Upgrading a computer’s boot drive from a traditional hard drive to an SSD is one of the single best performance upgrades ever. But, if you’re like many of us, when you did it SSDs were expensive, and NVMe models even more so. So you bought a not-that-huge SATA version. Now it is looking a little small, and the multitude of NVMe models have amazing specs. The obvious question is whether it is worth jumping to an NVMe drive when you decide to upgrade. To help answer the question, I looked at the performance of a couple Windows 10 desktops using both an older SATA SSD and a top-of-the-line current Seagate Firecuda NVMe SSD.
It doesn’t do much good to dream about a faster SSD if your system won’t support it. To make the jump, first, you’ll need to have some type of drive interface that runs at PCIe speeds. Either a dedicated card or an M.2 slot are the most common options. However, not all M.2 slots support NVMe (some only support SATA, some only NVMe, and some either), so even if you have an M.2 slot you’ll need to double-check that yours will allow for an NVMe drive. The primary motherboard I used for these tests has both 6Gbps SATA, as well as an M.2 slot that can accept either SATA or PCIe (NVMe) SSDs.
So How Much Faster Are NVMe Drives?
While disk benchmarks are definitely not a true indicator of system performance, they do provide a good baseline of what’s possible with a particular drive and system combination. So as the first step in my analysis, I did some simple tests with Crystal Disk Benchmark. Not surprisingly, the NVMe drive blew away the SATA SSD, although not equally in every benchmark:
As impressive as those numbers are, they only provide a best case of what’s possible if all you are doing is disk I/O. So I did some additional testing to estimate how much actual benefit an NVMe drive would provide.
So, in that case we assure you that you can achieve a real difference if you convert to NVME. Overall, whether we’re looking at boot time reduction or system performance improvement, moving from a SATA SSD connected over PCIe or 6Gbps port to an NVMe SSD provides an improvement, but not a dramatic one. The good news is that prices for both types of SSD continue to fall. Our sister publication PCMag.com recently did a roundup of some of the best models currently available.
What Should You Do With Old SSDs?
My favorite use for old SSDs is mobile backups. You can get nice USB enclosures for both SATA and NVMe SSDs, in various form factors depending on your needs. It makes for a fast and convenient way to back up your photos and videos when you travel. I have found that not all SSDs can be powered by all laptop USB ports. In some cases, a powered enclosure is required. I’ve also simply turned my old SSDs into extra high-speed data storage (my Steam Library alone fills up one of them).
Another tempting use for an SSD or two is adding cache to your network server. Typically with one SSD, you can enable a read-only cache, and with two you can configure them as a RAID-1 for read-write support. If you have a 5-bay NAS, for example, and are using only three or four drives for your RAID array, that leaves you with a slot or two open.
The bottom line is that if you need a larger SSD and have an interface that supports it, switching to an NVMe SSD will give your system a handy, but not huge, performance boost. Since NVMe models are currently priced similarly to their SATA counterparts, you get that boost almost for free. On the other hand, if your current drive is large enough for your needs, it probably isn’t worth moving to an NVMe version just to get the incremental performance.
In short, you can use your new NVME ssd as your daily driver and your old SATA SSD as a storage drive, extra drive in PC, in NAS or even as a portable storage device.
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