Solid State Drives might be speedy, but later this year they're about to get even faster when the NVM Express specification arrives. NVMe, or Non-Volatile Memory Host Controller Interface Specification, is a backwards-compatible method of accessing SSDs through SATA Express or PCI Express rather than the aging AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) currently used.
If all that sounds like jargon to you it's because that’s exactly what it is, but it’s the implications for gaming that make it worthwhile exploring this tech. As it stands, when your computer accesses your SSDs it’s already a lot quicker than when grabbing info from your standard hard disk drive, but with this new NVMe tech data access and transfer rates will become even faster and more efficient.
SSDs have been tied to the now-archaic AHCI interface for years now, but this was originally designed for mechanical hard drives and it doesn’t quite cut it now for the demands of today’s solid state drives. AHCI’s reliance on SATA connections means a bottleneck has been hit for SSD connections, but the shift to the ultra-fast PCIe ports means SSD speeds could be many times faster than they are today.
The key to this speed is the low latency seen in PCIe connections, and the possibilities of using multiple lanes rather than a single connection. The NVMe interface was also built from the ground up to support SSDs, and as such is designed for high levels of data transfer and parallelism. Whereas AHCI is limited to a single command queue with 32 command per queue, NVMe is capable of 65,536 concurrent queues, each with 65,536 commands. Multiple command queues running on multiple threads at the same time means a massive boost in performance, all the while at lower power consumption.
The first PCIe-compliant SSD drives have already been announced over the past month, with Western Digital subsidiary HGST, OCZ and others all getting involved. The first drives arriving promise twice the performance and twice the endurance of SSDs without this capability. The market for PCIe-based SSD is expected to grow exponentially going into next year as businesses and users look for lower-latency drives. The upshot for gaming and OS use is that we can expect lightning-quick, or even almost non-existent load times as the game grabs the info from the drive. Those 30-second waits for Battlefield 4 to load up will be a thing of the past, while transitions from indoor to outdoor environments in open-world games could happen in the blink of an eye.