M.2 SSDs enable high-performance storage in a small form factor. Compared to SATA III hard drives that are limited to a 600 MB/s transfer rate, M.2 supports the NVMe standard, enabling them to achieve transfer rates of up to 16 GB/s when operating in PCIe 4.0 mode. They are also much smaller in size.
You might be wondering if the increased performance comes at a cost of thermal management and whether you need a heatsink to manage this thermal overhead. In this article, we are going to address this exact issue, and also guide you on how to install a heatsink for your M.2 SSD, should you decide that you need one.
What is an M.2 SSD?
A solid-state drive (SSD) is a flash-based storage device, first invented by Toshiba in 1980. Compared to traditional mechanical hard drives which use spinning magnetic disks as storage media, SSDs have no moving parts. One advantage this provides SSDs over mechanical hard drives is that read and write speeds (both sequential and random) can be over an order of magnitude faster.
Earlier SSDs were compatible with SATA III protocol, which limited their data transfer rates to 600 MB/s, which the mechanical drives could also theoretically achieve. However, SSD technology gradually evolved to adopt the NVMe standard, which could utilize PCI Express lanes for data transfer. This gave the NVMe SSDs a huge leg up over SATA III SSDs.
M.2 is a form factor that SSDs utilize to connect to PCIe bus via NVMe technology. The shape of an M.2 is rectangular, generally looking like a stick of gum, and has an edge connector at one end. The edge connector has 75 positions with up to 67 pins.
An M.2 SSD is 22 mm wide and comes in 30, 42, 60, 80, and 100 mm length varieties. You can usually identify the dimensions of the M.2 drive by its nomenclature. For e.g., a 2280 M.2 SSD is 22 mm wide and 80 mm long.
What is the Normal Operating Temperature for an M.2 SSD?
Most manufacturers specify the normal operating temperature for their M.2 SSD on the manual or published specification for their device. For example, a Samsung SSD 960 Pro has a specified operating temperature of 0 – 70 degrees celsius. Intel SSDs also have a specified operating temperature of 0 – 70 degrees.
You can check your M.2 SSD’s current temperature by using a Windows PowerShell command:
- Press Win + R, type powershell and press Ctrl + Shift + Enter to launch the Windows PowerShell as an administrator.
- At the prompt, type in:
Get-PhysicalDisk | Get-StorageReliabilityCounter | ft deviceid, temperature -AutoSizeand press enter.
This command displays all installed disks and their current temperature.
Is a Heatsink Required for an M.2 Drive?
Given the manufacturer’s specified normal operating temperatures that we discussed in the section above, it is safe to assume that an SSD can operate normally up to a temperature of 70 degrees. A home or gaming PC with SSDs installed rarely reaches this upper-temperature limit while operating normally.
In our own test, we measured a normal operating temperature of 34 degrees. We then put our drive under stress test by launching multiple runs of CrystalDiskMark 8. Our SSD temperature never went above 39 degrees. We had an ambient room temperature of 24 degrees during these tests.
The two most important components of an SSD are the NAND flash, which is the storage component, and the controller chip which interfaces the NAND flash with input/output signals.
It is widely accepted that the NAND flash modules that make up the storage components of the SSD work better when warmer. This is because higher temperatures make the flow of electrons in the NAND flash easier.
On the other hand, overheating controller chips in the SSD could lead to performance issues.
Keeping this in mind, most manufacturers pre-install aluminum stickers in their SSDs which also act as a thermal dissipation unit. For most users, this should be enough for heat management in their M.2 SSD.
However, there are certain scenarios in which it is possible for the temperature of your M.2 SSDs to rise above the recommended maximum. A few such likely scenarios are:
- Workflows that demand high SSD utilization for extended periods of time, such as video editing.
- If the airflow inside your casing is not optimal.
- Mini-PCs with high-performance CPU and GPU crammed inside the casing can raise ambient temperature significantly.
If you find that your M.2 SSD drive is not performing as expected, then you should monitor your SSDs’ temperature. If you find that the temperature regularly rises to levels beyond normal operating temperature, you could install a heatsink for the drive to manage excess heat.
How to Install M.2 SSD Heatsink?
To prepare for installation, first, obtain a heatsink that is compatible with your M.2 SSD. The heatsink assembly consists of the heatsink, the bottom tray, screws, and thermal pads. You will also need tweezers and screwdrivers.
Thereafter, shut down your computer and unplug it. Lay it flat on its side on a suitable substrate such as a table and open its side panel, exposing the motherboard. Make sure to use an anti-static wrist band before handling the components in your motherboard.
We recommend that you refer to the installation manual that came with the heatsink for a proper understanding of various components and the handling process.
Once you’ve completed the above steps, please follow the procedure below to correctly install the heatsink in your M.2 SSD.
- Locate the SSD slot in the motherboard.
- Unscrew the single mounting screw located at the other end from the edge connector.
- Tug and pull the SSD gently to free it from the motherboard.
- Clean it with a brush and microfiber cloth, if required, and lay it on the side in preparation for heatsink installation.
- Retrieve a thermal pad and pull off protective films from one side with a tweezer.
- Align the thermal pad with the bottom tray of the heatsink assembly. Make sure that the exposed surface of the pad is facing the tray, and press it down gently.
- Retrieve a second thermal pad, and pull off protective films from one side with a tweezer.
- Align the thermal pad with the top of the heatsink. Apply the pad to the heatsink by pressing down gently on the side that still has protective film on it.
- Remove the remaining protective film from the pad attached to the tray, taking care not to peel off the pad itself.
- Align the SSD onto the tray. Orient it such that the NAND flashes are facing away from the tray. If the SSD is double-sided, orient it such that the side with the majority NAND flashes is facing away.
- Push down the SSD onto the tray gently to fit it onto the tray.
- Remove the remaining protective film from the heatsink and orient it with the SSD.
- Orient the heatsink with the SSD and press down gently, but firmly until you hear a snapping sound.
- Insert the SSD by plugging the edge connector into the M.2 slot in the motherboard.
- Once the edge connector is fully inserted, push down the SSD and screw the single mounting screw at the other end securely
- Close the back panel, and place the casing back upright.
- Plug the PSU back into the wall socket.
You have now successfully installed a heatsink for M.2 SSD.