If you’re reading this post, you’re probably here for one reason: you want to build a new PC. Whether it’s your first time building or you’re an experienced builder and just need some extra clarification, this post is for you. With all the options available on the market, it can be overwhelming, but we’re here to help break it down.
If you’re looking for other parts as well, be sure to check out some of our other guides:
How to Choose PC Parts: The Processor
How to Choose PC Parts: The Motherboard
How to Choose PC Parts: The Video Card
How to Choose PC Parts: RAM
How to Choose PC Parts: The Power Supply
How to Choose PC Parts: The Case
In this installment, we’ll be going over storage, so it’s all about choosing your internal hard drive. Once again, let’s get our key questions in order:
Hard drives (HDD) are the most common form of storage available and tend to be considered the traditional hard drive. They are mechanical drives with a spinning platter that physically reads and writes information to sectors on the drive. This is why you’ll see them labeled with RPM in the specs. Hard drives will connect to your computer via SATA cables and come in 2.5” and 3.5” form factors. 2.5” drives are used for laptops, while 3.5” drives are used for desktops. While you could connect a 2.5” drive to your desktop, the increased price for the slimmer form factor makes it generally not worth it. 7200RPM is the standard speed I would recommend if you plan to use a hard drive in your desktop.
Solid state drives (SSD) are a newer form of drive that utilizes flash storage, like a USB flash drive. Unlike hard drives, SSDs have no moving parts. SSDs have gained a lot of popularity recently and are becoming the default storage option for many users. SSDs come in a few different form factors, such as 2.5-inch SATA and M.2.
SSD form factors
2.5-inch SSDs are the same size as 2.5” hard drives commonly used in laptops. They utilize the same type of SATA cable connections that normal hard drives use to connect to your motherboard.
M.2 SSDs are a newer style of solid state drive that’s become popular recently. They’re smaller and slot directly into your motherboard as opposed to mounting separately and using a cable like a 2.5” drive. They can utilize a SATA interface or an NVMe PCI express interface, but I’ll get to that later.
While other form factors exist for SSDs, we’ll be keeping this basic as consumer-grade solid state drives are primarily 2.5” and M.2 drives.
SATA stands for Serial ATA, and it’s an interface that allows you to connect various storage devices such as hard drives, SSDs, and optical disk drives.
NVMe is a newer interface that’s become very popular on M.2 SSDs. It utilizes a PCIe-based connection which has much faster transfer speeds and higher bandwidth than a traditional SATA connection.
Should I get an SSD or Hard Drive?
SSDs have gradually become more commonplace over the last few years and have become fairly standard. The main advantage SSDs have is that they’re much faster than traditional HDDs. This means much faster boot-up time and loading speeds, which is very noticeable, even during normal everyday use. One other benefit SSDs have over hard drives is the lack of moving parts. This helps them be more resilient to physical damage than hard drives and should keep them running longer. However, SSDs are still more expensive than hard drives, so if you need large amounts of storage space, going SSD only can get expensive.
PC builders on a budget will often compromise, using a smaller SSD as their primary drive for their operating system other important software and use a secondary HDD for storage space. This gives you the benefit of the SSD's speeds for everyday use in Windows with the cheap space of the HDD. The only benefit games get from being on an SSD is decreased loading times. Of course, modern games can be very large. So, if you can’t afford full SSD storage, you can still use the SSD+HDD set up and they’ll play just fine.
For most users, we’d recommend an SSD, at least a small one, to install Windows on. If you can afford it or don’t need a lot of storage capacity, a full SSD build is the way to go.
If you have a specific use case that requires very large amounts of storage, HDDs may be the better option because of the price. Some HDDs are designed for specific use cases, such as surveillance hard drives or NAS storage. HDDs are also great to use as backups.
M.2 SSDs can come in both SATA and NVMe. SATA M.2 drives function exactly the same as SATA 2.5”, they simply slot into your motherboard directly instead of requiring cables to connect them. Outside of ease of installation and space, there’s no advantage they have over a 2.5” drive. NVMe M.2 SSDs, on the other hand, are quite a bit different, so it’s important to understand exactly how they work and what benefits it gives you.
There are two different ways SSDs can read and write data: sequential and random. Data is stored on a drive in a series of blocks; blocks are made up of bytes/bits of data. Sequential read/write accesses those blocks in sequential order, whereas random read/write goes directly to whichever blocks are needed.
You’ll see SSDs advertised with read/write speeds in their specs, but what isn’t specified is that these are sequential read/write speeds, not random.
SATA III, the current SATA standard you’ll see on SATA SSDs, maxes out at 600 MB/s for read and write speeds. PCIe 3.0 NVMe drives can have read/write speeds over 3000 MB/s, and PCIe 4.0 drives can be over 5,000 MB/s (this varies depending on the drive, make sure you check the specs). As you can clearly see, this is a huge uplift vs. a SATA interface, but sequential read/write is only used when transferring data files. It also depends on whatever you’re transferring to/from as well. Your slowest component will bottleneck you, so a data transfer from an NVMe drive to a hard drive is only going to transfer at the speed the hard drive can operate at.
Random read/write is used for most other things, like booting your computer or loading an application. Random read/write speeds are extremely similar between SATA and NVMe SSDs, so you won’t really notice any differences between the two for normal everyday use.
There’s nothing wrong with going with an NVMe drive for normal use, especially with how common they are now, but it’s not a requirement either. A SATA M.2 SSD will perform just the same for most people. For the average users, I would go with whichever is most readily available and affordable. If you’re somebody who does a lot of high-speed data transfer, NVMe is probably the way to go.
Most drives available will work perfectly fine for anybody. I’ll list a few examples of drives to look at, and my recommendation would be to choose the one with the capacity you want that costs the least unless you have a specific one you’re interested in.
Some manufacturers will include utilities with their drives like cloning software or health monitoring, and the cheaper drives tend not to include those sorts of things. As always, it’s good to do some research and double-check reviews to avoid any individual cases that could be poor quality, and remember, there are more options out there than what I list here!
Western Digital Blue Mainstream 1TB 7200RPM 3.5” Internal Hard Drive
Seagate Barracuda 2TB 7200RPM 3.5” Internal Hard Drive
Western Digital Black Performance 1TB 7200RPM 3.5” Internal Hard Drive
Inland Professional 1TB 2.5” SATA SSD (comes in 256GB, 512GB and more)
Crucial MX500 1TB 2.5” SATA SSD (comes in 250GB, 500GB, and 2TB)
Samsung 870 EVO 1TB 2.5” SATA SSD (comes in 250GB, 500GB, and more)
WD Blue 1TB 2.5” SATA SSD (comes in 250GB, 500GB, and 2TB)
Inland Professional 1TB PCIe Gen 3 NVMe M.2 (comes in 256GB and 512GB)
Samsung 970 EVO 1TB PCIe Gen 3 NVMe M.2 (comes in 500GB as well)
Crucial P2 1TB PCIe Gen 3 NVMe M.2 (comes in 250GB, 500GB, and 2TB)
WD Black SN750 1TB PCIe Gen 3 NVMe M.2 (comes in 250GB, 500GB, and more)
That pretty much covers it! SSDs and hard drives are fairly straightforward, and I'll mention one more time that, in my opinion, there's no reason not to use an SSD, even if it's just a small one.
If you have follow-up questions, feel free to comment below, and if you’re still looking for part recommendations, we have guides for Processors, Motherboards, Graphics Cards, RAM, Power Supplies, and Cases.
Hey all, Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB M.2 vs Samsung 970 Pro 1TB M.2 which is better? Full specs are Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB M.2 3,500MB/s/3,300MB/s, 600K/550K IOPS and Samsung 970 Pro 1TB M.2 3,500MB/s/2,700MB/s, 500K/500K IOPS. Should I just rely on specs and go for the EVO Plus??
Hello Everyone ,
I'm new to the PC enthusiast game and one of my biggest concerns is compatibility.
How do I check if an SSD will be compatible with my current motherboard?
Hello, what motherboard and SSD would this be regarding?
I'm going to buy the powerspec b745 which I believe has a MSI MPG Z490 PLUS motherboard.
It looks like the current SSD is an 1 TB NVME SSD is a Western Digital Blue SN550.
I want to see if I could add a second SSD...I'm pasting the link of the SSD that I'm interested in!
@k1k3_93 just chiming in. You are correct the B745 has the MPG z490 plus mobo and has 2 M.2 slots. So you could install the EVO 970 as a secondary SSD. The Samsung is also compatible with the z490.
@TSTDavey ok sweet thanks for clarifying!!!!
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