SATA SSD vs PCIe SSD: which interface to choose?

A few years ago, buying a laptop with a solid state drive (SSD) wasn’t even an option to consider. SSDs were very expensive, and offered limited storage capacity, 32Go or 64Go…etc. Things have changed, and nowadays SSDs offer decent storage capacity and their prices have significantly went down too. You can even find a few budget laptops with solid state storage, something we couldn’t even dream of before.

If you’re looking for a fast and responsive laptop, then SSD is the route to go. Even an entry level SSD will outperform the best traditional hard drive. You can read about the advantages of SSDs over mechanical hard drive here. However, when looking for a laptop with SSD, you probably saw technical terms such as SATA SSD, PCIe SSD, and M2 SSD; and probably wondered what they mean exactly and what type of SSD to choose. Well, we’ll try to answer your questions.

What is SATA?

SATA, or Serial ATA is a computer bus interface that connects host bus adapters to mass storage devices such as hard disk drives, optical drives, and solid-state drives. It was introduced in the early 2000s and slowly replaced the older PATA technology, reducing costs and improving data transfer speeds. The Latest SATA revision, SATA 3.0, has a native transfer rate of 6.0 Gbit/s, which equates to 600 MB/s in real-life use. SATA is the most widespread interface used for connecting SSDs and HDDs today, and SATA SSDs are the most affordable.

For most users, the transfer speed provided by SATA SSDs is more than sufficient, but for those who need even more transfer speed, there is PCIe.

What is PCIe?

PCI Express (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) is a high-speed serial computer expansion bus standard, it was normally used to connect graphics and network cards, because it offers a faster connection to the motherboard. PCIe is not a new technology, it dates back to 2004, but using it with SSDs in consumer grade laptops is a recent trend.

Just like SATA, PCIe has many revisions: PCIe 3.0 for example allows for 1GB/s per lane (985MB/s in real world speed).  This means if you put a card in a four-lane slot, you will in theory get 4 times the bandwidth, at nearly 4 GB/s. The fastest PCIe SSDs available today offer either 2X or 4X lanes, with transfer speeds of 3,938 MB/s. PCIe SSDs are thus recommended for power users who need to work with HUGE files, such as editing a raw 4K video file.

What is an M2 SSD?

M.2, formerly known as the Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF) is a specification for internally mounted computer expansion cards and associated connectors. The M.2 standard is simply an improved version of the mSATA interface design. M2 allows for a smaller physical specification, and more advanced features.

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