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Choosing a hard drive; why M.2 NVMe SSD is the way to go

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Maybe you already know all this; I knew that the M2 was a great new form factor but I'm just realizing how insanely fast it is.


There’s a reason why we still have SATA SSDs and NVMe SSDs. Knowing the potential of memory-based SSDs, it was clear that a new bus and protocol would eventually be needed. But the first SSDs were relatively slow, so it proved far more convenient to use the existing SATA storage infrastructure.

Though the SATA bus has evolved to 16Gbps as of version 3.3, nearly all commercial implementations remain 6Gbps (roughly 550MBps after overhead). Even version 3.3 is far slower slower than what today’s SSD technology is capable of, especially in RAID configurations.

For the next step, it was decided to leverage a much higher-bandwidth bus technology that was also already in place—PCI Express, or PCIe. PCIe is the underlying data transport layer for graphics and other add-in cards. As of gen 3.x, it offers multiple lanes (up to 16 in most PCs) that handle darn near 1GBps each (985MBps).

PCIe is also the foundation for the Thunderbolt interface, which is starting to pay dividends with external graphics cards for gaming, as well as external NVMe storage, which is nearly as fast as internal NVMe. Intel’s refusal to let Thunderbolt die was a very good thing, as many users are starting to discover.

Of course, PCIe storage predates NVMe by quite a few years. But previous solutions were hamstrung by older data transfer protocols such as SATA, SCSI, and AHCI, which were all developed when the hard drive was still the apex of storage technology. NVMe removes their constraints by offering low-latency commands, and multiple queues—up to 64K of them. The latter is particularly effective because data is written to SSDs in shotgun fashion, scattered about the chips and blocks, rather than contiguously in circles as on a hard drive. 

The NVMe standard has continued to evolve to the present version 1.31 with the addition of such features as the ability to use part of your computer’s system memory as a cache. We’ve already seen it with the supercheap Toshiba RC100 we recently reviewed, which forgoes that onboard DRAM cache that most NVMe drives use, but still performs well enough to give your system that NVMe kick (for everyday chores). 





This ASRock Fatality X399 motherboard has three slots for the M2.


- 2 x Ultra M.2 Sockets (M2_1 and M2_2), support M Key type 2242/2260/2280 M.2 SATA3 6.0 Gb/s module and M.2 PCI Express module up to Gen3 x4 (32 Gb/s)*
- 1 x Ultra M.2 Socket (M2_3), supports M Key type 2230/2242/2260/2280 M.2 SATA3 6.0 Gb/s module and M.2 PCI Express module up to Gen3 x4 (32 Gb/s)*


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Yea, NVMe drives being significantly faster then SATA based drives is well known. However it doesn't matter that much since SSD speeds are not a serious bottleneck to overall system performance. You'll only really benefit from NVMe tech with very specific workloads (such as constantly reading/writing huge numbers of files, or maybe if using the drive as a scratch disc for certain programs).

If your system supports NVMe storage and it doesn't cost much more then a SATA drive you might as well get one, but don't expect an overall user experience improvement similar to the jump between a mechanical HDD to a SATA SSD.

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