A sea of acronyms awaits you when you are shopping for an SSD. The trickiest of these are jagged reefs that protrude from the ocean and resemble circuit boards; if you’re not careful, they’ll send your upgrade adrift.

You already know about oneSSD, right? Its name refers to a storage device known as a “solid-state drive” that is composed of flash memory in the form of NAND modules and controlled by a controller chip. We’ll try to explain terminology as we go, but if you need a refresher on SSD jargon, check out our list of 20 terms you need to know. The name NAND is derived from a type of logic gate in Boolean algebra. Unfortunately, the emergence of three new technologies—M.2, PCI Express (abbreviated PCIe), and NVMe—has made shopping for SSDs more difficult recently. All three are focused on shrinking or speeding up SSDs. Additionally, they make purchasing a solid-state drive more difficult than before.

SK Hynix Platinum P41 Intel SSD 670p Samsung SSD 980 Pro ADATA XPG Atom 50 HP FX900 PCIe 4.0 M.2 SSD Crucial P5 Plus Samsung SSD 980 Samsung SSD 980 Pro More information about our selections: CRUCIAL P5 PLUS

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. A GREAT MID-TIER OPTION FOR NEW OR RETURNING FANS OF THE COMPANY’S SSDS, SAMSUNG’S SSD 980 M.2 DRIVE GETS THE MOST PERFORMANCE OUT OF PCI EXPRESS 3.0 IN 2021.

The Intel SSD 670p is surpassed by the pros in 4K random reads. affordable costs for its performance class a cutting-edge SSD software suite MLC has a good durability rating. Warranty for five years CONS still limited by the inherent limit of PCI Express 3.0 Image: SK HYNIX PLATINUM P41 For serious gamers, the best PCI Express 4.0 NVMe SSD SHORT VERDICT: In some of our general storage and gaming tests, the SK Hynix Platinum P41 achieved records-high results. Simply add your own heatsink to the M.2 SSD to ensure top performance.

PROS exceeded its sequential speed ratings during our tests. Excellent results in the PCMark 10 and 3DMark tests reasonably priced includes disk migration and cloning software Supports hardware-based 256-bit AES encryption CONS No heatsink is present. SSD 670P by Intel

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. The PCI Express 4.0-based SSD 980 Pro from Samsung will be a hit with upgraders and high-end PC builders (and a compatible AMD desktop platform). It offers the fastest theoretical performance we have yet observed from a conventional SSD.

PROS Extremely quick performance Support for PCI Express 4.0 bus Warranty for five years Hardware encryption already present CONS expensive per gigabyte reduced write-durability rating compared to the prior SSD 970 Pro The best affordable PCI Express 4.0 NVMe SSD is the ADATA XPG ATOM 50

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An Excellent Replacement for the ADATA XPG Atom 50 SHORT VERDICT: Although the HP FX900 isn’t the fastest PCI Express 4.0 solid-state drive on the market, it still manages to deliver respectable performance at a surprisingly affordable price.

PROS reasonably priced With a few top-tier scores, the benchmark performance was strong CONS has a partial heatsink. Write-durability (TBW) rating that is relatively low No hardware-based AES 256-bit encryption ADDLINK S70

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0 for WD Blue SN570 An Excellent Alternative to the Addlink S70 SUMMARY: The third version of Western Digital’s well-liked low-cost SSD, the WD Blue SN570, is faster than ever and did well in our benchmark testing.

PROS Economical PCIe 3.0 SSD with respectable speed CONS Low rating for a TLC-based drive’s write durability Low AS-SSD benchmark score for program load The best PCI Express 4.0 NVMe SSD for PC modders is the ADATA XPG SPECTRIX S40G. SHORT VERDICT: Unapologetically bright RGB-lit M.2 SSD that blings up your PC is the ADATA XPG Spectrix S40. The majority of gamers should be content thanks to its 4K read and write speeds.

PROS Excellent sequential read and write results in 4K. powerful value proposition For PC builders, RGB lighting is a fun feature. CONS There are several issues with preserving RGB settings when using different profiles. The best big-heatsink PCI Express 4.0 NVMe SSD is the MSI SPATIUM M480 HS

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2. SHORT VERDICT: In our testing, the MSI Spatium M480 HS lived up to its high sequential speed ratings, and for rigs where it would fit, its aluminum heatsink is a wonderful addition. However, the drive is somewhat expensive.

Blistering scores in sequential reading and writing high-quality 4K read and write performance Includes AES 256-bit encryption and a finned aluminum heatsink. Cons Expensive, incomplete set of SSD management software WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 2.5-INCH AND M.2 SSDS? The standard SSD, up until a few years ago, was a little slab that was made to fit into the same drive bay of a computer as a rotating hard drive. This form factor, sometimes known as 2.5-inch disks, is still used for SSDs, but things have changed.

The logic boards of the majority of modern laptops and nearly all new desktop motherboards include slots intended for significantly smaller SSDs. The SSDs that fit into these M.2 slots resemble sticks of silicon chewing gum. Additionally, that little USB stick may provide considerably faster storage than the larger drives you are accustomed to, depending on the drive.

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3 (Zlata Ivleva in photo) Why did SSDs need so much time to become so small? Actually, they never needed to be so big in the first place from a strictly industrial perspective. Because memory chips are smaller than rotating drive mechanisms, traditional 2.5-inch SSDs have a lot of empty space inside, but they were made to fit into existing bays to replace hard drives. One thing became obvious in the transition from thick desktops to tiny laptops and tablets: That bulkier type of disk would have to disappear. An M.2 drive strips down an SSD to its bare components, leaving it more leaner and more pliable to fit into small areas.

What you need to know about M.2 The majority of M.2 drives are not particularly attractive; they resemble bare circuit boards with silicon chips adhered to them. Some may have a heatsink or heat spreader on top (often a collection of metal fins) that serves both functional and aesthetic purposes. What M.2 is and isn’t, though, is what is most crucial to understand.

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4 (Credit: Zlata Ivleva) M.2 is frequently described as an interface, however it isn’t the complete picture. The keying that enables a drive to fit onto a motherboard is governed by M.2, which is also a shape or physical form factor.

PCI Express and NVMe play a role in the data bus, or pathway, that your data travels over as it is sent to and received from an M.2 disk. In the meantime, let’s talk about the essential physical characteristics of an M.2 drive that you need to be aware of before we explore the significance of NVMe. (The video down below is a nice introduction.)

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Solid State Drive (SSD) Purchasing: All the Information You Need M.2 drives are distinguished from one another by a four- or five-digit number that is included in their names or specs, as we go over in The Best M.2 Solid-State Drives, our companion roundup. The first two numbers of the number represent the drive’s width in millimeters, and the final two or three digits indicate its length.

You may anticipate that this number will begin with 22 because, in reality, all M.2 drives and slots designed with PC builders or upgraders in mind are 22mm wide. The most popular lengths are 60mm and 80mm (M.2 Type-2280) (M.2 Type-2260). However, there are drives that are as short as 30mm (M.2 Type-2230) and as long as 110mm (M.2 Type-22110). Why are the lengths different? The drive’s PCB (printed circuit board) has more surface space to accommodate memory chips the longer the board is.

When inserting an M.2 drive inside a laptop, length is primarily important. Unlike most laptops, most desktop motherboards with M.2 slots feature mounting points for multiple drive lengths. Before you shop, be sure there is room.

Type-2242, Type-2260, and Type-2280 M.2 drives are shown in

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5. Although the size of an M.2 drive does not necessarily directly correspond to its capacity, larger sticks allow engineers to cram more memory modules onto them. Although there are 4TB and even 8TB M.2 SSDs available, most M.2 drive families have a capacity limit of 2TB due to space and density restrictions. As you shop, you’ll notice five general categories of capacity, with slight differences depending on how much data the drive manufacturer has set aside for overprovisioning (a safety margin for when the drive ages and cells start to fail). These are the capacity classes:

128 or 120 GB
240, 250, or 256 gigabytes
480, 500, or 512 gigabytes

1TB or 960GB

8TB, 2TB, and 4TB drives

Let’s stress this point once more: While you may be aware of the size and capacity of an M.2 solid-state drive, you may not be aware of the bus or interface it utilizes. It is crucial to be aware of that information, just as it is to confirm that the drive physically fits in the available space.

Basics of SSD Bus Technology: NVME and PCI Express Serial ATA (SATA) drives, essentially a stripped-down version of their 2.5-inch relatives, were the first M.2 drives. The M.2 form factor of SATA-bus SSDs is still widely available, and many M.2 slots can accommodate them. There are some instances where the identical drive is offered in 2.5-inch and M.2 forms, with little performance difference. (For an example, see our reviews of Samsung’s traditional SSD 850 EVO 2.5-inch and SSD 850 EVO M.2 from a few years ago.) That’s because your data moves along the same way with any SATA SSD, whether it’s an M.2 stick or a reasonably large 2.5-inch drive attached to your computer with a SATA connection.

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6 (Zlata Ivleva credit) The majority of SATA-based M.2 SSDs available today are budget-friendly versions, which is OK. The fastest speed is seen in PCI Express. To use these drives, your system must have an M.2 slot that supports PCI Express; some desktop motherboard sockets accept both types. You may only be able to upgrade a laptop if it supports M.2 SSDs that operate on the SATA bus. In such case, increasing the storage capacity would be the only justification for an upgrade.

Premium laptops of today often support PCI Express M.2 drives. (Important: “PCI Express SSD” doesn’t always indicate “removable M.2 SSD module,” as some models, including the most recent Apple MacBooks, have PCI Express drives soldered, in a non-upgradable method, to the laptop’s mainboard.) As already established, the majority of the M.2 slots on modern desktop motherboards support PCI Express drives.

The initial generation of M.2 PCI Express SSDs used a PCI Express x2 interface, which had a slightly better throughput than SATA 3.0. That has altered. Modern M.2 drives are four-lane PCI Express 3.0 x4 (four lanes of bandwidth) and Non-Volatile Memory Express compatible (NVMe). NVMe is designed to increase performance, particularly with demanding applications.

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7 An MSI AMD-based motherboard’s M.2 slot displaying a variety of attachment locations (Source: MSI) In recent years, the internal SSD market has been dominated by the control protocol NVMe. You may have heard the word “AHCI” casually; it refers to the data flow control method utilized by hard drives and SATA SSDs over the SATA channel. Although it functions with SSDs, AHCI was created when hard drives were the standard. NVMe is suited for flash-based storage and was created from the ground up to control solid-state memory.

The watchword to look for when purchasing an M.2 SSD nowadays is NVMe, but be aware that for the drive to function as a bootable device, your system and motherboard explicitly need to support PCI Express NVMe devices in the BIOS. The majority of modern motherboards are compatible with PCI Express x4 NVMe M.2 drives, however you should double-check each individual board. (Support for a given requirement may vary from slot to slot in desktop boards with two or more M.2 connectors.) NVMe-compatible M.2 slots are not a guarantee on desktop motherboards older than a few years, despite the fact that you can find them on practically all new boards. Therefore, carefully read your manuals before purchasing one of these drives.

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8 (Zlata Ivleva credit) Additionally, confirm that any PCI Express drive you are contemplating is an NVMe model if your system supports it and you are looking to purchase an NVMe drive. Even if all current models support NVMe, not all PCIe M.2 SSDs do; some older models are still available on the market. Merely using the PCI Express interface is not a guarantee of it. The fastest SATA-based SSDs are no match for today’s commonplace PCI Express 3.0 x4 NVMe M.2 solid-state drives. (A new class of PCI Express 4.0 SSDs is, however, quickly gaining popularity: Coming up, more on that.)

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9 (Zlata Ivleva credit) Once more, keep in mind that installing one of these drives requires the proper motherboard-level support. Your motherboard specifications are the spot to look for desktops. Many modern motherboards support M.2 PCI Express/NVMe and M.2 SATA. To learn what’s inside a laptop, you might need to contact the manufacturer’s customer care team (assuming you can even get inside).

A drive upgrade might not be possible since, as we previously indicated, some laptops solder their SSDs directly to the mainboard in order to conserve space. Also keep in mind that changing a laptop’s SSD could void any remaining warranties.

The most recent fast SSDs are PCI Express 4.0 drives. Get shopping! Not quite: A rising number of modern (and typically slightly more expensive) SSDs list support for PCI Express 4.0 rather than 3.0. The M.2 SSDs that support the improved interface have passed our testing, and they are very quick. What you do with your PC will determine how big of a difference you can detect.

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0 (Credit: Zlata Ivleva) Solutions like this have been offered by companies like Intel, Gigabyte, Plextor, Kingston, and others. Additionally, some motherboard manufacturers (like Asus) include an empty M.2 carrier card in the box with their premium mainboards. You can use one of these to access the speed of PCI Express/NVMe without having an M.2 slot by using an M.2 drive on a PCIe expansion card. Check for the card’s potential to improve bootability on older motherboards.

Having the M.2 module installed on a vertical board can also imply better airflow and, in principle, less throttling due to heat. Some PCI Express M.2 SSDs can run hot under sustained use. Nevertheless, these drives are so quick that, in the majority of cases, they complete data transfers before heat poses a serious threat.

The U.2 drive, another form that NVMe drives can take, is currently limited to a small number of SSDs. For instance, NVMe drives that come in two formats are the Intel 750 Series SSD that we evaluated in 2015 and the Intel Optane SSD 900P series from late 2017. The second is a sizable 2.5-inch drive that resembles a bulky hard drive and has a substantial heatsink on board. One is a simple PCI Express card. Servers use the U.2 physical interface far more frequently than personal computers do. The majority of high-end motherboards need a dedicated U.2 adaptor that plugs into an M.2 slot, while some, like the Designare series from Gigabyte, may include internal U.2 connectors.

Intel 750 Series U.2 SSD, image 21 (Credit: Intel) Size is crucial. The coding used to determine an M.2 drive’s length and breadth has been revealed. Particularly with laptop upgrades, be sure the drive’s length corresponds to the available space. The majority of aftermarket drives are 60mm or 80mm long. Make sure that any heatsink or spreader on top of the drive won’t obstruct installation by checking it as well. (A heatsink can frequently be removed, but if it’s there, there’s typically a solid reason for it.) The TeamGroup T-Force Cardea’s large heatsink and M.2 SSD make them generally unsuitable for laptop use.

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