PC Gear Lab

PCIE vs SATA SSD – Comprehensive Comparison

As computer storage devices have gotten faster, the computers have themselves followed suit and now we have computers booting up in under ten seconds and opening up programs almost immediately the icon is clicked.

In this regard, two types of SSDs are locking horns and here we’ll take a look at PCIe vs SATA SSD. To start us off, PCIe SSDs are the faster option whereas SATA SSDs are the most cost-effective alternative.

With computers constantly getting faster and faster, you can be tempted to think that only the processors and the main memory are getting better.

Well, this is only a fraction of the truth. The whole scoop is that for many decades, storage has been the bottleneck for most computing systems. This means that storage devices provided much slower access speeds to their data and hence resulted in slower speeds across the device.

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PCIe SSDs

The PCIe standard offers a high-speed interface for connecting different peripheral devices to the computer through a PCIe slot.

This allowed users to install things like graphics cards and network cards that performed much faster and were more reliable. And with peripherals for adding new functionality, manufacturers decided to leverage the standard for something else. Storage.

PCIe SSDs are commonly referred to as NVME SSDs and they use an M.2 slot on the motherboard. With a PCIe connection, they have fast access to the CPU and its resources. Hence they can be accessed at remarkable speed.

The result is faster computers that can run through heavy tasks like copying large files in record speed.

A single PCIe 3.0 lane can transfer data at about 1 GB/s. This is significantly higher than the total bandwidth a SATA III Drive can handle. More on this later.

But, as this shows, a SATA SSD will be more prone to suffer bottlenecks because of the connection interface it uses.

PCIe Slots on a Motherboard.
A Motherboard can have several PCIe slots. A PCIe SSD goes into the PCIe slot. Source: guru3d.com

Also Read: What are PCIe Slots?

SATA SSD

The SATA SSD is one of the most popular kinds of SSDs available today because it makes use of the older SATA interface. For this reason, you can use a SATA SSD on a wider range of motherboards.

SATA SSDs come in a form factor that resembles regular SATA HDDs, and where the hard drives have a 2.5 inch or 3.5-inch configurations, the Solid State Drives only come in 2.5 inches.

Their size lets them fit on most motherboards and you can even use more than one of them in a computer with several SATA ports.

When compared to a PCIe SSD, SATA SSDs are not just slow. They’re also less expensive. This makes them one of the most ideal products for most users.

PCIe vs SATA SSD

With that brief look at these two SSD types, it’s now time to see how they stack up against one another. We have to remember that these devices are built differently and hence a lot of things about them will be a little different.

Speed

Speed is possibly the most important aspect many people consider when talking about storage. Users have different needs and they all intersect at how fast the device is to meet their needs.

A PCIe SSD operating in a PCIe 3.0 can utilize multiple PCIe lanes. After noting that each lane in an X1 slot can transfer about 1GB/s in data, we see that an X4 PCIe SSD can do speeds of up to 4GB/s or 32 Gigabits/s.

In contrast, a SATA interface has a maximum speed of 600 MB/s. This means that SATA SSDs cannot perform any better than the mentioned speed. Comparing a 600 MB/s maximum to a 4000 MB/s maximum puts this argument into perspective. PCIe SSDs are many times faster than SATA SSDs.

PCIE vs SATA SSD
Because of their different interfaces, PCIe and SATA SSDs have different performance metrics. Source: partitionwizard.com

Compatibility across Devices

The SATA port has been used for storage devices for so long that most manufacturers design devices that will be compatible with it.

This means that with most motherboards, you can get a SATA SSD that will work. The same is not true for PCIe SSDs because they are new and hence compatibility is not widely assured.

Additionally, some PCIe SSDs are rare on mainstream motherboards. A good example is like those in Intel’s line of server-grade PCIe add-in cards that go directly onto a PCIe slot.

Cost

When we take the price per Gigabyte of each drive into question, a PCIe SSD is more expensive than a SATA SSD. But this is expected because the former has been redesigned for speed and high bandwidth transfers. It is capable of accomplishing more demanding tasks than the latter.

Taking cost into consideration, an average user would not see much benefit in using a PCIe SSD over the SATA alternative, hence going the SATA way can be the better choice as it will save them more money.

Scalability

The issue of scalability is dependent on a lot of factors. However, on many motherboards, SATA slots are usually more compared to PCIe slots.

Because there are more expansion slots in a motherboard for SATA devices, it is possible to have more SATA SSDs on a computer than it is to have PCIe SSDs.

Because SSDs have some memory limitations, with SATA SSDs you can utilize more drive bays and end up scaling your storage amount as much as possible.

Storage Capacity

SATA SSDs have a higher amount of storage capacity than PCIe SSDs on average. This means that when you want the maximum amount of storage space on a single drive, you’d be best suited if you went with a SATA SSD.

Just to put this into perspective, Seagate developed a 60TB SATA SSD. With a PCIe SSD, you get capacities that max out at about 8 TB.

A PCIe SSD
NVMe SSDs use the PCIe standard and the one pictured above connects via an M.2 interface. Source: thessdreview.com

Use Cases for Each

A SATA SSD is great for people who want a lot of storage space to install games and other programs and still have fast access to their files and applications. Because it’s cheaper per gigabyte than PCIe SSD, many users will find this very affordable.

With a PCIe SSD, you may end up getting much less storage space, but you have faster data access. This makes it great for a lot of productivity tasks.

Because of its cost, having a PCIe SSD for running games may not be a good idea because it won’t yield significantly better results than using a regular SATA SSD.  But, if you want to fast access to your most-used apps as well as snappy boot times, then the PCIe SSD is the way to go.

If the storage ends up being inadequate, you can supplement it with an extra SATA SSD if you need the speed.

Also Read: Can PCIe x1 fit in x4?

Conclusion

By now it is probably apparent that not all SSDs are equal. This is a good thing because it lets users choose what they need or something that’s within their budgets.

When talking about SSDs, speed is usually an important factor because it’s one of their biggest advantage over HDDs.

The same is true when comparing PCIe vs SATA SSD. PCIe SSDs have faster transfer speeds and are great for users who move a lot of large files around and want their computers to be fast.

SATA SSDs have more conservative prices and are great for those with large storage needs.

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