a hard drive. I do see (as expected), an open slot for a WWAN module.

  1. yep, you can see the module here:

    http://jkkmobile.blogspot.com/2008/09/dell-mini-9-gets-reviewed-and-upgraded.html

    I think it was good move from them.. same as on new Eee PCS

    I also like the 3G card slot…

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  2. Looks like I’m a good guesser then. ;) Interestingly, the flash module uses a controller from SST.

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  3. Are you sure you don’t mean a controller from STEC? How can the drive itself be branded STEC without the controller itself being STEC’s? Unless the controller you’re referring to controls something other than the SSD flash.. because the SSD definitely has a STEC ASIC in there..can’t be SST IMO.

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  4. also, I don’t see a PCI interface offering from STEC… there must be a SATA to PCI bridge somewhere in there

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  5. The controller chip is marked 55VD020, which is SST’s ATA flash controller.

    http://www.sst.com/products.xhtml/embedded_controllers/55/SST55VD020

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  6. do you have a picture with a close up of the drive showing the SST controller? I guess I’m really confused now… the whole point of sourcing a drive from STEC is to get the better read/write speeds from their controller. Why in the world would an SST controller be in the SSD?

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  7. I do have a picture that I was sent from LAPTOP Mag while researching this with them over e-mail today. I’m not going to publish it without their OK, as it’s their picture. Until I get permission, you’ll have to trust me. Believe me, I didn’t make up the 55VD020 part number. ;)

    I agree with you in that it’s confusing. We’ll keep digging for more info of course. Since their unit is pre-production perhaps there was a little cobbling of some components?!? If that’s even possible… your point is well taken: why mix and match, if that’s indeed the case.

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  8. here’s the spec on that controller: “The SST55VD020 high-performance ATA Flash Disk Controller offers sustained read and write performance up to 30 MByte/sec.”

    That’s way off on the read speed, although STEC’s website shows its SSD for UMPC at a read speed of 55Mb/sec. Anyways, something doesn’t make sense here. Are you 100% that the SST controller is on the SSD model itself? Are you sure it’s not somewhere else on the motherboard?

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  9. I’m 100% certain. Imagine the picture of the STEC I posted above. Instead of 2 flash modules and the controller with the STEC logo, the card in the Dell has 2 flash modules and a controller with the SST logo / product number.

    Like I said, we’ll keep digging to sort it out.

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  10. wow… that’s completely crazy. So you’re saying that it isn’t a STEC controller next to the Flash media but an SST controller? You just confused the hell out of me :(

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