Mixing M.2 NVMe drive brands could save you money on your PC build, but could it cause problems that could reduce performance or even damage your PC?
It is okay to mix M.2 NVMe brands (and PCIe versions) in your PC build. This will not cause any problems unless you are putting your drives in a RAID array. RAID arrays will sync all drives to the M.2 NVMe drive with the slowest speeds and smallest storage which means your PC might be faster without a RAID array if you’re mixing brands.
Let’s take a closer look at this issue and find out why so many PC builders are hesitant about mixing M.2 NVMe drive brands.
A Quick Intro To M.2 NVMe Drives
Technology is always updating and nowhere is this felt than it is in the world of computing. You can probably remember back a few years to blocky gaming graphics, slower download speeds, and measuring storage in the megabyte instead of the gig. Even these standards will be outmoded some day in the near future.
M.2 NVMe drives are the next standard for storing digital information. They are much faster than traditional SATA drives. Their speeds can be more than five times faster than SATA. Here’s how they break down.
That “M.2” is actually just a form factor. It lets you know the shape of the drive and that it’s designed to work with M.2 slots. There are single and double-sided M.2 drives with the double-sided variety offering much more storage.
Overall, M.2 drives have comparable storage limits when compared with SATA SSDs. Their big advantage comes when we combine M.2 form factors with the NVMe data transfer technology.
This is where the speed boosts come in. NVMe is considerably faster than SATA. This is what’s making M.2 NVMe replace SATA storage drives for everyone from video editors to gamers.
The only current trade-off comes with the higher cost of M.2 NVMe drives. This is leading some people to consider mixing a brand-name M.2 NVMe drive that has smaller storage capability with an off-brand drive with higher storage. However, can you mix brands of NVMe drives?
Is It Okay To Mix M.2 NVMe Drive Brands?
It’s perfectly okay to mix two different M.2 NVMe brands together. In fact, there really isn’t any problem you can come up with when you mix different M.2 NVMe brands on the same motherboard. So, why is there a persistent miscommunication that mixing two different M.2 NVMe brands can cause a lot of trouble for people’s computer builds?
The answer is RAM. There are plenty of options for RAM that share similarities with the design of M.2 drives. Mixing different brands and speeds of RAM can cause some performance troubles in your PC.
RAM has a few factors that don’t mix well when changing brands. You can’t mix DDR3 and DDR4 ram, RAM of different sizes can have trouble working together, and the voltage and speed requirements of RAM do not like being mixed.
Yes, you can mix them and most motherboards have software that can sync RAM, but this often comes with performance drops and risks for bugs. When it comes to M.2 NVMe storage drives, this problem just doesn’t exist.
What About Mixing Different PCIe Versions Of M.2 Drives?
Now that we know that mixing different brands is fine, it begs another question: what about mixing different PCIe versions of M.2 drives? As in, if your motherboard has multiple M.2 slots (let’s say both are PCIe 4), is it fine to buy one PCIe 3 drive and one PCIe 4 drive?
It’s generally fine to mix different PCIe versions for your M.2 drives – the only real downside is that you will get slower read/write speeds on the lower PCIe versions. But other than that, it’s fine to have different PCIe M.2 drives in the same PC build.
It’s the same as having two different brands or versions of SATA SSD, or even old-school harddrive storage options. Mixing brands and PCIe versions could cause a few problems, but only when set up in a RAID.
Let’s Talk About RAID
RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. A RAID array is, essentially, a grouping of storage drives that allows separate drives to act as one, large storage drive. This is a great way to boost read / write speeds and gives you some backup and redundancy.
Here are the most common types of RAID arrays.
RAID 0 is a type of RAID array that does not offer any additional redundancy or storage protection. It simply stripes data writing across multiple drives which improves efficiency and can boost read write speeds.
A RAID 1 system is all about redundancy and data protection. RAID 1 combines all of your drives together and then dedicates one half of the total storage to redundancy and back up. Whenever you write data to your RAID 1 array, a copy of that data will be written on the redundancy side of things.
This is an excellent option for individuals who cannot risk losing data. Videographers and photographers often use RAID 1 as a great way to back up the projects that they’re working on for their clients.
RAID 5 offers you a mixture of RAID 0 and RAID 1. This gives you some data protection while still allowing you to prioritize speed and performance.
The tradeoff is that RAID 5 isn’t as fast as RAID 0 or as safe (for your data) as RAID 1.
RAID 10, also called RAID 1+0 is an iteration on RAID 5. It sacrifices nothing to achieve maximum performance with high fault tolerance and data redundancy. You get all the performance of RAID 0 with all the security of RAID 1.
The only tradeoff is that RAID 10 is much more software and hardware intensive than other options.
Now that you’re a RAID expert, how can we use different M.2 NVMe drives in a RAID array?
Can You Set Up An M.2 RAID With Different Brands?
You can absolutely set up a RAID array using M.2 NVMe drives of different sizes. This won’t cause many problems with your RAID array, but you might see a few dips in performance here or there. There is one big reason, however, my people tend to avoid using different brands when building a RAID array.
This is just as true for M.2 NVMe drives as it is for SATA SSDs. The big reason that people don’t like mixing brands is that this usually also means mixing storage capacities.
Two different brands of 1 terabyte drives can be put into a RAID array together without much risk of any problems showing up. However, if you have 1 terabyte drive and 100 gb drive, your RAID array’s storage will be rated to the size of its smallest drive. In our example, this means losing the vast amount of your storage just to get a little performance boost.
So, the takeaway is that it’s fine to mix different brands as long as you make sure that your storage capacities match. Always try to match storage and performance between drives when building a RAID array—otherwise you just wind up losing performance when the array syncs your drives to the slowest and smallest drive.
Are RAID Arrays With Different Brands of M.2 NVMe Drives Worse?
RAID arrays with different brands of M.2 NVMe drives are actually capable of being just as good in performance as RAID arrays with matching brands. There is another thing that we need to consider when it comes to using a RAID array on your home PC.
M.2 NVMe drives are so fast that you might not even notice the performance boost that you’re getting from a RAID array and your day-to-day life. This has been true since the dawn of SATA SSDs and it’s still true today.
You’ll definitely notice a performance boost on your benchmarking and testing. It will technically be a faster and more efficient system, but for most day-to-day uses that boost might not be noticed. What will be noticed is the additional redundancy and data security you have.
Even if you’re not necessarily feeling these fractional speed gains, you will be able to benefit from having storage redundancies that improve the overall safety of your PC. If one of your drives happens to brick, you’ll still have all of your files, software, and games backed up and safe from harm’s way.