The Intel NUC: mSATA power vs. performance

As anyone who has been following my blog knows the first thing you'll need to do when you pick up a NUC is buy memory, a hard drive, and a wireless module.  The wireless module is an easy choice; just get the Intel 6235 module.  It's cheap ($20 on Amazon when I last checked), includes bluetooth, and gives excellent performance.  I experimented with using a USB wireless dongle to save a few bucks, but in the end the Intel module is the way to go.  The USB dongles tend to not have the best performance and they don't include bluetooth, so getting a wireless dongle and a bluetooth dongle brings you right back up to the cost of the Intel 6235 anyway. Memory is similarly an easy choice.  There are many choices for SODIMMS but as long as you stick with a major brand and the right speed you'll probably be fine.

That leaves us with the mSATA drive.  Here there are many, many choices and which drive you chose can make a difference.  You can compare performance between drives by looking at Input/Output Per Second (IOPS) ratings.  That number (the higher the better) should give you an idea of which drives are faster.  It's not a guarantee of performance, just a "best case" performance number.  Depending on what you plan to use your NUC for there's another important factor, however: power.  I was recently looking for an inexpensive but solid-performing mSATA for my NUC. Intel drives offer rock-solid performance and reliability but they aren’t always the cheapest.  It can be tempting to go with a cheaper, less well-known brand but very often you have to give up speed and reliability to save those dollars.  Mushkin is a company that seems to balance performance, reliability and price.  Comparing drives of similar capacities the Mushkin drive is a bit less expensive than the Intel drive.  Let’s see what we get (and don’t get) with that savings.   Reviews indicated the drive was a solid performer and other than the guy who gave it a one star review because it didn't come with a mounting screw (I hate reviews like that) everyone loved it.  The IOPS numbers looked good too; write performance was the same as the Intel drive, and read performance was actually a bit better.  What surprised me was this difference in power consumption between the drives.  Take a look at this:




IOPS Write

Power Consumption (Active)

Power Consumption (Idle)


Intel 525 Series Lincoln Crest SSDMCEAC120B301 mSATA




350 Mw

275 Mw


Mushkin Enhanced Atlas Series MKNSSDAT120GB-V




2 W

.7 W


What does that tell us?  Well, we get the same capacity and as good or better performance for $70 less. However, the Mushkin drive uses almost 6 times as much power when active and more than 3 times as much when idle.  Depending on what you plan to use the NUC for this could be significant.  If you're using as an HTPC or workstation it probably wouldn't make much of a difference.  But if you're using in a mobile environment like a car or RV then power becomes much more important and the Intel drive might be a better way to go.   Even in an office environment there are advantages to using as little power as possible in the NUC, especially with so many companies going green.