NVMe or Non-Volatile Memory Express is a storage protocol that allows fast communication between the operating system and solid state drives (SSDs) over the PCI Express bus. NVMe SSDs offer incredibly fast read/write speeds compared to traditional SATA SSDs. However, to take advantage of these speeds, NVMe SSDs need to be properly formatted and configured.
What is NVMe?
NVMe stands for Non-Volatile Memory Express. It is a host controller interface and storage protocol created especially for SSDs that utilize the PCI Express bus in a computer. NVMe communicates directly with the CPU via PCIe lanes, bypassing the SATA and AHCI bottlenecks that limit the performance of SATA SSDs. This allows NVMe SSDs to reach incredible speeds that were not possible with older interfaces.
Some key advantages of NVMe over SATA SSDs include:
- Higher bandwidth – NVMe utilizes up to 4 PCIe lanes which provides higher bandwidth than SATA.
- Lower latency – The streamlined NVMe command set reduces latency for reads and writes.
- Higher IOPS – NVMe SSDs can achieve over 500,000 IOPS while SATA is limited to under 100,000 IOPS.
- Parallelism – NVMe can process up to 65536 queues in parallel while SATA is limited to 1 queue.
This combination of high bandwidth, low latency, high IOPS, and parallelism is what allows NVMe SSDs to reach breakneck speeds that simply weren’t possible with SATA. For example, while a high-end SATA SSD may reach 560 MB/s sequential reads, a good NVMe SSD can hit 3500 MB/s or higher!
Why Format NVMe SSDs?
There are several reasons why you may want or need to format a new or existing NVMe SSD:
- To change the file system – Formatting allows you to convert the file system on the drive from one type to another, like FAT32 to NTFS.
- Resolve performance issues – Formatting can help resolve problems like a slow drive or poor response times.
- Prepare for clean install – Wiping and formatting prepares a blank slate for a fresh OS installation.
- Get rid of bad sectors – Low level formatting maps out any bad sectors on the drive.
- Change partition layout – Formatting lets you resize, delete, or recreate partitions.
Formatting erases all data on the target drive. So before formatting, remember to backup any important files you want to keep. You should also confirm that you have the right drive selected so you don’t accidentally erase the wrong drive.
How to Format an NVMe SSD in Windows 10
Windows 10 has a built-in disk management utility that makes it easy to format NVMe drives. Here is a step-by-step guide:
- Open Disk Management
- Hit Windows key and type “disk management” to find the tool
- Or right click the Start menu and select Disk Management
- Locate the NVMe drive
- Look for the drive labeled as an NVMe device in the drive list
- Or check the drive capacity to identify the correct NVMe SSD
- Right click on the NVMe drive and choose Format
- Adjust format options:
- File system – NTFS is recommended for most uses
- Allocation unit size – Default is fine for most cases
- Volume label – Optional drive name
- Quick format – Faster but less thorough, only use on new drives
- Click OK to begin formatting
- Wait for the format process to complete
- The drive will now show as Healthy and Online after it is formatted
The steps are very similar when formatting an external USB NVMe SSD – just make sure to select the correct external drive in disk management before formatting.
How to Enable NVMe Support
For your computer to be able to use NVMe SSDs, your system must meet the following requirements:
- NVMe capable motherboard – With an M.2 slot or U.2 port for an NVMe drive.
- UEFI boot mode – NVMe requires UEFI, legacy BIOS does not support NVMe.
- Up to date BIOS – With latest NVMe drivers and support loaded.
- NVMe SSD installed – Either M.2, U.2, or PCIe add-in card.
- OS support – Windows 8, Windows 10, Linux, etc. Older versions may lack NVMe drivers.
Additionally, you may need to enable NVMe support in the BIOS. Enter the BIOS setup during boot and look for settings like:
- Enable NVMe
- M.2 Operation Mode set to PCIE
- Legacy USB Support disabled
Save changes and exit BIOS. The system should now recognize your NVMe SSDs. If not, your BIOS or drivers may need updating to fully support NVMe.
NVMe Format Command in Windows
Diskpart is a command line disk partitioning tool in Windows that can also be used to format NVMe drives. Here are the steps:
- Open an elevated Command Prompt
diskpartand press Enter to launch the tool
list diskto display all drives
- Select the NVMe SSD drive number (ex:
select disk 2)
cleanto delete all partitions and format the drive
- Create a new primary partition:
create partition primary
- Select the new partition:
select partition 1
- Format the partition:
format fs=ntfs quick
This will completely wipe the selected NVMe drive and quickly format it to NTFS. You can then exit Diskpart and the drive will be ready for use.
Secure Erase NVMe SSD
If you want to completely wipe and sanitize an NVMe SSD, the best way is to use the drive’s built-in secure erase command. This sends a special firmware command that erases all data on the drive. To secure erase:
- Backup data and uninstall the NVMe drive
- Insert into a PC with NVMe support
- Boot into a Linux distro like Ubuntu via live USB
- Open terminal and enter:
sudo hdparm --user-master u --security-erase NULL /dev/nvme0n1
- Type YES when prompted to erase
- Wait for secure erase process to complete
- The drive is now wiped and can be reformatted
This processes sends a secure erase command directly to the drive firmware, ensuring all data is completely wiped. It may take several hours to complete.
How to Partition an NVMe SSD
Partitioning allows you to divide the available storage space on an NVMe SSD into multiple logical drives. Reasons to partition include:
- Isolate the OS and data on separate partitions
- Create specialized partitions for backups, caching, hibernation files, etc.
- Separate partitions for different drive letters
- Dual booting multiple operating systems
Follow these steps to partition an NVMe SSD in Windows:
- Open Disk Management
- Right click unallocated space on the NVMe SSD and select New Simple Volume
- Enter the size for the new partition in MB
- Assign a drive letter
- Choose file system – NTFS is recommended
- Give the partition a name
- Check Perform a quick format
- Click Next, Then Finish to create the partition
- Repeat steps to create additional partitions as needed
This creates separate partition volumes on the NVMe SSD that can be accessed using the drive letters assigned to each one.
RAID Configurations for NVMe SSDs
One way to maximize the performance of NVMe storage is to use multiple NVMe SSDs in a RAID array. Some common RAID configurations for NVMe SSDs include:
- Stripes data across all drives for faster reads/writes
- No redundancy though, any drive failure results in total data loss
- Best for non-essential data where speed is the priority
- Mirrors data between two drives for redundancy
- Protects data if one drive fails, can rebuild mirror
- Read performance doubled, but write performance unchanged
- Stripes data and parity information across 3+ drives
- Can withstand one drive failure without data loss
- Good balance of speed, capacity and redundancy
- Mirrors two drives and stripes sets together
- Fastest reads and good fault tolerance
- 50% storage efficiency though, high cost
RAID is configured at the hardware or OS level depending on your setup. Always backup data before creating RAID arrays.
NVMe SSDs deliver exceptional performance, but need proper configuration and formatting to be utilized effectively:
- Make sure your system has NVMe support enabled in BIOS
- Use disk management or diskpart to quickly format NVMe drives
- Leverage partitioning for drive letter assignments and isolation
- Secure erase wipes an NVMe SSD completely using special firmware commands
- RAID can boost speed, redundancy and capacity when using multiple NVMe SSDs
With proper setup, an NVMe SSD operates at blistering speeds far beyond what SATA SSDs can offer. So take the time to properly install and configure your NVMe storage to enjoy the impressive performance benefits these drives provide.