Why you don’t need to spend money on an advanced SSD
All the talk right now is about hardware capable of ever-increasing speeds. PCIe 5.0 in particular has been getting a lot of attention with Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake and AMD’s upcoming Ryzen 7000 processors often in the news lately. These next-gen CPUs support the very latest specification for mainstream PCs.
Such widespread adoption could push to get the fastest possible model when buying an SSD, especially in the wake of recent announcements of lightning-fast consumer PCIe 5.0 drives. But as exciting as new technology is, you can still live a very fast digital life with a less advanced SSD, without sacrificing too much responsiveness. In fact, waiting for high-end specs to trickle down to a mid-range budget can be beneficial on several fronts.
This is why.
It’s not just a numbers game
Solid-state drives are so life-changing compared to mechanical hard drives (HDD) that even the slowest makes a world of difference. Raw speed matters, of course. A modest SATA SSD can read and write data up to four times faster than a 7200 RPM HDD. But the higher latency of an HDD also adds to the day and night feel. HDDs take longer to retrieve information due to the mechanics of searching for data on the spinning platter inside. The delay adds to the feeling of sluggishness or sluggishness.
That circumstance is irrelevant when comparing different classes of SSDs. You can feel the higher responsiveness and faster transfer times of faster models, but the contrast is less strong. With an HDD, it’s more like someone having to wind themselves up every time before speaking – and they talk at a slower clip too. With an SSD you are immersed between speakers that respond directly, but at different speeds.
Not everything done on a PC requires blazing fast speed
The need for speed scales depends on how you use your computer. The most common activities on a PC are office work, browsing the web, streaming media, and gaming, which don’t hit a drive as hard. As a result, the cheapest SSDs (SATA drives, which have a maximum throughput of 600 MB per second) can be fast enough. A SATA SSD also unlocks the blazing-fast system boot speeds that all solid-state drives offer.
Add in file transfers and/or large file processing, though, and faster read and write speeds start to make a difference. The faster the ride, the less time those tasks will take. But their frequency plays a role in the kind of SSD best suited for your PC. A good PCIe 3.0 SSD with a limit of 3,500 MB per second is usually sufficient for those with a lighter workload. You can move up to PCIe 4.0 SSDs and a maximum of 7,500 MB per second or even an upcoming PCIe 5.0 drive and the promise of up to 13,000 MB per second, depending on what your situation (and budget) allows.
Data only moves as fast as your slowest hardware
Gordon Mah Ung / IDG
Your habits aren’t the only reason you might not need a face-melting SSD. Another factor to consider is that not everyone buys an SSD for a brand new PC. Many people choose one (or more) as upgrades to their current system.
Such users are likely using a system that supports up to PCIe 4.0, or even only PCIe 3.0 if your system is older. you could grab an SSD that exceeds your specs as every next generation is backwards compatible. But you won’t take full advantage of the drive’s full potential until you upgrade the rest of your system.
PCIe 3.0 is a good place
Right now, PCIe 3.0 drives offer fantastic value. Not only are they fast, but they’re usually only a few dollars more than a SATA SSD. Take, for example, two of our favorite recommendations, the SK Hynix S31 and the P31. The S31, a SATA drive, has a suggested retail price of $98 for 1 TB on Amazon. Meanwhile, the P31, a PCIe 3.0 drive, has a suggested retail price of $110 for 1 TB. The $12 difference is pretty negligible when you consider the massive performance boost — in our hands-on tests, the P31 is over five times faster than the S31 at transferring large files.
Sometimes PCIe 3.0 SSDs cheaper than a SATA equivalent. Deals are very common these days. At the time of writing, the P31 cost even less than the S31 ($94 vs. $98) thanks to a random price cut from Amazon.
Move the scale in speed and the prices shift more proportionally. Step up to the $150 SK Hynix Platinum P41 (a PCIe 4.0 SSD), and you’re looking at a 36 percent increase in MSRP to get double the performance. For most people, putting that extra $40 into the PC somewhere else (e.g. cooling, graphics card, case, etc.) can make for a better overall experience.
Waiting leads to better value
Corsair / Amazon
When the first PCIe 3.0 and 4.0 drives came out, they didn’t reach the speeds you see now. Those early market entries offered about two-thirds of the throughput you get today, and with much higher sticker prices.
A few years later, prices dropped dramatically and speeds picked up. So you can get started with a respectably fast SSD now, enjoy it for all it’s worth, and add a more scorching drive to your PC later on for a lot less.
As long as your CPU and motherboard can support faster PCIe specs, you’ll have plenty of options for exciting upgrades later on. If you’re building something that supports at least PCI 4.0 these days, you should be well placed. You will find that in a few years capacity will exceed your needs – and generally it is for most people.
More about SSDs
The takeaway here is you can splurge on an ultra-fast SSD, but you don’t need until. Still not sure what to get? Our roundup of the best SSDs can help you narrow down your specific choices once you decide which direction to take. Once you’ve chosen a drive, use our SSD installation guide to make adding it to your PC a snap. And keep your SSD happy and healthy afterwards with our SSD management tips: Proper maintenance of a solid state drive is a bit different from a hard drive. (Defragmenting disks is now a no-no.)