M.2 vs. SATA vs. PCIe (NVMe) SSDs: What’s the Difference?

There are many types of SSDs (solid state drives) available and it can be overwhelming when deciding what to purchase for your next storage upgrade. The good news is, SSDs are more affordable than ever and in this article, we’ll break down the major differences between M.2, SATA and PCI-express based SSDs.

m.2 ssd vs sata ssd

M.2 SSDs Explained

M.2 is what’s known as a form factor. The M.2 connector has access to the PCI-express 3.0, SATA 3.0 or USB 3.0 bus, depending on what type of M.2 device is connected. This form factor is easily our favorite because of its versatility and the size of M.2 devices.

M.2 SSD drives are very small; their diminutive size is often compared to a stick of gum. M.2 SSDs are connected directly to the motherboard in an M.2 socket as opposed to traditional SATA based drives that rely on using cables to connect to the motherboard and power the drive. This is a huge benefit, especially in systems that utilize more than one storage drive.

m.2 motherboard socket

For example, the Western Digital Blue is a popular SSD among system builders. Western Digital makes both a 2.5” version and an M.2 version. The M.2 WD Blue SSD offers the same performance as the 2.5” version without the need for SATA power and data cables. Even better is the fact that there’s no price premium for the M.2 version. All that’s necessary is a compatible M.2 slot on your motherboard.sata vs m.2 ssd

NVMe M.2 SSDs

Perhaps the most exciting feature of M.2 based SSDs are the NVMe (non-volatile memory express) based models. SSDs are essentially high-speed memory similar to RAM but because SATA 3.0 was only capable of 6 GB/s, SSD speeds eventually plateaued. By accessing the PCI-express interface, rather than the antiquated SATA bus, NVMe drives can run at the speeds flash memory is capable of. NVMe technology allows SSDs to unleash their true potential: blistering fast read/write speeds.

wd black m.2 nvme ssd

NVMe SSDs yield a 4x or more increase in speed compared to SATA SSDs! Just as upgrading from a hard drive to an SSD makes a monumental difference in everything from boot speeds to file load speeds, upgrading to an NVMe SSD will yield gains in a variety of computing tasks. Here is a breakdown of common speeds from various types of computer storage:

SATA III Hard DriveSATA III SSDNVMe SSD
~100 MB/s Read 530 MB/s Read 3,500 MB/s Read
~100 MB/s Write 500 MB/s Write 3,000 MB/s Write

wd black sn750 1tb build

A great example of an NVMe drive is the 1TB WD Black SN750 NVMe M.2 SSD, at $250 it offers unmatched performance and will likely be the most meaningful upgrade you can make to your current desktop or laptop.

wd black m.2 review

To access these speeds, you also need to make sure your operating system is installed on the drive. Often used programs, games and commonly accessed data will benefit the most from an NVMe drive.

SATA SSDs Explained

As you can imagine, SATA (Serial ATA) is an older storage technology. It dates to 2000 and replaced PATA (Parallel ATA) as the storage standard in desktop and laptop PCs. SATA brought faster speeds and a universal connector. SATA drives require a SATA power cable as well as a separate SATA data cable.

sata ssd cables

SATA is used in hard drives, SSDs and optical drives and while SATA was a relatively new standard, hard drives had been around since the early 70s and aside from taking up less physical space, they were still incredibly slow. When SSDs were first brought to market, the technology was new and expensive. High capacity SSDs were very expensive. A common solution for computer owners who wanted the faster speeds that SSDs offered but couldn’t afford the large capacity drives was to purchase a low capacity (usually 32GB or 64GB) SSD and use it to speed up an existing hard drive via “caching”.

samsung 850 evo 1tb ssd hard drive adapter

Furthermore, the first SSDs released were “slow” by comparison to modern SATA based drives, so at the time, SATA was a viable standard to use. SSDs brought with them great potential and manufacturers knew a new standard would eventually need to be created to take advantage of memory-based storage’s full potential, hence the creation of M.2.

Conclusion

Storage has changed quite a bit over the past few years. Before SSDs, hard drives were the only type of storage that we knew, and boy were they slow! We didn’t realize how slow at the time but when SSDs arrived, they were life changing. Few PC upgrades can truly claim that distinction!

As SSDs have evolved into M.2 based NVMe drives, again we benefit immensely from increased speeds and a much more convenient form factor. While not as life changing as upgrading a hard drive to an SSD, upgrading to an NVMe SSD is still very noticeable and is an upgrade you won’t regret.

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Purchase The WD Blue 2TB M.2 SATA SSD On Amazon

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