How To Upgrade Your Gaming PC’s Storage

SSDs (solid state drives) are fast storage devices that use flash memory. They are much faster than HDDs (hard disk drives), as they don’t have a mechanical spinning disk and read/write head. Installing an SSD in your PC shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.


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Depending on the SSD you have, you may have to connect various cables to the SSD and motherboard. While not a difficult task, it’s important to install it correctly for your system to work properly.


HDDs Vs. SSDs

western digital HDD

Storage drives come in two forms: hard disk drives and solid state drives.

HDDs use a mechanical, spinning metal disk or platter and a magnetic read/write head that reads and writes data from and to the disk. They typically come in a 3.5″ form factor, and while 2.5″ HDDs also exist, they are typically used for laptops.

SSDs, on the other hand, have a flash chip array instead of a mechanical disk. Data is stored on these flash chips.

While hard disk drives are an older technology, they’re still incredibly popular. That’s because compared to SSDs, HDDs are a lot cheaper for the same amount of storage space.

On the other hand, due to the way the disk needs to spin for the read/write head to access data, HDDs are slower than SSDs.

That’s why most gamers prefer SSDs. Nevertheless, some gamers use a combination of them, storing very large games and other programs on the HDD to save on storage costs while storing their favorite games on an SSD for faster load times.

While SSDs have limited write cycles, this doesn’t usually make a difference. Most SSDs have at least 10,000 write cycles before they expire. Practically, you will likely never reach that limit, or it will take years to do so.

Understanding SSD Form Factors

SSD with 1TB of storage

SSDs come in two main form factors.

The first is the standard 2.5” SSD, which is supported by all motherboards. It runs on SATA bus technology and is connected to your motherboard and PSU (power supply unit) via SATA connector cables.

The second is the M.2 connector form factor, which looks like a long, thin card. Not all motherboards support it; those that do will have a small M.2 slot in which you can insert it.

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There’s a lot of confusion about M.2 SSD connectors, so let’s clear things up. M.2 refers to the form factor (size and shape) of the SSD. PCIe and SATA refer to the data transfer protocol the SSD uses, through which data is transferred to and from the storage drive.

In terms of data transfer protocols, M.2 can support SATA, PCIe, or both.

If your M.2 connector is B-keyed, it will support M.2 form factor SSDs that run on SATA bus technology.

These are not faster than typical 2.5” SATA SSDs, although they are smaller and don’t require cables.

If the M.2 connector is M-keyed, it supports SSDs that run on an NVMe protocol. While they look the same as M.2 SATA SSDs, they are a lot faster in terms of data transfer rates.

Finally, some M.2 connectors are B+M keyed, which means they support both SATA and NVMe SSDs.

Check the marking on your motherboard to confirm if it is M-keyed, B-keyed, or both.

There is a misconception that all M.2 SSDs are faster than 2.5” SSDs. That is not true. The speed difference applies to the protocol used (NVMe vs. SSD), not the form factor (M.2 vs. 2.5”).

While NVMe SSDs are faster than SATA SSDs (both M.2 SATA SSDs and 2.5” SSDs), the difference is mostly minimal when it comes to gaming. It’s more of an issue for people who need to read and write to the SSD a lot, such as people doing heavy video editing.

For gaming, the initial game loading time will typically be a bit faster, although the difference will usually be just a couple of seconds. For actual gameplay, the difference will likely not be noticeable at all.

Typically, 2.5” SSDs are cheaper per GB of storage, and storage size is a more important factor for gaming than data transfer speeds. The more space you have on your SSD, the more games you can download. Therefore, many gamers opt for traditional 2.5” SSDs.

In any case, your motherboard may not support an M.2 drive, so verify that it is supported (and which data transfer protocol it supports) before purchasing one.

How To Install An M.2 SSD

M.2 SSD being installed

Installing an M.2 SSD is relatively simple.

If you have an M.2 form factor SSD, find the M.2 slot on your motherboard. M.2 slots are typically located next to the PCIe slots, but verify their location in your motherboard’s manual.

A few inches opposite the slot, there should be a standoff with a screw, which will secure your SSD into the motherboard. Remove this screw before you begin.

Start by gently inserting the M.2 SSD into the slot, aligning the notches correctly.

NVMe and SATA M.2 SSDs have different notch alignments, which is why they aren’t compatible with each other unless your M.2 port is B+M keyed.

Then, secure the other end of the SSD card into the motherboard by screwing the screw back into the standoff. It’s as simple as that!

Installing An HDD or 2.5″ SSD

2.5 inch SSD

Installing a 2.5” SSD or an HDD is a bit more complicated, but not much more so. It just has a few additional steps.

The process for installing HDDs and 2.5″ SSDs is pretty much the same. Both use SATA connectors to connect to the motherboard and PSU. While older HDDs used different types of connectors, these have fallen out of use.

First, you’ll need to connect the SSD or HDD to the motherboard via SATA cables. There should be at least two SATA ports on your motherboard.

The smaller one connects it to your motherboard, while the larger one is for the SATA cable coming out of your power supply unit.

SATA L and regular connectors

The one that connects to your motherboard is for data transfer and features seven pins; the one that connects to the PSU is for electrical power and has 15 pins.

Some SATA cables have an L-shaped connector, but it works the same way.

Using a SATA data transfer cable, connect the SSD or HDD to your motherboard. The other end of the cable will go into the SATA ports on your motherboard. Again, check your owner’s manual to verify the location of these ports. If there are different SATA ports with different data transfer rates (such as 3 GB and 6 GB), use the one with a higher transfer rate for faster gameplay.

Next, connect the SSD or HDD to your PSU. Non-modular PSUs will have at least one SATA cable permanently attached. If you purchased a modular PSU, which doesn’t have cables permanently attached, it will likely come with at least one SATA cable (and other essential cables) in the package.

Finally, figure out where to store your SSD or HDD. Your PC case may have a storage drive tray where you can store it; others allow you to screw the SSD or HDD directly onto the case.

It doesn’t matter whether you connect the SSD or HDD to your motherboard and PSU first and then store it in its tray or vice versa, but you may find the first method easier.

NEXT: A Beginner’s Guide To Installing RAM For Your Gaming PC

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