NVMe SSDs are fast.
Everybody wants to try them.
So, some buy them and install them in their system and that’s it. But, for some people, it isn’t as easy as that.
Some laptops and desktops may not support NVMe SSDs. Some systems will not have the M.2 ports available on them. So, in that case, it can become hard to use those fast-paced devices on your system. But, there is a way to use them.
If you have an NVMe and your system doesn’t support it either physically or internally, you can still use it with the help of a USB connection and an M.2 enclosure. The highest NVMe speed will surely get bottlenecked by the USB interface but the NVMe SSD will be usable with enough data read/write speed.
In this article, we are going to cover everything ranging from the highest achievable speeds and the process to use an NVMe SSD externally. So, without any delays, let’s get started. I would suggest you read this brief SSD buying guide if you want to choose the best SSD for your system.
How does an NVMe SSD work?
The full name of NVMe SSD is actually M.2 PCIe NVMe. So, there are three things here. Let’s know them first of all.
M.2: Form Factor (SSD Dimensions)
PCIe: Interface (The way your SSD connects with the motherboard)
NVMe: Protocol (Reason these SSDs being superfast)
M.2 and NVMe will remain the same in all cases. But, you can see two kinds of PCIe interfaces. You will find Gen3 and Gen4 NVMe SSDs in the market. The Gen4 is a much more faster SSD having the capabilities to reach up to 7000 MB/s data read-write speed. The Gen3 SSDs can reach up to 3500 MB/s. This basically is the PCIe Generation.
So, when you connect your NVMe SSD to your desktop or laptop motherboard, it connects directly to the faster transfer lanes i.e. PCIe lanes. In this way, these SSDs are capable of reaching a very high speed.
However, when you look physically, the M.2 port will be very small and doesn’t seem to have any connection with the PCIe because the traditional PCIe ports are way bigger.
Again, M.2 is just a form factor that is best to handle these small but extremely fast NVMe SSDs. Keep a thing in mind that an NVMe SSD will get connected to an M.2 port which has an M-Key (Right-key). There is another kind of M.2 port with a B-Key (Left-Key) which will not support any NVMe at all.
But, we should not get into these details so much because we are going to use our NVMe externally without using these dedicated NVMe M.2 ports.
All my M.2 ports are occupied and I want to use another M.2 drive
The only way here is either to upgrade your existing NVMe SSD with a higher storage variant or just to use another NVMe. But, using another NVMe SSD will not be possible without its M.2 port. So, you can simply use an M.2 SSD enclosure and then install your SSD inside that enclosure.
Then, you can use the USB connection to attach that enclosure and hence your NVMe to your system.
For Desktop Computers Only
If you have a desktop PC, you have another option which is to use an M.2 NVMe adapter. This adapter will go inside your x4 or higher PCIe port and then you can insert the NVMe SSD on it.
Will I get the full NVMe speed using this adapter?
This is a big question.
But, if you are using an M.2 NVMe to PCIe adapter as you see in the above image, you may be able to get the highest PCIe speed based on its generation. If both the motherboard PCIe and SSD are having 3rd generation, you can surely get the speed up to 3 GB/s. Make sure to install the NVMe drives before you proceed.
But, if we talk about the M.2 enclosure which will get connected to your laptop or desktop through USB, you will not achieve the highest speed offered by the NVMe.
The speed will get limited by the USB protocol.
If you are connecting your enclosure on a USB 3.1 or 3.2 Gen1 slot, you can reach up to 625 MB/s.
However, if you are connecting that device with a thunderbolt 2 port, you can get up to 2.5GB/s speed. Also, you should check the total speed offered by your external M.2 enclosure. If your system is equipped with a fast-paced USB port, you can easily reach good speed limits.
Can I do it on my own?
You just need that external enclosure in order to get this thing done. It is just like installing and using an external hard drive. The installation of NVMe SSD on your adapter or enclosure can be a little bit tricky if you haven’t done it earlier. However, anybody with no technical knowledge can do this thing.
Some enclosures will include screwless installations but the ones with the screws will generally come with the screwdrivers. So, you just have to open the cover and then install your SSD. You will be able to use your drive directly after doing that with a USB connection.
What about the drivers?
You will need to install an NVMe driver if required. Generally, you will see your device working just after the USB is connected. Here, your enclosure is working as a converter circuitry. But, in some cases, you may need to install the NVMe driver for your SSD. For that, you can simply go to the official website of your SSD and get your driver from there for free.
What if I don’t have a free PCIe slot as well?
We talked about the M.2 NVMe to PCIe adapter above. This adapter will go inside your traditional PCIe port and then you can use it to install your NVMe. In order to create SSD RAIDs, these adapters are widely used. But, if you are not seeing any free PCIe port as well on your system, you are probably hardcore computer users.
In that case, the only option left is to use that enclosure and get going with your SSD with the help of a USB connection.
Are all M.2 SSD Enclosures same?
In the markets, you will find two kinds of M.2 Enclosures. The first one will be the B-Key enclosure which will work just with the M.2 SATA SSDs and not the NVMe ones. You don’t have to buy that one.
The second type will have an M-Key which is actually a port made for both M.2 NVMe and M.2 SATA. But, in the case of the enclosure, you will be able to use it for M.2 NVMe SSD.
So, you always have to confirm whether your enclosure supports only M.2 SATA or M.2 NVMe as well.
Also, there will be another diversification to your purchase. One kind of enclosure will have a tool-free design while the other ones will need to have screwdrivers to open and install. It will be good if you go for a tool-free enclosure.
So, what is the full process of using an NVMe without an M.2 port?
Below is the process of doing the same. You can follow it on both laptops and desktops.
- Buy an M.2 NVMe SSD enclosure
- Open its main cover
- Insert the NVMe SSD inside its port at an angle
- Push the SSD down and tighten the screw or the holding plug
- Now, you can close the cover and connect your enclosure to the system
This process will be similar in all the devices no matter what kind of enclosure you are going for.
Thanks for reading!