Faster storage is the most significant upgrade you are able to make on your old PC. While other parts, like the CPU and GPU, have undoubtedly improved over the past ten years, faster storage will benefit all users.
The most modern storage interface for laptops and desktops is NVMe, which has read and write speeds far quicker than prior technologies. This speeds up the loading of your operating system and significantly decreases game loading times. However, this has a price, so buying an NVMe SSD might only sometimes be beneficial based on how you would like to use the computer.
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What to look for when buying an NVMe Drive
Okay, so we now know that NVMe drives outperform SATA drives in terms of speed and that, given the relatively low price premiums they command over SATA SSDs, they are now a pretty practical purchase. Therefore, if you decide to upgrade your aged system in the future, you could be tempted to buy an NVMe drive. While choosing an NVMe SSD for your plan, there are some considerations you should bear in mind.
This essay will mainly discuss PCIe Gen 3 NVMe SSD compatibility. The following are some essential considerations while looking for an NVMe SSD.
M.2 Form Factor
The M.2 slot on the motherboard and the 2.5" form factor may be used by regular SATA SSDs; however, NVMe drives are only compatible with the M.2 Slot. The M.2 platform is flexible and works with a wide range of M.2 cards. The SSD implementation, which includes both SATA and NVMe SSDs, is one of the uses for the M.2 form factor.
SATA vs NVMe
If we focus exclusively on that form factor, just two SSDs are suitable with the M.2 shape factor. Conventional SATA SSDs can also use the M.2 Slot, although the SATA interface constrains their bandwidth and speed. Performance-wise, M.2 SATA SSDs are comparable to 2.5" SATA SSDs but are significantly smaller and offer a cable-free experience.
Regarding the NVMe drives, even though they both initially appear to be connected to the same slot and utilize the same SATA interface, these are significantly faster when compared to drives that use the PCIe bus and the SATA interface. When looking for an NVMe drive, this is the primary distinction that must be made. Although an identical M.2 SATA drive can appear to be an NVMe disk, the performance is very different. Most SATA SSDs have a top speed of 550–600 MB/s, but M.2 NVMe SSDs have a theoretical top speed of 4000 MB/s.
The motherboard is the most crucial factor in evaluating the extent to which your system is suitable for the NVMe drive you're considering purchasing.
Since it has been established that a motherboard's M.2 slot is the only location where NVMe drives can operate, it is crucial to determine if the motherboard even has any M.2 slots. The M.2 Slot, which is 22mm wide and typically found below or next to the PCIe Slots, allows for the horizontal insertion of an M.2 card. Most contemporary motherboards can accommodate only one M.2 slot but occasionally two or three. You can experience an issue with the lack of M.2 slots when your motherboard is quite old or somewhat cheap.
The M.2 slots may accommodate a range of M.2 cards, including SATA SSDs, NVMe SSDs, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth cards. These days, it should be straightforward to discover a motherboard that features an M.2 Slot due to its importance and adaptability as a feature in motherboards.
It's also crucial to remember that NVMe compatibility isn't assured by simply having an M.2 Slot. Most early M.2 slots only supported SATA, even though M.2 was intended to handle USB 3.0, SATA, and PCIe. As this is a generic guide and there are hundreds of motherboards available on the market today, we have to include a compulsory reference to your motherboard's manual at this point in the essay. The motherboard's handbook details the M.2 Slot's exact operational capabilities and compatibility with both SATA and NVMe SSDs. Here is what the MSI B450 Tomahawk MAX motherboard manual has to say about storage options:
Don't worry if your motherboard doesn't have any M.2 Slots at all. Online retailers sell a PCIe M.2 Adapter card that is reasonably priced and uses the motherboard's PCIe x4 slot to connect the NVMe drive with little to no performance impact.
The NVMe SSD's key layout and the motherboard's M.2 Slot are crucial factors to consider when determining compatibility. A connector cannot be inserted into an incompatible socket without the key. It is possible to decide on this even by examining the disk drive and the slot.
Let's start by discussing the M.2 slot on the board. It is determined by using two primary "Keys" in M.2 Slots whether the slot is intended for PCIe x2 or PCIe x4 functioning. The first is called B-keyed and has six contacts (12–19) isolated from the rest. The latter is called M-keyed and contains five connections (pins 59–66) isolated from the other contacts on the other side of the connector. The M.2 slot itself has these contacts, and it can be observed from there if the slot is suitable with B-key or M-key drives (or both in the case of B/M slots).
Due to this, you can also determine from this information if the slot supports PCIe x2 (B-key or M-key) or PCIe x4 (only M-key) functioning. The x4 drives employ 4 PCIe lanes instead of 2, doubling the bandwidth available and making them significantly quicker than the x2 drives. The manual for the motherboard must be used to confirm that since some of the earlier B-key slots were SATA-only. Additionally, SATA disks are supported in both the B and M key slots.
The length of M.2 cards or SSDs is another crucial aspect to consider. The two most popular NVMe SSD sizes are "2242" and "2280," abbreviations for 42mm and 80mm lengths, respectively. It is pretty straightforward to check because this data will be easily accessible on the SSD product page and the motherboard's manual. Traditional concerns are unfounded because most contemporary NVMe SSDs adhere to the 2280 standard, and most modern motherboards are compatible with up to four distinct M.2 sizes.
However, it can become an issue in Mini-iTX or Laptop boards where more room might be needed. Suppose you're interested in purchasing an NVMe drive for these panels. In that case, it is vital to double-check the highest supported length on the motherboard's documentation since the M.2 2280, 2260, or even 2242 SSDs may be too long to fit in those restricted places. There's a chance that only smaller sizes, like 2230, will work in those spaces.
Differences in NVMe Drives
NVMe drives come in many shapes and sizes. While nearly any NVMe drive could offer a significant speed improvement over a SATA SSD, much like a conventional hard drive, some drives are also designed to enhance this experience further. When making a purchase decision, some elements set NVMe drives apart from other types of drives:
- M-Key x4 PCIe NVMe SSDs are quicker than earlier B-key or M-key x2 PCIe kinds.
- Because additional NAND chips often boost the speed at which the controller delivers and stores data, lesser-capacity versions of a given drive are frequently slower than bigger-capacity ones. • Different types of NAND Flash may also matter. The Single-Level Cell (SLC) is the fastest, followed by the Multi-Level Cell (MLC), Triple-Level Cell (TLC), and Quad-Level Cell (QLC).
- An onboard DRAM cache, SLC cache, or HMB (Host Memory Buffer) solution can significantly improve the drive's performance and longevity.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Are there any compatibility issues I should know when installing an NVMe SSD on my motherboard?
While most contemporary motherboards can support NVMe SSDs, it's crucial to examine the motherboard's specifications to make sure. Older motherboards might not support NVMe or only keep a few brands or NVMe SSDs.
2. Do all NVMe SSDs work with all motherboards that support NVMe?
While the majority of NVMe SSDs are functional with motherboards that are compatible with NVMe, it's vital to double-check both the specifications of the motherboard and the NVMe SSD to make sure.
For some NVMe SSDs to operate effectively, the motherboard may need to have particular characteristics or settings.
3. If my motherboard doesn’t support NVMe SSDs, what are my options for upgrading?
Installing a PCIe adapter card capable of supporting NVMe may allow you to update your storage if your motherboard does not support NVMe SSDs.
The NVMe SSD can then be connected to the adapter card, which can be connected to a PCIe slot on your motherboard.
Initially, it could seem challenging to respond to the question, "Does my motherboard support NVMe?" Fortunately, you can figure this out on your own by following a few straightforward steps.
It is necessary to read the motherboard description. Therefore, the most straightforward approach to finding out if your motherboard supports NVMe is to study the motherboard's technical documentation or product description before making a purchase.
Your motherboard most likely supports NVMe if it is at most four or five years old. However, you can save money on parts that don't work well together by doing a compatibility check.