The M.2 slot: What is it and how can I use it?

PCIe 3.0 or PCIe 4.0?

For maximum performance in the M.2 slot it should be an SSD connected via PCIe 4.0. However, corresponding slots are currently only found on motherboards with the X570 and TRX40 chipset. However, inserting a PCIe 4.0 SSD into a PCIe 3.0 M.2 PCIe slot does not bring any advantages. On the other hand, a PCIe 3.0 SSD works fine in a PCIe 4.0 M.2 slot.

What is U.2?

U.2 hardly plays a role in the consumer market, but in the area of servers and workstations it plays an even greater role. U.2 SSDs look like normal 2.5-inch SSDs, but are not connected via SATA, but U.2. This interface supports NVMe and is connected via PCIe.

U.2 ports | Picture: Techpowerup

But why are such SSDs used for servers and workstations? The following advantages speak for themselves:

    • M.2 NVMe SSDs often heat up very quickly under load, causing them to slow down their performance. In the case of a U.2 SSD, the housing of the SSD can be used as a heat sink.
    • More U.2 connectors than M.2 slots fit on the motherboard. Since in M.2 slots the SSDs themselves have to be mounted, they take up a lot of space. With U.2 this is not the case.
    • Hot-Swap or better accessibility of the SSDs. In servers, the SSDs are mounted in the front, where they can be easily removed and replaced by opening the bracket.
    • A larger storage capacity per SSD is possible because the board inside the SSD can be much larger and therefore more memory chips fit on it. Thus, SSDs with a storage capacity of up to 15.36 TB are currently possible. For M.2 NVMe SSDs, “only” 3.84 TB is currently the limit.

Recommended M.2 SSDs

A fast entry-level M.2 PCIe SSD is the Adata XPG SX6000 Pro*. It offers significantly better sequential read and write rates than a SATA SSD and is relatively inexpensive. A viable alternative is Crucials P2*.

Would you like a little more? Then the WD Black SN750* and the Samsung SSD 970 Evo are a good choice. The former relies on Kioxia’s popular BiCS3 flash memory and comes with a compact heat sink for an additional charge. The 970 Evo got a refresh last year in the form of the 970 Evo Plus, but the “old” model is still very fast and much cheaper.

For those who want to equip their PCIe 4.0 M.2 slot with a fast drive, we recommend the Patriot Viper VP4100*. It offers extremely high read rates of up to 5,000 MB/s, with the maximum write rate being in no way inferior to that. However, Patriot can pay well for this.

Those who want an even faster M.2 SSD will have to wait until the release of the Samsung SSD 980 Pro, which was presented at this year’s CES.

Are M.2 SSDs even worthwhile?

In principle, M.2 SSDs are only worthwhile if a 2.5″ SSD is too heavy or too large. Those who constantly move very large files can also benefit from an M.2 SSD, but only one that uses the NVME protocol.

In everyday use, however, you hardly notice the difference between SATA and PCIe SSDs, at least in the consumer sector.

But as always: What you buy, you decide!

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Simon Lüthje

I am co-founder of this blog and am very interested in everything that has to do with technology, but I also like to play games. I was born in Hamburg, but now I live in Berlin.

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