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I have a Dell XPS 12 laptop (sometimes referenced as model 9Q33, bought in the UK), and information about the SSD's logical/physical interface and compatibility is very conflicted.

According to Device Manager, the card itself is a Liteon LMT 256 M6M mSATA 256GB).

But some web pages say the laptop is an 'older' model that takes an mSATA SSD rather than PCIe:

Unfortunately, no -- the older XPS 12 (9Q23 and 9Q33) used mSATA SSDs. The new models use PCIe/NVMe -- though the form factor is similar, the two are not interchangeable

and other web pages 'guarantee' it takes a PCIe SSD:

Samsung mini-SATA mSATA 512gb (gigabyte) Mini PCI-E SSD (solid state drive) for the following Dell Ultrabooks.

Guaranteed Compatible Dell Laptops / Notebooks:
-XPS 14 (L421X), 15 (L521X), 13 (L321X), 13 (L322X)
-XPS 12 (9Q23) / 9Q33

What kind of SSD is it, and how would I be able to figure it out in future?

  • Device Manager is smart enough to know the difference between mSATA and PCIe; you found your answer already. You can also look in the details like the Hardware ID of the device itself , and google the result to find the exact device you're looking for. If you're confident, you can unscrew the cover of the laptop and have a look to see the device's serial numbers etc. – Christopher Hostage Jun 7 '18 at 15:33
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mSATA and mini-PCIe use the same physical connector.

The signals are different, so mSATA will not work in a mini-PCIe slot or vice versa. Some chipsets allow the firmware to make a slot work as mini-PCIe or mSATA.

Advertisements or manuals may get it wrong and call it a mini-PCIe SSD anyway, so I think what you're looking it is a misuse of the terminology.

Now, a quote from a forum:

True mini PCIe ssd cards do exist, but are rare, have tiny capacities and command a hefty price. Finding the real McCoy is also exceedingly difficult since tons of sellers list mSATA cards as 'mPCIe'.

I've never seen a real mini-PCIe SSD but supposedly they exist. These probably existed around the time that laptops came with "Cache Module" slots that would take a flash-based module but not expose it as a drive. Real mini-PCIe SSDs are rare enough that if you find the term used you can safely assume it's an error.

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Your specifications PDF guide for that model clearly states it has one mini card slot for mSATA.

PCI-e and mSATA are different architectures

All that being said, depending on how Dell implemented the mini card slot it could be compatible with both devices, see "mSATA and mPCIe Compatibility" section in the second link.

  • You're saying that the slots and cards are - literally - incapable of being distinguished, or the device compatibility being definitively distinguished/confirmed, other than by trial and error? Or am I missing the paragraph in any of those links that says how to do it? If so, do I just buy one of each card, try both, and return whichever doesn't work (or the mSata if they both work), and is there a possibility of damage if the wrong type is plugged in? – Stilez Jun 7 '18 at 15:32
  • According to the second link, they just wont work, says nothing about damaging them. I would stick with mSATA unless there is some huge advantage for using a pcie drive. – Moab Jun 7 '18 at 16:12

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