In 2024, you can’t imagine a mid-range or even budget-friendly system lacking solid-state storage inside. Even though SSDs are widespread, identifying compatible SSDs is tough. This is because SSDs come in various configurations with different sizes and specifications.
That said, the M.2 form factor is a very compact SSD, about the size of a gum stick. The secret to such a small size lies in its usage; it is made for ultrabooks and tablets to deliver ultra-fast performance like an SSD. Small size is the real reason an M.2 SSD isn’t compatible with every PC.
So, how to find out whether an M.2 SSD can be paired with a motherboard you have on your system. If yes, then which M.2 SSD will be ideal to do this job? Wait a minute! This is a pretty straightforward job. Be with me in this detailed guide to know the answers to these questions!
First Of All, Get To Know About These Terms
SATA — SATA is a standard interface that connects hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs) to your computer’s motherboard. The older 2.5-inch exclusive SSDs use the SATA 3 interface. It offers maximum theoretical speeds of 6 GB/s (600 MB/s).
PCIe — PCIe is another much faster interface than SATA. It connects various devices to a computer, including network adapters, graphics cards, and storage devices. If we talk about PCIe Gen 5 SSDs, these can transfer data at a staggering rate of 14,000 MB/s.
M.2 — Unlike the SATA and PCIe, which are interfaces, M.2 is an expansion slot to connect many components. You can use the M.2 slot to connect SSDs, M.2 Bluetooth cards, Wi-Fi cards, and Ethernet adaptors. An M.2 slot can utilize SATA or PCIe interface technologies.
NVMe — NVMe is a communication protocol specifically designed for SSDs that utilizes the PCIe interface. NVMe SSDs (based on PCIe interface) generally offer superior performance compared to SATA SSDs, especially for demanding tasks like gaming and video editing.
SATA M.2 vs PCIe M.2 — The main difference lies in the interface used: SATA M.2 uses the SATA protocol, while PCIe M.2 uses the PCIe protocol (usually NVMe on top).
PCIe M.2 is significantly faster than SATA M.2, offering up to 5 times the speed in optimal conditions. However, PCIe M.2 SSDs are generally more expensive than SATA M.2 SSDs.
Which M.2 SSD Is Compatible With My Motherboard?
If you have understood all the above terms, it is pretty easy to determine a compatible M.2 SS for your motherboard. All you need is to go through the following few factors for this process.
M.2 SSDs come in various form factors, and the most common ones are 2242 (42mm) and 2280 (80mm). Other farm factors include 22110 (110mm), 2260 (60mm), and 2230 (30mm).
So, you should first look at your motherboard’s specifications and confirm which M.2 SSD length it can accommodate. When you are going through different SSDs, ensure to double-check the appropriate size for the SSD so it can fit on the motherboard properly.
Interface is the primary (and most important) factor that differentiates various SSDs from each other on a large scale. M.2 SSDs can use either SATA or PCIe/NVMe interfaces. PCIe/NVMe M.2 SSDs are way more efficient and faster than the SATA M.2 SSDs.
Most modern motherboards support both interfaces. However, you should first verify which interface your motherboard supports. Since NVMe drives are faster than SATA drives, if your motherboard supports NVMe, it’s generally a better choice for performance.
M.2 SSDs and M.2 slots on motherboards come with different key types. These keys help avoid the insertion of incompatible components. There are two main types of keys used in M.2 SSDs: B-Key and M-Key.
B-Keyed M.2 slots have six pins on the bottom side of the connector, separated from the rest. These pins are numbered 12-19. B-Keyed slots are typically used for SATA-based M.2 SSDs and some PCIe x2 M.2 SSDs.
M-Keyed M.2 slots have five pins on the bottom side of the connector, separated from the rest. These pins are numbered 59-66. M-Keyed slots are commonly used for NVMe-based M.2 SSDs and some PCIe x4 M.2 SSDs.
Some M.2 slots are designed to accept both B-Keyed and M-Keyed M.2 devices. These slots are known as B/M-Keyed slots. They are versatile and can support both SATA and NVMe M.2 SSDs.
So, know what keys your motherboard is compatible with. If “Key M” is written on your motherboard’s Storage specifications, opt for an SSD with the same configuration. And the same applies to “Key B” and “Key B/M).
How To Check M.2 SSD Compatibility Using The Motherboard’s Specifications?
First, ensure your motherboard has an M.2 slot. Secondly, determine what types of M.2 slots it has. Follow these steps to get into the motherboard’s specifications and determine this.
- Know the exact name of your motherboard. For example, this PC has the Gigabyte B450 S2h. You can see this on the motherboard, its manual, and/or package.
NOTE: Another way to know your motherboard is to search for Dxdiag in your Start menu. Open the application. Under the System tab, Find your motherboard’s name next to the System Model.
- Open a browser on your PC and enter the name of your motherboard.
- Click on the first website that appears in the SERP; it is usually the official brand’s website.
- Go to your motherboard’s Specifications > Storage/Storage Interface.
- Read the Storage specifications and note down your answers.
SATA M.2 vs PCIe M.2: Which Is Better?
SATA M.2 is a good choice:
- For general use and everyday tasks where high speed isn’t crucial.
- When on a tight budget.
- For compatibility with older motherboards that might not support PCIe M.2.
PCIe M.2 is recommended:
- For demanding tasks like video editing, gaming, and content creation.
- If you want the latest and fastest storage performance.
- If your motherboard supports PCIe M.2 (especially NVMe).
What If A Motherboard Doesn’t Support M.2 NVMe Drives?
If your motherboard has no support for PCIe/NVMe M.2 SSD, you can go for SATA M.2 SSD, although it is a slower alternative. Another way is to use PCIe M.2 adaptor cards. These cards can be installed in a PCIe slot on the motherboard and provide support for M.2 NVMe drives.
While it may seem like a complicated task to find a compatible M.2 SSD for your motherboard, it isn’t that much if you know a few things. SATA M.2 SSDs are cheaper but slower than the PCIe M.2 SSDs (you can also call these NVMe M.2 SSDs).
As a rule of thumb, go through your motherboard’s Storage specifications first. Once you have determined the interface (SATA/PCIe), look for these things in these specifications: the size of the M.2 SSD your motherboard can accommodate, the interface, and the keys.
Once having these specifications in your hand, look for the M.2 SSDs with the same specifications. Additionally, we suggest you opt for a reputed brand that has positive reviews among tech enthusiasts while being within your budget.