By this new post, I would like to talk about a category of very fast and modern storage drives, that not only are amazing thanks to their speedy features, but they are also very advantageous when we talk about how much physical space they take in the PC! And also to present you some examples.
As you see in the title, this article is about solid state drives (SSDs), but that’s not all, they are NOT common SSDs like the 2.5-inch SATA SSD drives that we already know. The NVME species of SSDs is even smaller and faster! A great storage space, fast and at the same time saving space in your chassis.
So let’s see first what the NVME term is about, then you will also get a list of options to choose your best NVME SSD from.
What is NVME?
Well, maybe some people reading this article already know what the NVME acronym stands for, I also gave some explanations in my first post about storage drives, but again, it means Non-Volatile Memory Express. Being non-volatile means that you can permanently store your data on a NVME disk drive (photos, movies, music, electronic books, videos, other personal and preferred stuff…) – so you won’t lose them if you turn off the PC and then start it again. By contrast, volatile memories like the RAM lose their content when we turn the computer off.
Storage drives like hard disks (internal or external), written CDs and DVDs, USB flash memories aka sticks, SATA SSDs, NVMEs – they are ALL non-volatile, you will not lose by power-off the data that is stored on them. Of course, drives must not get bad sectors :).
NVME drives are pretty young in the history of computers – they were introduced in 2013.
And the Express name part from NVMEs refers directly to the origin of their speedy character. When you write data to, or read it from a SSD, data travels through the PCI-Express interface of the motherboard (yes, that one is responsible also for the PCI-E slots where we plug our video and expansion cards into), instead of using a SATA controller. And the PCI-Express (4.0 is its most recent version, that’s very, very fast) owes its much greater speed to the fact that it benefits from bandwidth from the CPU – this bandwidth is expressed by the so-called PCI-E lanes. The more PCI-E lanes a CPU supports (meaning it’s a powerful processor), the better the powers for cards and NVMEs on the motherboard. By example, the new Intel Core i9-10980XE processor supports 48 such lanes, and the 2nd-gen AMD Ryzen Threadripper CPUs from 2018 provide support for 64 such lanes.
Back on NVME drives, I explained what the name is about, but that’s not complete information. I was also saying something about them having smaller sizes when compared to regular SSDs (that in their turn are slimmer & smaller, less heavier than HDDs!).
Well, here comes the form factor for most NVME solid state drives: it’s called M.2. Modern motherboards (I mean a large number of mobos from the 2010s decade) have one or more such dedicated slots on them.
A storage device that is form-factored as M.2 has only 22 mm of width (yes, you can cover such a disk drive with only two fingers), while their length – not much greater – varies: it can be 30 mm, 42, 60, 80 (very common), or 100 mm. And their thickness is at most a few millimeters.
Since the 22 mm width & 80 mm length is a very frequent standard for M.2 drives, we also call them M.2 2280. Similarly, a 22*60 mm M.2 storage device is called 2260, and so on. So, now you should also know what these “22xy” numbers are when looking for tiny M.2 drives!
Most NVME disk drives [well, not quite disks, they are not round :)] are a subset of the M.2 storage devices; there are also SATA-III SSD drives that have those small physical sizes. I think I will show you some examples of SATA tiny drives in at least one separated article. This one is about the amazingly fact NVMEs!
However, not all NVMEs in the world are as small as M.2. Since they benefit from the PCI-E bandwidth, in the 3rd PCI-E generation there are also some add-in cards (yes, just like video and expansion ones) that are actually NVME SSDs. You plug a PCI-E SSD into a PCI-E common slot, just like you do with GPUs!
But their size is greater and there may be problems with PCs having smaller cases. It is impossible to use a PCI-E card-sized NVME drive in a laptop!
Also, there are also some 2.5-inch NVME SSDs that are provided by Intel. At least, a 4 TB Intel DC model… We will come across it later. Most NVMEs are tiny, folks!
How fast can NVME SSDs be? What about their capacities?
Like I already said, NVME drives are tightly related to PCI-Express. And as of today, we have two main generations of PCI-E: the 3rd (3.0, 3.1), that was firstly released around 2010, and the 4th or 4.0, that just popped in this year in 2019.
As far as the PCI-E 3.0 standard is concerned, each lane provides an approximated speed of 1 GB per second (985 MB/s, more precisely). As for the PCI-E 4.0, its speed per lane is double, like 2 GB/s.
PCI-E 4.0 is still new, and by now there are fewer NVME SSDs belonging to this generation, also there has not been enough time to develop the fastest possible PCI-E 4.0 NVME SSDs. Instead, the PCI-E NVME drives that belong to the third generation, due to their ability to use up to four PCI-e lanes (that’s called x4 in the specific language) can, in theory, reach a maximum speed of almost 4 GB/s, say 3.9.
For PCI-E 4.0, the maximum speed possible for a x4 NVME would be double, that is towards 8 gigabytes per second. Nonetheless, this standard is still fresh on the market, and while there are 3rd-gen PCI-E NVMEs whose data throughputs (read, write speeds) benefit very well from the PCI-E capacities (like having reading speeds of 3.5 GB/s), 4th-gen PCI-E NVME SSDs have not got that close to their 8 GB/s maximum. We will see that in the examples below.
The first PCI-E NVMEs belonged to the PCI-E 2.0 generation and were using two lanes (thus being x2), which meant that their maximum possible speeds must have been around 1000 MB/s (the PCI-E 2.0 rated speed per lane was 500 MB/s, so when PCI-E 3.0 came out, there was also a doubling). We can also call those “maximum possible” NVME speeds as throughput ceiling.
Obviously, NVMEs are much faster than SATA-III SSDs (be it M.2 or 2.5-inch) and hard disks, not to mention the USB flash drives… When you use a USB stick you can enjoy transfer speeds like 50-60 MB/s. And reading is faster than writing!
If you go for a SATA-III HDD, you may witness R/W speeds of around 200 MB per second.
If you use a SATA-III SSD, you can jump over 500 MB/s.
But if you opt for using NVME SSDs, you may run into a fast model that gives you up to 3500 MB/s for reading, and maybe 2500 or 3200 MB/s for writing data to it.
And that’s just for PCI-E 3.0! The fourth-gen PCI-E drives are faster, as I said, although they still haven’t doubled all speeds over 3.0. Let’s consider that the 5000 MB/s threshold is now a milestone, when talking about PCI-E 4.0. In the next years, we will perhaps see also the rising of PCI-E 5.0, because Technology does not sleep! It permanently evolves.
You may also ask about how much storage space does a NVME SSD actually provide. Would there be enough space for hosting your favorite movies on it? And your music & photos? What about the operating system?
Well, you WILL get some satisfying storage space – and it’s fascinating to know we can use 1 or 2 TB of storage on a so tiny device like a 22 mm * 80 mm SSD. As for installing the OS on NVME… that may not be always possible. It depends on criteria like the manufacturer, the support that’s provided by BIOS… And you must be very careful with properly placing the NVME on the motherboard, also ensuring a good cooling solution for it!
Usually, NVMEs are plugged into M.2 slots on the motherboard (the small ones, those with a width of 22 mm), and don;t forget that there are also PCI-E cards that work as NVMEs. The little M.2 devices are usually covered by special heat sinks that are mounted with screws on the motherboard (and be careful also with those screws, they are also very tiny and easy to get lost on the floor). More modern, aftermarket cooling solutions provide M.2 waterblocks for enhanced cooling.
By experience, in September 2017 when I purchased my first NVME, it was a 240 GB Corsair Force MP500 SSD, and Corsair states that this model supports up to 3000 MB/s read speeds, and up to 2400 MB/s write speeds.
The ASUS PRIME X299-A motherboard that I was using at that time provided two M.2 slots (it still provides them, it’s at home), but one of them had no covering heatsink, while the another one had it. I placed my NVME in a vicious position on the non-covered slot and installed Arch Linux on it. It worked for around two weeks, but then I think the NVME got overheated (besides using the OS on it, I was also doing frequent data transfers – content creation – involving this drive, without proper cooling), and it crashed.
That non-covered M.2 slot was also closely to one of my RAM memory banks having a Corsair air cooler above them (RAM can be air cooled or even water cooled, by the way), and I also think that the memory cooler got inclinated enough to push my SSD a little off the slot & thus causing it to crash… It’s hard to say why did this exactly happen.
I bought five other NVME SSDs since then (their capacities are between 480 GB and 2 TB) and there were other intensive data transfers on these drives, but they all had neatsinks covering them, and no operating system! Lesson learned. None of them crashed.
So, make sure that your NVMEs are properly installed and cooled, and maybe it is safer not to use operating systems on them – but first of all, protect them from overheating! Of course booting an OS from such a super-fast device would be great, we already know how the boot time decreases when moving the OS from a SATA HDD to a SATA SSD.
And now, let’s say something about the NVME SSD capacities. Most of them have capacities from 120 GB up to 2 TB. There are also some NVMEs with larger storage space like 3.84 or even 4 TB (like an Intel DC model I mentioned above). But no more than 4 TB. This limitation applies also to SATA SSDs in 2019. We cannot buy, say, 5TB or 6TB or 8TB SSDs of any kind; if you want many terabytes at home, hard disks are still the best solution.
M.2 NVME SSDs have at most 2 TB of storage space, but that’s enough for many PC usage purposes. What can we do with 2 terabytes? There would be enough room for storing games, movies, photos, music, and other personal stuff. And of course for the OS if it is safe. Only intensive content creators may not feel so… content 🙂 and need more space.
Anyway, there’s another hitch: NVME SSDs are also expensive! If you purchase a 2TB NVME SSD, you will likely have to spend around $400 or $500, maybe somewhat less, maybe somewhat more, depending on the model, on its speeds… I will also post some links (NOT affiliate links) showing prices for NVMEs, so that you will have a clearer idea.
Let’s see a few NVME drives!
I choose to begin with a very fast PCI-E 4.0 SSD drive.
The Aorus NVMe SSD, that has 2 TB of space and makes use of the PCI-E 4.0 technology, is providing some wonderful speeds: imagine how it is like to have a 2TB drive where you can write content with up to 4400 MB/s, and the reading speed is even higher, up to 5000 MB/s.
Well, very probably you cannot maintain these maximum speeds every second, but if you have some large video file, kind of 1-2 GB (a movie), and you need to move it to such a SSD, writing it will likely take less than one second. If you transfer it to a HDD drive, you would have to wait for about 10 seconds until the copy/move process completes.
This SSD comes with a copper-made heat spreader. Both sides of the SSD are already covered by this spreader, you don’t have to mount it manually. Remember that cooling these drives matters very much.
It uses a Phison PS5016-E16 controller, and its NAND memory is provided by Toshiba: BiCS4-TLC-NAND, which is the reason why those data transfer speeds are so high.
It has a five-year warranty, meaning that it is a high-tech quality product.
Its specifications also tell us that we can write up to 3600 terabytes to it before it becomes read-only (this is a detail about the general hardware structure of SSDs, and I already talked about it in another post). Also, its mean time between failures (MTBW) is rated at 1.7 million hours (but this is rather a statistical statement, of course we wouldn’t expect, require, or need a single SSD to last for two centuries).
It supports four PCI-E 4.0 lanes and its form factor is M.2 22*80 mm (M.2 2280 PCI-E 4.0 x4 NVME SSD). But although there are four PCI-E lanes involved, we can clearly see that the 4*2=8 GB/s throughput ceiling for the PCI-E 4.0 standard is not met yet – otherwise, we should have seen some 7000 MB/s for its read speed. This model of SSD is pretty new, it was just announced a few months ago.
See it here:
Pretty expensive, isn’t it? If you want to make 4 TB from two such SSDs, have around $1000 USD prepared.
And there’s also a 1TB variant, obviously cheaper, and with the same data speeds:
The next PCI-E NVME SSD that I want to tell you about has less space (1 TB), there’s also a 2TB variant that I mentioned in another post.
The Force Series Gen.4 PCIe MP600 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD is, as we quickly notice from its name, another masterpiece of the 4th-gen PCI Express generation. It also features the M.2 22mm*80mm form factor, and its transfer rates are slightly lower than in the above AORUS case: up to 4950 MB/s for reading and 4250 MB/s for writing. Its actual dimensions are 80 * 23 * 15 mm (yes, it has some thickness too).
You can write, in theory, up to 1800 TB on it (and 3600 TB on its 2 TB variant). Don’t worry, that would indeed take a serious amount of time :). I have five NVMEs at home and I still have not turned any of them into a read-only device! However I have to admit that I am going through an “On-Hold” period with my strong computers at home, my energy bill must become smaller.
This NVME weighs only 34 g! Can you imagine this? We may hold these pieces in our hands, even little spoons are somewhat larger and heavier. Yet we can have 2 TB in such a piece! Remember that back in 1956, the first 5MB HDD drive weighed over a ton, and people were not able to lift it manually. Technology has made enormous progresses!
For Tech users: this NVME model provides SSD SMART Support (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology, which helps us keep track of the health of the drive), it uses 256-bit AES Encryption, and its NAND technology is 3D TLC NAND.
Its MTBF is still 1700000 hours (almost 200 years), but I think 3 to 5 years would be enough :). It also has a 5-year warranty.
You can make it a visit here:
(There are also 500GB and 2TB models)
Now, let’s also see a PCI-E 3.0 NVME example that is good for gamers and professional content creators.
The 3rd generation of PCI-E SSDs is still alive and has a large palette of products to offer! After all, all my 5 NVMEs at home are PCI-E 3.0 too.
So, the Seagate FireCuda 510 SSD comes with 1000 GB of storage (plus 24 GB of extra, overprovisioning space, thus making a total of 1024 GB).
Be careful when interpreting these numbers – in commercial environments, drive capacities are taken decimally, so 1KB = 1000 bytes, 1 MB = 1000 KB, 1 GB = 1000 MB, 1 TB = 1000 GB.
On the other hand, when you are under the OS or BIOS, or when simply powering the PC on and seeing some other hardware data on the PC screen, drive sizes are interpreted the binary way, meaning that instead of using 1000 (10 raised to the 3rd power) for Kilo, the tenth power of two is preferred (2^10 = 1024), so that 1KB = 1024 bytes, 1MB = 1024 KB, 1 GB = 1024 MB, and finally 1 TB = 1024 GB.
I said that this Seagate FireCuda NVME comes with 1 TB (1000 GB) of storage. We can ignore the extra 24 GB called overprovisioning space for now. If you install a 1000GB drive in your computer and your BIOS (or the Disks tool from your OS) tells you something like 931 GB, don’t worry – the system thinks that a gigabyte is 1024*1024*1024 = 1073741824 bytes, and if you divide one trillion (1 000 000 000 000 bytes = 1 TB) by that 2^30 power, you get 931.5.
So there are actually no gigabytes vanishing into the electronic space – it’s just a matter of Binary vs Decimal interpretation. When customers are looking for items to buy, it is easier to think decimally, and so it is for manufacturers too.
And now, back to the Seagate FireCuda masterpiece, its form factor is the same M.2 22*80mm as in the examples above. It is a PCI-E 3.0 x4 (four lanes of PCI Express), but its speeds are normally somewhat slower than in the PCI-E 4.0 standard.
You get read speeds up to 3450 MB/s, and write speeds of maximum 3200 MB/s.
This SSD also comes with a 5-year warranty, and you can write 1300 terabytes [decimal ones :)] to it. The 2 TB version supports 2600 TB, and there’s also a 500GB FireCuda 510 SSD, which supports… you guessed, 650 TB of writings.
The 1 TB SSD weighs only 3.5 g, and it’s very slim (3.58 mm or 0.14 inch). Even the 2 TB version of the FireCuda 510 weighs just 3.7 g, so like I said, these pieces are easier to handle than spoons :). But sure, they are fragile as well and we need to pay much attention.
So, even if you use a 3rd-gen PCI-E NVME and not a PCI-E 4.0, you can still copy a 2-3 GB movie in just about one second!
Its power consumption is very low: up to 5.5 W in the active state, but when idle, there are only 20 milliwatts, and on Low-Power it consumes just 2 mW. If you use this SSD as the unique storage drive in your computer, especially if you are not stressing it much, then you really don’t have to worry about your SSD charging your electricity bill too much!
The MTBF factor is 1800000 hours (around 205 years).
See it here:
And for more data on the Seagate FireCuda NVME suite, you can visit the manufacturer’s site:
I was also making reference of an Intel NVME SSD of 4 TB, that does not have the M.2 form factor, instead it is a 2.5-inch drive, but it’s still a NVME, not a SATA SSD.
The Intel® SSD DC P4510 SERIES was released in the first quarter of 2018, but it deserves to be considered among the best NVME SSDs for 2019 too, given its extreme capacity. It belongs to the so-called PCI-E 3.1 generation (so we find out there’s also a 3.1 subset of the PCI-E 3rd generation…), and it also uses 4 lanes, therefore we call it a PCI-E NVME 3.1 x4 device, which by its 4 TB would cover most of the needs of a PC user. Again, that doesn’t apply to (extreme) content creators who need more terabytes, and for whom HDDs would be more appropriate.
It provides up to 3000 MB/s read speeds, and up to 2900 MB/s for writing. These are called “sequential” reading and writing, when we handle files one-by-one. There are also random read/write operations, for which another unit of measure is used: the IOPS (input/output operations per second). Random reads are also faster than random writes, so that the SSD has 636,500 random read IOPS and “only” 111,500 random write IOPS.
You can write 6300 TB on this SSD. This thing is also called “Endurance rating” or Lifetime writes, and the immediate multiple of Terabyte is Petabyte (be it decimal or binary), but here we go Decimal, so 6300 TB = 6.3 PB.
Its warranty is of 5 years, and the MTBW factor is 2 million hours, meaning that this drive should basically last for a few years… for those who afford it! Depending on the vendor, you risk to spend over $1000 US for these 4 TB.
See more on it here:
NVME solid state drives are some of the best choices – if not the very best – when it comes about data throughput on our disk drives. They have not a very long history as of right now, they are still expensive and space-limited, but their innovations in matter of physical size and read/write speeds cannot be doubted. Every year, there are new NVME SSDs to come, and gradually their prices decrease, though there are still many years until advanced generations of NVME drives (or their successors) will largely replace HDDs and any other lower-speed drives. Maybe by 2030 we will witness, say, some 24TB NVME releases… but even with their actual specifications, NVMEs can satisfy many of our needs as computer users. We need some money and also more carefulness when dealing with these pieces, but once we understand how to use them correctly, their speeds are quite delighting!
Please feel free to leave comments and to share the article if you find useful info here, that helps you decide what your best NVME SSD should be. I also answer questions. Enjoy the Computer universe!