Hardware

Is NVMe faster than SSD?

SSD is indisputably the fastest storage media of today, yet not all SSDs are the same. They differ in the type of interface used to communicate with other computer components, in most cases, the CPU. They also come in various forms, shapes, sizes, and features. Some SSDs use the older and slower SATA and SCSI technologies, while others use the much faster PCIe interface. Another type of SSD is considered a rising star in storage media with its blazing speed and low latency. NVMe SSD delivers performance that outperforms other types of storage media. With the advent of NVMe comes the confusion of whether it is another storage device and faster than SSDs. To understand these storage acronyms better, let’s discuss them in detail.

What is SSD?

SSD or Solid-State Drive is a flash-based storage device used in electronic devices such as tablets, mobile phones, and computers. It had a big leap in storage media when it became a suitable replacement for Hard Disk Drives in computer systems due to its faster speed and lower latency which significantly improved a system’s performance. Another reason why it’s a storage of choice for modern computers is because of its higher durability than HDDs due to the absence of mechanical parts. SSDs consist mainly of NAND memories, eliminating the need for spinning disks, making them more resistant to shock and not emitting noise, unlike the traditional spinning drives.

Earlier releases of SSDs used the SATA interface because they served as a drop-in replacement for HDDs that used the same interface. This lowered the cost of a storage upgrade, but it limited the full speed potential of SSDs since the SATA was designed primarily for HDDs. Later on, SSDs transitioned to a PCIe interface, allowing a faster data transfer rate between the device and the motherboard. PCIe did improve the SSD’s performance; however, it still had its challenges. It didn’t have any standard or protocol to manage data transfer effectively. This is where NVMe comes in.

What is NVMe?

NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) is a high-performance and highly scalable interface protocol mainly designed for PCIe SSDs. It enables SSDs to achieve full performance as its architecture is designed to make SSDs work as flash memories rather than emulate HDDs when using the SATA or SCSI interface. It is commonly asked why there is still a need for NVMe if PCIe already offers faster performance than older interfaces like SATA and SCSI. The use of the PCIe interface was not sufficient to maximize an SSD’s performance due to its limitations. PCIe lacked industry standards for enterprise features. PCIe SSDs mainly used proprietary firmware, which had its own challenges like running and maintaining device firmware, firmware incompatibility with different system software, not fully utilizing PCIe lanes, and lack of value-added features for enterprise workloads.

NVMe was developed to address such challenges for SSDs to work efficiently with the PCIe interface. Currently, NVMe SSDs come in different form factors such as 2.5” U.2 form factor, internal mounted M.2, Add-in Card (AIC), and various EDSFF form factors.

Is NVMe faster than SSD?

There is much confusion about the terms NVMe and SSD. In some cases, they are mistaken as two different drives, and sometimes their speeds are even compared. NVMe and SSDs are two very other things, but they work in tandem for faster storage access and data processing. NVMe is a protocol, an architecture that efficiently drives SSDs to work with the PCIe interface for optimum performance, while SSD is the storage drive itself. It is therefore incorrect to compare the speeds of NVMe and SSD. NVMe is the technology behind NVMe SSD’s extremely fast speeds and lower latency.

The better and more specific question would be “Is NVMe faster than SATA SSD?” to which the answer would be a flat YES. NVMe SSDs are about 3-4 times faster than SATA SSDs with read-write speeds of up to 2000MB/s compared to the only 600MB/s of SATA SSDs. Unlike SATA and SCSI, NVMe doesn’t need a controller to communicate with the CPU, making communication with the CPU even faster. NVMe uses four PCIe lanes, supports massive 64K queues, and can send 64K commands per queue. The NVMe protocol, however, requires only 13 commands for high performance.

NVMe SSDs also achieve lower latency than SATA SSDs. An NVMe SSD’s data reading latency is 300 microseconds, while SATA SSD is 500 microseconds based on an actual test. Likewise, data writing for SATA SSD is 2 ms, while NVMe SSDs is only 1ms.[1] The differences seem negligible, but the differences are substantially evident when working on large volumes of data.

SATA SSDs, however, still have a price advantage over NVMe SSDs. NVMe-based SSDs have a higher price tag than SATA SSDs, the reason why SSDs using older technologies are still widely used today. SATA SSD’s lower price is more practical for regular consumers who can settle for the modest speed that this type of SSDs offer.

On the other hand, NVMe SSDs are ideal for industries that process large amounts of data and applications that run on enterprise systems, like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing. Data centers, financial sectors, and other industries that process data on a larger scale greatly benefit from the blazing-fast performance that NVMe SSDs offer.

Other advantages of NVMe SSDs are power efficiency and increased mobility. An NVMe SSD consumes less power than a SATA SSD despite the more significant amount of data it can process. Aside from lesser energy consumption, this also increases the battery life of laptop batteries and other portable devices. NVMes also weigh lighter than SATA SSDs and are smaller in size. Most NVMe SSDs use the M.2 form factor, making them small as just a stick of gum. This saves space in larger systems and makes them perfect for smaller devices as well.

NVMe SSDs generally offer more tremendous advantages than SATA SSDs, specifically in the aspect of speed. As technology is getting more advanced, we can expect better performance from this small but powerful storage device. As data processing continues to grow, more and more devices are expected to utilize NVMe SSD to avoid data storage and processing bottlenecks.

Sources:

[1] Rusen, Ciprian Adrian. “4 reasons why you should buy an NVMe SSD instead of SATA SSD”. April 28, 2020. https://www.digitalcitizen.life/reasons-buy-nvme-ssd/ Accessed June 19, 2021

About the author

Glynis Navarrete

A freelance blogger who loves to write about anything related to technology. Born and raised in the Philippines and worked in Singapore for eight years as Technical Support for a wide range of IT equipment. Took a dive into the world of freelancing and now enjoying doing what I’m passionate about while not losing touch with technology.