SATA M.2 SSD vs PCIe M.2 SSD - What’s the difference? – DIY in 5 Ep 172

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Published on 22 May 2022, 13:00
M.2 SSDs are tiny, easy to install and super-fast but did you know that they come in two different form factors? There are indeed both SATA and PCIe varieties of M.2. They are both long and thin and look a bit like a stick of chewing gum. But they are different.

Many people think the alternative to M.2 SSDs are SATA 2.5” SSDs, and while the 2.5 inch portion is correct, SATA actually refers to the storage interface. SATA and PCIe, or PCIe NVMe, are both types of storage interface that an SSD can use. The primary difference between the two is performance and the protocol, or language, spoken by the SSD. The M.2 spec was designed to accommodate both a SATA and PCIe interface for SSDs. M.2 SATA SSDs will use the same controller currently on typical 2.5” SATA SSDs. M.2 PCIe SSDs will use a controller specifically designed to support the PCIe protocol. An M.2 SSD can only support one protocol, but some systems have M.2 sockets that can support either SATA or PCIe. An easy way to tell the difference between the two drives based on appearance alone is the notches in the connection. SATA M.2 drives will have two notches, while PCIe will only have one.

So what’s the difference between the two? The PCIe interface is generally faster, as the SATA 3.0 spec is limited to around 600MB/s maximum speed, while PCIe Gen 2 x2 lanes are capable of up to 1000MB/s. And if you think that’s a large difference, PCIe Gen 2 x4 lanes are capable of up to 2000MB/s, and Gen 3 x4 lanes of up to 4000MB/s. Not to say that speed is everything. M.2 SSDs using the SATA protocol will generally be compatible with a wider variety of systems and can be better supported in older models, plus they are usually more affordable when it comes to PCIe. Another thing to consider is that some motherboards don’t have enough PCIe connections to support multiple PCIe NVMe drives. You might have to decide on using the available connection between a graphics card or an NVMe SSD. Other times there may be PCIe lanes available but only a certain type of connection will be able to use NVMe devices at their full speed such as an M.2 connection.

For example compare the Kingston A400 SATA SSD vs Kingston KC3000 PCIe NVMe SSD. The A400 has two key notches, comes in capacities up to 480 GB and has up to 500 MB/s read and 450 MKB/s write - all at an MSRP of under $50. The Kingston KC3000 on the other hand, has one key notch here on the side, comes in capacities up to 4TB and offers 7,000 MB/s read and write speeds. The starting price for this drive is $100.

So to sum up - yes, M.2 SSDs can come in both SATA and PCIe NVMe varieties. PCIe is newer and faster, while SATA is more affordable and more widely compatible with older systems. What you choose is up to you, but I hope these basic guidelines helped a bit in your shopping journey.
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0:00 Intro
0:41 What is an M.2 SSD?
1:07 What is a SATA 2.5" SSD?
1:26 What is the difference?
2:13 How does the difference relate to performance?
3:21 Comparison of a SATA M.2 SSD vs PCIe M.2 SSD