Part of building a new PC is chasing the highest possible specs. However, with great performance comes great responsibility.
The quest for high stats can cause serious heating issues inside your PC. Today’s high-end SSDs and GPUs get packed in tightly on a performance motherboard. This is a recipe for overheating and the risk of serious failures.
Your M.2 SSD and GPU can overheat if your M.2 slot (especially PCIE 4.0) is too close to the GPU. You can mitigate this heat risk by adding a heatsink to your M.2 SSD, moving your components further apart, or adding aftermarket fans for additional cooling. Overeating SSDs can lead to serious problems and even brick entire components.
Let’s figure out how to cool down the hottest tech.
Can Your NVMe M.2 Slot Overheat Your GPU?
You might be surprised to hear this, but your M.2 SSD can definitely overheat your graphics card. The reverse is also true: your GPU can overheat your PCIE 4.0 M.2 slot and cause failures in your M.2 SSD. These two devices put out a lot of heat and when they get too close to each other, that heat has nowhere to dissipate.
Indeed, the GPU is often the hottest component in your computer:
This raises a big problem, which has to do with motherboard layouts. If your M.2 slot is right next to the slot for your GPU, you’re going to have possible overheating issues:
Budget PCIE 4.0 M.2 SSDs don’t usually have any built-in heat dissipation, and any heat dissipation built into your GPU is going to be designed to handle the GPU’s heat, not heat from other devices.
These heating problems can cause some serious issues.
M.2 SSD Overheating Issues
Your SSD has an optimal temperature range while it’s running. This is usually around 0ºC to 70ºC (i.e. 32ºF to 158ºF). Your SSD gives you the best performance within this range and starts to show worse results outside of this range.
The higher you go over that upper limit, the more problems you are going to encounter. Overheating instances can throttle performance and even force a shutdown if your PC gets too hot. That can cost you valuable unsaved data, corrupt running programs, and even ruin your online gaming session.
A critical overheating incident can even brick your SSD. Go too much over that 70ºC and your brand-new PCIE 4.0 M.2 SSD could be toast. These sudden overheating incidents aren’t even the biggest threat facing a PCIE 4.0 M.2 SSD with heating issues.
M.2 SSD Prolonged Heat Exposure Issues
Heat exposure is a long-term issue for tech. A few trips to the upper bounds of safe operating temperatures is usually no big deal, but spending long days running on max will dramatically shorten your device’s lifespan and compromise its performance.
Repeated high heat cycles will cause serious damage to your devices overall performance. If you have a fully turned PC that demands optimum performance, you’ll feel these losses much more often than your average user. These problems can include data loss, corruption, and slower load times.
We need to look at data integrity on its own.
That data loss and corruption we mentioned earlier is more than just a .jpg being deleted. These can eat into core system files or vital program files for games and software. This increases the frequency of crashes which snowballs into more problems.
The last aspect of prolonged heat damage we should talk about is longevity.
You spent some hard earned cash on that M.2 SSD and the last thing you want is to have to buy a new one. Warranties can be picky about what they cover and some have strict policies about overheating and heat damage. Getting a hold of temperatures in your PC helps keep your devices running longer.
How to Cool Down Your PCIE 4.0 M.2 Slot
We have a bad habit of focussing too much on certain stats when we look at performance. We can lose sight of core system requirements in favor of more flashy features. However, getting your PC’s temperature right will not only improve your performance, but ensure you can enjoy those benchmarks until it’s time to upgrade.
Here’s how you can keep your PCIE slots cool.
Use the Included Heatsink
Here’s the first up on our quest to lower the heat that’s coming off of your M.2 SSD.
Most of today’s high-end motherboards come with a heatsink for their new NVMe M.2 slots:
This heat sink is designed to help absorb some of the extra heat that’s coming off of these high-performance drives. You can use this included heatsink to your advantage when you’re trying to lower the risk of overheating.
It’s worth pointing out that the included heatsinks aren’t usually the best quality. You might want to consider upgrading to a heatsink from a third-party manufacturer. These can improve your performance by around 5 degrees Celsius. That might not sound like a lot, but it could be the difference between getting extra performance and a few more years out of your SSD.
Try Third-Party Thermal Pads & Heatsinks
Thermal pads (like the blue pads pictured above) and heatsinks have emerged as a serious contender when it comes to connecting heatsinks to devices. However, did you know that thermal pads can actually be used on their own and to improve the temperature in your PC?
They definitely don’t have enough heat mitigation for bigger devices on their own, but they can be a great choice for knocking some of the temperature off of your SSD. You can even cut thermal pads to size to make sure that you get optimal coverage on your drives.
Using a thermal pad on your SSD might be enough to bring everything back down into the manufacturer’s recommended operating temperature range.
Alternatively, you can buy third-party heatsink kits. Some of these are quite simple – they are literally a thermal pad (which you put on the M.2 drive), a metal heatsink – and a rubber band (yep, you read that right!) to keep the parts together:
Alternatively, it can be a multi-layered heatsink that is screwed together for the best performance:
In my case, I used a simple ELUTENG heatsink pack for under a tenner and it has led to fairly good M.2 temps of 45-55 degrees celcius.
Downgrade to a PCIE3 M.2 Drive
The next solution might be a little difficult to face, but it could also be the best way to protect your expensive GPU.
You can downgrade your high-end PCIE4 M.2 drive to a humble PCIE3 M.2. This will lower the overall performance, but it will also drop the temperature. This could also save costs if you’re building a new PC and concerned about the heat coming off of the monster GPU that is taking up most of your build’s budget.
Some builds might not even need the full performance of PCIE4 M.2 drives. PCIE3 could offer enough power and speed to meet your gaming or computing needs.
Alternatively, if your motherboard has some PCIE3 slots and some PCIE4 M.2 slots, you can always purchase a PCIE4 M.2 drive but put it into your motherboard’s PCIE3 M.2 slot – which will have the same effect (i.e. lower read/write speeds of the drive, and so lower temperatures too).
Cool Your Graphics Card More
It stands to reason that the cooler your graphics card is, the cooler any M.2 drives (below it) will be. So if you were to increase your GPU’s fan speed, this will subsequently cool down your M.2 drive. Thanks to Wayne in the comments for this tip:
I used MSI Afterburner to make a new fan speed curve that doubled the GPU fan speed as it got close to 70degC. The extra airflow dropped my M2 drive temperature to 50degC or less.Wayne, Comments section.
So if you were to use a program like MSI Afterburner, you can potentially increase the rate at which your graphics card’s fans run – with no real change to the sound from the fans. This will then cause the GPU temperatures to drop, cooling the M.2 drives too.
You can also use AMD Radeon: Adrenaline Edition to manually set some of the GPU’s fans settings:
Move Components Around
The next one of these fixes is moving some of the components around on your motherboard.
This way of lowering the temperature in your PC really depends on the layout of your motherboard. This is going to be an easy fix for some and literally impossible for others. It all depends on how your motherboard arranges its PCI slots.
The goal here is to get your GPU and your SSD further apart from each other. This might mean choosing suboptimal slots for your drives, but at the end of the day we’re trying to improve performance overall. It’s worth it to take a slight drop in performance in order to protect the investment you’ve made into your PC.
In my case, I have chosen to put a PCIE 4.0 SSD drive into the PCIE 4.0 M.2 slot of my Asus B550M-Plus motherboard. This is not below my graphics card, and it leads to sub-50°C temperatures:
I then put my slower (and hence cooler) PCIE 3 M.2 drive underneath my graphics card, which is a bit hotter – but since it’s PCIE 3, it’s not too hot (at 50-55°C temps):
Now we have to talk about air flow inside of your PC.
Whether you are using a fluid cooled system or you have a traditional fan setup, you might need to improve the airflow around your PCI slots in order to lower the overall heat. There’s a good chance that your motherboard was designed without really considering the airflow around these components. You might need to add third-party fans to improve the air circulation and cool down your SSD.
One thing you can do is to aim a fan directly at your PCI slots. This will ensure they get a constant supply of air circulation which will wick away heat and help keep the temperature down.