Why Are NVMe Drives So Expensive?

All NVMe drives are costlier than SATA SSDs, whether the latter is a 2.5 in (63.5 mm) form factor or uses an M.2 connector. If you check out the latest NVMe drives with sufficient storage capacities, they cost a small fortune.

NVMe drives are expensive because they’re much faster and have greater bandwidth than a SATA SSD. Specifically developed for SSDs, NVMe technology uses the PCIe protocol to eliminate the bottlenecks of SATA interfaces, so solid-state drives perform much better.

Also, NVMe drives have yet to become the industry standard. They are as prevalent as SATA, so they aren’t currently benefiting from economies of scale that can reduce the manufacturing cost per unit and, thus, the retail price.

1. Bandwidth or Lanes

SATA SSDs have limited bandwidth and use only 1 lane. In contrast, NVMe solid-state drives use up to 4 lanes, subject to the motherboard and the different interfaces and protocol standards versions.

The bandwidth factor alone makes NVMe drives capable of delivering around 4 times the data transfer speeds of SATA SSDs. This crucial difference also applies to SATA SSDs using M.2 connectors. The enormous potential is the most significant reason why they’re so expensive.

The enormous bandwidth and other features of the NVMe technology have many effects on the performance of solid-state drives apart from the data transfer speed. However, how much difference you’ll experience in practical scenarios is subject to many variables.

For instance, simple computing may not be demanding enough for you to notice any significant impact of the massive bandwidth. Plus, you need compatible hardware for the latest NVMe drives to deliver up to their potential. 

A PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSD can work with a PCIe 2.0 motherboard, but the drive’s bandwidth and speed will be throttled. The converse isn’t the case, though. A PCIe 2.0 NVMe SSD will perform optimally as expected with a PCIe 3.0 motherboard.

2. Data Transfer Speed

The data transfer speed of SATA III solid-state drives is up to 600 MB/s. In contrast, most NVMe drives can deliver data transfer speeds of around 3,000 MB/s or 3 GB/s. A Gen 4 NVMe drive may clock as high as 7 to 8 GB/s, but actual speeds are subject to the limit of the PCIe lanes.

An NVMe drive in the M.2 form factor can access the x2 or x4 lanes of the PCIe bus. So, connected to the M.2 port won’t deliver more than 4 GB/s. The real-world speed may be a bit slower, which should still be a few galaxies away from what SATA M.2 SSDs can deliver.

In contrast, an NVMe PCIe AIC SSD can potentially deliver even higher data transfer speeds as it is installed directly into a slot. You can use one of the latest motherboards with the PCIe bus featuring x8 and x16 lanes. Thus, the bandwidth and data transfer speeds both may get a boost.

The greater bandwidth and higher speeds of NVMe drives also apply to how fast the SSD might read and write, not just transfer data. Consider the example of sequential read or write speeds. All NVMe drives since Gen 3 can deliver sequential read and write speeds of over 1 GB/s.

Naturally, the significantly faster performance comes at a premium price, so NVMe drives cost more than all SATA SSDs. And the high data transfer speeds are unmistakably notable when you run complex applications or use demanding processes involving the solid-state drive.

3. Designed for SSD

SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) precedes solid-state drives. SATA and AHCI, or Advanced Host Controller Interface, were developed for hard disk drives. Neither interface nor technology was conceived or intended to explore the real potential of solid-state drives.

While both hard disk drives (HDDs) and SSDs can use the AHCI and SATA interfaces, the tech has numerous bottlenecks. The SATA bus doesn’t attain the high speeds a PCIe interface facilitates. Likewise, a PCIe slot doesn’t involve the SATA communication driver to use an SSD.

NVMe drives using an M.2 connector and a PCIe socket can interact directly with the CPU. The higher data transfer speeds and overall performance are partly due to this direct interaction. Of course, the PCIe lanes are a critical component to establish the large bandwidth, to begin with.

NVMe technology is specifically conceptualized and developed for solid-state drives, so these SSDs cost more to account for all the investment and research that led to this innovation.

One may point out that NVMe is not exactly a recent innovation, as it has been around since 2011. However, the counterview of the corporations and investors may be to leverage the accomplishment.

4. PCIe Bus Protocol

SATA solid-state drives are available in the M.2 form factor. However, the SSD will still use the SATA connection protocol and technology, so it won’t have the advantage of using a PCIe bus. The more conventional 2.5 in (63.5 mm) SATA drive doesn’t use the M.2 socket.

The fact that NVMe drives use the PCIe bus standard enables SSDs to improve the following performance attributes:

  • Latency and response times.
  • Queues and threads (commands).
  • Sequential and random throughput.

First of all, neither AHCI nor SATA is designed for parallel execution or plenty of commands being executed simultaneously. Solid-state drives don’t have the problem of ‘seek time’ that causes latency in HDDs. 

This seek time is inevitable because the actuator of a hard disk drive has to move to a point on a spinning platter to read or write. SSDs don’t have such a component, so the connector and interface don’t have to account for the step while executing instructions.

NVMe drives don’t have to deal with seek time or other latency issues. Thus, the response time is consistent and reliable. The gargantuan capacity of NVMe drives to process commands is the other essential attribute that makes SSDs consistent, fast, and reliable.

Both AHCI and SATA have only 1 queue for storage requests. This queue can have a maximum of 32 commands. Hence, you can only have so many instructions for an SSD to execute. NVMe drives can have up to 65,535 queues with as many commands in each of them.

In addition to the high sequential throughput, NVMe solid-state drives can use more queues and threads for random input and output operations per second. Thus, they can process more commands at a faster speed than AHCI or SATA SSDs.

Apart from the technical advancements, the simple removal of SATA cables from the equation enables NVMe drives to have a much shorter path to and from the CPU, which is possible only because these SSDs use the PCIe bus.

The short path is also a reason for the faster data transfer speeds, which is experientially what most users consider when comparing SATA and NVMe drives. That reiterates why they are so expensive.

5. Reduced CPU Overhead

Beyond the enormous bandwidth and faster data transfer speeds, consistent response times, and reduced latency with much higher random and sequential throughput are consequential in the differences between SATA and NVMe drives. The other distinct impact is CPU overhead.

NVMe drives reduce CPU overhead associated with storage by 33% because they need fewer resources. For instance, they don’t require SCSI/SATA translation, which is an extra step if you have AHCI or SATA SSDs. They also require fewer cycles and less time.

Here are the different CPU cycles that NVMe drives and AHCI/SATA SSDs require:

Process / StepNVMe Drive Cycle CountAHCI/SATA SSD Cycle Count
Virtual File System2,0003,000
OS Scheduling & CTX Switch3,0004,500
Block Driver2,5003,000
SCSI/SATA Translation0 (N/A)4,000
Device Driver2,50013,000

Due to the significantly fewer cycles and one less step in the whole process, NVMe drives take around 3 microseconds to complete 1 million input and output operations per second (IOPS) compared to about 30 microseconds required by AHCI/SATA SSDs.

Since NVMe drives reduce CPU overhead and require fewer clock cycles and resources, they don’t engage as many cores as SATA SSDs. This distinction may not be extremely important for consumers, but companies setting up enterprise-grade systems will weigh the financial benefits.

Data centers and servers can extract better performance, faster speeds, and more reliability by using NVMe drives, which reduces the demand for excess cores. The upfront capital investment may be significantly reduced due to the lower specs needed for better efficiency.

The other advantage is power consumption. NVMe drives draw more power than SATA SSDs. However, if you consider gigantic data transfers and the required clock cycles, NVMe drives will take much less time than SATA SSDs to complete an operation, which reduces power usage.

These benefits are certainly on the table for manufacturers when they decide the retail prices of NVMe drives.

6. Smaller Than SATA SSD

Someone is installing an NVMe SSD into a motherboard's M.2 slot.

The most common NVMe drive is the M.2 form factor, which is smaller than a 2.5 in (63.5 mm) SATA SSD. A SATA M.2 SSD is smaller than the 2.5 in (63.5 mm) form factor but still uses the interface, not the PCIe slot.

NVMe drives are the default choice for desktop and laptop brands that make sleeker models because SATA SSDs don’t have the provision for taking as little space as possible. But some NVMe drives are much bigger or longer, such as the PCIe add-in-card (AIC) SSDs.

Since most consumers are likely to consider the M.2 NVMe drive, the smaller size is definitely one of the reasons why it is more expensive than a SATA SSD. Most contemporary PCs and convertible laptops, in particular, are unprecedentedly slender, partly due to NVMe SSDs.

7. Upcoming Industry Standards

SATA solid-state drives are more expensive than HDDs. From 2015 through 2021, SSDs have overtaken HDDs to become the conventional storage device in desktop computers and laptops. However, not all SSDs prevalent nowadays are NVMe, as SATA is still predominant.

As more original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) prefer NVMe drives over SATA SSDs, the latter’s cost will decrease considerably. But they may be expensive until then. This fact is due to the economies of scale.

NVMe drives are undoubtedly more prevalent today than in 2011 but aren’t as common as SATA SSDs. Hence, the quantum of demand and supply is yet to benefit the OEMs of NVMe drives to the extent that the manufacturing cost dips to the level of affordability.

The global market of solid-state drives is poised to expand rapidly in the foreseeable future. The NVMe technology will benefit from the economies of scale, and the costs of various models may decrease significantly.

It’s only time for them to become the industry standard, replacing the SATA SSDs and all the variants. The M.2 NVMe SSD and other drives using the PCIe AIC route might be more of a standard, reducing the cost for consumers and manufacturers.

8. Wider Range of Applications

NVMe drives are currently available in different form factors, enabling you to use SSDs with distinct configurations, such as the following:

  • M.2 (PCIe).
  • PCIe AIC.
  • U.2.

NVMe drives have different compatible connectors and protocols, such as the following:

  • PCIe.
  • SATA.

You can use NVMe drives in the form factor and mounting requisite based on your preferences and system requirements. All of them are backward and forward-compatible. Plus, the U.2 NVMe drives are hot-pluggable.

You don’t need to prepare an enterprise-grade system, such as a server or workstation, to install an NVMe U.2 drive. You can assemble or use such drives as a conventional SATA HDD or SSD. But all such specifications contribute to the fact and explain why they are so expensive.