What Does SSD Look Like?

A solid state drive (SSD) is basically a hard drive with NO mechanical components. They are not only faster than your regular hard disk drives, but they are also slimmer. If you are unaware of what an SSD is, then first question you may ask is what does SSD look like?

Well the answer to that question depends upon what type of SSD you have. There are three popular types of SSDs i.e 2.5″ SATA SSD, M.2 SATA SSD and M.2 NVMe SSD. A 2.5″ SATA SSD looks similar to a 2.5″ hard disk drive on a laptop. An M.2 NVME or SATA SSD has the M.2 form factor which is a stick like shape.

So in other words, the three popular SSD types either use the 2.5″ or the M.2 form factor.

In the following article, I will talk in detail about what an SSD look likes, its dimensions, sizes and where to find one.

So What Does SSD Look Like?

The shape and the dimensions of an SSD depends upon what type of SSD it is.

As far as the commercial SSDs go, there are two types of SSDs:

  • 2.5″ SSDs
  • M.2 SSDs

I will explain each of these below.

2.5″ SSDs – They Use the SATA Interface

A 2.5″ SSD as you see above has the same size as a 2.5″ hard disk drive found in laptops.

2.5″ SSDs are perhaps the largest SSDs you can find for commercial. They are not necessarily the fastest though.

A 2.5″ SSD has the same form factor as the 2.5″ Hard Disk Drive as is found in laptops.

The 2.5″ size gets its dimensions from the 2.5″ diameter circular storage plates found in the laptop’s hard disk drive.

While an SSD does not use mechanical storage plates, the size standard has been kept the same so that it can be installed easily in the existing 2.5″ drive bays on laptops and desktops. 

The actual square dimensions of the 2.5″ SSD is about 3.94 x 2.76 x 0.27 inches (LxWxH).

2.5 hard disk drive
A 2.5″ Hard Disk Drive in a laptop. Can be replaced with a 2.5″ SATA SSD.

2.5″ SSDs use the SATA interface. Hence, they are formally known as 2.5″ SATA SSDs.

SATA is one of the two interfaces that hard drives use to connect to the PC (the other one being PCIe). 

A SATA SSD is about 2-3 times faster than a typical hard disk drive (HDD). The best HDDs can achieve 200 MB/s at max and rarely do they reach this level of performance. 

A SATA SSD has sustained speeds of about 550 MB/s.

2.5″ SATA SSDs Installation in Desktops

2.5″ SATA SSDs require a, well, 2.5″ drive bay in the desktop’s PC cay in order to be fastened.

A typical desktop hard drive is NOT 2.5″ but a 3.5″ hard drive instead. As such, sometimes PC cases DO NOT have 2.5″ drive bays at all.

3.5 hard drive bay

If you do not have 2.5″ drive bays in your PC case, then you would need an adapter as the one shown below to convert a 3.5″ drive bay into a 2.5 drive bay.

Drive bay adapter
A 3.5″ to 2.5″ drive bay adapter

Also Read: Can You Use a Laptop Hard Drive in a Desktop?

2.5″ SATA SSD Have Connectors on the Back

Another visible feature of a 2.5″ SATA SSDs is that they have connectors for SATA DATA cable and SATA power cable on the back.

As such, a SATA SSD requires to be powered separately. The power connector comes from the Power Supply Unit whereas the data connector is connected via a SATA data cable. 

does ssd need power
SATA SSD connectors explained

So simply put, as far as the question what does SSD look like for a SATA 2.5″ drive goes, it is similar to a 2.5″ HDD on a laptop.

Also Read: Does SSD Need Power?

M.2 SSDs – PCIe and SATA M.2 SSD

The second popular form factor used by the SSDs is the M.2 form factor.

SSDs using this form factor look like slim sticks and they come in various sizes.

Now it is worth noting that M.2 SSDs can be found using either SATA or PCIe interface. 

Below is an M.2 SATA SSD:

What are SATA Ports Used For
Samsung Evo 860 SATA SSD with M.2 form factor.

Here is an M.2 PCIe SSD aka NVMe SSD:

samsung 980 pro
Samsung 980 Pro. PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD

They look identical EXCEPT with their connectors. The connectors on an M.2 SATA is different from that of an M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD.

The connectors on an M.2 SSDs are also known as KEY and they can help you identify what interface the SSD uses.

Keys on an M.2 SSD

The keys basically refer to the notches that you see on the connector. The location of the notches has a huge implication of what type of SSD you have in hand.

There are three KEY arrangement for M.2 SSDs with the “M” being the most popular, “B+M” being the somewhat popular and the “B” key almost phased out.

Key Remarks Notch Location
M – Most popular
– Offers 4 PCIe lanes
– Used by PCIe NMVe SSD these days
Notch on the right side of the stick when looking from the top. 
B+M – Somewhat popular
– Used by the SATA M.2 SSDs
Notch on both sides of the stick.
B – More or less phased out
– Offers 2 PCIe lanes; not ideal for NVMe SSD as they require 4 PCIe lanes.
Notch on the left side of the stick when looking from the top.

The two common key types you need to understand are the M and B+M Keys. 

m2 sata key
(Left) M.2 NVMe SSD uses the M Key; (Right) M.2 SATA SSD uses B+M Key. Source: atpinc.com

You need to have the corresponding M.2 slot on the motherboard to accommodate the relevant SSDs as well.

You cannot plug an “B+M” key SSD in a “M” Key M.2 slot on the motherboard.

You CAN however, installed an “M” Key SSD on a “B+M” Key M.2 slot on the motherboard. However, an “M” Key SSD will run at a lower performance if installed in a “B+M” slot.

Sizes of M.2 SSDs

This brings us to the final critical point to identify what does SSD look like.

M.2 SSDs come in various sizes and in the specsheet their size is identified through a number such as:

  • 2230
  • 2242
  • 2260
  • 2280
  • 22110

This number basically identifies the physical size of the M.2 SSD stick.

The first two numbers “22” identify with width of the stick in mm so 22 = 22mm.

The next 2-3 numbers identify the LENGTH of the stick in mm. Therefore, a stich with the size spec of 2230 has a length of 30 mm. A stick with the size spec of 22110 has a length of 110 mm.

A typical M.2 slot on a motherboard, therefore, has several holes located at different length intervals. These holes are for screwing in the M.2 SSD. 

M.2 Slot Length
A typical M.2 slot with the different length marked. The holes at different length interval are where you would screw in your SSD. Source: rog.asus.com

Also Read: How Many M.2 Slots Do Motherboards Have?

Other Type of SSDs

The following SSDs are shown only for educational purposes. If you are an average customer building a PC, you DO NOT need to worry yourself about these. 

Legacy mSATA SSD

You may have also heard of mSATA SSDs. These have now been phased out are obsolete but a few years back they were used in portable devices. 

These SSDs had a distinct connector and a port. 

M.2 vs mSATA
M.2 vs mSATA. Source: Atpinc.com

Enterprise and Workstation Grade U.2 SSDs

Enterprise and workstation grade solutions may use specialized SSDs that use the U.2 form factor.

These are the fastest type of storage you can find, but they are supremely expensive.

Intel Optane 5800x
Intel Optane 5800x SSD using M.2 form factor. Expensive and workstation grade SSD. Source: Intel.com

Also Read: Does SSD Improve Gaming Performance?

Final Words

In the article above I talked comprehensively about what does SSD look like. But let me tell you here that it is very important to identify what kind of SSD you have.

Just because the desktop or the laptop you intend to buy has “SSD” written in its description does not tell you how fast it will perform.

Take for instance the fact that an NVMe M.2 SSD is countless times faster than a SATA SSD. While a PCIe 3.0 has a transfer speeds of about 3500 MB/s, a SATA SSD (both M.2 and 2.5″) can achieve speeds of only 550 MB/s.

I have equipped you with enough knowledge to identify what SSD you have by looking at physically and through its size, form factor, key etc. 

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Atif Qazi
Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGuide101 and an expert in the computer peripheral industry with over two decades of experience. He has worked as a consultant for major companies and has a deep understanding of the inner workings of computer peripherals. He has a degree in Electrical Engineering and has served as a product manager and technical consultant. He is passionate about testing and evaluating the latest products to provide readers with reliable information.

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