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What is an M.2 SSD? A guide to the fast storage technology

If you’ve taken an interest in computers over the past five years, you’ve probably heard of the term ‘SSD’. These storage solutions come in all shapes and sizes, but M.2 SSDs are becoming one of the most popular formats, and are not only used in laptops and computers, but the PS5 too. 

If you’re not clued up on the technology, you’re in the right place. Here’s your easy-to-read guide into just “what is an M.2 SSD?”

Related: Will the PS5 and Xbox Series X support external drives?

What is an M.2 SSD?

What is an M.2 SSD?

M.2 SSD is an SSD form-factor that takes up less room than 2.5-inch SSDs and traditional HDD while typically offering faster speeds. However, this comes at a cost as M.2 SSD are typically more expensive.

The M.2 SSD is an appealing option for those who want a smaller PC build as well as sitting nicely in the smaller body of laptops. However, don’t discount the tech if your goal isn’t necessarily small size, as the extra bandwidth and faster read and white speeds of M.2 SSDs make them a great option for any build.

Deal: Samsung 970 EVO Plus 500GB M.2 SSD for just £71.96 (use code POPUPOCT20)

It’s important to know that going for an M.2 SSD doesn’t automatically guarantee incredibly fast speeds. If you want the fastest speeds possible, you’ll want to make sure you opt for an M.2 SSD with NVMe support, which offers up to five times more bandwidth than SATA alternatives.

Generally, SATA M.2 SSDs are limited to max read speeds of around 600MB/s, while typical NVMe PCIe 3.0 SSDs can reach read speeds as high as 4000MB/s. What’s more, the new NVMe PCIe 4.0 standard pushes the max read speeds to an even higher 8000MB/s performance ceiling. These increased speeds makes your computer quicker at opening applications and installing large files such as video. Fast read and write speeds are particularly important for gamers, dramatically reducing the time duration of loading screens.

Related: Best external hard drive

If you’re considering any M.2 SSD for your PC then you’ll want to make sure you have a motherboard that supports the M.2 slot, as well as the relevant SSD standard (PCIE 3.0 and 4.0 etc). It’s also worth checking if there’s more than one slot available, as it’s possible to run more than one simultaneously in RAID. With M.2 SSDs capping off at 2TB in storage, you can reach beyond that with more slots. It will cost you a pretty penny, however.

Those scouting for information on the M.2 form-factor right now might be doing so for PS5-related reasons, with the next-gen console supporting expandable storage via M.2 SSD.

The PS5 will allow you to expand its 825GB of internal storage via an M.2 expandable slot. However, with the internal SSD speed of the PS5 being extremely fast, Sony requires the drive to match or surpass a minimum bandwidth of 5500Mb/s.

Related: Best SSD

Speeds of 5500Mb/s and above are only available via the new NVMe PCIe 4.0 standard, with these pricey M.2 drives only beginning to be revealed by manufacturers now. For example, the recently launched Samsung 980 PRO 1TB PCIe 4.0 costs a whopping £207.99, featuring sequential read speeds of up to 7000MB/s.

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