This article assumes that you are competent in installing new drives in your computer, as well as the installation of the Windows operating system on new drives.
The purpose of this article is to compare data storage technologies, specifically traditional SATA SSDs versus the new NVMe M.2 SSDs. It is not intended to compare specific makes and models of hardware. My resources are somewhat limited, so I only studied the speeds of one type of SATA SSD and two types of NVMe SSDs, as well as the effect of one type of adapter that will be necessary to connect an NVMe SSD to the PCIe bus, if the machine's main board does not have an NVMe M.2 connector. The truth is that there is such a huge difference between the speeds of the two types of SSDs that useful conclusions can be drawn, even though the tests were conducted on a limited variety of hardware components.
About a year ago, my old desktop became long in the tooth and I saved up to replace it. The new machine came with an Intel SSDPEKKF010T8 1TB NVMe SSD as the system's drive. The machine's main board had an NVMe M.2 connector. The drive seemed incredibly fast, but only later did I realize the full potential of the new SSD technology.
This is the tiny NVMe M.2 connector on the main board:
So What IS an NVMe SSD?
NVMe M.2 is the latest technology of SSD. It is much too fast to be connected to the SATA bus, so it plugs directly into the machines PCI Express bus. It is tiny, the version intended for desktops measures 80mm X 22mm. It is barely 3mm thick. It is about the size of a stick of gum. This is an example, the Samsung 970 PRO:
Can your machine be outfitted with this latest version of SSD? Well, it depends. To be able to boot from the NVMe SSD,
your BIOS MUST offer the option to enable booting from NVMe M.2 drives. If it does not, your BIOS may not "see" the drive.
[Edit: Apparently this is not true for all machines. What is probably essential, is that your Storage Controllers list must show an NVMe Controller as shown below. /Edit]
Another way to check: If you open Device Manager and open Storage Controllers and you see an entry for an NVMe, you should also be in luck:
What About the Cost?
Well, this may surprise you. The cost has come down considerably. Premium NVMe SSDs now cost just about the same as SATA SSDs of the same capacity. I expect that the cost may come down even further as sales volumes grow. Check out the prices on sites like Amazon, if you wish to confirm.
My Main Board Does Not Have a NVMe Connector?
Check that your BIOS can boot from NVMe and if so: Do you have am open X4 connector on your PCIe 3.0 bus? (pictured below):
If so, you are in luck: You can get an adapter that plugs into the PCIe 3.0 X4 connector. After I had my machine for a year, faster NVMe devices became available and I decided to upgrade. I replaced the Intel NVMe device (that served me very well for a year) with a Samsung unit, pictured previously. This left me with a spare Intel unit that was still working perfectly. I had an open X4 connector on my PCIe 3.0 bus, so I bought a PCIe 3.0 to NVMe adapter. The unit I bought was made by QNINE called: M.2 NVME SSD to PCI Express 3.0 Host Controller Expansion Card. It is pictured below:
As you can see, this adapter can accommodate SSDs 30mm, or 42mm, or 60mm or 80mm long. Note that this adapter is just a "dumb" pass through adapter. It has no electronics, apart from a lone capacitor. It does no processing of any kind, so don't go looking for a driver for it, like some reviewers on Amazon apparently did :-)
Note: When I replaced the Intel SSD, I did a fresh clean install of Windows 10 - 1909 on the new Samsung drive, so the driver for the original Intel SSD was gone.
By the way: After the new drive was appropriately partitioned for UEFI safe boot, the actual installation of the full bare bones Windows operating system (before updates) took about 8 minutes. I kid you not!
So I installed my spare Intel NVMe M.2 on the adapter and plugged the adapter into the 4X PCIe 3 slot. When I first turned the machine on, Windows took a minute or two before it recognized the Intel SSD in the adapter. I suspect that Windows went surfing the Internet for a driver for the Intel device, because I was told the driver was up to date when I tried to manually install it.
Now I had a nice setup: a fast NVMe for the systems drive and another for my data drive. I also have a traditional Samsung SATA SSD in the machine that I only use to keep Macrium images. This also gave me a platform to test the relative speeds of the different drives.
At Last: The Test Results
Please note that these results apply to my particular setup, with the drives installed in a year old, but fast, Dell XPS8930 desktop. Your test results may differ, depending on your hardware configuration.
All tests were done using the '
winsat' utility of Windows. If you are unfamiliar with
winsat: Open an elevated command prompt and enter the command:
winsat disk -drive c
c' is the drive letter of the drive you want to check.
Winsat is a very useful tool to have in your toolbox.
The First Item
A traditional spinning disk hard drive (A Western Digital Black 1 TB HDD):
(I did this test some time ago, before changing the NVMe drive.)
- Sequential Read: 150.7 MB/s
- Sequential Write: 266.3 MB/s
The Second Item
A Samsung Pro 850 traditional SATA SSD:
- Sequential Read: 531.5 MB/s
- Sequential Write: 500.6 MB/s
The Third Item
An Intel SSDPEKKF010T8 1TB NVMe SSD in main board connector:
- Sequential Read: 2782 MB/s
- Sequential Write: 1474 MB/s
The Fourth Item
An Intel SSDPEKKF010T8 1TB NVMe SSD in QNINE Adapter:
- Sequential Read: 2765 MB/s
- Sequential Write: 1425 MB/s
The Fifth Item
Samsung 970 Pro 500GB NVMe SSD in main board connector:
- Sequential Read: 3434 MB/s
- Sequential Write: 2741 MB/s
Modern NVMe M.2 SSDs seem about 5 to 6 times faster that older SATA SSDs that were considered super fast a few years ago. Moreover: they are much smaller, seem to draw less power and their price is currently about the same.
However, you need a reasonably new PC that can handle NVMe M.2 SSDs.. Maybe Santa can help in this regard? :-)
Installing the NVMe device in a good PCIe 3.0 adapter seems to have no significant impact on performance, provided you have a spare X4 PCIe 3.0 slot on the main board.
Please keep in mind these tests were done on my particular setup with limited hardware choices. More comprehensive tests may yield different results, but I doubt the conclusions will be fundamentally different.
- 30th November, 2019: First version
- 4th December, 2019: Second Version
- 5th December, 2019: Added a link for further reading.