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The M.2 Expansion Slot

August 3, 2017

There’s a new open format sweeping the world of performance PCs, and it’s…well, complicated. The M.2 format is designed for manufacturers to replace a variety of specific devices, do it in a tiny space, and require very little power. But actually upgrading to an M.2 drive or accessory requires a little forethought.

Where Did M.2 Come From?

Formerly known as Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF), the M.2 format is technically a replacement for the mSATA standard,  which was popular with manufacturers of super-compact laptops and other small gadgets. That may seem surprising, since most M.2 drives sold at retail are intended for use in full-sized desktops, but M.2 has effectively replaced mSATA hard drives and SSDs in compact laptops like Apple’s MacBook or Dell’s XPS 13. They’re simply sealed within the bodies and unable to be upgraded by most users.

What Can It Do?

M.2 is more than just an evolutionary form factor. Potentially, it could supersede the whole aging Serial ATA format altogether. M.2 is a slot that can interface with SATA 3.0 (the cable that’s probably connected to your desktop PC’s storage drive right now), PCI Express 3.0 (the default interface for graphics cards and other major expansion devices), and even USB 3.0.

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