Your gaming PC is a powerful machine, but the components inside are only as good as what’s on top of them. One key component that can make your rig perform better and more smoothly is an SSD – even if you’re running Windows 7 or 8 from 2005! If you want to keep your games snappy and responsive no matter how many hours of playtime ahead for each session, it’ll be worth picking up one at this point.

What Exactly Is M.2?

But first, let’s get some fundamental facts on M.2 out of the way.

M.2 is a kind of form factor. All M.2 branded hardware components must have the same size and form. However, not all M.2s are created equal. For the most part, the market seems to have decided on a width of 22mm; nevertheless, the length varies greatly. M.2 is most often used in 60mm or 80mm lengths. However, it may extend up to 120mm.

Because certain motherboards (and laptops) can only support particular sizes, it’s helpful to know which height you’re purchasing. So, how do I figure it out?

Let’s use the Samsung 970 Evo as an example to demonstrate what we’re talking about:

NVMe PCIe M.2 2280 SSD Samsung SSD 970 EVO 2TB

A lot of people will probably stop reading at 2TB. I know I have down the years. However, this is where you find out the size, Bus-Interface & everything else related to compatibility. We’re going to stick with the length; for now, however, everything else will be explained as you keep reading.

So, following the ‘M.2’ in the product name, you’ll notice a sequence of digits, in this case, ‘2280.’ That, therefore, is the module’s sizing. The 22 denotes the width, 22mm, and the 80 represents the length, 80mm. So the number would read ‘2260’ if the distance were 60mm, and so on.

Beginnings (M.2)

The debut of mini-SATA, or mSATA for short, was the first step toward what we now know as M.2. This was a stripped-down, bare SSD with the case removed for all intents and purposes. SATA SSDs, or solid-state drives, are 2.5-inch drives that connect to your motherboard through a SATA connection cable. mSATA, on the other hand, removes the shell to expose a 12-inch rectangular circuit board that will surely fit into your motherboard.

mSATA, on the other hand, continues to use the serial ATA bus, as the name implies. However, in contrast to standard SATA wiring, the interface has been modified to an edge connector on the PCB. Furthermore, the mSATA drive gets all its power from the slot it’s plugged into.

The problem with mSATA was that it still had all of the constraints of the SATA connection; therefore, the only significant benefit it had over conventional SSDs was space savings. Even during the height of mSATA’s popularity, engineers were working on a successor that would allow for faster speeds and larger capacity SSDs. It was formerly known as NGFF (Next-Generation Form Factor) and would be renamed M.2 in the future.

Size

As previously said, not all M.2 SSDs are created alike; they differ in various ways, the most prominent of which is their size. We speak to two categories when discussing size: storage capacity and Physical Dimensions (mainly length).

Knowing how much storage space your SSD has is critical since you need to see if it’ll suffice for your needs. Knowing the length is just as necessary, if not more so, since certain motherboards are incompatible with specific M.2 SSD sizes.

Let’s start with Physical Dimensions:

Product Size Code M.2 Physical Dimensions
2230 30mm x 22mm
2242 22mm x 42mm x 22mm x 22mm x 22mm
2260 60mm x 22mm
2280 80mm x 22mm
22110 110mm x 22mm

M.2 SSDs exist in various sizes, as seen in the chart above. Knowing which sizes are compatible with your motherboard should now be a straightforward procedure requiring just the study of the user manual. If it makes things a bit simpler, you may also contact the motherboard manufacturer directly.

Moving on to storage capacity, all memory capacity, whether RAM, HDD, or SSD, varies greatly. The following are the most prevalent sizes:

  • 120/128GB
  • 240GB
  • 250/256GB
  • 480GB
  • 500GB
  • 960/1TB
  • 2TB

Size, like any other hardware component, is typically proportional to price. You may be able to buy a 2TB HDD for about $100, but owing to the nature and technology utilized in SSDs, you’d be fortunate to find a decent quality drive for under $250.

Bus-Interface

From here, things become a bit more technical, but I’ll try to make it as straightforward as possible. For want of a better analogy, the bus interface is the route that data follows while traveling to and from the M.2 drive.

With M.2, there are a variety of interfaces to choose from, and they may make a big difference in how fast your SSD performs in real-world scenarios.

The majority of early M.2 drives used the SATA interface, which meant they were constrained by the capabilities of that PCB. They were identical to the SATA SSDs but stripped down to the bare circuit board.

However, in order to get faster read/to write speeds, developers will need to make use of the PCIe lanes on your motherboard. The PCI Express-bus M.2 SSDs that followed provided considerable performance improvements over prior SATA SSDs and original mSATA drives.

The initial PCIe SSDs had to utilize the PCIe Gen 2.0 x2 interface, which provided somewhat better performance than SATA. With PCIe Gen 3.0 x4, all of that was about to change. Most M.2 drives on the market today are PCIe Gen 3.0 x4 compliant, and when combined with NVME (Non-Volatile Memory Express), speed is boosted even more.

All of this means that when the new Ryzen processors are introduced on July 7th, the newest PCIe Gen 4.0 SSDs will also be available.

Where Can I Find The Best M.2?

How do you choose the most acceptable M.2 SSD for your requirements now that you know them? It’s relatively simple: ask yourself what performance and conditions you desire, and then go for the SSD that best meets those needs. Before you go out and get an SSD, I suggest asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is the SSD going to be utilized only for my operating system?
  • Will I be operating my SSD for gaming, music, or other forms of entertainment?
  • Do I need the fastest SSD I can buy, or am I seeking a balance of price, performance, and size?
  • Does my motherboard support M.2 OS launch?
  • What kind of budget do you have in mind?

When it comes to picking the suitable SSD for you, asking yourself these basic questions will save you a lot of time. For example, if you have $150 to spend and want to utilize your M.2 for your operating system and certain significant games, you should go for a 500GB NVME SSD.

If you have $500 to spend and want your SSD to house your OS, all your media files, and games, be as quick as possible. I’d recommend opting for a 2TB SSD with NVME & rapid read/write times.

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