With more and more people flocking to get their hands on SSDs, it only makes sense that you buy one of the best motherboards with M.2 slots.
M.2 is basically the name of the SSD physical form factor that is small, shaped more or less similar to a RAM module, and requires very little power.
There are different types of interfaces for SSDs like the 2.5-inch SATA SSDs or the AddIn cards, however, M.2 is the most famous and the most sought-after slot for SSD expansion particularly because it can support the M.2 NVME module.
In this article, we will thus talk about the best motherboards for NVME M.2 SSD that can also support SATA SSD slots.
In the FAQ section below we also go over the basics of SSDs, the M.2 form factor, and all the related ideas and definitions. Hence if you have any confusion regarding the M.2 slots and SSDs in general, this article should help.
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Understand the Difference Between Gen 4 and Gen 3 SSDs
Everyone wants to get their hands on the Gen 4 SSDs.
However, it is an absolute must to note that in order for Gen 4 SSDs to work at their max potential, you will need to install them in an M.2 slot that conforms to PCIe 4.0 version.
If you were to plug a Gen 4 SSD into an M.2 slot that conforms to PCIe 3.0, its speed can be reduced by almost half!
Basically, M.2 NVMe SSDs use the PCIe interface and the speed of the PCIe interface differs depending upon its version.
Each newer generation doubles the per-lane transfer speed. So an x1 PCIe 3.0 has speeds of about 0.985 GB/s, the same corresponding to PCIe 4.0 would have twice the speed at 1.969 GB/s.
As such in order for Gen 4 SSDs to work at max speeds, get a motherboard with an M.2 slot that also conforms to PCIe 4.0 generation.
While you can plug a Gen 4 SSD in the older PCIe 3.0 M.2 slot, it’ll slash its performance by half.
The same motherboard can have M.2 slots conforming to a different version. Take for instance the AMD B550 chipset-based motherboard such as the ASUS TUF GAMING B550-PLUS.
This motherboard has 2 x M.2 slots. However, only one of the M.2 slot conforms to PCIe 4.0, the other conform to PCIe 3.0.
So while both will support Gen 3 SSDs such as the Samsung 970 pro just fine, for Gen 4 SSD like the Samsung 980 Pro, you’d plug it into the M.2 slot conforming to PCIe 4.0.
Additionally, the choice of the CPU also matters. Note that if you use a PCIe 3.0-based CPU such as the AMD Ryzen 5000 or 4000G series CPU on this motherboard, then PCIe 4.0 M.2 slot will dial down its performance to PCIe 3.0.
The Right M.2 SSD Motherboard for You Depends Upon Several Factors
The following guide can help you understand the M.2 slots a little better if you are not well-versed in them already.
The short few key factors to consider are as follows:
- How Many M.2 Slots Do You Need?
- What Chipset do you need? – more or less depends upon your budget
- Are you building an Intel or an AMD build?
- What form factor do you need?
- How many PCIe x16 slots do you need? – largely depends upon how many VGA cards you plan to install
- How much RAM do you want to install?
- Which processor do you want to Install? – high-performance processors should be installed on high-performance motherboards for sub-component parity.
- Which generation of processor do you want to Install? – This would decide the socket of the motherboard
- Do you need a built-in WiFi card?
- Do you need a high-quality sound card?
With regards to this topic, the two most important questions are how many M.2 slots you need and what your budget is.
The maximum number of M.2 slots that you can find on board is five. However, only the high-performance workstation rigs built around processors like the AMD Threadripper or Intel Core Extreme/Xeon processors feature such a high number of M.2 slots.
For normal consumers, the maximum number of M.2 slots generally featured on motherboards is three.
Most budget motherboards only have a single M.2 Slot. If you need more than 1 onboard or built-in M.2 slot, then you will need to look into mainstream motherboards.
The point to note is that DUAL M.2 slots can be found on motherboards ranging from a mere $100 all the way to $500. This is a fairly vast range.
I recommend sticking with the cheapest possible if only SSD support is what you are after and do not care much for extravagant features like high-capacity VRMs, overclocking support, etc.
Motherboard with Multiple M.2 Slots vs Expansion Cards
When it comes to expanding your M.2 Storage capacity, there is a choice between getting a motherboard with multiple M.2 slots or getting an expansion card.
There are a few points to highlight here. For starters, as mentioned earlier, the built-in number of M.2 slots on most consumer-grade motherboards is limited to a maximum of three with most featuring a single or dual m.2 slots.
Therefore, if you want to have more slots than three, or if your current motherboard does not have an M.2 slot AT ALL, you would need to get an expansion card.
Basically, you can increase the number of M.2 slots by utilizing the PCIe x16 expansion slots, or the PCIe x4 expansion slot
You can purchase separate M.2 Expansion Cards that are installed over free PCIe slots on the motherboard. These cards can support up to four SSD drives. Each M.2 utilizes 4 PCIe lanes.
However, before you go about finding the SSD expansion card for yourself, you need to understand the requirements for expansion.
Firstly, you need a free PCIEx16 or an x4 slot.
M.2 NVMe SSDs Utilize 4 PCIe Lanes
This is important to note. If you want to add an expansion card for NVMe SSDs, you need to have at least a free X4 slot on the motherboard.
If you want to install a SATA SSD expansion card, then you can utilize the smaller X1 slots but for NVMe SSDs, you need to have an M.2 slot.
This is because NVMe SSDs are multiple folds faster than SATA SSDs and hence require more PCIe lanes to operate to their maximum potential.
Getting the Right SSD Expansion Card
Depending upon how many SSDs the Expansion Card can support and of what type (SATA or PCIe NVMe), you will need a free PCIe x16, PCIe x8, or PCIe x4 slot.
As a rule
- 2 x SATA M.2 Slot expansion card = PCIe x4 slot on motherboard
- 1 x NVMe M.2 Slot expansion card = PCIe x4 slot on motherboard
- 2 x NVMe M.2 slot expansion card = PCIe x8 slot on motherboard
- 4 x NVMe M.2 slot expansion card = PCIe x16 slot on motherboard
Note that on the majority of the motherboards, the x4 and x8 slots have a physical dimension of an x16 slot. They are called x16(x4) slots.
For example, the generic brand Ableconn PEXM2-2SA expansion slot requires a free X4 PCIe slot. It supports two SATA SSDs (SATA are Slow SSDs – Read Below).
On the other hand, the more premium SSD expansion cards such as the ASUS Hyper M.2 can utilize the entire x16 mode of the PCIEx16 slot and can handle 4 x NVME SSDs!
The larger the interface of the SSD Expansion slot the faster would be its operating speed and hence the more M.2 slots it would be able to offer.
In other words, talking about the NVMe SSDs, the x4 expansion card would only offer a single NVMe M.2 Slot, whereas, an x16 slot can offer 4 x M.2 slots for NVMe SSDs.
In short, and as mentioned earlier, you can expand your NVMe SSD capacity if you at least have one x4 slot free.
HOWEVER, SPEED IS NOT JUST DEPENDENT ON THE AMOUNT OF PCIe LANES OCCUPIED BY THE SSD CARD. WHETHER THE SSD IS SATA OR NVMe AS WELL AS THE PCIE VERSION ALSO MATTERS. READ NEXT.
SATA vs NVMe SSDs
SATA is the most common interface in motherboards and in PCs everywhere. SATA SSDs utilize the SATA 3rd Gen protocol and as such are limited to 6 Gbps transfer speed. In practice, the transfer speed translates to about 550 MB/s.
This may seem fast, but it is nowhere close to what the more powerful SSDs can achieve.
Basically, SATA SSDs leverage the SATA interface.
NVMe is a lot more interesting and is much much faster. These are found on almost all PCs these days due to their performance benefit.
NVMe SSDs utilize the PCIe interface instead of the SATA interface.
As such a Gen 3 NVMe SSD installed can achieve theoretical speeds up to 3.938 GB/s on PCIe v3.0. In practice, the speeds are close to 3.5 GB/s. This is 5 – 6 times faster than a SATA SSD.
Note that M.2 is just the form factor or the shape of the SSD. It can represent both SATA and NVMe SSDs.
NVMe SSDs Also Depends Upon the PCIe Version
Depending upon the version of the PCIe lanes you have on your motherboard and also the PCIe version of the NVMe SSD, the speeds can vary drastically.
For instance, the newer Gen 4 SSDs such as the Samsung 980 Pro can reach speeds of about 6.5 GB/s. In theory, the Gen 4 SSDs would be twice as fast as the PCIe Gen 3 SSDs as can be seen in the table above.
- Normal HDD – 150 MB/s – Very Slow
- SATA SSD – 550 MB/s – Slow
- NVMe SSD – PCIe 3.0 – 3.5 GB/s – Fast
- NVMe SSD – PCIe 4.0 – 7.5 GB/s – Lightening Fast
Important: A SATA SSD installed on a PCIEx4 expansion slot like the Ableconn PEXM2-2SA above WILL NOT achieve 32 Gbps. It will be bottlenecked by the SATA interface at 6 Gbps.
This brings us to the elephant in the room: What is the mSATA?
It’s basically the same as a SATA SSD but has a smaller form factor. It is used on laptops and other smaller mobile devices.
What are SSD Sizes?
When reading the motherboard or the SSD specification, you may have come across some numbers as 2242/ 2260/ 2280/ 22110.
They may seem trivial at first glance, but they are very important to note.
Essentially the first two numbers define the length in mm where as the rest of the two or three numbers define the width.
So a 2210 SSD means 22mm x 110 mm. The most common are 2280-sized SSDs.
They basically define the size of the SSD drives supported by the motherboard. Therefore, when buying an SSD, make sure the size is compatible with your motherboard.
What are SSD Keys?
SSD Keys, as the name suggests, are the PHYSICAL CUT OUTS on the SSD drive that are there to make sure that you do not insert them into the incorrect socket.
There are many types of keys for various modules, however, the ones utilized by SSDs are M and B keys.
These keys also shed plenty of information about the type of SSD you are holding.
- M Key is used by NVMe SSDs
- B+M Key is used by SATA SSDs
What are SSD Sockets?
SSD sockets aren’t too important to learn, however, they may still help you in understanding the product you purchase.
Basically, a socket and it can have varying types of KEYS to handle different types of modules. This is differentiated by the socket number.
- M.2 Socket 1: These connect WiFi, Bluetooth, and NFC modules.
- M.2 Socket 2: Mainly utilized for Wireless Wide Area Network (WWAN) module and Global Navigation Satellite System module, however, if not in use, it can be used to install an SSD as well.
- M.2 Socket 3: This is the most important socket to take note of here. This is basically the important socket that supports SATA or NVMe SSD drives. When we talk about motherboards with M.2 Slot for SSDs, we are actually referring to M.2 Socket 3.
In this article, we learned about the best motherboards with M.2 SSD slots. We looked at budget motherboards that only harbor a single M.2 slot, all the way to premium grade motherboards with up to 3 x M.2 slots.
However, before you make any purchase, whether it is the motherboard or the SSD, make sure you know the SSD jargon and terminology as well as understand how you can expand the number of supported SSDs using the PCIe slots.
SSDs can get quite confusing. You have to make sense of various terms like SATA, NVMe, Sockets, Size numbers, etc. Therefore, we recommend that you thoroughly read our guide above, and should you have any questions you can feel free to leave a comment below.