Skip to main content

The NVMe interface built for lightning fast SSDs now supports the humble hard drive

Hard drive internals up close
(Image credit: Pixabay via frenandozhiminaicela)
Audio player loading…

You read that right. The NVMe protocols that allow for super-fast SSD read and write speeds will soon support 'rotational media', i.e. HDDs, hard drives. That won't make your HDD faster in any way—that's still limited by the speed at which the arm inside the drive can actuate—but it does mean there's less reason for SATA to stick around in the future.

Your next upgrade

(Image credit: Future)

Best CPU for gaming (opens in new tab): the top chips from Intel and AMD
Best graphics card (opens in new tab): your perfect pixel-pusher awaits
Best SSD for gaming (opens in new tab): get into the game ahead of the rest

HDD support is arriving alongside the new NVMe 2.0 specification (opens in new tab) (thanks, Anandtech (opens in new tab)), which includes heaps of updates for more effective use and storage using an SSD alongside the spinning platter stuff. NVMe, or Non-volatile Memory Express, is the bridge between an SSD and its host—most often a PC for us lot. It's the most popular interface for modern SSDs found in gaming PCs, and is essentially a way for your SSD to tap into the speeds on offer over the high-bandwidth PCIe bus.

Now you might be wondering why make that available to a spinning platter hard drive that can't hold a candle to PCIe SSD speeds? Realistically, we won't see HDDs suddenly ditching SATA III connectors for some lumbering M.2 slot contraption, it's more for enterprise-grade set-ups chasing simplicity and uniformity.

As per the NVM Express website (opens in new tab), NVMe is targeting a "life after SATA", where one day NVMe wholly replaces the ageing standard. Spinning platters aren't choice storage for gaming machine anymore, but they're not going anywhere for cheap, high capacity storage. A modern alternative for the SATA standard, even for HDDs, is prerequisite if NVMe hopes to replace it.

And HDDs are still getting quicker (opens in new tab), even by today's SSD standards.

"Since SATA 3.0 was ratified many years ago, CPU and NAND flash memory technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, and the SATA interface has become a bottleneck," a blog post on the NVMe website reads.

"While SATA was great for getting SSDs adopted in the data center, data center PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs deliver significantly higher performance, lower latency and relieve the bottleneck between the CPU and flash storage. As future generations of performance driven applications require organizations to rethink their enterprise and data center strategies, SATA will become a thing of the past."

Pile of NVMe SSDs

(Image credit: Unknown)

The rest of the NVMe 2.0 specification just released largely pertains to SSDs directly, and some might even affect those favoured for gaming. The most exciting is a new zoned storage device interface that allows the SSD and host to co-decide on data placement for better performance and higher capacity. 

All the features included with the NVMe 2.0 specification will maintain backwards compatibility with previous generations too, so don't worry about getting left in the dust if you've only just made the upgrade to one of the best NVMe SSDs (opens in new tab).

Jacob Ridley
Jacob Ridley

Jacob earned his first byline writing for his own tech blog from his hometown in Wales in 2017. From there, he graduated to professionally breaking things as hardware writer at PCGamesN, where he would later win command of the kit cupboard as hardware editor. Nowadays, as senior hardware editor at PC Gamer, he spends his days reporting on the latest developments in the technology and gaming industry. When he's not writing about GPUs and CPUs, however, you'll find him trying to get as far away from the modern world as possible by wild camping.