How to Buy the Right SSD

Solid-state drives (SSDs) offer so many advantages over traditional hard drives, but there are so many types to choose from.

If your computer or laptop is still storing data on a traditional mechanical hard disk drive (HDD), you should definitely consider upgrading to an SSD. SSDs are faster, silent, consume far less power, and are physically much smaller than HDDs. There might be some scenarios where an HDD is preferable – for example backing up large amounts of files – but for day-to-day use? Opt for an SSD every time. While it might seem like there are endless acronyms associated with SSDs, really it boils down to two things: form factor, and speed. There is obviously the issue of cost to consider too, but you can get a variety of SSDs at varying price points dependant on your budget.

SSDs come in two main form factors 2.5-inch and M.2, and the one you opt for will depend on your hardware. You can even utilise both; many people use an M.2 for their boot drive and a 2.5-inch for additional storage. The 2.5-inch serial ATA (SATA) SSD is the most common type of SSD you’ll come across, and will slot into a PC or laptop like an HDD. M.2 SSDs are rectangular-shaped, and connect directly to your motherboard, reducing cable clutter. There are also other form factors, such as PCIe add-in cards and U.2, which are used in desktop PCs. PCIe add-in cards resemble a graphics card, and connect to a motherboard using the PCIe slot. U.2 SSDs physically resemble 2.5-inch SATA SSDs, but require a dedicated U.2 connector. The type of SSD form factor you choose will depend on your performance needs, as well as what your desktop or laptop can support, along with your budget; generally, the choice is between 2.5-inch and M.2 form factor SSDs. Most modern desktops and laptops should be able to use both 2.5-inch and M.2 SSDs, although older machines are likely to be limited to supporting 2.5-inch.

When it comes to speed, you have a number of options, and not all SSDs use the same interface to transfer data. While older model SSDs will use SATA, newer ones will use non-volatile memory express, or NVMe. Being an older interface, SATA is, as you’d expect, slower. Although in saying this, SATA SSDs will still offer vastly superior speeds compared to their mechanical HDD counterparts. This makes them an affordable option for users who want to improve their desktop or laptop’s performance, but don’t want it to cost the earth. Even with a humble SATA SSD, the improvements are instantly noticeable, and it will likely be as if you’re using a brand new computer. NVMe drives are considerably faster, with speeds of between five and ten times faster than SATA SSDs.

In summary, choosing the form factor of your SSD will depend on your desktop or laptop and what can physically connect to it. If you do have a choice between SATA and NVMe, consider SATA for everyday use, and NVMe for tasks which require higher performance levels, such as gaming.

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