What is M.2 SSD? Does your computer need M.2 SSD?

As computers, predominantly the laptops, continue to shrink in size, its components like the storage drives also needed to congruently get smaller. In the past few decades, computer storage has transformed from that typical 2 square meter product to ultra-modern flash drives – which now fits into the thinnest of laptops and Ultrabooks. Behold the M.2 SSD (M-dot-2) form factor, that’s nips the size of conventional solid-state storage to the minuscule size of a USB stick.

M.2 SSD

If you are planning to buy an M.2 SSD drive for your next computer, here’s all that you need to know.

What is M.2 SSD

M.2 is a form factor for SSDs (solid-state drives) which looks like a stick of gum. M.2 SSDs are rectangular and most of them are 80 x 22mm (L x W) but can be shorter or longer (i.e., 30 mm, 42 mm and 110 mm). The M.2 SSD drives which are longer hold more NAND chips and hold extra capacity than the shorter versions. These drives can also be single or double-sided. The most common size is labeled M.2 Type-2280.

M.2 SSD cards are archetypally used in modern mobile computing devices. M.2 SSDs are not compatible with older systems because this form factor is not like mSATA cards. Owing to its compactness factor, thin laptops are increasingly using M.2 SSDs as they take very less room, unlike the traditional SATA drives. Also, since it’s designed for mobile devices, these aren’t fit for large enterprise storage systems.

Now about the cost and vendors, this type of SSDs are widely available in the market now and typically cost from $0.25-$0.75 per gigabyte. Samsung and Intel are the most popular vendors for M.2 SSDs. Other vendors include Toshiba, Kingston, Team Group, Plextor, and Adata.

Identifying different sizes of M.2 SSD

M.2 SSD cards and motherboard slots differ in sizes, both in the width and length of the card. The size of M.2 SSD can be identified using the four- or five-digit number in its name. The first two digits are its width, while the others are its length. For example, M.2 type – 2280 card; it’s 22 mm wide and 80 mm long. For desktop and laptops, 22 mm width M.2 SSDs are standard. The current available sizes for M.2 modules are as follow:

  • Widths – 12, 16, 22, and 30 mm
  • Lengths – 16, 26, 30, 38, 42, 60, 80, and 110 mm

An 80 mm or 110 mm length card can hold 8 NAND chips for 1 TB of capacity. Furthermore, M.2 SSDs go up to 2TB in storage size.

Keying Structure

With several notched pins, M.2 modules can be easily plugged into a mating connector, which further enhances its easy compatibility. Definite Notched pins match to a unique Key, ranging from A (having pins 8-15 notched) to M (having pins 59-66 notched).

The typical M.2 SSD keying structure includes B key, M key or B+M Key. For WD M.2 SSDs, the keys used are B and M (B+M) on WD Green SSD and WD Blue SSD models, while the WD Black PCIe SSD uses only the M key.

M.2 SSD Storage Pros

  1. Extra Speed
  2. Compacted Form Factor
  3. The technology of the Future
  4. Improved Power Consumption
  5. Reliable and dependable

1] Extra speed

M.2 SSDs are designed for the PCIe connector, which has far more caliber than the traditional SSD’s. These add to the sheer difference in speed of SSD technologies, and these reasonably priced M.2 SSD’s have the power to fetch 15x faster speed. Users will also be able to get M.2 SSDs which leverage the NVME protocol, these offer much lower latency.

Operating systems like Windows utilize the system’s storage most of the time, hence an upgrade makes things smoother. The difference in speed will also be evident in the system’s boot times and reduced game load screens.

2] Compacted Form Factor

So, if you are planning a portable build, then an M.2 SSD is one stern consideration for reducing the weight and space factor. The traditional 2.5-inch SSDs are almost the size of your entire hand, but M.2 SSDs lie on 2 to 3 fingers. In addition to this, M.2 connectors plug straight into the motherboard, eliminating the need for extra cabling. These drives cut down the weight of SSDs from 50 grams to just 7 grams, i.e., equivalent to the weight of a leaf on a tree.

3] Technology of the Future

If you get a system which supports M.2 drives, you will open plenty of upgrade options in the future. Like PCIe storage and NVME, M.2 is another innovation that is expected to dominate the consumer market in a few years.

4] Improved Power Consumption

Mobile computers systems have a very limited running time depending upon the size of their battery and the power consumed by the different components. Since the interface of M.2 SSD is a part of the SATA 3.2 specifications, it includes few features that are beyond just the interface, like DevSleep. This new feature creates a lower power state and cuts down the amount of power used by the devices. This helps in extending the running time for the systems and put it to sleep rather than powered down amid several uses.

5] Reliable and dependable

One of the major advantages of SSD’s over hard drives was that they do not degrade physically and last very long. M.2 SSD’s work in a similar fashion, there’s a very little long-run risk, and their dependability is well known.

M.2 SSD Cons

Spotting an M.2 SSD which fits your motherboard can be a difficult job for those who aren’t too conversant with computer hardware. These drives come with many complications, here’s a quick rundown:

  • Two connectors support only a few selective ‘keys,’ hence can connect to connectors with the same keying.
  • Only a few M.2 drives and connection points support NVME, i.e., the faster data transfer protocol.
  • Users might have to switch their M.2 drive to PICe mode in their system BIOS.
  • Two drives which use SATA connection can condense the overall computer performance.

Hence before making the final purchase, a user needs to check if their motherboard is compatible with M.2 and explore their connections options and setup steps.

Another con is the price, getting newer modern technologies like Intel Optane can demand 4X cost.

Final Thoughts

Do you need M.2 SSD? Well, owing to the array of pros every modern computer needs M.2 SSD, not just for its compact structure and sleekness, but to stay relevant with the new and upcoming technologies.

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Ankit Gupta is a writer by profession and has more than 7 years of global writing experience on technology and other areas. He follows technological developments and likes to write about Windows & IT security. He has a deep liking for wild life and has written a book on Top Tiger Parks of India.

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