Are you shopping for an excellent gaming SSD, or perhaps just unclear on the differences between various models of solid-state drives? Wondering if you even need an SSD at all if the same HDD you’ve had since 1997 is still wheezing along just fine?
If you’ve managed to keep on gaming with an old optical drive this long, congratulations! No sarcasm—that’s impressive—but you probably won’t be able to pull it off much longer.
No matter why you’re browsing SSDs, it’s important to make sure you get the right sub-type for your needs. Some SSDs are great for gamers, others are mostly just for storage, and still others are high-end technological marvels that only a few people really need. In this guide, we’ll briefly walk you through the different types of solid-state drives and offer some pointers on how to evaluate them when you’re ready to buy.
PC Gaming & Storage: How It Ties Together?
Storage is the brain of a computer because it carries all of its vital data, including your PC’s operating system. However, the size of your hard drive isn’t the only thing that matters. The speed at which it reads and writes information (R/W Speed) is a significant factor in how fast and how smoothly your games and other programs run.
When it comes to gaming, the data stored on your hard drive doesn’t mean much if you can’t access it in a reasonable amount of time. Even if you have the best gaming PC available, if it’s paired with a bad HDD, low R/W speeds will manifest as lag, slowdowns, or crippling stutter.
However, there is a solution. Some time ago, solid-state drives revolutionized information storage with their incredible speeds. So, let’s discuss different types of solid-state drives and make comparisons between them along the way.
What’s an SSD?
Solid-state drives (SSDs) replaced the old-fashioned hard drives (HDD). To better understand the way in which SSDs made gaming more convenient, we’ll talk about SDD and HDD differences and how these storage methods work.
How Do HDDs Work?
An HDD is made of rotating metal discs on an axis and a reading head, both of which are stored inside the HDD’s case. The discs rotate inside the case at high speed, and at the same time, the electromagnetic head follows the tracks on those discs and writes or reads information from them.
There are two factors which limit the speed at which data will be stored or retrieved from the HDD. Higher RPM enables writing and reading data faster, but it is physically limited. The speeds an HDD would have to hit to match the R/W speeds of an SSD are impossible in practice. Therefore, the best HDDs for gaming are capped at 7200 RPM.
Another limiting factor is the speed at which the electromagnetic head finds specific information on the disc. However, that is too complicated to describe right now, so we’ll leave it for another article.
How Do SSDs Work?
An SSD does not have moving parts. It utilizes semiconductors to store information. A semiconductor can be electrically charged which corresponds to a binary value of 1. A non-charged semiconductor carries a binary value of 0.
When an SSD is disconnected from electric power, those semiconductors keep their charges, therefore storing the information permanently. This method is much faster for reading and writing data, and limits the latency created when an HDD has to search for specific information on the drive.
In modern gaming, having an SSD will reduce your load times drastically. For example, let’s say that you’re into open-world RPG games which need to load tons of data thanks to the vast territories that you can explore. In that case, having an SSD will make the experience seamless, while an HDD will cause you some issues with loading times and overall immersion.
If you want to get rid of your old SSD without worrying about someone recovering your data, check out our guide on how to securely erase data from an SSD.
M.2, SATA, NVMe: What Does It Mean?
Modern SSDs are capable of writing and reading information so fast that they’re limited by the way they connect to the motherboard and store the information.
There are two ways to transfer data to and from SSD: SATA and NVMe. SATA connects an SSD to the motherboard through cables, while NVMe connects to the motherboard through the PCI-E slots. Keep in mind that the type of connection isn’t the only difference between various SSDs, but it’s the essential one.
SATA 3 vs. NVMe (PCI-E)
A PCI-E connection provides more lanes for parallel communication than you get by using cables. What this means is that having a PCI-E link allows more information to be moved at the same time. Consequently, the NVMe (PCI-E) method of transferring information is much faster than SATA. To make things more clear, SATA3 moves data at a rate of 550MB/s while NVMe provides a rate of 3500 MB/s.
We should mention that the difference is not always noticeable. It becomes evident and practical only during the transfer of large amounts of data. During normal processes, such as system startup or gaming, you won’t notice any difference between a SATA3 drive and an NVMe drive. You will be able to tell the difference only during transfers of large files and photo or video editing.
So… What Does M.2 Mean, Then?
M.2 does not compete with these two connection methods that I mentioned above. M.2 is a design specification, not a different connection type. M.2 SSDs have a slim and small shape compared to the usual 2.5 models.
When it comes to storage specifications, M.2 SSDs use both SATA and NVMe connections, depending on the specific model.
SATA vs. NVMe: Which Is Better for Gaming?
If you use your computer for video or photo editing and you frequently need to move large files, you could benefit from the NVMe protocol. On the other hand, gaming and regular PC use does not benefit from higher transfer speeds, and getting a SATA3 SSD would be enough.
You might ask, why not just go with the good ol’ rule “bigger is better”?
Higher speed comes at a price. Even though the prices of SSD drives are always falling, an NVMe SSD is still more expensive than SATA. On Amazon, you can find 512GB NVMe SSD for around $100, while there are 1TB SATA SSD drives for $60.
SATA and NVMe drives offer a clear difference in speed, but your personal opinion and the choice of SSD should be formed around your PC’s purpose. If you hate browsing through tech and looking at specs, you might want to take a look at our Crucial MX300 review, as it is one of the most outstanding SSDs on the market.