When it comes to networking, speed and storage go hand in hand. Low storage leads to slow speed. The processor of your PC is the chief component responsible for speed. However, even if you manage to have the fastest, most efficient processor, you cannot realize its full potential if your storage device has limited capacity, is low-quality, or is defective. A fast CPU is like a Formula 2 car on a bumpy track. Even though a CPU can perform a billion cycles per second, it depends on the storage device to receive data.
The two most common types of storage devices are HDDs and SSDs. HDDs are our traditional rotating drives that have been in use for over 50 years. They are mechanical drives and slower than their electronic competition, SSDs, which are a modern form of storage. HDDs rely on their rotating platters and read/write arm to access and store data. Although they have become much more capacious and faster, they still cannot surpass the performance of SSDs.
Due to this fact, it is generally better to pair up your CPU with an SSD. However, the question is what makes an SSD the best SSD for you. With a huge range of options and a multitude of manufacturers in the market claiming their products to be better than others, it could be quite a challenge to find the right SSD. Also, selecting an SSD is the game of getting the most expensive and the most advanced one. The selection should be based on your specific requirements, which makes the process even more time-taking and complicated. A single mistake could cost you an arm and a leg—well, not literally. Although you are not required to have a specialization in storage, having a know-how of the different types of SSDs along with an idea about your system’s requirements and compatibility can go a long way toward helping you build an efficient PC.
The two most common types of SSDs are SATA and PCIe. With the advent of super-sophisticated SSDs, such as Intel’s 600p and 665p series, SATA may appear to be bidding farewell. However, the 870 EVO from Samsung shows that the departure of our good old friend is that soon. HDDs are likely to hang around much longer given that they continue to drop in price.
Nevertheless, as there is no end to technology, PCIe 4.0 M.2 SSDs provide the highest bandwidth. However, to use these drives at full throttle, you need to have an AMD B550 or X570 board, or Intel’s Z590 paired up with a Rocket Lake-S processor. However, the average user will hardly notice all its advantages other than the higher speed.
As explained above, your system’s requirements and compatibility should define your choice. Here are a few important points to consider when buying an SSD.
SSD Type: SATA vs. PCIe.
Among the many different types of drives, the two most popular ones are SATA and PCIe. Although they each have their own pros and cons, the type you choose should depend on your system’s requirements. If your system supports the latest technology PCIe 4.0, go ahead and get a drive that offers it. Or else, you are better off with a SATA drive, which is more common and useful for almost all general purposes and costs much less than its successors.
SSDs differ by the interface they use. SATA was essentially meant for hard drives, which were typically used in desktop computers. SATA-interface SSDs, however, are built for laptops. PCIe, which is the latest interface, offers much higher bandwidth. The latest M.2 SSDs come with both of these interfaces. However, most M.2 SSDs feature NVMe.
If your daily tasks include web browsing, office software, or even gaming, most NVMe SSDs are not going to be significantly faster than their less-expensive SATA equivalents. An NVMe SSD would be a better choice only if you do a lot of heavy work on a regular basis, such as large file transfers, high-resolution video or photo editing, transcoding, or compression/decompression. Able to handle higher productivity demands better, these SSDs have up to four times the bandwidth of SATA drives.
Furthermore, certain NVMe drives (such as the Intel 660p) are approaching the price range of many SATA SSDs. So, even if you are in no need of increased speed, you might want to consider NVMe if your PC supports it and you find a good deal.
The more, the better. It definitely holds true when it comes to storage capacity, as your data keeps piling up over time and you do not want to be bothered about having to buy another drive tomorrow. Having higher capacity than what is needed for your current data allows you space for future storage and significantly cuts costs in the long term. However, buying too much is not a good idea either.
Just keep in mind that anything below 500GB is a red flag. Just don’t go below it. 500GB should be your starting point. However, since 1TB drives are only slightly more expensive than 500GB, they should be even better. A 1TB drive can accommodate all your media and programs as well as gaming collections while leaving ample space for future needs. If you are the type that goes a bit extra when hosting a dinner, 2TB may be worth it for you, by allowing you to save huge amounts of data and install multiple advanced games and applications without having to uninstall any.
For 4GB, you should have a justification. You really should have as high storage requirements, and they are mostly when you are a creative professional or gaming enthusiast. 1TB or 2TB should otherwise be an ideal option for you. For quite some time now, Samsung has been producing 4TB consumer drives, but many other companies have limited their consumer storage to 2TB. Corporate storage, however, is much higher and costlier.
There are three major form factors, plus one unique outlier.
2.5-inch SATA: Featuring the SATA interface, this is the most common form factor. Drives that employ this form factor look like a regular laptop hard drive. If your laptop or workstation has a 2.5-inch storage slot and an extra SATA connector, these drives can be easily installed.
AIC (Add-In Card): Drives employing this form factor are much faster than many other drives since they feature the PCI Express interface rather than SATA, which was designed for hard drives. Furthermore, they have more PCIe lanes than standard M.2 drives. AIC drives can be installed into board slots intended for high-end graphics cards or RAID controllers. That means they will only work on desktop computers and will require a PCIe x4 or x16 slot to connect.
If you have a compact desktop with a built-in graphics card, you may not be very lucky. However, if your desktop has enough space and a spare slot, these drives (such as the Intel Optane 900p) can be among the fastest available options. Moreover, their larger surface area supports better cooling, which is required for the heat generated as a result of the faster data transfer rates these drives deliver.
M.2: Drives featuring this form factor are identical to RAM sticks yet much smaller. Although they have become the standard for thin laptops and notebooks, they may be spotted on desktop boards as well. Modern motherboards have at least two M.2 slots, giving you space to install RAID cards along with SSDs.
M.2 drives come in a variety of sizes, with the most common being 22mm wide and 80mm long. Their names include a four- or five-digit number, with the first two digits indicating the width and the remaining numbers indicating the length. The most popular size is M.2 Type-2280. Even though laptops usually only have one size, many desktop motherboards have anchor points for multiple sizes.
M.2 drives are most typically available in capacities of 2, 4, or 8TB. An M.2 will be the best option if you have a requirement for huge storage and a budget to meet it.
U.2: At first glance, these SSDs appear to be standard SATA HDDs. They do, however, necessitate a separate connection and transport data through the fast PCIe interface, and they are often larger than 2.5-inch hard drives and SSDs. U.2 drives are more expensive than M.2 drives and have a larger capacity. This size is handy for servers with several open disc bays, although it is not common in mainstream PCs.
If you have a desktop computer, power consumption is not an issue. It becomes a concern if you have a laptop or tablet, because portable devices require charging to serve as portable options. You will be stuck in one place with the power cord plugged in if your portable gadget is not charged.
Choosing an extraordinarily efficient drive (the Samsung 860 EVO for example) over a faster but power-hungry NVMe drive (such as Samsung’s 960 EVO) can provide you with significantly more run time. Furthermore, because larger drives have more NAND packages to transfer data to, higher-capacity drives may consume more power than lower-capacity ones.
Now that you know the basics of storage devices, you should be able to make the right decision. Keep in mind that the right SSD is one that meets the demands of your system and workload. High-end drives may appear tempting with the most advanced features and functions, but they may not be the ones required by your system and, hence, useless.
Unless you require extreme speed for professional or creative purposes, an inexpensive standard drive with the capacity you require at a reasonable price is usually the best option. You will notice a considerable improvement straight away when you upgrade from a typical rotating hard drive to a modern SSD.
Dell MWK12 SSD is our top recommendation of this week. The 2.5-inch SATA drive with a capacity of 480GB works ideally in most common situations.