PCIe SSDs have definitely garnered a lot of attention over the past few years. Especially among high-end users and working professionals who want even faster flash storage than your typical SATA SSD. While SATA SSDs are more than sufficient for most people, many people are oblivious to the fact that the SATA connection actually bottlenecks the full potential of flash storage. But how do we get past that bottleneck? Welcome to the world of NVMe SSDs. NVMe PCIe SSDs are comparatively several times faster than a typical SATA drive. It’s almost like there is no competition in terms of the speed at all. In this guide, we will briefly discuss how M.2 NVMe PCIe drives work and how to check if your motherboard is compatible with one. Let’s dive in.
How PCIe NVMe M.2 Drives Work
These types of SSDs usually plug into a PCIe x4 or x16 slot on your motherboard depending on the form factor. We will not be talking about add-in cards in this article. We will only be concerning ourselves with the M.2 form factor. M.2 is a smaller form factor than the typical SATA drives. Most M.2 SSDs use a PCIe x4 slot on your motherboard. This is the fastest and smallest form of flash storage for the mainstream market.
Another thing you need to know about PCIe M.2 SSDs is the new Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) Protocol. The earlier PCIe SSDs used the older AHCI protocol which was intended for mechanical hard drives. This limited PCIe SSDs to achieve their full potential. That is why NVMe was born. In a nutshell, the NVMe process works by taking large chunks of data, breaking it down into smaller bits for processing and then finally putting it back altogether. NVMe was created with flash storage in mind as flash storage can process a huge chunk of data at once.
All of the above are the basics of what makes up a PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD. By utilizing NVMe these types of drives are even faster than your typical SATA SSD. The speed gap is pretty huge. Most SATA SSDs max out at 550-600 Mb/s, while M.2 NVMe SSDs can theoretically go all the way up to 4000 Mb/s. Even in normal day to day tasks, the speed is quite noticeable.
NVMe M.2 Drive Compatibility
So after reading through all the information about NVMe M.2 drives, you have finally decided to get one for yourself. That sounds great but first, you should actually check if your current motherboard actually has support for M.2 NVMe SSDs and if so, what type should you use. In short, there are two basic factors that play into the role of compatibility between your motherboard and NVMe M.2 SSDs.
The most important thing is the connection the desired drive requires. Some motherboards might not even have support for M.2 drives at all. This seems to be the case with a lot of budget motherboards. Always check this on the product page of your motherboard. Assuming your motherboard does have an M.2 slot, the next thing to concern ourselves with is what connection the slot is using. Most of the newer M.2 drives use PCIe Gen3 x4 slots to fully reach their maximum respective speeds. These drives will work in an older gen x4 or x2 slot but that will definitely hinder the speed a bit. If you are buying a high-performance drive you will require a PCIe 3.0 x4 slot to fully utilize its speed. So be informed of what generation the PCIe slot is and whether it is an x2 or x4 slot. It also goes without saying (since this article is about PCIe NVMe drives specifically) that you do not get a SATA drive for your PCIe x4 slot. M.2 SATA is not the same as M.2 PCIe in terms of speed and it probably won’t work properly in the x4/x2 slot.
Size is something that shouldn’t be too much of an issue for desktop users as most M.2 drives intended for desktops have a standard size that will fit almost any motherboard. It never hurts to double-check though. Be aware that different drives come in different sizes or lengths. Be sure to check if your motherboard supports the exact size of the SSD you select. These sizes are indicated with 4 digit numbers at the end of the product name such as 2280, where “22” shows it is 22mm wide and 80mm long. 2280 and 2260 seem to be the most common sizes. Always be sure to check this especially if you are getting one for your laptop. Laptop M.2 drives usually have smaller heat spreaders as well and are a bit thinner overall.
M.2 drive and motherboard compatibility isn’t much of a confusing scenario as it seems at first glance. Just make sure that the connection on your motherboard will work properly with your drive and that the drive will fit perfectly in the slot. That’s really all there is to it. M.2 drives have made storage needs much easier, faster and simpler in an overall small package. Bottom line, if your wallet allows definitely get one for your PC, and if you’re looking to buy one have a look at our picks here.