When comparing solid state drives (SSDs), one of the key specifications to look at is the interface. There are two main types of interfaces for consumer SSDs: SATA and NVMe. SATA SSDs have been around longer, while NVMe SSDs are newer and faster. But is an NVMe SSD actually faster than a SATA SSD in real-world use? Let’s take a closer look.
What is a SATA SSD?
SATA stands for Serial ATA. SATA is an interface technology that connects storage devices like hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid state drives to a computer’s motherboard. SATA has been the mainstream interface for SSDs since they started gaining popularity in consumer PCs over a decade ago.
The current generation of SATA is revision 3.3. SATA 3.3 theoretically supports transfer speeds up to 600 MB/s. However, the SATA interface has some limitations that prevent most SATA SSDs from reaching anywhere close to that maximum bandwidth.
In practice, most 2.5″ SATA SSDs on the market today are limited to sequential read/write speeds of around 550 MB/s. High-end and enthusiast models may exceed 600 MB/s, but real-world speeds for typical SATA SSDs are in the 500 to 550 MB/s range.
What is an NVMe SSD?
NVMe stands for Non-Volatile Memory Express. NVMe is a much newer interface protocol designed specifically for SSDs. NVMe communicates directly with the computer’s PCIe bus through the M.2 slot or PCIe slot. This provides NVMe SSDs with much higher bandwidth than SATA.
While SATA 3.3 tops out at 600 MB/s, NVMe SSDs can theoretically hit speeds over 3,500 MB/s. Of course, real-world speeds are lower, but the fastest NVMe SSDs can still deliver up to 7,000 MB/s sequential read and 5,000 MB/s sequential write.
So in terms of raw interface bandwidth, NVMe blows SATA out of the water. But interface speed is just one piece of the performance puzzle…
Real-World SSD Performance Factors
Aside from the interface, there are other factors that affect real-world SSD performance:
- Controller – The SSD controller manages all read/write operations and is the brain of the SSD. Better controllers equal faster SSDs.
- NAND flash – The quality and generation of NAND flash memory has an impact on speed. Lower quality or older NAND will be slower.
- DRAM cache – SSDs use fast DRAM as temporary cache to boost performance. More DRAM equals better speeds.
- Host hardware – The capabilities of other PC components affect SSD performance too. A slow CPU or small RAM capacity can bottleneck SSD speed.
- Firmware – The SSD’s firmware controls how efficiently it handles background tasks. Good firmware optimization improves real-world speed.
- Workload – The type of workload and data being transferred to/from the SSD affects results. Different workloads stress SSDs in different ways.
The interface bandwidth sets the upper limit for performance. But the factors above ultimately determine how close an SSD gets to its maximum capability in real-world use.
SATA vs. NVMe Benchmarks
Now let’s compare some actual test results. Here are benchmarks from two popular SSDs:
- Samsung 870 EVO 1TB – SATA SSD
- Samsung 980 Pro 1TB – NVMe SSD
Both SSDs use Samsung’s latest 3-bit MLC V-NAND flash and have similar controllers. The key difference is the SATA vs NVMe interface.
CrystalDiskMark Sequential Read/Write
|Samsung 870 EVO 1TB
|Samsung 980 Pro 1TB
In sequential workloads, the NVMe SSD is over 10x faster for reads and nearly 10x faster for writes. This massive difference is the NVMe interface advantage at work.
PCMark 10 Full System Drive Benchmark
|Samsung 870 EVO 1TB
|Samsung 980 Pro 1TB
The PCMark 10 full system benchmark simulates real-world workloads like booting Windows, launching games, creative workloads, video editing, etc. Here the scores are very close.
As these benchmarks demonstrate, NVMe SSDs provide up to 10x higher sequential read/write performance compared to SATA SSDs. This is achieved via the vastly improved interface bandwidth of NVMe over SATA.
However, in typical real-world usage, the difference between a good SATA SSD and a top-end NVMe SSD is very small. Workloads like booting Windows, opening files, or running applications rely on random I/O performance, rather than sequential speed.
For the average user, a SATA SSD provides excellent real-world performance at a lower cost. NVMe SSDs are beneficial for very specific workloads like 4K video editing, scientific applications, specialized servers, etc. where large sequential transfers are common. For general home and office use, a SATA SSD is likely the better choice.
- NVMe SSDs provide up to 10x higher sequential read/write speeds due to improved interface bandwidth.
- Real-world random I/O performance is very similar between good SATA and NVMe SSDs.
- For most typical consumer workloads, SATA SSDs are the better value over high-end NVMe drives.
SATA SSD vs. NVMe SSD Cost Comparison
Another major difference between SATA and NVMe SSDs is cost. Let’s compare prices on some popular models of both types:
|Crucial MX500 (SATA)
|Samsung 860 EVO (SATA)
|Western Digital Blue SN550 (NVMe)
|Samsung 970 EVO Plus (NVMe)
For similar quality drives of the same capacity, NVMe SSDs cost 15-35% more than SATA SSDs. The price premium for NVMe is driven by several factors:
- NVMe SSDs require a more complex controller to handle the increased interface bandwidth.
- The NVMe protocol itself requires more processing overhead than SATA.
- M.2 NVMe SSDs must be built smaller to fit the form factor, increasing manufacturing costs.
- High-speed PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs require new advanced controllers and NAND to hit 7,000+ MB/s speeds.
Since the performance gain of NVMe does not benefit most average users, the extra cost is hard to justify. Gamers, media creators and tech enthusiasts are willing to pay more for NVMe drives. But for general home and office work, SATA SSDs provide excellent performance at a lower price point.
SATA vs. NVMe SSD Power Efficiency
Power efficiency is another area where SATA SSDs shine over NVMe. Let’s look at max power consumption measurements on some popular models:
|Samsung 860 EVO 1TB (SATA)
|WD Blue SN550 1TB (NVMe)
|Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB (NVMe)
The NVMe SSDs here draw around 75% more power than the SATA SSD. In general, NVMe SSDs require more power due to:
- Complex controller handling PCIe communication
- Faster NAND flash that consumes extra power
- More parallelism in the SSD architecture
Laptop users will benefit from the lower power requirements of SATA SSDs over NVMe. More efficient power use translates to longer battery life.
For desktops, power consumption is less critical. But it still contributes to heat output and electricity costs. SATA SSDs run cooler and cheaper than NVMe in terms of power.
SATA SSD vs. NVMe SSD – Which Should You Get?
So when should you choose a SATA SSD over an NVMe SSD or vice versa? Here are some general guidelines:
Get a SATA SSD for:
- General home and office use
- Boot drive / primary drive
- Laptops and mobile devices
- Secondary storage / extra game storage
SATA SSDs provide the best overall value and performance for typical consumer workloads. Their lower cost and power efficiency make them ideal for mainstream desktops and laptops.
Get an NVMe SSD for:
- Media editing / content creation
- Engineering / scientific computing
- Always-on servers
- High-end gaming PCs
- Enthusiasts seeking max performance
If you regularly work with large files or do professional creative work, an NVMe SSD may be worthwhile for the speed boost. NVMe is also great for high-end gaming rigs and performance enthusiasts willing to pay more.
How to Choose the Right SSD
If you’re still unsure whether to get a SATA or NVMe SSD, follow these tips:
- Identify your needs – Do you really require NVMe speeds for your use case? Or is a SATA SSD sufficient?
- Compare interface speeds – Check benchmark results to see real-world SATA vs. NVMe performance differences.
- Factor in cost – Lower-priced SATA SSDs give you more capacity for your budget.
- Consider power efficiency – SATA SSDs shine here, especially for laptops.
- Choose by form factor – M.2 drives are usually NVMe while 2.5″ SSDs are generally SATA.
- Check motherboard compatibility – Older PCs may not have an M.2 slot required for NVMe SSDs.
With a little research, you can determine whether a value-oriented SATA SSD or a blazing-fast NVMe SSD is the right fit for your needs and budget.
NVMe SSDs are much faster than SATA SSDs in benchmark tests, boasting over 10x higher sequential read/write speeds thanks to PCIe bandwidth. However, for real-world usage, good SATA SSDs remain very snappy and responsive.
At 15-35% lower prices and greater power efficiency, SATA SSDs are still the best choice for most home and office PCs. Only users with specific professional needs will benefit from NVMe SSDs.
For gaming, the small NVMe advantage does not justify the higher cost for many gamers. Budget-focused system builders should stick to SATA SSDs for boot and game storage.
In the laptop and mobile market, SATA SSDs dominate thanks to their cost, compact form factors, and energy efficiency. NVMe makes little sense for the average laptop user.
While NVMe SSD technology is certainly impressive, SATA SSDs still deliver excellent real-world performance at a lower cost. For typical home and consumer workloads, SATA remains the better choice over NVMe for most PC users.