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How to add fast M.2 accessories to your Raspberry Pi 5

This add-on is a great way to support your interesting development projects.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Raspberry Pi M.2 HAT+ for Pi 5
Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • Raspberry Pi M.2 HAT+ for Pi 5 is available to pre-order now from CanaKit, PiShop.US, and Sparkfun for about $12. 
  • An easy way to add M.2 peripherals to the Raspberry Pi 5.
  • Could cause overheating under certain circumstances.

The Raspberry Pi 5 is, without a doubt, the best Raspberry Pi to date. Unlike its predecessor, it's quite easy to acquire, and it's a solid, robust platform for building projects. Additionally, the Raspberry Pi 5's single-lane PCI Express 2.0 interface makes connecting M.2 peripherals such as NVMe drives and AI accelerators easy.

Also: Best M.2 SSD drive

A Raspberry Pi HAT (Hardware Attached on Top) that I've been keen to test is the M.2 HAT+. Having now had a chance to use it, I have to say I'm impressed. This add-on could enable the Pi 5 to be used in interesting projects.

View at Sparkfun

Raspberry Pi M.2 HAT+

  • PCIe interface: PCIe 2.0 (can be set to 3.0 by the user)
  • M.2 compatibility: M-key 2230 and 2242
  • Power: Up to 3 amps
  • Performance: Up to 450 MB/s
  • GPIO: Pass-through via included 16mm stacking header
  • Dimensions: 65mm x 56.5mm
  • Supplied hardware: 16mm stacking header, threaded spacers and screws, and knurled double-flanged thumbscrew to secure and support the M.2 peripheral

The M.2 HAT+ attaches to the 16-pin, 0.5mm pitch FPC connector on the Pi 5's board with a short ribbon cable:

This cable connects the HAT to the Pi 5

This cable connects the HAT to the Pi 5.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

This connector is normally easily accessible, but because all my Pi 5's are in cases I had to remove the board to fit the PCIe cable:

Removing the Pi 5 from the case to fit the PCIe cable

Removing the Pi 5 from the case to fit the PCIe cable.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Someone with smaller hands or more patience might be able to fit the cable with the board in the case, but I have big hands and little patience.

Also: Finding Raspberry Pi: Where to buy the latest model and its alternatives

If you need to use -- or think you might need -- the GPIO pins, remember to fit the stacking header to bring the headers to the HAT:

Remember the stacking header!

Remember the stacking header.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

With the cable fitted, it's time to secure the board to the risers, and we're then ready to fit the M.2 peripheral:

Ready to go!

Ready to go.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

With the HAT installed, it's time to fit an M.2 peripheral. 

Also: These are my 3 must-have Raspberry Pi accessories

Many M.2 peripherals are available, from storage drives to AI accelerators. Here, I'm going to use an M.2 SSD. This area is where the official Raspberry Pi M.2 HAT+ differs from other M.2 HATs I've used -- yes, there are others out there -- because the peripheral worked straightaway and I didn't encounter compatibility issues with any of the storage drives I tested. 

For the performance tests, I used a 256GB Transcend M.2 PCIe Gen3x4 2230 NVMe drive that combines good-quality performance and reliability, and has a competitive price tag.

Transcend M.2 PCIe NVMe drive fitted to the M.2 HAT+

Transcend M.2 PCIe NVMe drive fitted to the M.2 HAT+.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

The drive is secured using a knurled thumbscrew:

The drive is secured to the M.2 HAT+ using a knurled thumbscrew

The drive is secured to the M.2 HAT+.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Setting up the drive is quite straightforward if you've already done some work with your Raspberry Pi, and the process is well-documented on the Raspberry Pi website

I tested the performance of the M.2 HAT+ and got figures hovering around 410 MB/s, which is more than acceptable, and I could probably optimize this figure more given the time. But for these tests, I kept everything stock. 

One thing that I did notice when stress-testing and benchmarking was that the M.2 HAT+ and SSD drive remained quite cool in use. However, because the cooler was sandwiched between two boards, I noticed temperatures spike to 60°C/140°F, and the hottest bit was in the gap in the HAT. 

It gets quite hot between the two boards

It gets quite hot between the two boards.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

While not a problem, I could see this heat possibly becoming an issue if the project is housed in different cases, in higher-temperature environments, or if the hardware is pushed harder.

But other than that potential issue, this HAT, and the Pi 5, performed flawlessly.

ZDNET's buying advice

Need to add M.2 peripherals to your Raspberry Pi 5? While you might be able to get away with using one of the many third-party HATs that are out there, I do like the performance and reliability of this official M.2 HAT+. And for $12, it's a no-brainer choice.

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