What is M.2 Slot? (Explained)

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What is M.2 slot? Due to the constant development in technology, modern computers not only allow doing a lot of difficult tasks but also allow adding a lot of accessories externally through different types of expansion slots and ports. One such is the M.2 slot.

Most of the motherboards that you find today in the market typically come with M.2 slots, either one or several of them.

Even the laptops of today are equipped with M.2 slots.

The M.2 expansion slots are not just tiny holes at the side of the computer casing but are very helpful to achieve different tasks on your computer.

If you are not up to date with the latest developments in the computer circuit and computing technology then the M.2 concept may be entirely new to you.

This article will let you know about it all along with the uses, types and other aspects of this special slot you may find on your motherboard.

Typically, this article is the right one for you to read for gaining more knowledge about the M.2 slots.

What is M.2 Slot?

What is M.2 Slot

The M.2 slots were previously known as NGFF or Next Generation Form Factor.

This is a specific format that is technically considered as the replacement of the mSATA standard, which was quite popular and used extensively in those highly compact laptops and other smaller devices.

This may be very surprising.

This is because most of the M.2 drives that are designed and sold in the market are usually meant to be used in the full-sized desktops.

However, M.2 has replaced mSATA hard drives successfully along with the Solid State Drives in the compact laptops such as in the XPS 13 of Dell or the MacBook of Apple.

Ideally, the M.2 slot refers to a standard and it usually acts as a connection terminal.

These are just sealed in the bodies of the computer and cannot be upgraded easily by most of the users.

The M.2 slots were first used by the manufacturers of the motherboards in 2014.

It was then used in the H97, Z97, and X99 motherboards. In fact, back then, it was only the expensive motherboards that had M.2 slots.

Since then, these faster and high performing slots are installed in several other motherboards every year.

And, now, in 2022, almost all types of motherboards come with M.2 slots, as said earlier.

An M.2 is considered to be a very flexible connector in spite of its compactness.

This is because it offers a wider and more varied support which includes:

The primary function of these keys is to determine which particular interface as well as the bus the M.2 module uses and connect to it accordingly.

Apart from that, this particular design also prevents fitting in an M.2 card into an interface that is not compatible with it or even inserting it in an invalid configuration.

The most significant advantage of the M.2 slots is that you do not have to deal with power cables.

In fact, you can even connect devices by simply inserting a card into the M.2 slot.

The primary intention of designing an M.2 slot is to facilitate its use in the laptops, mobile phones, and tablets by reducing the storage region in line.

These slots come with excellent capabilities and also make the computer system more compact.

When you examine an M.2 module very closely you will notice that the design includes several keys or notches at the location of the connector pins.

This gives it a more asymmetrical pin configuration.

The connectors on the M.2 slots are called sockets. Each of these sockets comes with a unique mechanical key and the modules cannot be interchanged between the sockets.

These sockets can be distinguished based on the PCI Express M.2 Specifications Rev. 1.1 as follows:

  • Socket 1 – This is used as a typical connectivity socket for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, WiGig, and NFC or Near Field Communication.
  • Socket 2 – This supports several WWAN + GNSS or Wireless Wide Area Network and Global Navigation Satellite System solutions, different Solid State Drives and SSD cache configurations, and others.
  • Socket 3 – This refers to the SSD socket that comes with up to four PCI Express lanes or Serial ATA.

In spite of several benefits offered by the M.2 modules, one significant point of concern is that these are not hot-swappable or hot-pluggable.

This means that if you hot-plug or hot-swap, it will not only damage the module but may also cause physical harm to you while performing these acts.

Checking whether or not the motherboard of the system comes with an M.2 slot is however not easy for a novice or for anyone who is used to fitting SSDs onto the drive bays on the motherboard or expanding the RAM modules and PCI Express cards in their computers.

Read Also:  What is mSATA SSD? (Explained)

Ideally, the M.2 slots are arranged in such a way that the SSD lies parallel or flat to the motherboard.

The neighboring mounting positions protect the part with a screw.

However, there may be a few specific motherboards that come with perpendicular orientation.

This allows using an M.2 SSD with the help of an adapter.

However, when the device is set in its place, the system recognizes it as another separate drive.

Different tasks can be performed then on it such as:

  • It can be formatted
  • It can be assigned a drive letter and
  • It can be used for other ordinary storage setup jobs.

Form Factors of M.2 Interface

The physical dimension of the M.2 interface module is expressed as a number containing four or five digits, for example, 2280.

Here, the two digits 22 signifies its width of 22 mm and the number 80 signifies its length of 80 mm.

Normally, the M.2 slot measures 22 mm in width and 60 or 80 mm in length, however, the length of the plates may vary.

Here are the physical dimensions of the M.2 slots with the primary character of each:

  • Type 2280 measures 22 mm by 80 mm and is the most commonly used size and found in several devices
  • Type 2260 measures 22 mm by 60 mm and is typically used in drives with higher capacity and speed as well as in PCI Express x 4 interfaces
  • Type 2230 measures 22 mm by 30 mm and is normally used for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in laptops and desktop computers and usually come with a SATA or PCI Express x2 interface
  • Type 2242 measures 22 mm by 42 mm and is considered as a common format for the Solid State Drives that are typically used in laptops and mini-computers and also comes with a SATA and PCI Express x2 interface normally and
  • Type 22110 measures 22 mm by 110 mm which is the biggest and fastest of all and is also considered to be the most expensive.

The 22110 type M.2 slot is used in the ATX boards which itself comes with a large space.

On the other hand, out of all these specs, the most popular M.2 interface module specifications are 2242, 2260, and 2280.

Here, 22 mm is common because it fits in most of the laptop and desktop computers.

However, there are also other longer versions such as the 80 mm or 110 mm long boards that can also hold as many as 8 NAND silicon chips of 2 TB capacities.

Therefore, the main point is that different types of motherboards support different types of drives.

A disk of shorter length may be inserted into a longer slot but in order to work, it must be compatible.

M.2 Slot Types

The type of the M.2 slot is usually determined by the module keys.

Typically, there are three types of keys namely, B, M, and the universal B & M.

  • The B Key interface or Socket 2 offers support to SATA bus standard as well as PCI Express 3.0 X2 bus standard. Apart from that, it may also offer support to NVM Express or AHCI OR Advanced Host Controller Interface protocols. It uses the gap at the right side of the card with as many as six contact tracks on the right side of the gap.
  • The M Key interface or Socket 3, on the other hand, offers support to only the PCI Express 3.0 X4 bus standard as well as the NVM Express protocol and provides a read and write speed that can theoretically be up to 4 GB/s. It uses the gap at the left side of the card with five contact tracks on the left side of the gap.

And, the universal B + M Key is actually a combination of the two types of keys mentioned above.

These keys are typically compatible with both NVM Express and Serial ATA Solid State Drives and usually offer data transfer speeds that are limited to PCIe x2.

What are M.2 slots Used for?

The scope of the M.2 slot is very broad and varied which is why this specific type of connector is very useful and convenient.

It is not just an ordinary form factor but it is really revolutionary.

It is for this reason it is considered that M.2 has the potential to take over from the commonly used Serial ATA format on the whole which is also aging.

The best use of the M.2 slots is to enhance the speed and performance of the system for specific tasks that need high computing speed such as:

With the multiple protocol and app support from the M.2 slots, it can also be used to install other things such as:

  • M.2 based SSDs
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth as well as other modules.

The usefulness of the M.2 slots does not end there simply.

It can also interface with different advanced standards and protocols such as:

  • SATA 3.0
  • PCI Express 3.0 and even
  • USB 3.0.

This feature of the M.2 slots allows using other important expansion devices and even better graphics cards.

This also means that you can use any disk drive and storage and low-power devices that use USB connections in your computer.

However, at this point you should know that M.2 is not designed to be used exclusively in portable personal computers.

Read Also:  12 Differences Between mSATA and NVMe

You will also find these slots used widely in several different types of motherboards for desktop computers as well as server PCs.

Do You Need M.2 Slot?

This will depend on the type of tasks you want to do on your computer.

If you restrict your jobs to the basics, any ordinary slot will do.

However, if you are engaged with more intensive tasks and want to make the best use of every bit of computing speed offered by your system, you will need an M.2 slot.

This will ensure that you have really speedy sequential read and write speeds.

The flexibility of these tiny little M.2 slots is very impressive, which is another good reason to use them.

Is M.2 Faster Than SSD?

Of course, it is. The PCI Express or NVM Express support of the M.2 slots will offer higher data transfer rates and therefore games and apps will load much faster.

Since it does not use the Serial ATA bus but a PCI bus, it helps devices to transfer data at a speed that may be anywhere from about 50% to 650% faster as compared to the standard SATA.

However, the degree of enhancement in speed will largely depend on the capabilities of the M.2 card itself as well as that of the motherboard.

Therefore, using an M.2 rather than an ordinary SSD is much more feasible and productive for all types of work, whether it is basic or advanced.

However, to ensure that you get faster speeds, you should make sure that the M.2 drive uses the NVM Express interface protocol.

Do You Need an SSD if You Have M.2?

Yes, you will need an SSD if you have an M.2 slot especially if your computer is quite compact and you want to have limitations regarding SATA port or anything of its like.

This will help you to add storage and at the same time make it much faster while loading games or the heavy apps that you need to use often.

However, this may not essentially produce higher frames.

Therefore, if your computer mother comes with such a connector, you have all the good reasons to insert a drive in it.

However, whether you will use it for a specific purpose or some other or simply make it systemic is an entirely different issue.

Is M2 Better for Gaming?

An M.2 slot is not only a good way to add storage but it will also ensure that all your gaming needs are met successfully.

This is because the M.2 slots typically do not use the Serial ATA specification. Instead, these slots establish a direct connection with the motherboard of the computer through the PCI Express bus.

This makes them much faster, which, in turn, affects the gaming performance.

The games will load faster and you will therefore not need to wait for it.

This means that you will be able to put in more time into the game and finish the levels of your favorite game much faster.

The benefits of these faster slots can be seen even more notably when you pay online games that you play in groups.

In such situations, neither you nor your friends will have to wait for the frames to load, which can be very boring for any gaming squad member.

No one will leave the lobby and you will also not be kicked out.

If things are slow, it will also result in screen stuttering, which is another boring thing that gamers do not want to encounter while playing any game, whether it is in group or solo.

Therefore, M.2 slots that support NVMe SSDs will surely improve your gaming experience by offering optimum performance.

These are much better than SATA which haven’t improved much in the past decade and will surely not get any better in the near future.

On the other hand, NVMe gets faster and faster around and with the more advanced technology it can offer up to five times more bandwidth in comparison to SATA which will make your gameplay even better.

However, remember, everything comes at a cost.

How Many M2 Slots Does a Motherboard Have?

The simplest answer to this question is: it largely depends on a few specific factors such as:

For example, if the M.2 slot supports an NVM express SSD, it should typically come with 4 x PCIe lanes.

Ideally, the more the number of PCI Express lanes available on the motherboard, the more will be the number of M.2 slots available on it.

Usually, you can have anywhere between 1 and 6 M.2 slots on a modern motherboard.

The number will depend on the specific type of form factor, as said earlier.

A smaller motherboard will have fewer M.2 slots than a motherboard which is larger in size.

Here are a few typical examples:

  • An EATX motherboard will have as many as 5 M.2 slots, though the range of it is between 5 and 6 slots
  • An ATX motherboard will have as many as 3 M.2 slots, though the range of it is between 2 and 5 slots
  • A Micro ATX motherboard will have as many as 2 M.2 slots, though the range of it is between 1 and 3 slots and
  • A Mini ITX motherboard will have as many as 2 M.2 slots, though the range of it is between 1 and 2 slots.
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As you can see, the EATX motherboards have the highest number of M.2 slots in them because these are typically considered to be workstation motherboards.

The motherboards with more premium chipsets also tend to have larger number of M.2 slots such as:

  • An Intel Z690 chipset will typically have 4 M.2 slots in it while the range of it is between 2 and 5 slots
  • An Intel H670 chipset will typically have 3 M.2 slots in it while the range of it is between 2 and 4 slots
  • An Intel B660 chipset will typically have 2 M.2 slots in it while the range of it is between 1 and 3 slots and
  • An Intel H610 chipset will typically have only 1 M.2 slots in it while the range of it is between 1 and 2 slots.

However, if you consider a few typical AMD chipsets, the number of M.2 slots will be different such as:

  • The AMD X570 chipset will typically come with 2 to 3 M.2 slots but its range is between 1 and 6 slots
  • The AMD B550 chipset will have as many as 2 M.2 slots though its range is between 1 and 4 slots and
  • An AMD A520 chipset will typically have only 1 M.2 slot though it can support a couple of such slots.

These are just considering the newer Intel 600 series and AMD 500 series chipsets.

Ideally, the Intel Z and AMD X series chipsets will come with the highest number of M.2 slots in them.

They can typically have 3 x M.2 slots on an ATX form factor.

However, in the high-end models, they can have anywhere between 5 and 6 M.2 slots as well.

At this point, it is important to know which M.2 slot you should use first, if your motherboard comes with multiple M.2 slots in it.

For that there are a few things that you should consider beforehand.

First, you will need to check the compatibility of the particular type of SSD you want to use with the motherboard.

This can be done by checking the specs of the motherboard very carefully.

It will mention the specs of each of the M.2 slots.

For example, there may be some specific types of motherboards that may come with only a single M.2 slot and that too with only PCI Express or NVM Express bandwidth support.

On the other hand, there may be other particular types of motherboards with a solo M.2 slot and its support may be restricted to SATA or Serial ATA bandwidth only.

This can be with the motherboards that come with multiple M.2 slots as well.

In some motherboards, the slots may be designed for exclusive use with PCIe and/or NVMe.

Therefore, checking the specs is very important to get the maximum benefits that are offered by the M.2 slots.

However, if you plan to use a SATA-based M.2 SSD, then the choice of M.2 slots typically should not matter much.

You can use any one. But, you should keep in mind that by doing so you may disable some of the SATA ports on the motherboard.

In order to avoid that, you should double check the documentation of the motherboard to figure out which of the ports are put out of action, and, if so, what is the corresponding M.2 slot it is disabled with.

Does M.2 Increase FPS?

As you may know already, simply using an SSD or Solid State Drive will not increase the FPS or Frames per Second.

It is determined by a lot of other factors such as:

Here, the graphics card plays the most important role, followed by the others.

However, there is no way to deny the importance of a good quality SSD to increase the FPS and for that you will need a faster one.

But, if the interface is not fast itself, you will see no notable increase in the FPS and your computing or gaming experience.

Remember, while loading, games only need reading from the storage device and therefore, it is better to ensure it is fast.

This is where the M.2 slots will play a significant role.

If you use an NVMe M. 2 SSD in particular, you will have reduced load times, boot times, and stuttering while loading or playing games.

Therefore, overall, when you upgrade your computer always make it a point to use the M.2 slot to insert a disk.

This will also reduce the number of wires quite significantly and will also work pretty fast.

Since there will be no need to use a cable, your computer will look smarter and more compact.

Conclusion

Now, thanks to this article, you will not wonder looking at a slot on your computer edges whether it is an M.2 slot or any other port.

You must have gained sufficient knowledge about its types, uses, performance and benefits which you can use to figure it out.