Despite its release with much fanfare earlier this month Intel’s 9-series motherboard platform, of which Z97 is the major chipset, has brought few genuinely new features relevant to the mainstream market. In fact perhaps the only significant exception is the implementation of the SATA Express bus interface through the use of two new storage connectors – M.2 and SATA Express – either of which unlocks the possibility of faster storage than the now ageing SATA. Whilst they won’t each appear on every Z97 motherboard, together they push forward standards which have plateaued slightly since SATA 3 was implemented.
Even now, with Z87 phased out and Z97 being the dominant motherboard chipset on new PCs, SATA-Express as a connector is at present not particularly well supported by the market; the first major drive releases are expected to be announced at Computex this June. By contrast M.2 storage devices have been established for some little time thanks to embedded systems and selected Z87 motherboard models, but there is still some time to go before it has the reach of even mSATA. Eventually M.2 is expected to largely replace mSATA, but understandably is only now finding its feet.