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Upgrading your memory can be confusing, especially with evolving technologies, increasing options on the shelf, and numerous acronyms. At Crucial, we’re here to help. We want you to feel comfortable upgrading or building your own PC, or even just understanding the specs of your current set-up.

Not all solid state drives (SSDs) are the same, and there are some key elements that determine compatibility, speed, and price. This article explains the M.2 form factor, the differences between PCIe vs. SATA and what exactly NVMe means. With this information, you’ll make more informed decisions about which SSD is right for you.

What is M.2?

M.2 is a form factor specification that was introduced in 2012 and designed to replace the mSATA standard. The form factor specification spells out the physical size and shape of the SSD card you can connect to your system. The M.2 form factor is designed to maximize PCB (printed circuit board) while minimizing the amount of space it takes up in your PC or laptop. To connect an M.2 specified SSD, your motherboard will need to have an M.2 slot.

The M.2 form factor is small and rectangular in shape, almost like a piece of gum. Sizes can vary, with possible widths of 12, 16, 22, or 30 millimeters, but they’re generally 22 millimeters wide. Lengths can also vary, coming in 16, 26, 30, 38, 42, 60, 80, or 110 millimeters. Motherboards will accommodate a variety of lengths for an M.2 module to allow for flexibility, while the width is more fixed.

When you buy an SSD like the Crucial P5 Plus, you may see something like "M.2 2280" in the title, which is a combination of its dimensions — 22mm and 80mm in length — helping you know what to buy.

M.2 SSD in a laptop

SATA vs PCIe interfaces

Now we know that the M.2 form factor dictates what type of memory drive we can connect; our next job is to understand SSD interfaces.

In general PC building terms, an interface connects two or more separate components to exchange data or information. The SATA and PCIe interfaces are the physical connections that transmit data from the memory storage to the computer.

SATA and PCIe aren't the only available interfaces for SSDs, although they are now the most common.

What is SATA?

The older of the two interfaces, SATA was launched in 2003, bringing massive advancements to computing and memory storage. In the image below, you can see how a SATA interface connects to your motherboard. The original SATA interface was designed for hard drives, but when SSDs came on the market, they adopted the same interface so users could easily upgrade their storage drives.

If you have a SATA interface, only a SATA SSD, such as the Crucial BX500 or MX500, will work with your computer.

What is PCIe?

PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) is a newer interface that features a smaller physical footprint, meaning it takes up less space in your computer, as seen in the image below. The real advantage of the PCIe interface over SATA is the ability to transmit data on up to four lanes, whereas SATA only has one. When combined with an NVMe SSD, which we’ll discuss shortly, PCIe SSD read/write speeds increase even more than SATA.

PCIe vs SATA

The implementation of multiple lanes for the PCIe connection is one of the most essential features. PCIe uses four lanes for storage devices, resulting in data exchange that is four times faster than a SATA connection, which only has one lane. This provides faster read and write speeds, as seen in the table below -—- meaning faster gameplay, smoother multitasking and a more responsive computer.

Product Sequential Read Sequential Write
Crucial MX500 4TB 3D NAND SATA 2.5 inch 560MB/s 510MB/s
Crucial P5 Plus 2TB PCIe M.2 2280SS 6600MB/s 5000MB/s

All of these enhancements come with another benefit: reduced power consumption. The combination of NVME, PCIe, and an SSD's lack of moving parts results in a quieter storage drive that sips power, extending battery life for laptops, notebooks, and tablets.

What is NVMe?

We know that if you have a SATA interface, you’ll need to connect a SATA SSD if you’re looking to upgrade your memory, but what if you have PCIe?

NVMe (NVM Express™, or Non-Volatile Memory Express) is a communication protocol designed specifically to work with flash memory using the PCIe interface. NVMe was created to take advantage of the parallel nature of solid state drives.

NVMe SSDs combined with a PCIe interface create unrivaled read and write speeds. However, you can also get PCIe compatible SSDs that are non-NVMe.

NVMe performance

Combining the NVMe SSD and the PCIe connection results in read and write speeds that are four times faster than a SATA interface/SSD.

NVMe complements the parallel structure of contemporary CPUs, platforms, and applications. These parallel structures allow for more commands to flow simultaneously. NVMe uses an optimized path to issue commands and complete input/output, and it supports parallel operation with up to 64,000 commands within a single I/O queue and 64,000 possible queues. Older protocols such as SCSI are serial in nature, with a limited number of commands in a single queue.

Discover our range of NVMe SSDs including the Crucial 2TB P5 Plus, Crucial 1TB P5 Plus, and Crucial 500GB P5 Plus.

Find out more about how to install NVMe PCIe SSDs.

Which SSD interface should I get?

Compatibility with your computer is the most important factor in choosing an SSD interface. It can be challenging to tell the difference between PCIe and SATA connections if you look at the slot on the motherboard. Check your computer specifications to see which interface your computer supports. Even easier, use the Crucial® Advisor™ or System Scanner to find compatible parts.

If you have the option of multiple M.2 slots where at least one supports PCIe, it's worth considering your secondary slot for an SSD upgrade. When combined with an NVMe SSD, PCIe will result in faster read and write times.

FAQs

  • What is M.2 SSD?

    M.2 is a form factor for SSDs - it’s the newer and smaller form factor than the previous SATA specification. M.2 is usually faster and more expensive.

  • What is NVMe?

    NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) is a communication protocol designed specifically to work with flash memory using the PCIe interface, generating faster data transfer speeds.

  • What is PCIe?

    The PCIe is a computer interface used to connect high speed components. This is a newer interface than SATA that features a smaller physical footprint, meaning it takes up less space in your computer and can exchange data 4 times faster.

  • What does PCIe stand for?

    PCIe stands for “peripheral component interconnect express” and is generally used as a standardized interface for computer motherboard components such as memory, graphics and storage devices.

  • Is NVMe good for gaming?

    NVMe is recommended for gaming as read and write speeds are faster than other drives. This’ll give you a competitive edge in multiplayer with fast loading, plus fewer load screens, and reduced installation times.

  • Is M.2 the same as NVMe?

    No, M.2 and NVMe aren't the same, but they work in conjunction with each other. M.2 is the SSD form factor, while NVMe is the interface that connects it to the motherboard. Combine them and you have a lightning-fast drive.

  • Is M.2 SSD faster than SSD?

    Even though M.2 SSDs are smaller, they are generally able to hold as much data and are often faster than other forms of SSDs available.

  • Is NVMe better than SATA?

    NVMe is a more efficient and faster method to access non-volatile memory, compared to the older SATA SSDs.


©2019 Micron Technology, Inc. All rights reserved. Information, products, and/or specifications are subject to change without notice. Neither Crucial nor Micron Technology, Inc. is responsible for omissions or errors in typography or photography. Micron, the Micron logo, Crucial, and the Crucial logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Micron Technology, Inc. . PCIe are registered trademarks  of PCI-SIG. NVMe is a registered trademark of NVM Express, Inc.  All other trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.