NVMe SSD for Linux: Guide and Questions Answered

There’s a huge difference between booting up laptops from around 2010 and laptops from 2020. While older laptops can take over a minute to finish booting up, new laptops tend to be ready to go in a little over 10 seconds.

Yes, CPUs now have far more cores and threads than they used to, and the bandwidth of modern RAM has increased considerably as well, but the real reason why modern laptops boot up so much faster and feel considerably more responsive is that storage technology has advanced by leaps and bounds.

Regardless of whether you’re selecting a new PC or just want to upgrade your current one, you can’t afford to ignore the performance benefits of NVMe technology, which unleashes the full potential of solid-state drives (SSDs).

What Is NVMe?

NVMe stands for Non-Volatile Memory Express, and it’s an interface protocol created specifically for SSDs. Prior to the release of NVMe, SSDs communicated with operating systems using the AHCI protocol, whose specification was finalized and released by Intel in 2004.

Because Intel designed the AHCI protocol for spinning hard drives, it comes with serious limitations that make it less than suitable for modern NAND-based SSDs. For example, AHCI must communicate with the SATA controller (whose performance is limited to 600 MB/s per line), has only 1 command queue, and can send only 32 commands per queue.

NVMe, on the other hand, communicates directly with the system CPU over PCI Express, or just PCIe for short (which can achieve up to 2,000 MB/s per line), has 64,000 command queues, and can send up to 64,000 commands per queue. As such, NVMe SSDs can execute input/output operations up to 900% faster than their AHCI equivalents.

NVMe SSDs come in three major form factors:

  • M.2: Formerly known as the Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF), is by far the most popular form factor of NVMe SSDs, using the PCI Express Mini Card physical card layout and connectors.
  • U.2: Formerly known as SFF-8639, U.2 is mechanically identical to the SATA Express device plug, providing four PCI Express lanes through a different usage of available pins.
  • HHHL: Also known as Half Height, Half Length or Add-In Card (AIC), this NVMe SSD form factor takes advantage of full-sized PCIe slots, making it suitable for legacy applications.

NVMe SSD Linux Compatibility

The good news is that the Linux NVMe driver is present in the Linux kernel 3.3 and higher, so you should be good to go in this regard. You can see which version of the Linux kernel you’re using with the following command:

$ uname -r

In addition to the Linux kernel 3.3 or higher, you also need a motherboard with NVMe support. Sadly, most older motherboards don’t support booting from NVMe SSDs. Since the performance benefits of NVMe SSDs are most noticeable when used as system drives, it’s highly advisable to consider getting a newer motherboard instead of using an expensive NVMe SSD just for storing data.

On any Linux distribution, you can test the performance of your NVMe SSD with hdparm, a command-line utility used to set and view hardware parameters of hard disk drives:

# hdparm – tT --direct /dev/nvme0n1

If you have more than one NVMe SSD, you may need to replace “nvme0n1.” All NVMe SSDs should show up under /dev/nvme*.

The Best NVMe SSDs for Linux in 2020

NVMe SSDs are becoming more and more affordable each year, but it will still take some time before their prices match the prices of traditional SSDs. But if you’re willing to spend extra money to get a premium performance, the following five NVMe SSDs are guaranteed not to disappoint.

1. Samsung 970 EVO Plus

With sheer performance is what you’re after, the Samsung 970 EVO Plus is a fantastic choice, offering sequential read and write performance levels of up to 3,500 MB/s and 2,500 MB/s, respectively. Thanks to the latest V-NAND technology, Samsung has been able to achieve up to 1,200 TBW, which is why the company can afford to provide a 5-year limited warranty on this NVMe SSD. You can choose between four different storage capacities (250 GB, 500 GB, 1 TB, and 2 TB), with the 500 GB version offering the most value.

2. Crucial P1

The Crucial P1 may not look nearly as sleek as the Samsung 970 EVO Plus, but it’s considerably cheaper and performs similarly well in real-world applications. You can get it with a capacity of up to 1 TB, and all versions offer sequential read and write performance levels of up to 2,000 MB/s and 1,700 MB/s. Crucial designed the P1 to provide a balanced blend of performance, capacity, and reliability, making it a great choice for all Linux users who would like to reap the performance benefits of NVMe technology without breaking the bank.

3. WD Black SN750

The main objective of the Black line of storage devices from Western Digital has always been to offer exceptional performance to desktop PC users. The WD Black SN750 continues this tradition in the era of NVMe SSDs, promising read/writes up to 3400 MB/s sequentially thanks to its innovative 64-layer 3D NAND storage technology. You can get it in capacities ranging from 500 GB to 2 TB, all of which sport the same sleek and modern design.

4. CORSAIR FORCE Series MP510 

The CORSAIR FORCE Series MP510 is dominating the budget NVMe SSD market (if such a thing even exists) with its 3,480 MB/sec sequential read and up to 3,000 MB/sequential write provided by a brand-new controller. This NVMe SSD also carries a hefty 800 TBW endurance rating, which exceeds even the expensive Samsung 970 EVO Plus. Corsair clearly wants to establish itself as a dominant player on the NVMe SSD market, and the company is doing a great job so far.

5. Intel SSD 660P Series

The Intel SSD 660P Series is one of the most affordable NVMe SSDs on the market, but its low price comes with some limitations. For starters, its sequential read and write speeds are both limited to 1800 MB/s. What’s worse is that its endurance rating is only 100 TBW, so it’s not really suitable for many bandwidth-intensive applications, such as video editing, which would significantly reduce its lifespan. Last but not least, its design can seem a little bland and utilitarian. But if you can overlook these limitations and get the Intel SSD 660P Series when it’s on sale, you won’t regret your purchase.

About the author

David Morelo

David Morelo is a professional content writer in the technology niche, covering everything from consumer products to emerging technologies and their cross-industry application