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A Brief M.2 SSD Buying Guide [2021]

Buying a normal SATA 2.5″ SSD is very easy. You just go to any online store and grab any of the available ones with your desired storage space.

But, when it comes to the M.2 SSDs, this can become a little bit tough. Because, there are different types of M.2 SSDs available in the market, it is very easy to become overwhelmed with those options.

But, picking the right M.2 is not that tough when you have proper knowledge of the ports and interfaces. Because M.2 is just a form factor, you do not have to worry about it in any way. However, the technology on which the SSD is working is the main factor.

The two main types of SSDs you will find in the M.2 form factor are SATA SSDs and NVMe SSDs. There is another rare type known as M.2 PCIe SSD (Without NVMe). So, I am going to help you pick the right one which will actually give you all the juice you want. Also, by the end of this article, I will suggest the best SSDs in all the M.2 formats to make your decision wisely.

So, without any further delays, let’s get started.

Also Read: Detailed SSD Buying Guide (2021)

What is M.2 SATA SSD?

As the name suggests, M.2 SATA SSD uses the SATA lanes on your motherboard to read and write the data. However, M.2 is its form factor. Another thing to know is that these SSDs use the AHCI protocol.

So, the maximum size of this SSD can never go beyond 110 x 22 mm. Along with that, M.2 SATA SSD will fit inside only the M.2 port. Whether this port support only SATA or NVMe along with SATA, the SATA SSD will give its maximum speed in that port.

If we talk about the physical appearance, an M.2 SATA SSD will have two notches on both ends. These pins must fit inside an M.2 port. Let’s talk about that below. But, before that, let’s see the image of all the M.2 SATA SSDs and their available sizes.

All M.2 SATA SSDs (Form Factors)

In which port we can install an M.2 SATA SSD?

You can install your M.2 SSD in any M.2 port on both laptop and desktop motherboards. This port will be using the SATA lanes depending on the version of SATA your motherboard support. But, before buying an M.2 SATA SSD, make sure to check if the motherboard has a slot for the same. Various old laptops and motherboards will have the traditional SATA port where you can only install a 2.5″ SATA SSD.

How much speed you will get with an M.2 SATA SSD?

If your motherboard has support for SATA 3, you can get the speed up to 600MB/s (Both Read and Write). But, if it has the SATA 2 as the highest version, even with a SATA 3.0 SSD, you can reach not more than 300MB/s.

Fortunately, the SATA SSDs offer cross-compatibility. For example, if you install a SATA 3.0 SSD in your SATA 2.0 Motherboard, you can will get the SATA 2.0 speed at least with your advanced SSD. The system will not deny to recognize and use it.

What is the difference between a SATA 2.5″ SSD and M.2 SATA SSD?

The only difference between a SATA 2.5″ and M.2 SATA SSD is the form factor. The size of the SATA 2.5″ SSD is way bigger than the M.2 SATA. The speed will remain the same because both of these SSDs are capable of using the same SATA lanes for data transfer.

So, if you are thinking that your M.2 SATA SSD will be faster than the SATA, you are wrong. However, the price of an M.2 SATA SSD is generally higher than the SATA 2.5″ SSD. So, it can be the drawback you can experience while you are taking advantage of M.2’s less size and weight.

Can both desktop and laptop motherboards support M.2 SATA SSD?

Yes, the only requirement is a dedicated M.2 port. If not, you can also use an M.2 SATA to PCIe adapter and connect your SSD through an adapter. These adapters are great to use multiple SATA SSDs whether your motherboard has dedicated M.2 slot or not.

But, since these adapter comes only for PCIe x4 and x8 slots, you can use them only on your desktop motherboards and not on laptops.

You can buy this adapter from Amazon. This one can work with both NVMe and SATA SSDs.

Note: Keep a thing in mind that if you are using all the PCIe slots on your desktop motherboards for hard disks or SSDs, you may not be able to use your dedicated M.2 slot most of the time. This happens because the lanes of your M.2 slot will be combined with any PCIe slot and if you are already using that slot for storage purposes, the M.2 SSD may not work for you.

What is M.2 PCIe SSD?

Most of the people make mistakes here. They think that this M.2 PCIe SSD is the M.2 NVMe SSD. But, it’s not. Obviously, this SSD will use PCIe technology. But, these SSDs can use two or three lanes of your PCIe port. Also, the same AHCI protocol is used to run this SSD. So, the speed can be much more than the SATA SSD but lower than the NVMe SSD.

If we talk about the connector pins, they will look similar to the NVMe SSD and that is where people start to become confused. Let’s see an image of M.2 PCIe SSD. It looks just like an NVMe but you will see that NVMe is not written anywhere and that is how you can identify that it’s not an NVMe drive.

m.2 pcie SSD

On which ports we can install an M.2 PCIe SSD?

M.2 PCIe SSD can only be installed on the M.2 PCIe NVMe slots. But, again, it can never use the total speed allocated to those NVMe slots. This happens because the PCIe SSDs are built on the AHCI protocol and there are limitations to that.

How much speed can an M.2 PCIe SSD offer?

The M.2 PCIe SSD can offer only up to 2GB/s slot if your motherboard support PCIe v3.0. This happens because this SSD can use only two lanes of PCIe. The x1 slot of PCIe 3.0 can offer only up to 1000MB/s read/write speed. So, with two ports, your PCIe M.2 SSD will not give you speed more than 2000MB/s.

Should you buy an M.2 PCIe SSD?

The price difference between an M.2 PCIe and M.2 NVMe SSD will never be very big. And these SSD will fit and work only on an M.2 NVMe supported motherboard and slot. So, it is better to invest in an NVMe SSD because it can give you much more performance as compared to this one.

What is M.2 NVMe SSD?

These are the fastest consumer-level SSDs available in the market. But, unfortunately, if you are using an old laptop or desktop, the chances are, you may not be able to use them. An M.2 NVMe SSD will always use the PCIe lanes for data transfer. All the NVMe SSD are going to use PCIe 3’s four-lane these days.

So, with the help of NVMe protocol, these SSDs are capable of providing the read/write speed up to 4GB/s. But, the NVMe SSDs are not cheap. So, it is better to go for smaller storage space if you have limited budgets.

If we talk about the looks, this one will work only with the NVMe ports because it always has the notch on the right side. If you try to fit it inside an M.2 SATA only port, it is impossible to do so because of the pin configurations.

NVMe M.2 SSD image

Also Read: What are the benefits of NVMe SSDs?

In which port does an NVMe SSD work?

As we have discussed earlier, an NVMe SSD can work only on a dedicated M.2 NVMe (M Key) port on your laptop or desktop. I have written another article where I have discussed why an NVMe SSD can’t work in an M.2 SATA port.

But, if you are a desktop user and your motherboard support PCIe and NVMe, you can also use an NVMe M.2 to PCIe adapter as we have discussed earlier. This adapter will allow you to connect your NVMe to your PCIe standard x4 port. The speed will remain similar. But, make sure to confirm whether your motherboard supports NVMe or not.

How much speed can an M.2 NVMe SSD offer?

We are not talking about the Desktop NVMe which can offer you the speed up to 32GB/s by using 16 PCIe lanes. But, a normal M.2 NVMe SSD can give you a read/write speed from 3500MB/s to 4000MB/s.

Note: Before buying an NVMe SSD, make sure to confirm twice that whether your laptop or desktop supports the NVMe protocol. If not, the NVMe SSD may not fit in. In any way, if it fits in the port, it will not work.

Also, before your make, your purchase, consider checking your BIOS if it supports NVMe drives as a boot drive. Various old motherboards will have support for NVMe but they can’t boot from those drives.

Final Verdict

I hope you have all the information you will need to make a wise purchase for an M.2 SSD. You can read this article if you are confused between M.2 SATA and M.2 NVMe SSD.

Best M.2 SSDs coming soon.

To be Continued…