M.2 Drives and the Future of Data Storage

As we’re creating content that requires more storage space, - like 4K video editing - storage capacity and performance are more important than ever. So what is the current direction for data storage in 2018 and beyond?

RAID is still around and won’t go away any time soon, but can be complex to set up and maintain. So what are the alternatives? Firstly, let’s look at the humble hard disk drive (HDD). There’s no sign of the HDD disappearing any time soon, not when you can buy drives that store up to 10TB of data. As long as storage capacity trumps speed, as it does for many home users, manufacturers like Western Digital and Toshiba will continue to manufacture mechanical hard disk drives. The downside is, however, that they come with some major flaws. They’re mechanical, so are prone to physical damage that may require hard drive recovery. They also use more heat and energy, and take up space. Then there’s the performance issue – even the best mechanical HDDs are no match for basic, consumer-grade SSDs.

Solid state drives (SSDs) run rings around HDDs when it comes to performance, and while early models had miniscule storage capacities, you can now get SSDs with terabytes of storage. Installing an SSD is one of the best upgrades you can make to a lagging computer or laptop, and can breathe a new lease of life into it. They also run over standard SATA connections, so can be easily installed without upgrading your machine’s motherboard and RAM.

Something we’ve written about before is Intel Optane memory, the technology giant’s trademarked super-fast storage memory modules. Currently only compatible with motherboards that use 7th gen Intel Core processors, it is neither RAM nor storage. It is designed to act as a bridge between the machine’s RAM and storage, allowing it to perform actions more quickly. When used in conjunction with a hard disk drive, it essentially just gives it the same level of performance of an SSD.

There has, however, been an interesting new development – M.2 drives. M.2, pronounced M-dot-2, are essentially like the second generation of solid state drives. They run up to seven times faster than current SSDs – but how do they work and why aren’t we seeing more of them? M.2 drives run over PCI-Express ports rather than SATA, which allows them to run way faster than even basic SSDs. M.2 drives, are a relatively new development, and they require a dedicated connector on the motherboard of the machine, which is why they aren’t commonly used yet. Like SSDs in their early years, M.2 drives are expensive and suffer from problems like overheating. But once the kinks have been ironed out, we could see this revolutionary new storage device spread. 

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