A New Storage Era – The Rise of the M.2 Standard

By Daven Lu

In this article I’m going to talk about the most geeky thing I’ve discussed so far since I started writing here. With this, you will have seen my true form.

M.2 Solid State Drives.

The Samsung 950 PRO M.2 SSD, with speeds exceeding 1Gb/s

At one point in time, clunky hard drives with spinning disks ruled the computer world. They averaged read and write speeds of about 100Mb/s and 80Mb/s respectively. I have fond memories of turning on my computer, going to the bathroom, and returning 2 minutes later to a loaded operating system.

Over the past 5 years, solid state drives (SSD) have taken over. They have gotten progressively faster and faster, first maxing out the 3Gbps SATA II interface, and as of two years ago, also maxing out the 6Gbps SATA III interface. Read and writes are currently at about 500Mbps/500Mbps respectively. I have fond memories of turning on my computer, then rushing to the bathroom to try and beat the operating system load times. I have never once made it, as my PC now boots in under 20 seconds with my Samsung 850 EVO SSD. Slowly I’ve changed my routine to bathroom->turn on PC->grab drink->return to a freshly loaded operating system.

Enter the M.2 Solid State Drive.

What is an M.2 SSD?

It’s simply a solid state drive that uses the M.2 form factor. However, what makes them extremely powerful is that depending on the interface it uses, it can connect in a way that allows these solid state drives to attain speeds never before seen in traditional hard drives.

With traditional means of connecting a hard drive to a computer, the SATA interface was used. However, SATA is limited to 6Gbps and that limit was reached years ago. Today it is common to see solid state drives specifying read/write speeds of around 500Mbps. The reason it isn’t getting higher is because the bus is already saturated.

With M.2, it no longer needs to be on the SATA interface. M.2 is not an interface in itself–it is simply a form factor (see chart below for all the different interfaces it can connect to), therefore, M.2 does not necessarily mean a solid state drive. It can be anything–a network card, an SSD, audio, USB, etc.

Look how adorable it is

They look a bit like sticks of… seaweed.

Why does any of this matter?

Great question! This is all just personal opinion, but when SSDs were new, everyone thought they were perfectly happy with traditional hard drives. It wasn’t until people tried SSDs that they realized what they were missing out on. I highly suspect this to be the same scenario–with the amount that we use our computers, we save a lot of time when not confronted with loading bars. Over the course of years, we save days worth of time. What do you value 1 hour of your life at?

There are numerous configurations despite the name being the same. The key is the configuration of the pins that protrude from the end of a M.2 device. The first two digits under card measurements are the width, while the second two digits represent a length.

Key Card measurements Interfaces Common uses
A 1630, 2230, 3030 PCIe x2, USB 2.0, I2C, DisplayPort x4 Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, cellular cards
B 3042, 2230, 2242, 2260, 2280, 22110 PCIe x2, SATA, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, audio, PCM, IUM, SSIC, I2C SATA and PCIe x2 SSDs
E 1630, 2230, 3030 PCIe x2, USB 2.0, I2C, SDIO, UART, PCM Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, cellular cards
M 2242, 2260, 2280, 22110 PCIe x4, SATA PCIe x4 SSDs

In 2017, M.2 solid state drives will finally reach prices low enough that you may want to consider hopping on board with them. Do it up!


2 thoughts on “A New Storage Era – The Rise of the M.2 Standard

  1. Pingback: November Vol 2 – Good Morning Aomori

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