What Does M.2 Mean in SSD?

In most modern PCs today, the flash storage memory comes either as an SSD (Solid State Disk) or HDD (Hard Disk) drive; of these two, the SSD shows a significant level of better performance compared to an HDD.

How Does an SSD Drive Store Data?

A typical SSD drive uses multiple arrays of ICs (Integrated Circuits) to store data employing Flash-Memory technology, making the SSD a most reliable secondary storage unit.

A standard SSD drive is different from your standard HDD drive because it doesn’t have an optical rotating disc or any form of the semi-conducting panel for storing data. This is a good thing as they’re also not affected by surface vibrations and physical shocks, making them function with a record-low latency and higher IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second.

In simpler terms, an SSD drive will be less prone to physical damage than an HDD and allow faster access to stored data with a speed of up to 600MB/S.

What is an M.2 SSD Drive?

The M.2 SSD drive was previously called NGFF or Next Generation Form Factor, a term used to refer to all Internally Mounted Expansion Card Connectors.

M.2 SSD drives can minimize physical size (less than the standard 2.5” HDD) and maintain high storage capacity (up to 8TB) while delivering faster data transfer rates at lower latency than other SSD types.

The M.2 SSD can be an upgrade to the traditional SATA HDD and is generally more conductive than mSATA for PCs with minimal internal spaces, such as notebooks and Ultrabooks.

Types of M.2 SSD Storage Drives

There are two types of M.2 SSDs, namely

  1. SATA M.2 SSD
  2. NVMe M.2 SSD

SATA M.2 SSD

The SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) M.2 SSD interacts with your PC motherboard using the traditional SATA interface. It can transfer data at a maximum rate of up to 6Gb/s, and that’s comparatively slow to other available interfaces in PCs today.

Although a SATA M.2 drive is comparatively slower than other M.2 SSDs, it still quadruples the bandwidth of regular HDDs.

NVMe M.2 SSD

NVMe M.2 SSDs apply the NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory express) interface that connects with the PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) bus in a PC. This is the original interface designed for all SSDs.

So the NVMe is a more direct interface for SSDs to transfer data at a faster and more reliable relate than the standard SATA. NVMe-based M.2 SSDs can hit transfer speeds of up to 20GB/S.

Why is M.2 Drive the Better Option for Data Storage

M.2 SSDs enjoy a wider acceptance among PC manufacturers and users for three main reasons,

  1. It offers a much faster rate of data transfer of up to 20GB/S in NVMe based M.2 SSDs, whereas the regular SATA HDD only clocks 6GB/S at maximum
  2. More data storage capacity. An M.2 SSD can store up to 8TB of data, more than seven times that of regular HDDs.
  3. The M.2 SSD offers a wide range of support for various interfaces, including SATA 3.0, PCIe 3.0, and USB 3.0. This is a significant edge compared to the mSATA SSDs that only supports the SATA interface.

NVMe VS M.2 Drives: Which is Better?

Although much similar in operation and applications, the M.2 SSD and NVMe interface are not precisely comparable in terms of data storage functions.

The M.2 Next Generation Form Factor is a modern expansion card that plugs directly into your PC’s motherboard via the M.2 slots, unlike the older SATA drives that rely on IDE cables.

The M.2 Form Factor allows for a modern PCs’ neater and more efficient space management arrangement. It declutters your PC’s interior by removing unnecessary SATA cables and therefore frees up space.

NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory express) topology, on the other hand, doesn’t affect the size of Memory storage drives in PCs but the transfer of data within PC components.

A regular PC with a SATA-powered memory drive uses PCI express interface to transfer data at limited speeds. However, an NVMe interface with an M.2 form factor will deliver the fastest data transfer rates in modern PCs.

So in simpler terms, the M.2 form factor reduces the amount of space needed within your PC’s internal environment and declutters your motherboard by substituting SATA cables with a direct PCIe Interconnect.

NVMe interface on the other hand improves the rate of data transfer within the PC when SATA cables are replaced with an M.2 SSD drive on the motherboard.

M.2 SSD VS SATA SSD

While both SATA and M.2 drives are available today as in SSD versions, there’s a clear distinction that makes the M.2 SSD stand out from SATA SSD, and we’ll consider this next.

A significant distinguishing factor between the M.2 and SATA SSDs is the interface employed in accessing data.

The SATA interface mainly uses AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) and has a maximum data transfer rate of up to 6Gbps. 

An M.2 SSD, on the other hand, uses an M.2 interface and comes in smaller designs than mSATA SSDs, but offers faster data transfer speeds.

M.2 SSD drives support SATA and PCIe 3.0 x2 bus standards (M.2 B-key interface), and other M.2 SSD drives that only support PCIe 3.0×4 bus standard and NVMe interface (M-key interface).

In simpler terms, an M.2 SSD drive with an M-key interface will transfer more data faster than the M.2 B-key interface.

Should I use an M.2 Drive for Gaming?

An M.2 SATA SSD drive will be sufficient for all regular daily gaming and computing activities, but if you’re looking for the best gaming speeds for online gaming and streaming live multiplayer games, getting an M.2 NVMe SSD drive will be a necessity.

The NVMe is designed to interface with your available graphics card and deliver powerful visual displays. 

In terms of data bandwidth and memory drive performance, the NVMe SSD is better than the SATA SSD.

Some of the best NVMe-based SSDs for online gaming include WD Black SN850 (fastest PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD drive today), WD Black SN750 1TB, and the Seagate Firecuda 530.

M.2 SATA SSD VS PCIe SSD: Which Should I Go For?

Speaking in general terms, the M.2 PCIe SSD drive will perform better in terms of data access speed and maximum storage data size than the M.2 SATA SSD drive.

This is because the fastest SATA version (SATA 3.0) has a maximum clocking bandwidth of approximately 600Mbps, while a PCIe Second Generation double lane interface can clock up to 1000Mbps bandwidth, the Gen 2 X4 lane can reach 2000Mbps, and the Gen 3 X4 lane can go as high as 4000Mbps.

So we’ll advise, if you can spare the extra bucks for a PCIe interface, an M.2 SSD drive will guarantee the fastest data transfer rates and bandwidths for your PC.

Can I use M.2 Slot on Motherboard for NVMe?

Getting a sound understanding of what these terminologies mean will avoid unnecessary confusion.

So as explained earlier, the M.2 SSD describes the form factor in use, while the NVMe explains the interface or physical connectivity point with the PC motherboard.

The M.2 SSD talks about the physical outline and design of the memory drive, and the NVMe or PCIe talks about the manner of data communication and transfer.

Some NVMe SSD drives are designed to fit into a PCIe slot in your PC motherboard, but most NVMe drives today come in designs that fit the M.2 slot outline.

What determines the kind of SSD drive you will get is the available slots on your motherboard.

You should only get an M.2 NVMe SSD drive if the motherboard has M.2 slots. So first, find out the available slots in your motherboard before deciding to go for either a PCIe interface drive or an NVMe interface drive.

How to know if Your Laptop has an M.2 Slot

You can either find out the available ports and sockets on your PC Motherboard yourself or seek professional help in getting the PC open.

You’ll need to identify the available sockets on your PC, whether B-key, M-key, or B+M-key sockets.

Image Source: Quora
Image Source: Quora

You’ll also need to determine whether the M.2 SSD version compatible with your PC is 2230, 2242, 2260, or 2280.

Image Source: Quora

Lastly, confirm if the available ports are for SATA or PCI connectivity. An M.2 slot will be compatible with SATA or NVMe interfaces, while a PCIe slot will carry multiple lanes (x1, x2, X4, etc.)

Using an SSD on an HDD Slot

There are two ways to use an SSD drive in an HDD Slot:

  1. When the HDD Slot is for a 2.5″ HDD drive, getting a 2.5″ SSD drive should work perfectly.
  2. If the HDD drive is 3.5″, you’ll need to get a 2.5″ to 3.5″ adapter. Also, bear in mind the connecting interface and maintain the same interface (IDE, PCIe, or SATA) from the HDD to the SSD drive.

And that concludes our write-up on M.2 SSD drives. You can leave a comment below and let us know if you have any questions about setting up an M.2 SSD drive in your Gaming rig.

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