SATA vs M2 NVMe: Which SSD technology is faster?

Understand which best meets your needs

NVMe drives are big business when it comes to storing your computer, and for good reason. Not only does the NVMe solid-state drive (SSD) leave most older SSDs in the dust, but it is also extremely fast compared to standard 3,5 and 2,5 inch drives.

There are several options on the market with this technology. Most stores have these two options, but do not make clear what are the advantages and disadvantages of one or the other. So, SATA vs M2? Which one should you choose? This is what we will try to help you with.

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Image via NVM Express, Inc.

SATA vs M2

Take, for example, the Samsung 870 8 TB, a 2,5-inch SSD with a maximum sequential read speed of 530 MB / s. His successor, the 980 Pro based on NVMe, it is almost ten times faster than that, with a maximum speed of 5000 MB / s.

This is because pre-NVMe drives connect to a PC via SATA III, the third revision of the Serial ATA computer bus interface. NVMe, in turn, is the host controller interface for newer and more advanced SSDs. SATA III and NVMe are the most commonly used terms ​​to differentiate between old and new drives that everyone wants. NVMe is not, however, the same type of technology as SATA III. We'll see why we use the terms “SATA III” and “NVMe” to compare technologies later and why SATA vs M2.

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What is SATA III?

In 2000, SATA was introduced to replace the Parallel ATA standard that preceded it. SATA offers higher speed connections, which means much better performance compared to its predecessor. SATA III was launched eight years later with a maximum transfer rate of 600 MB / s.

SATA III components use a specific type of connector to fit a notebook and a specific type of cable to connect to a desktop PC motherboard.

After a drive is connected to the computer system via SATA III, work is only half done. For the unit to actually communicate with the system, it needs a host controller interface. This work belongs to AHCI, which is the most common way for SATA III drives to communicate with a computer system.

Nvme vs sat
SATA III connector

For many years, SATA III and AHCI performed admirably, even during the early days of SSDs. However, AHCI has been optimized for high-latency, non-low-latency, non-volatile storage like SSDs, explains drive manufacturer Kingston.

Here's a tip: if you are looking for a high-performance SATA SSD, we recommend Kingston's SSD A400, in 240GB or 480GB versions, with a read speed of 500MB/s, ensuring better performance of your operating system, programs and games.

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Solid state drives became so fast that they eventually saturated the SATA III connection. SATA III and AHCI simply could not provide enough bandwidth for increasingly capable SSDS. With moving speeds and expanding capabilities, the search for a better alternative began. And luckily it was already in use on PCs.

What is PCIe?

PCIe is another hardware interface. It is best known as the way the video card fits into a desktop PC, but it is also used for sound cards, Thunderbolt expansion cards and M.2 units (more on that later).

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Image via Gigabyte

If you look at a motherboard (see above), you can easily see where the PCIe slots are. They mainly come in variants x16, x8, x4 and x1. These numbers indicate how many data transmission paths a slot has. The greater the number of tracks, the more data you can move at any time, which is why graphics cards use x16 slots.

There is also an M.2 slot in the image above, just below the top x16 slot. M.2 slots can use up to four lanes, so they are x4. The main PCIe slots on any computer have lanes connected to the CPU for the best possible performance. The rest of the PCIe slots connect to the chipset. This also supports a very fast connection to the CPU, but not as fast as direct connections.

There are currently two generations of PCIe in use: 3.0 (the most common) and 4.0. Version 4, as expected, is faster. As of mid-2019, PCIe 4.0 was completely new and compatible only with AMD Ryzen 3000 processors and X570 motherboards. Today, the Ryzen 4000 and 5000 are also compatible. It is noteworthy that the X570 chipset is the only one that supports PCIe 4.0, while the B550 and A320 do not.

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However, most components are not yet saturating PCIe 3.0's maximum bandwidth. So while PCIe 4.0 is impressive, it is still not a necessity for modern computers.

Looking to buy an insane monitor? Check out our review: INSANE setup! Three Curved 144Hz 24 ″ 1080p monitors from Acer the monster XZ242Q (Unboxing and Review)

NVMe over PCIe

PCIe, then, is like SATA III: both are used to connect individual components to a computer system. Just as SATA III needs AHCI before a hard drive or SSD can communicate with a computer system, PCIe-based drives have a host controller, called express non-volatile memory (NVMe).

But why then do we talk about SATA vs M2, instead of talking about SATA III vs PCIe drives, or AHCI vs NVMe? The reason is quite simple. We always refer to the drives as being based on SATA, like SATA, SATA II and SATA III - no surprise there. Therefore, it is common to see around SATA vs M2.

However, the industry did not have any standards to support itself as it did with SATA drives. Instead, how explained Western Digital, companies used AHCI and created their own drivers and firmware to run these drives.

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Also check: SSD or HD? Which should I buy?

That was a mess, and the AHCI was still not good enough. It was also more difficult for people to adopt drives faster than SATA because, instead of a plug-and-play experience, they also had to install special drivers.

Eventually, the industry came together around the standard that became NVMe and replaced AHCI. The new standard was much better and it made sense to start talking about NVMe. And the rest, as they say, is history. Then SATA vs M2 started.

NVMe was built with modern PCIe-based SSDs in mind. NVMe drives are capable of accepting many more commands at the same time than SATA III mechanical hard drives or SSDs. This, combined with lower latency, makes NVMe drives faster and more responsive.

What are NVMe units like?

If you are going to buy an NVMe-based drive today, what you want is an M.2. M.2 describes the connection factor of the drive - or, for our purposes, its appearance. M.2 units generally have about 1 TB of storage, but are small enough to hold between your thumb and forefinger.

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O Kingston A2000 SSD it's a great option

Here's a tip: if you want a cheap and high performance SSD, we recommend the Kingston A2000 NVMe M2 SSD, which has 2200MB/s read speed and 2000MB/s write speed, suitable for both PC and notebook.

M.2 drives connect to special PCIe M.2 slots that support up to four data transfer lanes. These drives are usually NVMe based, but you can also find M.2 drives that use SATA III – just read the packaging carefully. SATA III-based M.2s are not that common these days, but they do exist. A popular example is the Hyper X Fury SSD.

What is NVMe?

First, a quick note about SSDs – they're fast. So fast in fact, your limiting factor is not your own hardware, but the SATA III connection that hard drives traditionally use. Enter NVMe. Standing for “Non-Volatile Memory Express,” NVMe is an open standard designed to allow modern SSDs to operate at the read/write speeds their flash memory is capable of.

Essentially, it allows flash memory to operate like an SSD directly through the PCIe interface, rather than going through SATA and being limited by slower SATA speeds. In other words, it is a description of the bus the component uses to communicate with the PC, not a new type of flash memory. It's also unrelated to form factor, which is why NVMe drives can come in M.2 or PCIe card form factors.

With both form factors, the component is electrically connecting to the PC via PCIe instead of SATA. Yes, it's confusing, but keep reading as it will become clearer.

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What is M2?

The M2 connection format is designed for manufacturers to replace a variety of specific devices in a tiny space and requires very little power. Formerly known as Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF), the M2 format is technically a replacement for the mSATA standard, which was popular with manufacturers of supercompact notebooks and other small devices.

M.2 is a slot that can interface with SATA 3.0 (the cable that is probably connected to your PC's storage drive now), PCI Express 3.0 (the standard interface for video cards and other important expansion devices) and even USB 3.0.

In the M2 format version with SATA 3.0 interface, the Kingston A400 SSD, with 480GB, is an excellent option. This bug has a speed of 500MB/s for reading and 450MB/s for writing. Using your device, whether PC or notebook, will become very fast and effective.

M2 devices can transfer data from 50% to approximately 650% faster than standard SATA, depending on the capabilities of the motherboard and the M2 card itself. If you have the opportunity to use an M2 SSD on a motherboard that supports 3rd generation PCI, it can be significantly faster than a normal SATA drive.

At the moment, M.2 is mainly used as an interface for super-fast SSDs, both on notebooks and on desktops. But M2 comes with two main compatibility variables: length and key. The first is quite obvious - your computer needs to have enough physical space to support the length of the card you want to use. The second variable - how the card is coded - just means that the card's connector must match the slot to which you will connect it.

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All M2 drives use the same width determined by the connection. The “size” is expressed in the following format. Check compatibility with your notebook or motherboard by choosing one:

M2 223022 mm30 mm
M2 224222 mm42 mm
M2 226022 mm60 mm
M2 228022 mm80 mm
M2 221022 mm110 mm

Are all M.2 drives NVMe?

No. Remember that M.2 is just the form factor. M.2 drives can come in SATA versions (like Crucial MX500 M.2 for example) and NVMe versions (like Samsung 970 Pro / EVO), which describe the bus they use to electrically communicate with other PC components. SATA M.2 SSD drives and 2,5” SATA SSDs operate at virtually identical specifications. NVMe M.2, on the other hand, is definitely not, as we are about to discuss.

SATA vs M2: is it worth it?

But then, what do I choose in SATA vs M2? Although the M2 is fantastic, there is no reason to give up SATA III drives yet. Despite the limitations of SATA III, it is still a good choice for secondary storage.

Anyone building a new PC, for example, would do well to use an M.2 NVMe drive as the primary storage and boot drive. They could then add a cheaper 2,5-inch hard drive or larger capacity SSD as secondary storage.

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An excellent SATA III option is the Hyper X Fury SSD

It may be a good idea to have all of your storage running on PCIe. However, at the moment, M2 NVMe units are limited to about 2 TB. Higher capacities are also prohibitively expensive. A 1 TB hard drive, M2 NVMe usually costs around R $ 1500,00 (about twice as much as a high performance 2 TB SATA III hard drive). So a lot of people are in doubt about SATA vs M2.

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The price, of course, may change as we get M.2 units with even greater capacity. Kingston said we can expect to see M.2 units with capacities of 4 and 8 TB around the beginning of this year. Until then, the combination of M2 with secondary SSDs and hard drives is the best option.

If you still prefer a conventional hard drive, we recommend the Seagate Barracuda hard drive, in 500GB, 1TB or 2TB versions.

Speed ​​(Read-Write)StorageEstimated value
HD140MB / s - 136MB / s80GB - 8TBR $ 65,00 - R $ 1650,00
SATA III SSD540MB / s - 500MB / s240GB - 2TBR $ 275,00 - R $ 1400,00
SSD NVMe6500MB / s - 4000MB / s240GB - 2TBR $ 375,00 - R $ 2700,00

The same idea applies to notebooks. If you are buying new equipment, look for one with NVMe flash storage and a spare 2,5-inch bay for a SATA III or SSD hard drive. However, not all M2 NVMe drives are created equal. It is definitely worth reading the reviews on your destination drive before buying one.

Things to consider with M.2 SATA and NVMe SSDs

As with all technology, there are certain things that a box or spec doesn't tell you. When deciding between M.2 SATA and NVMe SSDs, consider these tips:

System support – relatively new technology, some older devices do not have the necessary components to fully utilize NVMe connections. Please check three times if your current motherboard supports NVMe before buying an SSD.

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Quick Start – The easiest way to increase system performance is to install the operating system on an SSD. You will see the biggest increase in boot times with an NVMe device. However, even the smallest SSD will significantly outperform any mechanical hard drive.

Prioritize storage – A common way for NVMe devices to be used is in combination with another SATA SSD. This is an excellent option to increase performance without spending a lot of money. Resource-intensive operating systems and programs can be installed on the NVMe drive. At the same time, backups or smaller applications can still be accessed quickly on a larger but more affordable SATA SSD.

Advantage in our games – A significant benefit of using an M.2 NVMe for games is that it will reduce game load times exponentially. Not only that, but games installed on NVMe devices will have much better overall performance. This is due to the fast speed at which NVMe drives can transfer data. NVMe drives offer players the greatest chance of success in competitive games and make gameplay as smooth and responsive as possible.

Generations are important – Even with NVMe connections, some distinctions can be made between different M.2 devices. Certain generations of NVMe SSD may have different speeds. For this reason, it is recommended that you double-check read and write speeds on a drive. Sometimes, previous generations of NVMe drives can be much cheaper without being significantly slower.

shared connections – on some motherboards, there are not enough PCIe connections to support multiple PCIe devices. This means you may have to choose between a graphics card or an NVMe hard drive. Other times there may be enough PCIe lanes, but only a specific connection will be able to use NVMe devices at full speed.

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Quick FAQ

Which is the best m 2 SATA or NVMe?

NVMe drives can typically provide a sustained read and write speed of 3,5GB/sec, in contrast to SATA SSDs that limit it to 600MB/sec. As NVMe SSDs can achieve higher speeds than SATA SSDs like M.2 drives, they are ideal for gaming or high resolution video editing.

How much faster is NVMe vs SATA SSD?

NVMe can provide a sustained read and write speed of over 2.000 MB per second, much faster than the SATA SSD III, which is limited to 600 MB per second.

Can I replace a SATA with an NVMe?

Specifically, an NVMe SSD upgrade can provide much faster performance on a machine that is already using a SATA SSD. The good news is that you can probably upgrade your Windows computer, especially a desktop, to an NVMe drive.

Does my M2 slot support NVMe?

A dedicated board or an M2 slot are the most common options. However, not all M2 slots support NVMe (some support only SATA and some only NVMe and some both).

Does Windows 10 support NVMe drivers?

Yes. Windows 10 natively supports NVMe drivers with Microsoft 'in-box' drivers. This same technology is present in Windows 8.1.

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Depending on your setup idea and, of course, your budget, it's always good to research what options are available on the market. I hope this article has clarified your doubts about SATA vs M2 and helps you in your choice. For more, leave in the comments and read more about tech on our website.

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Paulo Fabris is a journalist, writer, RPG player, gamer, cosplayer, nerd and fan of anime since the time of TV Manchete.