If you are planning on buying a new SSD, then it is important to learn how to check SSD compatibility with your laptop or desktop motherboard so that you do not end up buying something that doesn’t work.
To check the compatibility of a certain SSD with your PC, you must refer to the technical spec sheet of its motherboards. However, in order to figure out all the jargon mentioned in the specsheet, you have to understand what they mean.
In order to successfully understand the SSD compatibility through the technical specsheet you need to know:
- The two SSD interfaces i.e SATA and PCIe
- The three different types of SSD i.e 2.5″ SATA SSD, M.2 SATA SSD and M.2 NVMe SSD
- The Sizes and Key Type for M.2 SSDs
- The Impact of the Interface Version on the SSD
Once you have understood these concepts, it will be very easy for you to buy the right SSD for your laptop or desktop.
I will talk in detail about the SSD technical jargon and concepts in the text below.
SATA vs PCIe Interface for SSDs
The first step in understanding how to check SSD compatibility with laptop or desktop is to understand the different type of interfaces for SATA.
There are essentially two interfaces that SSDs are built for:
SATA is a slower interface and is typically used to connect hard disk drives.
The newest version of the SATA interface, SATA 3, works at 6 Gbps (Giga BITS per second) or 750 MBps (Mega BYTES per second) transfer rate (theoretically).
Practically, SATA SSDs can reach speeds of about 550 MB/s. This is about 2-3 times faster than a normal hard disk drive.
The PCIe interface, on the other hand, is much faster. PCIe interface uses PCIe lanes. PCIe lanes are like information highways that carry data from the connected devices to and from the CPU very quickly.
There are various versions of the PCIe interface, the most current PCIe version is 4.0. PCIe based SSDs are also called NVMe SSDs. A PCIe 4.0 SSD can reach speeds of a whopping 5500 MB/s practically!
TL:DR: SATA SSDs are slower; PCIe SSDs (aka NVMe SSDs are faster.
Understanding the Different SSDs and Their Form Factor
Along with understanding different interfaces that SSDs use, you also have to understand the form factors they come in to check SSD compatibility with laptop or desktop.
When you take the form factors into consideration, you will end up with three common SSD types:
- 2.5″ SATA SSD
- M.2 SATA SSD
- M.2 NVMe/PCIe SSD
2.5″ SATA SSD
2.5″ SATA SSDs, as shown above, are similar to the 2.5″ HDD in size that you find in the laptops.
In order to connect to the PC, they require a SATA Data cable that connects to the SATA ports as shown below on one end and to the drive on the other hand.
2.5″ SATA SSDs also require a SATA power cable from the Power Supply unit.
When connected to SATA 3 ports, these drives can achieve speeds of about 550 MB/s.
Also Read: What Cables Do I Need for SSD?
M.2 SATA SSD
SATA SSDs can also be found in the M.2 form factor. These drives have a stick like form factor and they go into the dedicated M.2 slots on your motherboard.
These too have a maximum speed of about 550 MB/s.
Also Read: How to Tell if My M.2 Slot is NVMe or SATA?
M.2 PCIe/NVMe SSD
PCIe SSDs, aka NVMe SSDs, are the gold standard for fast storage. NVMe SSDs also use the M.2 form factor.
As far as the performance goes, they are light years ahead as compared to the SATA SSD.
A PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSD can reach speed of about 3500 MB/s.
A PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD can reach speeds of about 5500 MB/s – ten times as much as a SATA SSD.
Also Read: How Many M.2 Slots Do Motherboards Have?
Understanding the Key Type of M.2 SSDs
Another important specification to note in order to check SSD compatibility with your motherboard is the Key type.
Both the Key on your SSD and on the motherboard socket must match in order for the SSD to be compatible.
The Key basically refers to the notch found on the connectors on the SSD sticks.
- B Key is used by NVMe SSD; offers 2 PCIe Lanes – not really used now days.
- M Key is used by NVMe SSDs; offers 4 PCIe Lanes
- B+M Key is used by SATA SSDs typically.
The two common key types you need to understand are the M and B+M Keys.
A typical technical spec sheet for the SSD stick or for motherboard M.2 slot will certainly make mention of the Key they use.
An M Key is used as the standard for M.2 slots on the motherboard these days as it offers 4 PCIe lanes and is compatible with M Key NVMe SSD as well as SATA SSDs using the B+M.
M Key slots CANNOT be accommodated with a B Key SSD and vice versa.
A B+M Key for M.2 slots on the motherboard offers the best compatibility as it would be able to support both M, B and B+M Key SSDs. The only issue with a B+M Key slot on the motherboard is that it offers 2 PCIe lanes.
Key Type of the M.2 Slot and PCIe Lanes
A typical M.2 NVMe SSD requires x4 PCIe lanes in order to work optimally. However, certain M.2 slots on the motherboard (those using B and B+M Key) offer 2 PCIe lanes. This can reduce the speed of the installed NVMe SSD by half!
In other words, if you have a Gen 4 PCIe NVMe installed in a B+M Key slot, its performance would be reduced by half!
Impact of Interface Version on SSD
The version of the SATA port or the M.2 slot on the motherboard plays a huge role in what generation of SSDs it can support and how they will perform.
Both SATA and PCIe double their transfer speed with each newer generation.
- SATA 1 has transfer speed of 1.5 Gbps or 187.5 MB/s
- SATA 2 has transfer speed of 3.0 Gbps or 375 MB/s
- SATA 3 has transfer speed of 6.0 Gbps or 750 MB/s
Similarly for PCIe, the transfer speed is shown in the table below. Again, know that NVMe SSDs use x4 lanes.
- A Gen 3 NVMe SSD such as the Samsung 970 Pro has theoretical transfer speed of 3,939 MB/s, (3500 MB/s typical).
- A Gen 4 NVMe SSD such as the Samsung 980 Pro has theoretical transfer speed of 7,877 MB/s (5500 MB/s typical).
If you were to install your SSDs in an older slot, then their speed will be directly impacted.
In other words, if you were to install a 2.5″ SATA 3 SSD to a SATA 2 port on your motherboard, its potential speed will be halved.
Similarly, if you were to install a Gen 4 NVMe SSD on a PCIe 3.0 M.2 slot on your motherboard, then its potential max speed will be halved!
Length of M.2 SSD Sticks
The final important spec I would make mention is the length of the SSD.
SSDs can be found in five different lengths:
In the numbers above, the first two numbers identify the width of SSD stick and the rest of the numbers define the length in mm.
So a 2280 SSD stick has a width of 22mm and a length of 80mm.
The M.2 socket on your motherboard MUST be long enough to support your SSD stick in order for it to be compatible.
For instance, a 22110 SSD stick (110mm length stick), will not be compatible with an M.2 slot that has a max supported length of 2280.
You can figure this out all from the spec sheet of the motherboard, as well as by physical inspection.
How to Check SSD Compatibility With Laptop or Desktop?
Now that you are equipped with the knowledge of all the important specifications of an SSD, you should be able to read the technical specsheet of your laptop’s or your desktop’s motherboard in order to check SSD compatibility.
Sample Motherboard Specsheet for M.2 Slot
The sample specsheet above is tough to understand for the uninitiated. However, if you can decipher what this says, then you are basically an expert at how to check SSD compatibility with desktop motherboard.
The first line defines how many storage ports the motherboard:
- 3 x M.2 ports
- 6 x SATA 3 (aka SATA 6 Gbps) ports
The next lines define the specifications of the M.2 slots.
M.2_1 Slot Specifications
The first M.2 slot connects to the CPU.
M.2_1 slot (Key M), type 2242/2260/2280/22110
There are several caveats here. For starters, this slot will ONLY work with an Intel 11th Generation CPU.
Secondly, it conforms to PCIe 4.0 version and thus would support the Gen 4 PCIe NVMe SSDs such as the Samsung 980 Pro.
It is worth noting that this slot uses the M Key and supports 2242/2260/2280/22110 lengths.
This slot WILL NOT support M.2 SATA SSDs.
M.2_2 and M.2_2 Slot Specifications
The next few lines define the specifications of the rest of the two M.2 slots.
For starters the specsheet highlights that these slots are connected to the Z590 chipset, unlike the previous M.2_1 slot which was connected to the CPU.
M.2_2 slot (Key M), type 2242/2260/2280/22110 (supports PCIe 3.0 x4 & SATA modes)***
M.2_3 slot (Key M), type 2242/2260/22110 (supports PCIe 3.0 x4 & SATA modes)****
These two slots both conform to PCIe 3.0 version and offer 4 lanes. Hence while a Gen 3 NVMe SSD such as the Samsung 970 Pro would work to its full potential, a Gen 4 NVMe SSD should NOT be installed in these ideally.
You must also note the sizes of each slot. The third M.2_3 slot, for instance, does NOT support the 2280 SSD sticks.
A highly noteworthy point here is that both of these slots support SATA SSDs as well. HOWEVER, with caveats. These caveats are indicated by asterisk symbols **** at the end.
The caveats here point to the fact that certain SATA slots will get disabled if an M.2 SATA SSD is occupied in the slot in question.
*** M.2_2 shares bandwidth SATA6G_2 slot. Therefore, SATA6G_2 slot will get disabled if M.2_2 slot is occupied with a SATA SSD.
**** M.2_3 shares bandwidth SATA6G_6 slot. Therefore, SATA6G_3 slot will get disabled if M.2_2 slot is occupied with a SATA SSD.
So to learn how to check SSD compatibility with laptop or desktop, you have to first understand the SSD specs and jargon.
Only then will you be able to thoroughly understand the spec sheet of your desktop’s and laptop’s motherboard.
But in the end, to truly understand the SSD compatibility of your PC, you HAVE to refer to its technical specsheet or manual.