There are many different terms for solid state drives nowadays, of which SATA 3, M.2 and NVMe are the most popular.
If you’ve recently considered buying a solid state drive, chances are you’ve encountered these conditions but cannot fully understand the technical differences.
In this article, we’ll cover the differences, explain which is better / worse, and provide details on how the technology works for each type of SSD.
solid state drive evolution
First, let’s talk about the origins of the solid state drive and why it has become such a popular piece of hardware for PC builders and laptop manufacturers in recent years.
A typical storage device used in laptops and PCs is known as a traditional hard drive. These types of actuators have moving parts. The hard drive works in a similar way to the old turntable.
There is a moving disc (platter) and a large header that can read and write data as the disc spins.
Generally, the faster the hard disk spins (7200 rpm, 10,000 rpm, etc.), the faster the disk is read. Unfortunately, the read speed of the hard disk is limited. There is also a delay associated with waiting for the physical movement of the head. This is where solid state drives come in.
An SSD is a solid state drive and it is a type of storage that has no moving parts. Instead, solid state drives use semiconductor chips to store and access memory.
In particular, the SSD has a huge array of these semiconductors, which can or may not be charged, which the computer will read as a ‘1’ or ‘0’ in binary and convert them to real files or data that can be viewed on your computer.
What’s interesting about the type of memory used in SSDs is that the cells remain charged or uncharged even after shutdown, and this is how the memory is preserved and not forgotten. span>
A PC or laptop can read data from an SSD many times faster because flash memory technology is much faster than older mechanical hard drives with moving parts. span>
Lately we have got a lot of different types of solid state drives, namely SATA 3 and NVMe. These drives use the same semiconductor arrays described above, but they have different potentials for different reasons.
Let’s see how each type of solid storage differs below.
SATA 3 vs M.2 vs NVMe – what’s the difference? span>
As it turns out, the technology used to read and write data from a solid state drive is so fast that the limiting factor actually comes down to how the drive transfers data to the PC.
The PC can use two different methods to read SSDs: SATA 3 and NVMe.
SATA 3 connections are made by connecting the data cable and power cable directly to the motherboard and the SSD itself.
On the other hand, the NVMe connection allows the SSD to read data directly from the PCI-E slot right on the motherboard. The drive is powered directly from the motherboard. More importantly, the NVMe drive will also transfer data through the motherboard at faster speeds than SATA 3.
Why, you ask? Simply put, NVMe can queue more data at the same time thanks to access to more PCI-E lanes.
PCI-E lanes are essentially data lines on the motherboard. They are limited in number, and different ports and slots on the motherboard have certain bands. On a typical new motherboard, you will see slots of varying sizes corresponding to the number of PCI-E lanes available (x1, x2, x4, x16, etc.).
The end result is that with more PCI-E lanes and direct PCI-E read / write potential, NVMe drives are usually much faster than SATA SSDs.
However, the performance gain is only really seen at sequential read / write speeds. Or, more simply, to move large files.
Since NVMe’s true read / write speed potential is only achieved with large files, the differences may not be as noticeable for gaming and everyday tasks.
So NVMe doesn’t offer much of a difference at boot time and in games. For video and photo editing, NVMe drives can offer much better results.
These are the typical read / write speeds for hard drive, SATA 3 SSD, and NVMe SSD for large files.
- 7200 RPM HDD – Average 80-160 MB / s Read / Write.
- SATA 3 SSD – read / write speed up to 550 MB / s.
- NVME SSD – read / write speed up to 3500 MB / s
what about M.2? Where does that come from? span>
So far, we’ve covered SATA and NVMe. These are two methods or protocols used to read and write data. One uses PCI-E (NVMe) and the other doesn’t (SATA).
M.2 drive is simply a term that describes the physical form factor of a drive. M.2 hard drives are shown below. M.2 drives are not another protocol such as NVMe and SATA. In fact, you can get an M.2 drive that uses SATA or NVMe.
Here’s an M.2 drive with a SATA connection:
And here’s an M.2 drive with NVMe connection:
An M.2 drive is faster not only because of its form factor. Typically M.2 drives use the NVMe protocol because they are already connected via PCI-E.
If you are looking to purchase an NVMe drive, just make sure NVMe is explicitly listed in the description or name of the M.2 drive and not SATA. span>
Summary – Should you get SATA 3 or NVMe? span>
If you are migrating from a traditional hard drive, both SATA 3 and NVMe offer impressive improvements. NVMe is generally more expensive than SATA 3, which is an issue considering standard SATA 3 SSDs are already quite expensive.
NVMs are really only useful for transferring large files, so unless you regularly move large files for photo and video editing or find a lot of interesting stuff on your NVMe drive, you can also use the standard SATA 3 SSD because you can get a much larger size for the same price.
Also, for gaming, both NVMe and SATA 3 will offer very similar download speeds. They are both so fast that other hardware, such as RAM and processor performance, becomes the bottleneck.
Hopefully this summarizes the difference between SATA 3 and NVMe and clarifies how M.2 also fits into the equation.
Below is a quick summary of everything we’ve covered so far.
- M.2 is a slimmer form factor for drives
- NVMe is a protocol that allows reading and writing data via PCI-E.
- SATA 3 is an old protocol and usually not as fast as NVMe.
What do you think about this topic?