What are NVMe Drives? Plus the Benefits of NVMe vs. SATA

What Are NVMe Drives - The Benefits of NVMe vs. SATA

If you’ve been in the market for a new personal computer (PC) at any point within the 2010s, you’ve likely noticed three new tech standards for the highest possible data transfer rates today:

  • Solid state drives (SSDs)
  • USB 3.X (and type C connectors)
  • High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI)

These hardware advancements mainly benefit office and home setups. But there is a newer storage technology that supersedes Serial AT Attachment (SATA) SSD performance, benefiting local workstations and web server hosting: Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe).

What is NVMe SSD Technology?

Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe), or Non-Volatile Memory Host Controller Interface Specification (NVMHCIS), is a logical device interface specification introduced in 2013 that uses the Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe or PCI-e) computer bus for accessing solid-state storage. This is a major change from the SATA protocol used with the more common 2.5/3.5 inch drive SSDs. 

Before the NVMe protocol became mainstream, the term “SSD” almost always referred to 2.5 inch SATA SSDs which fit in laptops with the SATA III computer bus interface and Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI). The reason the industry is moving away from this is simple – SSDs today run as fast as they can with the performance capabilities of SATA (and SCSI in data centers).

Since everyone wants the best performance possible, the talks of NVMe SSDs have brought many to ask…

What are the Benefits of NVMe vs. SATA?

PCIe connects NVMe drives directly to the central processing unit (CPU) to unlock the full potential of SSD performance. While SATA allows for a 6 GB/s connection or link speed, PCIe connections allow for a 16 GB/s link speed. With over double the link speed of SATA, NVMe has data transfer rates three to six times faster between storage devices and other hardware components, significantly improving the overall performance of information systems.

What Else Uses PCIe?

PCIe is commonly used for peripheral devices that require low latency:

  • Graphics processing units (GPU)
  • Network cards
  • Sound cards
  • TV tuners

It’s important to keep in mind that you can’t simply swap a SATA drive with a NVMe drive. When you compare “NVMe SSD versus SATA SSD,” that doesn’t take into account that both require different hardware. 

What are the Differences between NVMe vs. SATA Drive Form Factors?

M.2 Form Factor

Popular SSD and HDD form factors
Common drive form factors

Modern NVMe SSDs can come in two different form factors. The most common is the M.2 form factor. M.2 drives are installed directly on the motherboard, usually lying flat and parallel to the main chipboard.

There are M.2 SATA SSDs as well. Despite sharing the same form factor as their NVMe counterpart, they use a different module connector and greatly bottleneck link speed in comparison. Keep this distinction in mind when reviewing M.2 drives for PCs.

For a visual reference, see the image for the most popular form factors (from top to bottom):

  • M.2 SATA SSD
  • M.2 NVMe SSD (note how it has one indentation in the connector instead of two)
  • 2.5 inch SATA SSD for laptops
  • 3.5 inch SATA HDD for desktops

PCIe Add-in Card (AIC) Form Factor

Intel 750 Series SSD
Source: https://www.newegg.com

Then there’s the PCIe SSD add-in card (AIC) form factor for desktop systems. The following image is the Intel 750 Series AIC SSD. If you didn’t have a M.2 slot on a machine, you could purchase a AIC SSD or a PCIe slot adapter for a M.2 drive.

For NVMe benchmarks compared to SATA SSDs, check out sites such as UserBenchmark and Gaming PC Builder.

alert alert-info There are NVMe drives made for the more common 2.5 inch drive bay. This is known as the U.2 form factor. It requires an adapter and is usually only seen in enterprise environments.

Is a NVMe SSD Best For You?

Whether a NVMe drive would benefit you or not depends on your use case, particularly web hosting or local workstations.

NVMe Web Hosting

Yes. NVMe web hosting is already becoming the industry standard for web hosting. Our new NVMe Shared Hosting plans serve website content 6-20 times faster than standard SSD hosting for a competitive advantage. Upgrading to NVMe hosting instantly optimizes website performance and users’ experience (UX) without the need for third party caching software. This means your Linux server hosting allocates more resources on user requests rather than caching tasks. 

Better resource allocation is a major reason why experienced Linux system administrators (sysadmins) migrate from cPanel hosting to unmanaged Cloud Server Hosting. This might not be necessary for some now that NVMe WordPress hosting and NVMe VPS hosting are the new hotness.

We're hiring! Start your IT career with us as a Linux web hosting technical support, or view other available positions.

NVMe Drives for Local Workstations

Maybe. This one is more subjective. Let’s say that “general use” means you don’t use more than a web browser, email client, and office suite on a regular day, even while working remotely. If that fits you, there are more cost-effective ways to improve PC security and performance in 2021. You’ll likely have to purchase a new computer or some adapters to use the new tech. The jump in performance from a SATA SSD to a NVMe drive won’t be nearly as noticeable when upgrading from a HDD to SSD. 

Power users are most likely to see the benefits of NVMe technology:

  • Music producers and video editors rendering complex projects in high quality
  • PC gamers running massively multiplayer online (MMO) games like World of Warcraft and Starcraft
  • Multimedia streamers aiming for the highest frames per second (FPS) possible with customization software like Open Broadcaster Software (OBS)

Even with these users, system performance could be capped by an older processor. You’ll need an Intel i7 CPU or better to get most out of a NVMe drive. 

If you plan to start shopping for a new computer within the next few years, NVMe is future proof. You can find the best NVMe SSD for your desktop tower at TechRadar.com.

Do you have questions about the benefits of NVMe web hosting or technology in general? Let us know below.

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