NVMe SSDs: All About Modern High Performance PCI-E SSDs

NVMe SSDs the new NVMe standard – a drive working via the PCI-E interface and supporting the NVMe data transfer protocol. The latter provides the processing of a larger, compared with the old AHCI protocol, the number of requests per unit time (IOPS). And, accordingly, we have a significantly higher speed of the SSD-drive. How significant is this speed? And what nuances do we need to know if we want to add an NVMe SSD drive on board our PC? Let’s figure it out.




What is NVMe SSD

So friends, NVMe SSDs are the new standard SSDs. As mentioned, they work through the PCI-E interface, while conventional drives are connected via the SATA interface. Like regular SATA SSDs, NVMe SSDs are flash memory devices with the types of memory QLC, TLC, MLC.

SATA SSDs connected via the SATA III interface have a linear data reading speed, if taken at the maximum, a little over 500 Mb/s, and data writing speed – over 400 Mb/s, but not more than 500 Mb/s. SSM NVMe drives can deliver significantly higher linear data processing speeds: read – up to 3500 Mb/s, write – up to 3200 Mb/s.

What is NVMe SSD

If we want to buy an NVMe SSD, when choosing a drive of this type, it is enough to search for “NVMe” or M2 NVMe. And we get a list of models of SSD-drives with support for the NVMe protocol.

What do these identifying NVMe SSDs mean?


The NVMe SSD connection interface is PCI-E through the M2 form factor


Like SATA SSDs, NVMe SSDs are universal and can be connected to various types of computer devices – PCs, laptops, ultrabooks.

NVMe usage

The NVMe PCI-E SSD connection interface has varieties – generations (versions) and the number of PCI-E lines: PCI-E 3.0 2x, PCI-E 3.0 4x, PCI-E 4.0 4x.

The PCI-E 3.0 2x interface is the third generation and two data lines, implemented in low-cost drives. One line is capable of transmitting data at a maximum speed of almost 1 Gb / s (985 Mb / s), therefore, two lines will work with a total speed of slightly less than 2 Gb / s.

The PCI-E 3.0 4x interface is the same third generation and 4 data lines. If each of the lines transmits data at a maximum speed of slightly less than 1 Gb / s, then all lines will give a maximum speed of slightly less than 4 Gb / s. This is the most relevant type of PCI-E SSD-drives interface to date, it allows you to unleash the potential of the fastest of them.

The PCI-E 4.0 4x interface is the fourth generation of PCI-E and 4 data lines. And this is the interface of the future. One line of this generation transmits data at a maximum speed of slightly less than 2 Gb / s. Therefore, 4 lines will be able to provide data transfer with a maximum speed of slightly less than 8 Gb / s (more precisely 7.88 Gb / s).

The potential of SSD interfaces may be limited by interfaces implemented on motherboards. Therefore, if not for the prospect of replacing the motherboard, then taking an NVMe SSD with a faster PCI-E, while the motherboard implements a slower one, makes no sense. Drives with a large number of lines and a newer generation are compatible with interfaces on early-generation motherboards and with fewer lines.

That’s all that goes directly to the NVMe SSD interface. But the value of M2 also appears as the interface of these drives. This, friends, is the interface form factor. Whereas PCI-E positions and lines represent a variety of interfaces, M2 is a form factor, format, hardware SSD connector. Well, accordingly, to some extent, this can also be attributed to the concept of an interface.

M2 Form Factor

So, M2 is an SSD form factor, it is also a type of hardware connector with which the drive is connected to the motherboard.

M2 Form Factor

M2 can be a form factor not only of the PCI-E interface, but also of the SATA interface.

Moreover, this is a form factor not only for SSDs, but also for other devices – Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, NFC, satellite navigation, WiGig, WWAN. So, in order to be able to use NVMe SSDs connected via PCI-E, the motherboard should include exactly the PCI-E interface M2 hardware connector. Well, or both hardware connectors – and M2 SATA, and M2 PCI-E.

Tandem M2 and PCI-E – the most advanced to date. With PCI-E, I suppose, friends, everything is clear to you based on the above maximum speeds of this interface. As for M2, this is a form factor that provides the possibility of increased performance of SSD-drives with reduced consumption of system resources, which is important for portable devices. Well, also M2 has potential – it provides for technological improvement of solid-state drives in the future. It has a recessed mount in the connectors of the motherboard, which eliminates the need for a data cable and power cable. And, accordingly, removes from the list of possible problems with the media those due to the data transfer cable or power cable.

M2 SSD Dimensions

In the second screenshot, friends, we see that on one of the trading platforms in the characteristics of the drive the form factor is indicated as M2 2280. The number 2280 indicates the width and length of the SSD, this is necessary to determine compatibility with the M2 connector on the motherboard. The width and length of the drive determines the type of connector M2 on the motherboard. The width of the drive is encoded in the first two digits, and the length in the last two digits. To date, SSD M2 drives come with the same width of 22 mm, but they have different lengths. Here are the types of form factor that can be found on modern motherboards:

  • Type 2230 for drives 30 mm long;
  • Type 2242 for drives 42 mm long;
  • Type 2260 for drives 60 mm long;
  • Type 2280 for drives with a length of 80 mm;
  • Type 22110 for drives with a length of 110 mm.

Modern motherboards usually support several types of form factor.

M2 SSD Dimensions

The different lengths of M2 drives are due to their different capacities. The longer the form of the SSD, the more Nand chips fit into it. That is, friends, that is, the longer the drive, the more it is in volume.

NVMe Protocol

NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) is a software solution at the level of basic computer firmware (BIOS), it is a protocol that allows the drive to interact with other components of a computer system. And this is the most advanced data transfer protocol to date, it makes SSD work at the above linear data processing speeds: read – up to 3500 Mb / s, write – up to 3200 Mb / s.

Friends, SSD M2 and SSD NVMe are not always the same thing. The NVMe SSD is an M2 SSD because its PCI-E connection interface is implemented in this form factor. And M2 SSDs may not be NVMe SSDs and come without support for the NVMe protocol, but with support for the outdated AHCI. NVMe protocol is the third component in addition to the M2 form factor and PCI-E interface, which provides high-performance SSD. Drives with the AHCI connection protocol give a lower data processing speed. The NVMe protocol can only be implemented for PCI-E SSDs; it is not available for SATA SSDs.

Implementing the NVMe protocol significantly increases the cost of an SSD compared to AHCI SSDs. But this, my friends, the realities of today, time and new developed technologies in the near future will devalue the value of SSD NVMe.

Motherboard with support for NVMe SSD

Just as the NVMe SSDs themselves are still expensive today, so are motherboards that support NVMe SSDs. Only new motherboards, so to speak, natively provide for connecting NVMe SSDs. Native support for SSD NVMe motherboard includes:

  • Support for the M2 connector a priori – one or more;
  • Implementation of the PCI-E interface for M2, in particular, its variants PCI-E 3.0 4x or PCI-E 4.0 4x, relevant today;
  • Support for the type of form factor M2 depending on the length of the drive (2242, 2260, 2280, 22110);
  • NVMe protocol support.

All these nuances, friends, you need to look at the specifications of the motherboard. but what if the motherboard doesn’t support NVMe?

if the motherboard does not have an M2 connector, then PCI-E SSDs with this form factor can be connected to a regular PCI-E connector using a special adapter.

M2 connector

Using the adapter, we can connect both AHCI SSDs and NVMe SSDs to the system. But we can’t install Windows and then boot from the NVMe SSD in every case. For this feature, the NVMe protocol must be active in the UEFI BIOS of the motherboard. If this protocol is not available, the UEFI BIOS can try to update. Perhaps, in updating the basic firmware, the motherboard manufacturer implemented support for NVMe drivers. But, alas, an update using software on the official website of the motherboard manufacturer does not always help, sometimes the BIOS needs to be flashed using a modified version. Software for modified flashing must be sought on third-party resources, and, accordingly, friends, this will always be a certain risk.

NVMe support is better implemented through a comprehensive upgrade – if you have the basic PC hardware in good condition, you can sell the motherboard + processor + cooler + random access memory bundle in the secondary market and purchase the same new generation bundle. Well, and accordingly, in this bundle, the motherboard must be with support for NVMe SSDs and at least PCI-E 3.0 4x interface.

Asus hyper m.2 x16 pcie 3.0 x4

Hyper M.2 x16 Card expansion card

The Asus HYPER M.2 X16 CARD controller expands the functionality of a single PCIe 3.0 x16 slot, making it possible to simultaneously connect up to 4 M.2 SSDs to it. The product has 4 internal M.2 type connectors (M-key) and a PCI-E x16 connection interface, which is characterized by high bandwidth – up to 128 Gbit / s. The controller provides support for VROC technology, thanks to which it is possible to organize a RAID array based on connected solid state drives.
The Asus HYPER M.2 X16 CARD VROC adapter is designed for placement inside the PC system unit case and is equipped with fixing screws necessary for its installation. Its task is not only to connect SSD-drives, but also to provide them with optimal temperature conditions. Thanks to the active cooling system, including a metal radiator and fan, the controller provides heat dissipation from SSD-drives so that their operating potential is fully revealed.

Like its predecessor, the card with the PCIe 3.0 x16 interface has four M.2 slots, each of which has four lines. The card supports Intel VROC (Virtual RAID on CPU) technology, which is available for X299, Z370, and Z390 chipsets, and is tested for compatibility with AMD Ryzen Threadripper systems. It can be used with motherboards based on AMD X399, X470, B450, X370 and B350 chipsets.

Hyper M.2 x16 v2

You can install M.2 2242, 2260, 2280 or 22110 drives in the Hyper M.2 x16 V2 slots, for cooling which there is a fan. There is no PCIe switch on the board, that is, the motherboard must support bus segmentation. For most models of the HEDT category, released since 2016, this is not a problem, but how many drives can be installed is determined by the slot (x8 or x16), the processor and the presence of a 3D card in the system, that is, the actual availability of PCIe lines in the slot, where the Hyper M.2 x16 V2 card is installed.

Compared with the first version of the card, the allowable power consumption of each drive is increased to 14 watts. The dimensions of the board are 202 x 96 x 13 mm.

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