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NVMe SSDs: Everything you need to know about this insanely fast storage

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  • NVMe SSDs: Everything you need to know about this insanely fast storage

    Click image for larger version  Name:	expro_m2_nvme_3d_ssd_043_1tb_3000x3000_hr-cropped-100755982-large.jpg Views:	1 Size:	26.8 KB ID:	508353

    NVMe is no longer a nice-to-have storage technology. If youíre shopping for a new PC, itís a feature you should actively seek out. Moreover, if your PC is of fairly recent vintage, you should upgrade to NVMe. Hereís why.

    What it is

    NVMe is a communications standard developed specially for SSDs by a consortium of vendors including Intel, Samsung, Sandisk, Dell, and Seagate. It operates across the PCIe bus (hence the ĎExpressí in the name), which allows the drives to act more like the fast memory that they are, rather than the hard disks they imitate. Bottom line: NVMe is fast. Really fast. Like never-have-to-wait-again-for-your-computer fast.

    NVMe: Itís the storage, stupid

    Not to belittle the efforts of CPU and GPU vendors over the last decade, but the reason the latest top-end PCs seem so much faster is because of the quantum leap in storage performance provided by SSDs, first SATA, and now NVMe. Storage was the last bottleneck for real and perceived performance, but itís now wide-pour with a vengeance.

    If youíve bought, say a MacBook Pro, in the last two years, you may have noticed that you hardly wait at all anymore for mundane operations. Programs pop open, files load and save in an instant, and the machine boots and shuts down in just a few seconds.

    Thatís because the NVMe SSD inside the latest MacBook Pro reads and writes data literally four times faster than the SATA SSDs found in previous generations. Not only that, but it locates them 10 times as fast (seek). Thatís on top of the four- to five-fold improvement in throughput and ten-fold improvement in seek times that was already provided by SATA SSDs when compared to hard drives.

    Hard drives still offer tremendous bang for the buck in terms of capacity and are wonderful for less-used data. But for your operating system, programs, and oft-used data, you want an NVMe SSD if your system supports it, or a SATA SSD if it canít.

    SATA SSDs vs. NVMe SSDs

    Knowing well the ultimate performance potential of NAND-based SSDs even when they first showed up, it was clear to the industry that a new bus and protocol would eventually be needed. But, as the first SSDs were relatively slow (and bulky), it proved far more convenient to use the existing SATA storage infrastructure.

    Though the SATA bus has evolved to 16Gbps as of version 3.3, nearly all commercial implementations remain 6Gbps (roughly 550MBps after communications overhead). Even version 3.3 is far slower slower than what todayís SSD technology is capable of, especially in RAID configurations.

    As a replacement for the SATA bus, it was decided to leverage a much higher-bandwidth bus technology that was also already in placeóPCI Express, or PCIe. PCIe is the underlying data transport layer for graphics and other add-in cards.. As of generation 3.x, it offers multiple lanes (up to 16 for use with any one device in most PCs) that handle darn near 1GBps each (985MBps).

    PCIe is also the foundation for the Thunderbolt interface, which is starting to pay dividends with external graphics cards for gaming, as well as external NVMe storage, which is nearly as fast as internal NVMe. Intelís refusal to let Thunderbolt die was a very good thing, as many users are starting to discover. Even though Intel has shared the technology with the USB forum to make it easier to implement, itís still rarer than one might hope.

    Of course, PCIe storage predates NVMe by quite a few years. But previous solutions were hamstrung by older data transfer protocols such as SATA, SCSI, and AHCI, which were all developed when the hard drive was still the apex of storage technology. NVMe removes their constraints by offering low-latency commands, and multiple queuesóup to 64K of them. The latter is particularly effective because data is written to SSDs in shotgun fashion, scattered about the chips and blocks, rather than contiguously in circles as on a hard drive.
    The NVMe standard has continued to evolve to the present version 1.31, with the addition of such features as the ability to use part of your computerís system memory as a cache. Weíve already seen that caching employed by the super-cheap Toshiba RC100 we recently reviewed, which forgoes that onboard DRAM cache that most NVMe drives use, but still performs well enough to give your system that NVMe kick in the pants for everyday chores.

    What you need to get NVMe

    Itís obviously best if your system already supports NVMe and has M.2 slots, but itís still possible to add an NVMe drive to any PC with an PCIe slot via a $25 adapter card. All recent versions of the major operating systems provide drivers, and regardless of the age of the system you will have a very fast drive on your hands. But thereís a catch.

    To benefit fully from an NVMe SSD, you must be able to boot the operating system from it. That requires BIOS support. Sigh. Most older mainstream BIOSes do not support booting from NVMe and most likely, never will. Thereís simply no benefit to the vendors to add it, and a very real downside: Youíre less likely to upgrade a system thatís been updated with NVMe, unless you play PC games or do something truly CPU-intensive, like editing 2160p (4K)/4320p(8K) video.
    More here:
    "I guess I just hate the fact there is public property at all." - Mr. Raceboy.

  • #2
    They're not exactly durable though.

    Pete (has fried two of them with small amounts of force, and they'll be useless in notime if you spill a small amount of liquid on your macbook)


    • #3
      I upgraded my new XPS 15 laptop with a 2TB m.2 ssd. Love it .


      • #4
        Originally posted by Jesse View Post
        I upgraded my new XPS 15 laptop with a 2TB m.2 ssd. Love it .
        How long does it take to boot up?
        "I guess I just hate the fact there is public property at all." - Mr. Raceboy.


        • #5
          Originally posted by skooly View Post

          How long does it take to boot up?
          I'm dual booting, but once I'm at the operating selection screen, it takes 5 seconds to boot to Windows 10 and 7 seconds to boot to a Gnome login on Debian Linux.


          • #6
            My computer takes about 13 seconds from the moment I press the power button to the Windows 10 desktop.

            I remember the days when it would take like 4-5 minutes.
            "I guess I just hate the fact there is public property at all." - Mr. Raceboy.