What are PCIe SSDs and how to use them as a boot drive for a Dell PC?

What are PCIe SSDs and how to use them as a boot drive for a Dell PC?



This article provides information about PCIe SSD's and how to install a Windows Operating System (OS) on one as the boot drive in your Dell PC


Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. What is a PCIe SSD and how does it work?
  3. Can I install an Operating System on it?
  4. Further Information:

Introduction

This article provides information on the PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) SSD's which were initially available on Dell servers, but are now being offered on other systems. We will take you through what a PCIe SSD (Solid State Drive) is, does and how it does it. We will also cover what's needed to use one of these drives as your boot drive with a Windows Operating System installed and go over any other relevant information that would be useful to know when dealing with this type of device.


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What is a PCIe SSD and how does it work?

PCIe SSD's are solid state drives which do not use the Motherboards SATA Chipset interface to communicate between the SSD and the Windows File system.

They have their own storage controller built into the SSD, which should not be confused with the standard SSD controller chip that all SSDs use. The storage controller in PCIe SSDs uses a driver that is either provided by the manufacturer or by the OS itself. It has to be installed by the SSD user.

PCIe SSDs are not SATA drives, though some may share one or more aspect with SATA drives.

There are a number of ways you can connect a PCIe SSD to your Motherboard:

  • A Standard PCIe slot. (One that is at least x4)
  • An M.2 slot.
Note: Not all SSDs with an M.2 Interface are PCIe SSDs.
  • A U.2 adapter card and cable, that is connected to an M.2 slot or a Motherboard with a U.2 connector built-in. (for a 2.5" form factor with a PCIe Interface.)
  • M.2 PCIe SSDs can be used with an M.2 to PCIe slot adapter card.
Note: When using a PCIe adapter card with multiple x4 SSDs, please remember to fit the card in a slot of equal or greater capacity than the total of the cards. (For example: 2 x4 SSDs fitted in adapter - x8 PCIe slot or greater is needed. x16 is recommended for these cards, which can take up to 4 x4 SSDs.) Failing to do so can result in drives not being detected.

PCIe SSDs increase performance by getting rid of the SATA interface (Which so far has a maximum of 10 channels.) for PCIe. (Which currently has a maximum of 25 channels.) This makes it particularly suitable for buffering and caching applications. PCIe is a multipurpose bus designed to put through all kinds of data to the processor. However it's lack of specialisation makes programming difficult. This means you could see a trade off between interoperability and performance.

There are two types of non-Physical Interface. AHCI and NVMe.

AHCI

(Advanced Host Controller Interface) is the same protocol used by SATA SSDs.

NVMe

(Non Volatile-Memory Express) is a protocol designed specifically for SSD storage. It shares nothing with SATA and replaces AHCI with a better method of dealing with solid state storage. PCIe NVMe SSDs also have their own NVMe storage controller built into the drive.


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Can I install an Operating System on it?

Supported Windows Operating Systems

You can use Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and 10. (Some drive manufacturers say both 32 & 64bit work - while others advise only the 64bit versions work correctly.)

Installation on Windows 7 can be difficult, especially with a PCIe NVMe SSD drive. There is a Windows 7 Hotfix for this issue available on the link below :

Supported BIOS Types

The UEFI BIOS is currently the only one which supports these devices.

Always make sure you have the latest revision of your BIOS installed.

Make sure that your BIOS is configured to use the EFI boot loader.

Pre-install Instructions

Here are some different methods to get a PCIe SSD ready for a Windows Installation.

Usually the commonest and easiest way to get into the BIOS on a Dell PC is to tap rapidly on the <F2> key at the Dell Splash screen during the system start up. This should take you straight into the BIOS on most systems.

Method 1

  1. CSM (Compatibility Support Module) is enabled by default on the Boot screen in your BIOS. Click on CSM to show further options.

  2. Look for the option Launch Storage OpROM Policy within CSM. Change the default setting from Legacy Only to UEFI Only.

  3. In the Storage Configuration screen the SATA mode is default set to AHCI, which can change to RAID or IDE. (DO NOT set IDE at any point.) Most often this will be left as AHCI, as you may be using additional SATA drivers or have one of the AHCI PCIe SSDs.

  4. Save and Exit from the BIOS and then go back into it.

  5. Your PCIe SSD drive may not show in the Storage Configuration screen or Boot Order List, but make sure your Windows Installation Media (Whether USB or Optical Drive) does show in the Boot Order list.

  6. You should see UEFI: <Installation Media Device Name> entry in the list. (Where <Installation Media Device Name> is the Device you have the installation media on.)

  7. If you see one with an AHCI prefix - Ignore it. You must use the one with the UEFI prefix.

  8. Once you've selected the UEFI entry, Save and Exit from the BIOS again. The Windows Installation should begin.

  9. The windows Install is as normal. Follow a guide appropriate for the version you are installing.

  10. Once Windows has installed, the boot drive should show in the BIOS Boot Order list as Windows Boot Loader or Windows Boot Loader : <SSD Name>, depending on your BIOS version.

  11. Remember if you are using a PCIe NVMe SSD, install the driver from the drive's manufacturer.

Method 2

  1. CSM (Compatibility Support Module) is enabled by default on the Boot screen in your BIOS. Click on CSM and set it to Disabled.

  2. This has the same effect within Launch Storage OpROM Policy as changing the default setting to UEFI Only.

  3. For this method the video source of your PC must be Graphics Output Protocol (GOP) compatible. (A fully utilized UEFI firmware requires this because it's an EFI graphics protocol.)

  4. In the Storage Configuration screen the SATA mode is default set to AHCI, which can change to RAID or IDE. (DO NOT set IDE at any point.) Most often this will be left as AHCI, as you may be using additional SATA drivers or have one of the AHCI PCIe SSDs.

  5. Save and Exit from the BIOS and then go back into it.

  6. Your PCIe SSD drive may not show in the Storage Configuration screen or Boot Order List, but make sure your Windows Installation Media (Whether USB or Optical Drive) does show in the Boot Order list.

  7. You should see UEFI: <Installation Media Device Name> entry in the list. (Where <Installation Media Device Name> is the Device you have the installation media on.)

  8. If you see one with an AHCI prefix - Ignore it. You must use the one with the UEFI prefix.

  9. Once you've selected the UEFI entry, Save and Exit from the BIOS again. The Windows Installation should begin.

  10. The windows Install is as normal. Follow a guide appropriate for the version you are installing.

  11. Once Windows has installed, the boot drive should show in the BIOS Boot Order list as Windows Boot Loader or Windows Boot Loader : <SSD Name>, depending on your BIOS version.

  12. Remember if you are using a PCIe NVMe SSD, install the driver from the drive's manufacturer.

Method 3

  1. Ensure the latest compatible version of a UEFI BIOS is installed on your PC.

  2. Set the Boot Order list in your BIOS so that the Windows Installation Media source is first. (Be that a thumb drive or optical drive.)

  3. Save and Exit the BIOS and the Windows installation should begin.

  4. On the Where do you want to install Windows? prompt :

    • If the SSD is listed, select it and click next.

    • If the SSD isn't listed then :

      1. Click Load Driver

      2. Navigate to the location you have saved the file from the manufacturer.

      3. Select the file and load it.

  5. Your SSD should now be listed, select it and click on next.

  6. Follow the remainder of the installation instructions until the install is complete.

  7. In the BIOS set the SSD to be the Primary Boot device.

  8. Save and Exit the BIOS.

  9. Boot to Windows and open the Device Manager for your OS Version.

  10. Under Storage Controllers find your device and right click on it and select Update Driver Software.

  11. Navigate to where you have saved the latest version and load it.

  12. Reboot your PC to finalise the installation.

Note: Best Practice for installing a Windows operating system is to only have the desired boot drive powered during installation.


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Further Information:

M.2 SSDs

When identifying your drive, please take into account that there are a number of different drives that share certain characteristics. For example: M.2 SSDs are SATA drives are commonly available and are more commonly used than PCIe SSDs. While these drives can share the M.2 interface, the part of the drive that connects to the M.2 slot has a different Key configuration depending on the drive type. M.2 SATA SSDs have two slots in the interface connector, while M.2 PCIe SSDs have only one slot in the interface connector.

Non Standard PCIe SSDs

There are some PCIe SSDs that don't follow the M.2 interface. They tend to use a x8 PCIe slot interface, not the standard x4 interface. These drives also tend to be configured as RAID 0 arrays using two sets of NAND chip groupings with their own SSD controllers. There are other's out there, each with a decreasing chance of you ever coming across them.


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Article ID: SLN300820

Last Date Modified: 10/15/2018 03:06 AM


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