There is no denying that the world of storage has changed significantly. Gone are the day when you were limited to just one storage type. Now, you have a lot of options that you can choose from. If you want mass storage, you can still go for SATA-based hard drives, but if you are looking for the best possible performance, the NVMe drives are going to be there for you. With that said, it is safe to say that the NVMe drives have risen in popularity, and this has even sparked a debate about NVMe vs SATA.
Finding the right one is not difficult, to be honest. Both storage devices serve the same purpose, but at the same time, they are inherently different. That is what we are going to explore so we can have a better understanding of these drives; we are comparing both drives to make it easier for you.
What is NVMe?
NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) is the latest protocol that is used to access high-speed storage devices. This brings many advantages compared to the legacy options, but the main question is still about what is NVMe and how it is taking over the storage world slowly.
As people start moving towards the growth of the data, it is time that they start thinking about how this data is stored, preserved, or accessed after being stored. Needless to say, NVMe based SSDs are the answer in a way because they do offer the highest throughput, reliability as well as fastest response times.
NVMe SSDs are not meant for enterprises exclusively; these drives are available on a consumer level as well, and they are easy to acquire. Granted, in the past, NVMe drives were notoriously expensive, but as we are heading towards the maturity of the technology, we are seeing more stable prices.
To achieve the highest bandwidth and lowest latency for the users, the NVMe protocol access flash storage through PCI Express bus, which on its supports countless parallel command queues and thus, it is much faster than the hard disks or your traditional flash architectures that are limited to a single command queue, slowing the performance on them, as well.
That being said, the NVMe specification manages to take advantage of non-volatile memory in all kinds of computing environments. Not just that, it is future proof, which means that aside from the fact that it can be extended to work with current technologies, it can also start working with the ones that are not invented at the time of writing.
NVMe is still more expensive than other storage offerings, but as we move forward, we are seeing a price reduction.
What is SATA?
SATA or Serial ATA, itself shortened from Serial Advanced Technology Attachment, is a successor to the Parallel ATA bus interface used to connect SSDs, hard disk drives (HDDs), and optical drives. Anyone who has tinkered around computers long enough will remember the flat and wide ribbon-like cables used in PATA connections compared to the thin SATA cables, which are easier to handle. SATA significantly improves upon its predecessor, PATA (Parallel ATA).
But there’s more to the SATA story besides neater, more manageable cabling.
Since SATA hit the scene in 2000, the standard has undergone a number of performance-enhancing revisions. For example, SATA I or 1.0, is capable of transferring data at a rate of up to 150 MB/s (megabytes per second). SATA III can hit speeds of up to 600 MB/s.
Then there’s revision 3.2, introduced in 2013, which includes SATA Express. SATA Express supports connections to both SATA and PCIe in its connector specification (it’s not to be confused with eSATA or External Serial Advanced Technology Attachment). It is designed to reach speeds of 1,969 MB/s. It didn’t catch on in the tech industry, though, despite its promising data transfer capabilities. The development of smaller, less bulky M.2 form factors, some of which can also support PCIe, rendered them slightly less helpful.
SATA also enables hotplug support, meaning a SATA storage device can be plugged into or removed from a system that is powered on and still operate normally, something that is not possible with its predecessor, PATA. It also uses the Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI) interface, which allows for native command queuing (NCQ), a drive optimization technology that improves performance, and the hotplug functionality mentioned earlier.
The standard is maintained by SATA-IO, or the Serial ATA International Organization, a nonprofit formed in 2004. Supporters include AMD, Dell, HPE, Intel, Micron, Seagate, and scores of other major IT firms.
NVMe vs SATA: The Performance
Top SATA SSD read speeds are 600 MB/s, but that’s the overhead limit in an ideal situation. Current SATA III speeds typically fall a little bit or significantly under 600.
NVMe SSD top read speeds center around 3,500 MB/s. Samsung, one of the frontrunners in SSD production, offers the 970 Evo Plus, which tops out around 3,500 MB/s sequential read speed and 3,300 MB/s sequential write speed. The Evo Plus has edged out the Samsung 970 Pro in performance, though the Pro is still a strong choice.
NVMe vs SATA: Compatibility & Security
Moving on, when you are getting a new drive, you will have to keep the compatibility in check. Not just that, security is also an important aspect that you cannot overlook. I say this because a lot of the time, people don’t pay attention to that, and that is not what we are looking to get done here.
With that said, if you are looking to get your hands on a new SSD, be sure that it is compatible with your current hardware. Thankfully, almost all the motherboards in the market have an M.2 slot that supports the NVMe bus, as well. So, you are good to go.
At the same time, if you are looking for something along the lines of SATA-based drives, you will find ample SATA ports on the motherboard. So, you are surely sorted as far as compatibility is concerned.
As far as security is concerned, the best SATA or NVMe based drives do ship with AES 256-bit encryption along with some other tools for security purposes, as well. So, you should be at peace knowing that you are sorted as far as the support is concerned, in the first place.
NVMe vs SATA: Price
Both SATA and NVMe prices have dropped over the past few years. A 512-GB Samsung 860 Pro SATA SSD costs about $100, while a 512-GB Samsung 970 Pro NVMe M.2 costs approximately $170.
Prices for both SSDs vary greatly depending on size and capacity, and overall, SATA is still more affordable. For extremely high-performance needs, NVMe may be the better enterprise choice, and the tech industry increasingly utilizes NVMe. SATA is by no means obsolete, and it’s useful for storage and gaming purposes; SSDs are still incredibly fast compared to HDDs. They’re also long-established, and older machines that may not support NVMe devices will support SATA drives.
Enterprise SSDs are an entirely different story; prices vary, to put it mildly, but typically run well into the hundreds and can run into the thousands. Some NVMe drives will be more expensive than SATA, but often prices compare rather evenly here.
NVMe Vs SATA – What’s The Real Difference?
So, you are close to finally making up your mind, and you have started to look at the available products as well, but you still have some questions remaining in your mind. What is the main difference between NVMe and SATA? Well, I wish it were that simple since it is not a single statement-based answer.
For starters, SATA drives are a lot slower than you might think. Perhaps the fastest SATA drives that you can find in the market will top at 600 MB/s, and that does seem fast on paper, but when you do compare these with your NVMe drives, you can get as high as 3,500 MB/s if you are looking at the PCI Express Gen3 speeds.
However, with the newer PCI Express Gen4 standard, you can go as high as 7,000 MB/s, and considering how NVMe drives are future proof, Gen5 could bring even faster speeds
In addition to that, another reason why NVMe drives are a lot better is that they use the M.2 or PCI Express slots on your motherboard, which means that you are not going to be using those SATA cables that are pesky and require to be plugged in the right way. The benefit is certainly there.
In addition to that, the NVMe drives that are available in the market are also going to offer better overall endurance and power efficiency, so you are getting a great deal with these drives. Granted, they are more expensive, but as we move forward into the future, technology is becoming more and more accessible and affordable.
Rest assured, if you are still wondering whether SATA or NVMe is a better alternative, you need to know that NVMe drives are not only better in the present but will get even better in the future. SATA drives have hit their plateau, and they won’t be getting any more upgrades.
However, the one place where SATA drives are excellent is the fact that they are cheap and are great if you are looking to create a mass storage network where you have a lot of storage for storing whatever you wish to store.
So, NVMe vs SATA: Should I Get NVMe Or SATA SSD?
Both have their uses and advantages. SATA’s primary advantage is its lower prices, but as NVMe prices also decrease, businesses may find that the faster SSD is worth the extra expense. The true benefit to investing in a SATA drive, then, is that older computers are more likely to support it. Some computers still don’t have PCIe buses, nor do some yet support NVMe. Some data centers may find that using older technology like SATA still works for them.
NVMe is ideal for high-performance data processing and large amounts of stored data. technologies that make quick work out of enterprise storage workloads will find fans among today’s data center operators. Organizations seeking faster, more responsive application and database performance will want to keep an eye on the market for NVMe-enabled systems.
NVMe will coexist with SATA, as well as SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) devices, within data center environments for the foreseeable future.
Looking ahead, there are other signs that storage vendors are looking to further widen the performance gulf between NVMe and SATA. Intel is a good example. Although it sells flash-based NVMe SSDs, the chipmaker has also brought NVMe Optane SSDs to market.
Optane, based on the company’s 3D XPoint technology, is a persistent memory or storage-class memory (SCM) solution that blends the performance characteristics of dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) with flash’s ability to retain data when the power is cut off. 3D XPoint was jointly developed by Intel and Micron.