NVMe SSDs are the new normal for being the primary hard drives for PC these days – even for PCs in the the budget segment.
No longer are NVMe SSDs stupendously expensive and intended for high performance builds.
Unfortunately, unlike the SATA Hard Disk Drives and SATA SSDs which connect to the SATA ports found in abundance on any given motherboard, NVMe SSDs require specialized and rarer NVMe supported M.2 slots.
The silver lining is that almost all of the newer motherboards, cheap and expensive, offer an M.2 slot that support NVMe SSDs.
In this is article we will look in detail at whether your motherboard supports NVMe SSDs or not. We will also learn how to figure which out which GENERATION of NVMe SSDs your motherboard supports.
The generation of NVMe SSDs your motherboard supports is a very important characteristics as every newer generation of NVMe SSDs significantly improves the transfer speed compared to the previous generation.
Does My Motherboard Support NVMe SSD? – How to Check
The easiest way to know if your motherboard supports NVMe SSD or not is to check the motherboard’s manufacturer’s specsheet.
You must check the storage or hard drive section of the specsheet to figure out what kind of drives it supports.
However, there are several caveats and details that you must be aware of when figuring exactly hat kind of SSDs you motherboard can support.
PCIe and SATA Interfaces
Learning about these two interfaces will help you understand the specsheet better.
Basically, there are two interfaces used by hard drives: SATA and PCIe.
SATA is slower. The latest iteration SATA 3 has a max theoretical transfer speed of 6 Gbps or 750 MB/s second. This interface is used by spinning hard disk drives and SATA SSDs.
PCIe interface, on the other hand, utilizes the PCIe lanes. These are significantly faster. PCIe interface is used by the NVMe SSDs.
A PCIe gen 3 NVMe SSDs can reach typical speeds of 3500 MB/s and the latest PCIe gen 4 NVMe SSDs can reach typical speeds of about 5500 MB/s.
Hence, it is very important to note that ‘SATA’ SSDs are NOT the same as ‘PCIe NVMe’ SSDs!
Also, before checking the specs sheet, there is some jargon and nomenclature that you should keep in mind to avoid confusion:
- PCIe SSD is the SAME as NVMe SSD
- SATA 6b/s, SATA 6Gbps and SATA III are all the same
Therefore, if the motherboard specsheet reads as “supports PCIe SSD”, it is the same thing as saying that it supports NVMe SSD.
Example of a Motherboard Specsheet with M.2 NVMe Slots
The image above shows the excerpt of the specsheet for ASUS B550-Plus Prime.
Here you can clearly read that this motherboard supports 2 x M.2 slots. However, having the M.2 slots does not automatically mean that the motherboard offers support for NVMe SSDs.
For this you have to read further below.
Reading further will reveal that this motherboard has 1xM.2 slot connected to the CPU PCIe lanes and the 1xM.2 slot connected to the motherboard B550 chipset PCIe lanes.
Fortunately, for this motherboard, both of its M.2 slots support SATA and NVMe SSDs.
However, on some motherboards, the M.2 slot may ONLY support SATA SSD.
Generation of the NVMe Supported Depends on the Chipset and the CPU
You may have noticed in the specsheet above that there are different sections for the CPU supported NVMe M.2 slots.
I have marked them in red and yellow separately.
What this is basically telling you is that if you pair this motherboard with a Ryzen 5000 or 3000 series AMD CPU, then this particular slot WILL support 4th gen NVMe SSDs.
However, if you were to pair this motherboard with a 4000G series, 2000 series or older AMD Ryzen CPUs, then this M.2 slot will only support the 3rd Gen SSDs.
Hence the choice of the CPU DOES matter for the type of NVMe SSD your motherboard can support.
Also Read: How to check PCI Express Slot Version?
The Motherboard Chipset Matters a Ton
As mentioned earlier, one of the M.2 NVMe slots on this motherboard is powered by the motherboard’s chipset itself.
In other words, the second M.2 slot connects to the chipset PCIe lanes.
Different motherboard chipsets conform to different PCIe version. The chipset PCIe lanes for B550 conform to PCIe version 3.0. The X570 chipset, on the other hand, has chipset lanes conforming to PCIe version 4.0.
The chart above shows the PCIe version for the CPU and motherboard lanes(general purpose lanes) supported by different chipset models.
Again, the X570 chipset here is the most superior as it supports Gen 4 for both CPU and chipset connected M.2 NVMe slots.
Here is an example of an X570 motherboard’s specsheet it clears shows as such:
What Generation of NVMe SSD Does My Motherboard Support? – Gen 4 vs Gen 3 NVMe SSDs
As discussed above, the generation of NVMe SSD your motherboard supports depends upon the chipset and the CPU.
There is a significant difference between Gen 4 and Gen 3 NVMe SSDs.
Essentially, the Gen 3 SSDs such as the Samsung 970 pro conform to PCIe 3.0 protocol whereas the Gen 4 SSDs such as the Samsung 980 Pro conform to PCIe 4,0 protocol.
A Gen 3 SSD can reach speeds of about 3500 MB/s. A Gen 4 SSDs, on the other hand, can read 5500 MB/s transfer speeds.
Techspot has a great article on PCIe V4.0 vs 3.0 SSDs if you are interested in benchmarks.
However, at the moment, only a handful of motherboard support Gen 4 NVMe SSDs.
For AMD, the following chipsets support Gen 4 SSDs:
- AMD X570: Premium Chipset with both CPU and Chipset lanes conforming to V4.0.
- AMD B550: Mid Range Chipset with only the CPU lanes conforming to V4.0.
Intel has three chipsets at the moment that can support Gen 4 SSDs.
- Intel Z590: Premium Chipset – but only CPU lanes conform to PCIe V4.0 – hence it can only support a single V4.0 M.2 slot.
- Intel B560: A mid range chipset with support for a single V4.0 M.2 slot
- Intel H570: Another mid range chipset with support for a single V4.0 M.2 slot.
Again, as mentioned earlier, the X570 is the most superior chipset at the moment as both chipset and CPU connected M.2 slots here support Gen 4 SSDs.
Also Read: PCIe 3.0 vs 2.0 – What is the Difference?
Sizes of the NVMe SSDs Supported
The specsheet talks about the sizes of the SSDs each M.2 slot can support i.e 2242/2260/2280/22110.
Here the first two digits indicate the width of the SSD in millimeters and the last 2-3 number indicate the length of the SSDs in millimeters the slot supports.
So 2242 means an SSD with 22 mm width and 42 mm length.
M.2 NVMe Slots Can Also Be Clocked Down to Half Performance!
An M.2 slot uses 4 PCIe lanes ideally. Meaning, for an NVMe SSD to perform at its full potential it requires 4 PCIe lanes.
However, on certain motherboards, the M.2 slot may only be connected to two PCIe lanes!
For instance, the motherboard above has two M.2 slots. One of them is connected to full 4 x PCIe lanes. However, the second M.2 slot only connects to two PCIe lanes.
An x2 M.2 slot would halve the transfer speeds of the NVMe SSD. Thus significantly bottlenecking the performance.
Here is another example:
Notice that specsheet has an “x2 PCIe Mode” highlighted for its M.2 slot indicating that an NVMe SSD on this motherboard would only operate at half its rated speeds.
There is not substitute for reading the specsheet. Therefore, the right answer to the question “does my motherboard support NVMe SSD?” is that you should refer to the technical specsheet of the motherboard.
In the above text I highlighted all the small details, jargon and important characteristics that you should be on the look out for reading the motherboard specsheet for selecting the right NVMe SSD for your PC.
You can use the same concepts highlighted above to check the details for the M.2 slot on your motherboard too.