What is the M.2 interface?
What is the M.2 interface? - Table of contents:
The M.2 interface is a new host interface solution that is compatible with various communication protocols, such as SATA, PCIe, USB, HSIC, UART, SMBus, etc.
The M.2 interface is a new generation interface standard tailored for Ultrabooks to replace the original mSATA interface. Whether it is a smaller size or higher transmission performance, M.2 is far better than mSATA.
When you buy a new SSD for your motherboard, you’ll come across several options. The old-fashioned one, of course, is the SATA drive. But one specific kind of SSD has been exploding in popularity: NVMe SSDs. Instead of using SATA, they’re much smaller in size and connect to your motherboard using the M.2 connector.
You might have seen the name floated around before, but it actually lets you connect many different things, everything from SSDs to Wi-Fi cards and even GPUs. But what is M.2 exactly? And should you care about it?
What Is the M.2 interface?
The M.2 interface is a new interface specification introduced by Intel to replace MSATA. In fact, for desktop users, the SATA interface is enough to meet the needs of most users, but considering the storage needs of ultrabook users, Intel eagerly launched this new interface standard. Therefore, we have seen this new M.2 interface on the new 9 series motherboards released by ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI, etc., and it is now popular.
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Compared with MSATA, M.2 has two main advantages:
The first is the advantage of speed.
There are two types of M.2 interface: Socket 2 (B key–NGFF) and Socket 3 (M key–NVMe), among which Socket2 supports SATA, PCI-E X2 interface, and if the PCI-E ×2 interface standard is adopted, the maximum reading speed can reach 700MB/s, and the writing speed can reach 550MB/s. Among them, Socket 3 can support PCI-E ×4 interface, and the theoretical bandwidth can reach 4GB/s.
The second is the size advantage.
Although MSATA solid-state drives are small enough, MSATA still has no advantage over M.2-interface solid-state drives. The M.2 standard SSD, like mSATA, can arrange NAND flash memory particles on one side or on both sides. The total thickness of the single-sided arrangement is only 2.75mm, and the thickness of the double-sided arrangement is only 3.85mm. However, mSATA has obvious disadvantages in terms of volume.
The size of 51mm×30mm makes mSATA not dominant in the area, and the single-sided layout thickness of 4.85mm is also much thicker than that of M.2. Plus, even at the same size, M.2 offers higher storage capacity.
Below are common M.2 SSD sizes:
* M.2 Type-2280 (22 x 80mm)
* M.2 Type-2230 (22 x 30mm)
* M.2 Type-2242 (22 x 42mm)
* M.2 Type-2260 (22 x 60mm )
* M.2 Type-22110 (22 x 110mm)
What Are M.2 Modules Used For?
You might know M.2 from one specific use case—storage— but there are several other uses.
1. Solid State Drives (SSDs)
These days, the most common reason why you’re likely to use an M.2 slot is with SSDs. Most high-end SSDs now use an M.2 connector. Not only is it way more compact than a regular, 2.5-inch SATA drive, but it also has natural advantages in both performance and power consumption that ultimately benefit both SSD makers and end users.
You’ll find two kinds of M.2 SSDs. The first one is SATA M.2, which uses the same old-fashioned SATA interface, except that it’s connected over an M.2 connection rather than using a SATA connection. Then, you have NVMe SSDs, which actually use PCI Express lanes instead.
This allows for way faster performance than you would otherwise have with SATA since it lets you use the full PCI Express speeds that normally enjoy things like graphics cards for your storage, which is why PCIe SSDs are better than SATA SSDs.
They’re better, and they take less space—a win-win for everyone.
2. Wi-Fi Cards
The second most common use case is Wi-Fi cards. If you tear down a laptop, you’ll find the Wi-Fi card sitting in an M.2 slot. Likewise, if you disassemble a PCI Express Wi-Fi card for your desktop, you’ll likely see a smaller M.2 module sitting underneath.
It has been the port of choice for wireless cards for years. M.2 Wi-Fi modules, and slots meant for these modules, will normally have different keying notches than SSDs, for obvious reasons.
It seems amazing, but since M.2 can carry PCI Express, you can use a graphics card and connect it to a system. You can find M.2 adapters for full PCI Express 16x cards, where you can connect and use graphics cards. You can even find smaller GPUs that fit in that slot, although, as you might imagine, they’re not amazing.
What Devices Use The M.2 Slot?
At the moment, M.2 is primarily used as an interface for super-fast SSDs, both on laptops, desktops, and embedded touch screen computer. If you walk into a computer hardware store and ask for an M.2 drive—assuming you can find a retail computer store still in operation, of course—they’ll almost certainly show you an SSD with an M.2 connector.
Some laptop designs also use an M.2 port as their means of wireless connection, mounting tiny, low-powered cards that combine Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios. This is less common for desktops, where the ease of a USB dongle or PCIe 1x card is preferred (though there’s no reason you couldn’t do it on a compatible motherboard).