If you want to unlock your PC’s full potential, increase its responsiveness, and be the first to load in-game, SSDs are more often than not the most crucial component.

We are lucky to live in a time where the prices of these components are finally becoming more affordable for the average gaming Joe.

Solid State Drives are significantly faster than their older and slower little brother, mechanical drives. They don’t have any moving parts – you can think of them as large flash drives for your PC.

Over the years, even SSD technology has evolved. There have been three SATA generations released since its inception, and now, computer engineers have rolled out NVMe SSDs that use your motherboard’s PCI express port, as opposed to a SATA cable.

Since PCI connections are significantly faster than regular SATA, third generation NVMe SSDs are lightning fast, even when compared to traditional SATA drives (SATA III).

As we look towards the future of storage technology, we see drives that are smaller, faster, and more efficient than ever before. Once SATA cables reached their performance ceiling, computer engineers developed M.2 drives, which are both smaller and faster than traditional SATA SSDs.

Believe it or not, today’s SSDs– despite their smaller form factor– can carry up to 4TB of storage space on a single drive. Still, finding the best NVMe SSD is trickier than it might appear. In this part of the guide, we’re going to discuss what you need to watch out for before you buy.

Compatibility

There are three main factors when discussing SSD compatibility with your desktop or laptop. The form factor, interface, and bus type.

Form Factor

The form factor, or in other words, the size, is the most important to know before making a purchase. You will most commonly find form factors labeled 2.5-inch and M.2.

2.5-inch drives are pretty common today, as most SATA SSDs are 2.5-inch drives mounted in a case’s hard drive bay. In fact, this is the same form factor as a laptop hard-drive. They can be seen in both laptops (if they have the bay for them) and desktops (if they have room for it and the correct SATA interface.)

M.2 drives are very small SSDs that can be used in both laptops and desktops if compatible. They’re usually mounted in your motherboard’s PCIe slot, although some M.2 drives still use SATA connectors. This is something to consider, as it will have a tremendous impact on your drive speed.

Just about every NVMe SSD being sold today uses the M.2 form factor, though there are some exceptions to this rule. Make sure your motherboard is compatible with your SSD before you buy!

Interface

Next, we have the interface, which is different from the form factor. This is the part that is used to connect your SSD into your laptop or desktop. For instance, PCIe SSD interfaces only fit in your desktop.

The SSD’s interface is the method it uses to connect with other components in your system (SATA, PCIe, SATAExpress, etc), as opposed to the form factor, which can be thought of as the size and shape of the drive.

SSDs come in a variety of different interfaces, based primarily on the performance requirements for that particular SSD and your system.

The Serial ATA (SATA) interface, which uses something called a blade-connector and requires a SATA cable, is used with 2.5” SSDs (and also HDDs). M.2 drives contain a single bladed-connector.

Bus Type

Finally, there is the bus type. The bus is basically the data pathway from the SSD to the system. You need to know the type of bus your system has in order to buy an SSD that is compatible with your motherboard. This is where things get sort of confusing, but hang with us.

For example, any SATA SSD drive that you purchase– regardless of its form factor– will require a SATA bus. This is a case where the Serial ATA and the bus are the same.

Some M.2’s use a SATA bus while others– the NVMe drives– use the PCIe bus. The SATA M.2’s don’t use SATA cables, like the 2.5” SSDs, though, hence the different interface. NVMe’s fit into your motherboard’s PCIe slot, which is where it gets its huge speed.

This means you need to be aware of what your motherboard supports as well as what your drive supports. This is sort of a simplified version rundown, though. If you’re still confused, then a great visualization might help, so check out this infographic from the r/PCMasterRace subreddit. You also might find Science Studio’s video on the topic helpful as well.

How Much Storage Do You Need?

You’ll have to consider how much storage you’re already using, as well as how much storage space you think you’re going to need in the future.

The kinds of games you play– AAA games are way bigger than indie titles, after all– and the number of games you like to have installed at one time will be the most important factor to consider when it comes to selecting a storage size. You’ll want at least 250GB for your Windows OS, drivers, and your favorite games. If you want more than 6 or 7 games installed at once, you should probably pick up a 500GB drive instead.

Finally, you should take each drive you are considering and compare its cost per gigabyte. You can find the cost per gigabyte by dividing the price of the drive by the capacity of the drive.

Let’s take the Samsung 970 EVO 500GB, for instance.  The EVO SSD price according to Amazon is at $149 and contains 500GB of storage. 149 divided by 500 is $0.298. That is less than 30-cents per gigabyte.

Use this technique to understand how much you’re actually paying compared to the amount of storage you’re receiving. Often times, SSD performance is pretty similar, so you’re better off going for the cheapest drive that suits your storage needs.

In Conclusion

We understand that searching for the best SSD for your PC can be quite daunting, to say the least. Whether you are an aspiring or experienced PC builder. the search for the perfect SSD isn’t always easy.

In order to make your life a bit easier, remember what to look for:

  • Compatibility
    • Form Factor
    • Interface
    • Bus Type
  • Storage Space You Need
    • Current SSD or hard drive space
    • Accommodate storage for the future
    • Determine price per gigabyte
  • Types of NVMe SSDs
    • PCI Express SSDs
    • M.2 SSDs

We also highly recommend UserBenchmark to compare not just SSDs but also other hardware performance such as CPU and GPU. Check this link to start comparing SSDs performance.

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