In this guide, we’ve covered everything you need to know to help you choose an SSD.
For some, choosing a storage device for a gaming PC build might not be as exciting as choosing a graphics card or a processor. However, you obviously need some kind of storage space to hold all of your system’s data, programs, applications, and games.
And, while traditional hard drives served well for storage purposes for a long time, with the prices of SSDs dropping significantly over the past 5-10 years, there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to use an HDD anymore. An SSD is going to be the best storage option for your new build.
So, in this guide, we’re going to go over how you can choose the right SSD for your needs.
We’ll go over how much capacity you’ll need, the differences between SATA and NVME drives, and the different PCIe generations and what they mean for SSDs, as well as some other important features you should be aware of.
Watch: What to Look for in An SSD
If you prefer the video format of this guide, you can watch it below, or on our YouTube channel.
1. SSDs vs HDDs
Traditional hard drives are actually mechanical devices—meaning they have moving parts. Mechanical hard drives store data on tracks on spinning discs. And, mechanical hard drives can only access a single point of data on the discs at a time.
On the flip side, SSDs (solid state drives) store data on NAND flash modules and have no moving parts. SSDs usually feature multiple modules of memory on a single drive and more than one of those modules can be accessed at the same time. This gives SSDs a huge performance advantage over traditional hard drives.
2. SATA vs NVME SSDs
SATA and NVME are two different interfaces that SSDs can use to connect to your system’s CPU.
The SATA interface, in its most advanced form (SATA III) is capped at a maximum transfer rate of 600 MB/s.
The NVME interface (which utilizes your system’s PCIe lanes and, thus, has access to higher bandwidth), in its most advanced generation (Gen5), is capped at a maximum transfer rate of 16,000 MB/s. To utilize Gen5 you need to have a CPU that can support PCIe 5.0, a motherboard that offers PCIe 5.0 lanes for your NVME SSD, and a Gen5 SSD.
However, even Gen4 (maximum 8,000 MB/s) and Gen3 NVME SSDs (4000MB/s) offer much higher potential transfer rates than SATA SSDs.
However, in terms of real-world performance, the difference between the two interface options won’t be as big as those numbers would indicate (in most scenarios). You may see some performance gains in productivity tasks or in the transferring of large files.
But, for tasks like loading games, you probably won’t notice the difference between a SATA SSD and an NVME SSD.
For example, TechSpot benchmarked a number of types of drives in how quickly they loaded games. They found that there was only a small difference in load times between SATA SSDs and NVME SSDs. They concluded that this was mostly likely due to game developers not developing their games in a way that utilizes faster storage devices.
This benchmark was conducted a few years ago, but even today there aren’t a ton of scenarios where an NVME SSD provides a noticeable difference in real-world performance (again, with the exception of large file transfers and, perhaps, some productivity tasks.)
But, if your sole purpose is gaming performance, why would you choose an NVME SSD over a SATA SSD?
In our opinion, since the price difference between the two types of drives (especially between Gen3/Gen4 SSDs and SATA SSDs) is fairly small, you may as well opt for the better potential speed for the few scenarios where it might actually come into play.
NVME SSDs are also easier to install and don’t require SATA cable connections, which is one less thing to worry about when you build your PC.
Furthermore, if and when game developers start to build their games to utilize faster storage devices, NVME drives may finally start getting pushed to their potential. And, if you already have one in your system, you’ll get the performance boost for free.
Ultimately, since the prices aren’t that different, we don’t see any reason to opt for a SATA SSD right now if you have you’re building a new PC and you have an M.2 port available on your motherboard.
If you’re upgrading or adding a new SSD to your build or you’re building with older used component and you don’t have an available M.2 port to connect an NVME drive, then a SATA SSD will work just fine.
3. Capacity: How Much Space Do You Need?
Different users will have different storage needs.
Gamers with large libraries of games, who like to mix it up between the different games they play, will require more storage than a gamer who lives and dies by one game. This is especially true now that games are becoming larger and larger. A game like Ark: Survival Evolved can take up to as much as 400GB of storage with all of its add-ons. That’s ~$30 worth of SSD storage space required for one game.
Video editors will have to deal with a lot of video files (which are larger than normal files) and will need even more storage. People who work heavily with video often require multiple large capacity drives (2TB, 4TB, 8TB, etc.) to meet their needs.
Basic users who are just looking to build an entry-level gaming PC or a casual system for word processing, web browsing, sending emails, etc. won’t need nearly as much storage. For such users, you could easily opt for an affordable 256GB or 500GB drive and upgrade as you need more storage space.
It’s also important to note that storage devices are one of the easiest components to add to your system. So, if it’s not in your budget right now to start out with a ton of storage, it really isn’t that difficult to add another drive or two down the road.
As long as you’re not changing your boot drive (the drive your operating system is installed on), adding storage is usually as simple as installing it in your existing computer and formatting it.
The bottom line is that, you need to consider your specific use case in order to determine how much storage space you really need.
4. SSD Compatibility
While there isn’t as much to think about with SSD compatibility as there is with the compatibility of other computer components, there are still a couple of things that you need to consider before you make your decision.
If you’re looking to get an NVME drive, you really just need to make sure the motherboard you are choosing has an M.2 port on it.
Of course, if you want to be efficient with your budget, it’s a good idea to pick a drive that supports a PCIe generation that your motherboard won’t limit…
All generations of NVME SSDs are backwards and forwards compatible, meaning if your CPU and motherboard are limited to using PCIe 3.0, you can still use a Gen5 (PCIe 5.0) SSD with them. The same is true in reverse.
So, there aren’t really any hard compatibility issues for NVME drives so long as the motherboard you purchased has an M.2 port.
However, if you use a Gen5 SSD in a motherboard that only offers PCIe 3.0, your Gen5 SSD will be limited to PCIe 3.0 speeds. Therefore, you could have saved quite a bit of money by choosing a Gen3 NVME SSD instead.
On the flip side, if you have have a motherboard that supports PCIe 5.0 and you purchased a Gen3 NVME SSD to go with it, you’d lose out on some potential performance.
Of course, as we discussed above, you may not notice the real-world difference between using a Gen3 and Gen5 SSD, so this isn’t an end-of-the-world scenario.
There really aren’t any compatibility issues as it concerns SATA SSDs.
If you choose a SATA SSD, your motherboard will come with the necessary ports to connect it. Most motherboards also come with SATA cables, so you shouldn’t have to worry about how you’ll connect your SSD to your motherboard.
And, power supplies come with the necessary SATA power connectors.
You also won’t have to worry about whether or not your case can hold an SSD, as almost all modern cases will offer at least onemounting location for a SATA SSD.
Which Storage Option/Configuration is Best for Your Needs?
While buying an SSD and/or HDD isn’t as complicated of a process in comparison to purchasing other PC components, there are still some factors that you need to consider when choosing a storage device for your system. In this guide, we’ve given you six different factors to consider to help you choose the right SSD (or hard drive) for your needs.