Solid-state drives (SSDs) offer a clear benefit in terms of speed over mechanical hard disk drives (HDDs). But what is the difference between a SATA and NVMe SSD?

While the hard drive is by no means obsolete, sales of SSDs are steadily increasing, with the medium considered to be the future of data storage. SSDs are small, lightweight, reliable, and most importantly – fast. Switching from an HDD to an SSD is one of the best performance upgrades you can make. Serial ATA, or SATA, is an interface that was first introduced in 2000. SATA, and its predecessor ATA, were sufficient for HDDs, which are not capable of the sorts of speeds flash-based SSDs are today. HDDs are capable of achieving around 80-160MB/s, while SATA SSDs are capable of reaching up to 550MB/s. While this is a significant improvement, what’s holding back SSDs isn’t what’s on the inside (i.e. the flash chips), but the connection. This is where NVMe comes in.

SSDs are incredibly fast; so fast, in fact, that their speed is limited by the SATA connection that SSDs have traditionally utilised. Non-volatile memory express, or NVMe, essentially allows SSDs to leverage the speeds their flash chips are capable of. Operating through the PCI Express (PCIe) interface rather than SATA allows data to be transferred at a much faster rate. For example, PCIe 4.0 – the current version – can transfer data up to 3,500MB/s, compared to 600MB/s with SATA III. NVMe was built as a way to efficiently access flash-based storage devices like SSDs, and to utilise their full potential. NVMe SSDs take on a number of form factors, with the most common being M.2, formerly known as the Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF).

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