NVMe vs SATA: What’s The Difference And Which Is Faster?

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Cover image of NVME vs Sata

There is no denying that the world of storage has changed significantly. Gone are the day when you were limited to just one storage type. Now, you have a lot of options that you can choose from.

If you want mass storage, you can still go for SATA-based hard drives, but if you are looking for the best possible performance, the NVMe drives are going to be there for you.

With that said, it is safe to say that the NVMe drives have risen in popularity, and this has even sparked a debate about NVMe vs. SATA.

Finding the right one is not difficult, to be honest. Both storage devices serve the same purpose, but at the same time, they are inherently different,

That is what we are going to explore so we can have a better understanding of these drives; we are comparing both drives to make it easier for you.


NVMe Vs. SATA: Which SSD Technology Is Faster?


Now, this is an easy thing to answer; NVMe based SSDs are inherently faster than SATA, to the point that the comparison is almost unfair. Still, people want to know what they should be investing in and why they should be investing in something, and that calls for a proper comparison, as well.

We are not looking at any products in this article, only the differences or similarities that these technologies share.


What Is NVMe?


NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) is the latest protocol that is used to access high-speed storage devices. This brings many advantages compared to the legacy options, but the main question is still about what is NVMe and how it is taking over the storage world slowly.

Image of Samsung 980 EVO in PC casing

As people start moving towards the growth of the data, it is time that they start thinking about how this data is stored, preserved, or accessed after being stored. Needless to say, NVMe based SSDs are the answer in a way because they do offer the highest throughput, reliability as well as the fastest response times.

NVMe SSDs are not meant for enterprises exclusively; these drives are available on a consumer level as well, and they are easy to acquire. Granted, in the past, NVMe drives were notoriously expensive, but as we are heading towards the maturity of the technology, we are seeing more stable prices.

To achieve the highest bandwidth and lowest latency for the users, the NVMe protocol access flash storage through PCI Express bus, which on its supports countless parallel command queues and thus, it is much faster than the hard disks or your traditional flash architectures that are limited to a single command queue, slowing the performance on them, as well.

Image of three Samsung 980 Evo's

That being said, the NVMe specification manages to take advantage of non-volatile memory in all kinds of computing environments. Not just that, it is future proof, which means that aside from the fact that it can be extended to work with current technologies, it can also start working with the ones that are not invented at the time of writing.

NVMe is still more expensive than other storage offerings, but as we move forward, we are seeing a price reduction.

Related reading: Best NVMe SSDs For Gaming


The Form Factors


NVMe on its own is just a protocol that uses the PCI Express bus to work; therefore, the form factors are limited to either the PCI Express cards that are full-sized, or the modern NVMe drives use the M.2 form factor, which is a common factor and has been around for some time now.

Image of M.2 SSD Form Factors

Both PCI Express card based NVMe drives and M.2 based drives are easily available, but the latter is what is commonly used. M.2 itself is a form factor that has different standards that I have mentioned below.

  • M.2 Type-2280 (22 x 80mm)
  • M.2 Type-2230 (22 x 30mm)
  • M.2 Type-2242 (22 x 42mm)
  • M.2 Type-2260 (22 x 60mm)
  • M.2 Type-22110 (22 x 110mm)

The most common form factor here is the M.2 2280, which is what most drives are available in, as well. Don’t worry, though. The motherboards do have proper stand-offs for other sized drives, too. So you are not going to be limited to a single form factor.

NVMe drives also require no wires since they communicate directly with the PCI Express, allowing it to access data much faster and read and write it at even faster speeds.

Related reading: Best 1TB SSDs In 2022 – (M.2 NVMe, 2.5 Inch SATA & External)


How Does NVMe Work?


NVMe (non-volatile memory express) is an interface protocol that was designed specifically for solid-state drives. NVMe works with PCI Express to transfer data to and from the SSDs. NVMe was created to ensure faster storage in SSDs, and they also became a major improvement over the older hard drive technology, as well as their interfaces such as SATA and SAS.

CGI of Samsung 980 EVO NVMe SSD Showing the inside

However, it is important to know that HDDs are still being used because of how cheap they are as compared to their NVMe counterparts and thus can be used to store large amounts of data for a lower cost, as well.

Officially, NVMe serves as an optimized “scalable host controller interface designed to address the needs of Enterprise, Data Center, and Client systems that utilize PCI Expressed based solid-state drives”. However, over the past couple of years, the consumer market has seen a rise in popularity, and that is not stopping at all.


What Is SATA?


Not a lot of people are aware of this, but SATA was introduced back in 2003, and it stands as Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. It happens to be the default interface for almost all the desktop and laptop hard drives that we see in the market, and these drives are referred to as SATA hard drives.

Image of Firecuda and WD Black HDD

They are rotary hard drives that include spinning platters as well as a moving needle that writes data to consecutive sectors on those platters. Over the years, SATA has evolved a lot, and we have gone from SATA-based hard drives to SATA-based solid-state drives as well. The latter of which is faster, reliable, and more expensive.

SATA, however, on its own, is a lot faster as compared to its predecessor that was PATA. A SATA can write to a disk with an interface rate of 6Gb/s or with a throughput of 600 MB/s. A single SATA-based drive can range anywhere from 250GB up to 16TB, and that too, at a lower cost.

Image of Samsung 870 Evo Standing beside a PC

SATA are excellent if you are looking for cheaper storage that can be accessed by everyone. That is why people are still using massive capacity SATA hard drives for their network-attached storage. However, it important to know that SATA drives can be vulnerable to shock or sudden movements since there are moving parts within the drives, and sudden stopping of the device can also damage the data partially or completely in some cases.

That is the reason why SATA hard drives are not popular with laptops even though they are commonly used, but we now see modern-day laptops moving away from SATA drives and using SATA or NVMe based SSDs.


The Form Factors


The next up, we have to start looking at the form factors. SATA-based drives are easier to deal with when we are talking about form factors. Since it is an interface much like NVMe, spotting a form factor is easy. SATA-based drives are the most standard in a 3.5-inch form factor that we see in our full-sized hard drives.

Copy of Image of Sata Drive Form Factors

If you want something smaller, you get a 2.5-inch drive that is common in both hard drives and SATA-based SSDs. However, if you want to go even smaller and perhaps lose all the moving parts, the M.2 is the form factor that is also available on the SATA interface, this plug right on top of your motherboard.

The M.2 form factor is the most expensive one, with the 3.5-inch form factor being more affordable. There is no real performance difference in these. However, the M.2 form factors are reliable since they are only available as SSDs.

Related article: Best External SSDs For Playstation 4 Pro


How Does SATA Work?


When it comes to functionality, SATA drives are inherently different in the ways in which they work. As their name suggests, a SATA or a Serial ATA drive is responsible for transferring data in a serial method, which means that the data is moved one bit at a time between a SATA drive and its host.

image of ssd and hdd on desk

The drives use a seven-pin data cable along with a 15-pin power cable; the SATA Cable results in a larger signalling rate, and that signalling rate corresponds to faster throughput of data.

SATA cables can be considerably longer or shorter than your PATA ribbon cable-based on what the requirement is; this allows the designer a lot more room when it comes to routing cables or designing a layout, as well. You are also looking at fewer conductors, which means that the risk of crosstalk or electromagnetic interface is low.

In addition to that, SATA drives are also known for having a much lower signal voltage of just 250 millivolts, as opposed to the 5 volts of PATA drives. Which somewhat translates into the SATA drives having better power efficiency overall.


The Evolution Of the SSD Drives


Even though they are fairly recent, SSDs have been around for as long as we can remember. Back in 1983, a mobile computer was the first one that introduced for slots of removable storage. This removable storage was in the form of solid-state disks, and they used flash-memory cards.

image of a computer from 1983

However, at that time, flash memory, in general, had some limitations of needing to be reformatted entirely to reclaim the space from deleted or modified files. Old versions of the files that were modified or deleted would continue to take up space until you would format the flash module.

We then saw SSDs make a return again in 1991, but this time, a 20MB solid-state drive was sold for a massive $1,000. You can now get three high-performing SSDs with maxed-out storage for this price, and that too on M.2 NVMe interface.

Early in 1995, flash-based solid-state drives were introduced. They brought the advantage of not requiring any batteries to maintain the data in the memory. However, they were not as fast as the dynamic random access memory or DRAM.

Image of the Storage devices from 90s

Since then, SSDs have been used as hard drive replacements by not just the consumer market but the military as well as aerospace industries mainly because these applications require great mean time between failure rates that solid-state drives possess thanks to their ability to withstand extreme shock, vibration or different temperatures.

Needless to say, SSDs have evolved ever since, and even the SATA based SSDs are slowly being phased out in the favour of M.2 based SSDs which are smaller and allow for the NVMe PCI Express standards to work with M.2 slots and communicate directly for much faster speeds than normal.

Suggested reading: Best SSDs For Playstation 5


What Do NVMe & SATA SSDs Look Like?


This is something that gets asked out a lot and all the time, as well. For starters, a lot of people are often found wondering just what to NVMe and SATA SSDs look like, and to be honest, and it is not that difficult. After all, we have seen them so many times. It becomes a lot easier to identify.

Image of How NVMe & SATA SSDs Look Like

However, there can be some confusions, so we are going to touch on that. We are going to start slow, so you can have a lot easier understanding of what to do.

  • 2.5-inch SATA SSDs: As the name suggests, these are your 2.5-inch SATA SSDS, the default size for any SSD. It looks just a tad bigger and thicker than your credit card and will fit almost all the laptops, as well as your PCs.
  • M.2 SATA SSD: This is again the same SATA-based SSD, but this time around, you are looking at it in an M.2 form factor. What it doesn’t use any SATA cable, and you are right about that. Instead, it communicates with the SATA bus directly.
  • M.2 PCI-Express NVMe SSDs: These SSDs are available in M.2 form factor just like the one above but instead of following the SATA lanes, these send and take instructions from the PCI Express lanes on the motherboard.
  • PCI Express NVMe SSDs: These normally are add-in-cards that plug in the PCI Express slot on your motherboard, look a lot like the sound cards that we used to use, and in terms of speed, they perform similar to the M.2 NVMe SSDs because of having the same standards and specs.

What About M.2?


M.2 on its own is nothing more than a form factor. This is something that I have brought up time and again. You can find a lot of different devices that use this form factor, everything ranging from storage devices to network cards.

Image of a person holding the Samsung 960 evo

M.2 is a lot more common in laptops as well since it takes up a lot less space. Therefore, you cannot call M.2 and directly relate it to the storage since one is a form factor, and the other is, well, a storage device.


NVMe Vs. SATA – What’s The Real Difference?


So, you are close to finally making up your mind, and you have started to look at the available products as well, but you still have some questions remaining in your mind. What is the main difference between NVMe and SATA? Well, I wish it were that simple since it is not a single statement based answer.

Image of samsung 860 evo and two m.2 ssd

For starters, SATA drives are a lot slower than you might think. Perhaps the fastest SATA drives that you can find in the market will top at 600 MB/s, and that does seem fast on paper, but when you do compare these with your NVMe drives, you can get as high as 3,500 MB/s if you are looking at the PCI Express Gen3 speeds.

However, with the newer PCI Express Gen4 standard, you can go as high as 7,000 MB/s, and considering how NVMe drives are future proof, Gen5 could bring even faster speeds

In addition to that, another reason why NVMe drives are a lot better is that they use the M.2 or PCI Express slots on your motherboard, which means that you are not going to be using those SATA cables that are pesky and require to be plugged in the right way. The benefit is certainly there.

In addition to that, the NVMe drives that are available in the market are also going to offer better overall endurance and power efficiency, so you are getting a great deal with these drives. Granted, they are more expensive, but as we move forward into the future, technology is becoming more and more accessible and affordable.

Rest assured, if you are still wondering whether SATA or NVMe is a better alternative, you need to know that NVMe drives are not only better in the present but will get even better in the future. SATA drives have hit their plateau, and they won’t be getting any more upgrades.

However, the one place where SATA drives are excellent is the fact that they are cheap and are great if you are looking to create a mass storage network where you have a lot of storage for storing whatever you wish to store.


SATA Vs. NVMe – How Much Faster Are Both Drives?


Speed is certainly something that you are going to want when you are putting down a good amount of money on a new drive. I remember when I first decided to buy a SATA-based SSD, I went around telling everyone how I am not going to experience faster speeds than that.

I remember telling my friend on several occasions that there is nothing faster than a SATA-based SSD, and then I got the chance to try out NVMe SSDs, and I was blown away by how fast the drives have become.

CGI of showing PCIe Gen 4 980 Pro Speeds

At the time of writing, the SATA-based SSDs can max out on 600 MB/s, as I have said before. However, considering how NVMe is a continuously improving interface, you are not going to be limited to speed, at least at the time of writing.

Like I mentioned before, an NVMe SSD that is using a PCI Express Gen3 bus can go as high as 3,500 MB/s in speeds. However, when you are moving over to PCI Express Gen4, the speed almost doubles in the best case scenario and goes as high as 7,000 MB/s.

However, these speeds are not capped, which means that with the evolution of both NVMe and PCI Express, we are going to see faster storage than before, and it will keep going on until it ends up hitting a cap.

Needless to say, if you need good storage, that is also super-fast. You cannot go wrong with NVMe based drives as they are the fastest that are available in the market at this point and are only going to get better as the technology evolves, and you are going to get better and faster drives.


The Performance


When you are spending money on a new SSD, you could be doing it for two reasons; you are either looking for the best possible performance, or you want extra storage. If it is the former case, then you are in good hands as nothing comes close to the NVMe based drives that are available in the market.

Image of samsung 960 evo inside a motherboard

The performance that you are going to get on NVMe is unrivalled in almost every case to the point that these drives feel unnecessarily fast to a lot of people, but hey, speed is what we live for, and that is what you should be concerned with, as well. The satisfying experience of having a faster device is something that you can never overlook.

Therefore, if it is the raw and sustained performance that you want, you can close your eyes and pick an NVMe based drive, and you will be more than happy with the performance. The SATA drives are good too, but the performance they deliver is not sustained, and that is a downside for a lot of people.

Related reading: Best 4TB M.2 NVMe SSDs – 2022


Compatibility & Security


Moving on, when you are getting a new drive, you will have to keep the compatibility in check. Not just that, security is also an important aspect that you cannot overlook. I say this because a lot of the time, people don’t pay attention to that, and that is not what we are looking to get done here.

With that said, if you are looking to get your hands on a new SSD, be sure that it is compatible with your current hardware. Thankfully, almost all the motherboards in the market have an M.2 slot that supports the NVMe bus, as well. So, you are good to go.

Image of defferent types of SSDs

At the same time, if you are looking for something along the lines of SATA-based drives, you will find ample SATA ports on the motherboard. So, you are surely sorted as far as the compatibility is concerned.

As far as security is concerned, the best SATA or NVMe based drives do ship with AES 256-bit encryption along with some other tools for security purposes, as well. So, you should be at peace knowing that you are sorted as far as the support is concerned, in the first place.


Endurance & Warranty


I understand that when you are spending money on your new drive, you have to be careful about several factors. With the biggest one being the endurance because, after all, you would want something that is going to last you a long time without giving in. Especially when you have a lot of important files stored.

With that said, almost all the drives that we have reviewed have excellent endurance, and they are not going to fail you either. So, you can buy them without having to worry about anything going wrong, in the place.

As far as the warranty is concerned, SSDs do come with longer than average warranty periods, with which in my opinion is the way to go if you are looking for a good warranty that is going to last you long enough and you will not have to stress over your drive, either.


NVMe Or SATA? – Should I Get NVMe Or SATA SSD?


I get this question a lot of the time, and honestly, it all depends on what you are looking to achieve here. Most of the time, people are not looking for the fastest possible storage, and they just want something that helps with the boot times.

Image of Kingston SSDs

In such situations, a SATA-based SSD is going to be great because you are getting a cheaper drive, and it will also get you more storage for a lower price. However, on the other side of things, you have options for faster storage in the form of NVMe drives.

NVMe drives are inherently better thanks to how fast they are, and they offer better endurance, as well. So, you are definitely getting your hands on something that you are going to get a great experience with, and you will not be let down at all, either. That is the greatest part about getting these drives.



Frequently Asked Questions

#1 – Is NVMe better than SATA?

Yes, NVMe drives are inherently better than SATA and not just better. They are also faster and more durable.

#2 – Is NVMe faster than SATA SSD?

Yes, NVMe drives are faster than SATA SSD in every possible way, so you can easily get away with the fastest possible speeds.

#3 – Is NVMe and M 2 the same?

NVMe is an interface, whereas M.2 is a form factor. However, NVMe SSDs only use M.2 or PCI Express slots for functioning.

#4 – Which is faster, SSD or M.2?

We have said it before how M.2 is just a form factor. Whereas, SSD is storage, therefore, so there is no comparison, to begin with.

#5 – Can I use NVMe SSD on SATA?

The NVMe SSDs are either connected to the U.2, M.2, or PCI Express on your motherboard; you cannot use them on SATA ports as SATA ports require cables.

#6 – Can I use 2 NVMe SSD?

Yes, most basic motherboards are now shipping with at least 2 M.2 ports for NVMe storage, but you can use more than that if your motherboard has the slots, or you have an add-in card for adding more storage devices.

#7 – Do NVMe drives need drivers?

In the older motherboards and drives, you did need drivers for the drives to work perfectly fine. However, that does not happen anymore as modern Windows ships with the drives pre-installed.

#8 – Is NVMe SSD worth gaming?

Yes, NVMe SSD is excellent for gaming. However, the performance impact might not be immediately identified. NVMe SSDs improve the loading times of the games, but aside from that, you are not getting any difference in terms of the frame rate.


Sources:

What is M.2? Keys and Sockets Explained
https://www.atpinc.com/blog/what-is-m.2-M-B-BM-key-socket-3
NVMe vs SATA: What’s the difference and which is faster?
https://www.microcontrollertips.com/why-nvme-ssds-are-faster-than-sata-ssds/
Understanding SSD Technology: NVMe, SATA, M.2
https://www.kingston.com/en/community/articledetail/articleid/48543
What is an SSD?
https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/what-is-an-ssd/
NVMe vs. SATA: Which SSD Technology Is Faster?
https://www.howtogeek.com/657972/nvme-vs.-sata-which-ssd-technology-is-faster/
SATA 3 vs M.2 vs NVMe – Overview and Comparison
https://www.online-tech-tips.com/computer-tips/sata-3-vs-m-2-vs-nvme-overview-and-comparison/

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