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How do I know if NVMe is compatible with a motherboard?

Everybody gets impressed by the massive data to read/write of the latest NVME SSDs. But, at the same time, all these technical terms such as M.2, PCIe, NVMe are too confusing for a normal computer user or a new buyer.

So, in this article, I am going to talk specifically about desktop users. However, laptop users can also relate to some points. This article can be considered as an addition to the SSD compatibility guide that I have posted earlier on my blog.

If you are looking to upgrade to an NVMe SSD and have a motherboard whose specifications are not clear enough, I would provide you with brief information about the ways to check the NVMe compatibility. This happens mostly when your motherboard manufacturer doesn’t give you precise information about whether that board is going to even work with the NVMe SSDs or not.

However, some motherboards will have NVMe ports but they won’t allow you to use these NVMe SSDs as the boot drive. So, we are going to cover all those things. Now, let’s get started.

Any popular PCIe Gen3 NVMe SSD will offer you the data read/write speed of at least up to 2GB/s. However, the Gen4 NVMe SSD can reach up to 8GB/s of data read/write speed. So, whatever type of NVMe you are looking to buy, just ask yourself this question: do you really need that much read/write speed?

If your work includes heavy data read/write operations such as file copy-pasting, you might be able to make use of that huge NVMe data read/write speed.

The next situation is when you are using a high-end CPU with at least 3200MHz RAM. In that case, you can enhance the system’s performance more with the help of an NVMe SSD.

But, if you are someone using a low-end CPU such as a 4th to 10th Gen processor, your processor may not be able to use that NVMe speed for any task. But, still, people want to go for the NVMe SSDs thinking that they will see a performance boost. It is possible that you might have been heavily attacked by the marketing strategies of these NVMe manufacturers. In simple words, a low-end CPU will be good to perform at its best just with the help of a SATA SSD.

So, an NVMe will be useful for two types of users.

The first set of users is gamers, video editors, enthusiasts, overclockers, or anyone else using some top-notch systems. Especially the users who are using very high-paced processors, graphics cards, combined with high-frequency RAM.

The second potential NVMe users are the people who often copy and paste huge files from one place to another.

If you do not lie in any of these categories, then you should think again about whether you really need that huge NVMe speed or not.

There are three main ways to confirm whether your motherboard will support the NVMe or not. I have classified different types of motherboards into four categories that you will see in any case with any kind of motherboard

MotherboardM.2 NVMe PortNVMe System SupportNVMe BIOS support (Boot Drive)
First TypeNot Available Not AvailableNot Available
Second TypeAvailableAvailableNot Available
Third TypeAvailableAvailableAvailable

You would have got an idea of what type of motherboard you need. You should have the third type of motherboard in order to get the most out of your SSD.

Most of the latest motherboards will offer you full support for NVMe SSDs. But, the older motherboards with older chipsets can have issues especially when you try to make your NVMe the boot drive.

Now, there are three things you will have to keep in mind before you actually buy any NVMe for your motherboard. Let’s talk about these things one by one.

This is the first step to identify whether your motherboard supports the NVMe SSD or not. So, in this first step, you will have to identify if the actual M.2 port available on your motherboard is capable of working with the NVMe protocol. An NVMe M.2 port will have an M-Key configuration. The cut on the M.2 port will be on the right-hand side.

NVMe port image

The NVMe port will have the same dimensions on both laptops and desktops. Make sure to check the key location. It should be on the right side. The M.2 port with a left-key (B-Key) isn’t compatible with NVMe SSDs. This B-Key port is actually for the M.2 SATA SSDs.

You can simply check this thing on the box of your motherboard. Also, the official websites will also give this information to you. Another main thing is that the NVMe SSD you are buying should be working on the same PCIe generation. For example, if your motherboard is PCIe 3.0 compatible, you should go for an M.2 PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSD. Most PCIe 4.0 SSDs will also have backward compatibility with PCIe 3.0 but this is overkill.

In order to confirm that your motherboard supports the NVMe protocol, you can simply do a google search with your motherboard’s name. Then, visit the official website and check the specifications.

If you are using an older motherboard that might be having the PCIe 3.0, you may not see NVMe written anywhere on the official website or the user manual. This is where the problem starts. Because these motherboards support the PCIe 3.0 interface, your SSD will get installed perfectly on your motherboard. But, you can never achieve the highest NVMe speed. On most of these older motherboards, the manufacturers would have highlighted 10Gb/s speed which isn’t the highest speed on most NVMe SSDs.

This is the last and the most important thing to check in order to confirm whether your motherboard supports NVMe SSD or not. Because you are investing a very good amount in buying an NVMe, you should always like to use it as your boot drive. So, some motherboards will work perfectly fine when you install a new NVMe in them. But, they will not allow you to change the boot priority to an NVMe SSD. Even if you try to change the storage interface, you will find SATA and AHCI options and no PCIe or NVMe options.

You can surely try to do some troubleshooting in order to double-check this issue. But, if the BIOS isn’t supporting the NVMe protocol, there is no direct way to enable your motherboard to do that. Some people would suggest some third-party software but they are never recommended. In simple words, you will have to change your motherboard in order to have access to NVMe in the BIOS. However, below are some steps that you can follow.

In this case, you should first try to update the BIOS.

Even after that, if your motherboard isn’t showing the NVMe, make sure to update or install the NVMe driver if you haven’t done that yet. For that, you just have to go to your SSD manufacturer’s website and download the NVMe drive from there. Then install that driver and check if the NVMe option came in your BIOS.

Now, in some motherboards, they will not have direct access to the NVMe protocol. So, they might be using external controllers to support the NVMe. In that case, you will have to upgrade the NVMe controller drivers as well. They will vary depending on the chipsets. In order to do that, you just have to google search the NVMe driver along with the chipset on your motherboard. Install that driver and then check if the problem has been resolved or not.

If you have the latest motherboard which arrived around and after 2015, you should surely have support for NVMe. If not NVMe, an M.2 NVMe port will be there with support for at least PCIe read/write speed. But, this can’t be said for all the motherboards. These days, the NVMe port is a common thing but again, if you are not able to get the total NVMe speed, there is no point in that.

So, manufacturers may confuse you with terms like 10Gb/s speed which actually calculates to 1.25GB/s if you convert it to Gigabytes. Some will say that their motherboard supports high-speed PCIe storage devices but they will not show whether NVMe protocol is available or not. So, you will have to double-check the software support. The physical port will mostly be there and this is what makes people so much confused.

Thanks for reading!

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