What is an M.2 Heatsink? When to Use? Pros, Cons & Tips.

M.2 types of SSDs are slightly more expensive than their 2.5 SATA counterparts as they offer faster speeds. Even better, they plug right into the motherboard, further requiring less physical space and reducing the wire clutter.

However, plugging into the motherboard can sometimes be a double-edged sword, as it would mean the SSD is in a tightened space that might have poor airflow – and, therefore, they can overheat.

Consequently, they require a proper cooling solution, which is where M.2 heatsink comes in.

But is a heatsink the right cooling solution? And what condition becomes necessary to use heatsinks for M.2 SSD cards?

An Absolute Guide to a M.2 Heatsink

Lets first know the,

Recommended Temps For M.2 SSD

An M.2 SSD offers incredible SSD storage you need at amazing speeds, but this makes them overheat. After all, when you pack a lot of power in a concise space, it is bound to cause overheating. 

These SSDs can quickly heat up and reach upwards of 80°C; the safe operating range for most M.2 SSDs is between 0°C – 70°C. The longevity of these drives is even better if the temps stay below 50 degrees (more on SSD temps later).

Consequences of M.2 Drives Overheating

Understandably, you’d want an M.2 SSD instead of the SATA drive – as M.2s are faster, and there’s no cable clutter. However, this does have to come with some negative consequences along with overheating:

To avoid these issues, you can either have frequent component replacement (which is obviously unproductive), or you can take the easier path and install a heatsink for your SSD.

What is a Heatsink (Specifically for an M.2 SSD)?

A heatsink is a component attached to devices to help dissipate heat away. They can be of two types: the “active” one has a fan attached, and you have seen these in CPU, and GPU coolers; the “passive” one has no fan attached and they rely on convection and radiation to cool the device passively. This second “passive” type is a heatsink to cool M.2 SSDs.

M.2 Heatsink cooling types

Do M.2 SSDs Need A Heatsink?

Using a heatsink for your M.2 SSD, like PCIe NVMe, prolongs the life of the SSD by preventing overheating. The negative consequences of overheating have been mentioned above. Look at the temperature comparison below and decide if a heatsink is necessary for your M.2 SSD card.

Temperature Comparison

The test was performed by Tech Illiterate, I have summarized the results here for you:

  • The SSD card is Samsung PM981 NVME
  • Results are grabbed from Crystal Disk Mark 6 stress test
  • The test was performed without a heatsink and with 4 different heatsinks
    • Elutang 15g heatsink
    • Pelote 22g heatsink
    • Motherboard’s 30g native heatsink
    • Rocket 99g Nvme Heatsink
Test for M.2 heatsink

From the graph, you can see that the yellow line has higher values right off the bat. As there’s no heatsink, the SSD runs hotter and reaches a maximum temp of 64°C at high loads.

Now, this is a highend SSD with a decent airflow in the system, and yet it gets closer to the intended temp range (below 70°C).

With a cheap Elutang heatsink (white lined in the graph) (costs about $15), you can easily reduce the temps of your M.2 SSD.

Pros And Cons of M.2 Heatsink

  • Prevents M.2 from overheating & further Thermal Throttling.
  • Lowers the temperatures of M.2 Card.
  • Prolongs the life of M.2 drive.
  • Prevents data corruption or loss of data
  • Avoids slow loading
  • Prevents data corruption or loss of data
  • Aftermarket heatsinks cost extra
  • Might be space-constrained on Motherboard
  • Might be susceptible to being underutilized
  • Can have compatibility issues

So, When You Install a Heatsink For Your M.2 SSD?

The only scenario where you don’t need a heatsink for your M.2 SSD is when you use your system for some casual browsing and light office work such as spreadsheets or docs. Since you installed an M.2 SSD for your system, you plan to use the PCs seriously. Therefore, you might need a heatsink.

The good news is that most motherboards with M.2 slot already have a heatsink installed as manufacturers know M.2s can heat up fast since most are confined with poor airflow. Therefore, the heatsink is always recommended.

Keep an eye on your M.2 SDD card temperature. If it constantly goes above 70 degrees, then there is a indication of need to install a heatsink to dissipate the heat.

How To Install The Heatsink For M.2 SSD?

In case your motherboard doesn’t have a heatsink for M.2, don’t worry; you can install one yourself in 3 simple steps.

You can buy at your local computer shops or order one online but do make sure you don’t purchase a heatsink that might interfere with other components of your system.

Install an M.2 Heatsink in 4 Quick Steps

  1. Start by removing the heatsink’s base to apply a thermal pad at this location. Peel off the plastic film to make the thermal pad adhere and perform properly.
  2. You have to place the M.2 SSD on the thermal pad, and both will be placed on the heatsink base.
  3. Apply a second thermal pad on top of your SSD, similar to step 1.
  4. Align the notch on the heatsink and double-check that it matches the screw location of the M.2 SSD.
  5. Now, tighten the screws of the SSD onto the heatsink. You will have to snap the heatsink into place to tighten the screws properly.

All done! That’s how you simply install the heatsink. Make sure the heatsink is snapped into place, isn’t loose, and is properly aligned.

Should You Install An Aftermarket Heatsink? Or the native Heatsink is Enough?

When your motherboard doesn’t come with a heatsink, it can be hard to find an one without compatibility issues. But if they do, here are some reasons for getting an aftermarket heatsink; as well as reasons to stick with built-in heatsink could be a good idea.

  • Motherboard manufacturers often try to keep the cost of their boards competitive, so they may use cheaper materials or cut corners when making the heatsink. Therefore, the included heatsinks might only be mediocre. That’s why some people choose to buy an aftermarket heatsink instead.
  • Even though the heatsinks inbuilt are average, they still get an appropriate cooling job (proven by some test results) – Just observe yourself using apps like HWmonitor to monitor temp sensor.
  • Custom-made heatsinks have a nice flare. Building a PC is mostly about performance, but who doesn’t want some style in their builds? Custom-made heatsinks offer unique designs, LED lights, and the option to select your favorite RGB color.
  • Style is appreciated, but performance is always the top priority. The utility and usefulness of any component always come first before any style. Aftermarket heatsinks can offer the highest build quality with top-notch materials. 
  • You might need to pay additional for an aftermarket heatsink.
  • You might need to consider the issues of fit with an aftermarket heatsink.

FAQs

Can I install M.2 SSD without a heatsink?

Yes, you can install M.2 SSD without a heatsink. However, adding a compatible heatsink can help dissipate heat and handles high temps so if you encounter overheating issues or thermal throttling, during intensive workloads, it is good to go.

At what temp of NVMe heatsink becomes important?

It is recommended to run NVMe at around 50°C to keep them healthy for a longer lifespan. Their reliable temperature range is 0°C – 70°C. However, without a heatsink, their temp can quickly shoot above 85°C. Therefore, the heatsink becomes important if your NVMe drive’s temperature is going above 70°C.

Does laptop M.2 SSD need a heatsink?

Most M.2 SSDs have built-in heat heatsinks, sufficient for general laptop usage scenarios. But when you use your laptop for extreme workloads such as gaming or video editing (which many do), you will need a heatsink for your SSD. Laptops typically have limited airflow, so a heatsink is recommended.

Can M.2 heatsink fit in a laptop?

Some laptops have proprietary M.2 slots incompatible with standard M.2 SSDs or heatsinks. Therefore, whether a heatsink can fit inside your laptop depends on factors such as the type of laptop, the size of the heatsink, and the location of the M.2 slot.

Can I run an NVMe without a heatsink?

Yes, the NVMe will run without a heatsink. But should you? Most NVMe drives have their heatsinks. However, they aren’t enough to prevent overheating. The good news is that motherboards typically include a heatsink for M.2 drives, which is adequate to cool NVMe drives.

Wrapping Up

M.2 SSDs are designed to run cooler than their SATA competitors, but their processing power often heats them during intensive use, including limited airflow inside the PC case like SFF and Mini PC case.

Therefore, you need a heatsink to keep its temperatures in check. Any type of M.2 heatsink will do, but you can also install an aftermarket heatsink. 

Keeping the M.2 drive’s temp in check is important because otherwise, you might corrupt your data or lose all of it! Furthermore, overheating will degrade the component’s life, and you will find yourself replacing your M.2 SSD more frequently than you would want.

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