When solid state drives (SSDs) first launched, there was great anticipation, and for good reason. From the start, SSDs were faster and more reliable than traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), and as the technology evolved, that difference increased. That’s why today, you’d be hard-pressed to find any computing device sold without an SSD or SSD compatibility. In fact, in many cases, computing devices are only sold with SSDs, especially in the midrange and above.

The implementation of SSDs became even more pronounced in 2003 with the development of a low-latency computer expansion bus known as a peripheral component interconnect express (PCIe). A PCIe® allows for high data transfer rates, and with little to no slow down.

So what is PCIe SSD used for, exactly? And why should you care? Below, we address four top questions about this technology and why it’s something consumers and businesses need.

1. What is PCIe SSD?

PCIe SSDs are like other SSDs in that they use flash memory to store files and applications. Flash memory cells retain data regardless of whether the system is turned on or not, and software is used to retrieve that data when it’s needed. PCIe SSDs are distinct from SSDs without PCIe in that they access the computer’s PCIe slot, which is also used for high-speed video cards, memory and chips.

That said, capabilities depend on the slots they go into. While every PCIe card is backward compatible, if you put a PCIe 4.0 SSD card into a 2.0 slot, the performance can only achieve 2.0 rates.

2. What’s the difference between a SATA-based SSD and a PCIe-based SSD — and what’s NVMe?

There are actually four types of SSD form factors: serial advanced technology attachment (SATA), small computer system interface, Fibre Channel and the most recent option available — PCIe.

SATA was built with HDDs in mind and uses a special cable to connect a drive to the motherboard. This allows the SSD to read data at speeds of up to 550 MB/s and write at around 500 MB/s. However, the additional distance for data to travel caused by the cable can increase latency.

PCIe SSDs, on the other hand, connect directly to the PCIe slot and are smaller in size, enhancing speed and performance. In 2008 PCIe SSDs were given a big upgrade with the introduction of NVMe (NVM Express, or Non-Volatile Memory Express). This communication protocol was created to work with flash memory via the PCIe interface at speeds that are more than four times faster than a SATA interface.

3. What are the use cases of PCIe and SATA?

If PCIe SSDs are faster than SATA drives, why wouldn’t you simply make the PCIe standard for all? There are some distinct use cases for SATA. For one thing, older PCs and servers may not support PCIe, so if you’re looking to upgrade one of those, SATA may be your only option.

4. How has the PCIe standard changed over time?

While the actual connectivity hasn’t changed — as we mentioned a PCIe 1.0 device can snap into a PCIe 4.0 device and vice versa — every new version of PCIe gets faster.

In 2003, PCIe 1.0 originally launched with a transfer rate of 2.5 gigatransfer per second (GT/s) and a total bandwidth of 8GB/s. PCIe 2.0 doubled both the bandwidth and the gigatransfer, hitting 16GB/s and 5GT/s, and each subsequent iteration expanded that. PCIe 3.0 boasted 32GB/s bandwidth and 8 GT/s; PCIe 4.0 had 64GB/s bandwidth and a 16GT/s rate and PCIe 5.0 hit 128GB/s bandwidth and a 32GT/s rate.

The Samsung difference

For regular user equipment, 990 Pro by Samsung, which is PCIe 4.0 compatible and takes advantage of NVMe, delivers speeds up to 1400K/1550K IOPS with sequential read/write speeds up to 7450/6900 MB/s. The SSD drive, which is available in 1TB and 2TB form factors, provides more power with more power efficiency. PM9A3 by Samsung — available in U.2. form factor — is perfect for any data center or application that requires both speed and reliability, delivering random read/write speeds up to 1000K/180K IOPS with sequential read/write speeds up to 6900/4100 MB/s. These SSDs can provide the perfect gaming experience for anyone who needs blazing fast speed and power.

Want to learn more about how PCIe SSDs can enhance speed and performance? Read about how Samsung PCIe SSDs are benefiting technology companies.

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Karen Stealey

Karen J. Stealey is a veteran business, health, lifestyle and technology journalist with a wide range of publishing experience. Her tech and business work has appeared in Forbes, BusinessWeek Online, Adweek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, MyBusiness Magazine, Government Computer News, Workforce Management, CFO, Crain's New York and Crain's BtoB.

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