Can an Older Trading Computer Benefit from an M.2 Drive?

Years ago, I used to discourage traders from trading on a laptop on a daily basis. They were acceptable while on the road, but just not powerful enough for everyday trading. That’s no longer the case.

Nowadays many traders are using laptops as their main trading computer. But laptops have a more compact design than desktop machines, so the components have to be smaller.

M.2 (m-dot-2) solid-state drives (SSDs) have become an essential ingredient for designing these thin laptops. M.2 SSDs have two primary benefits. Not only are they smaller in size, they offer better performance (speed) than traditional hard drives or even older SSDs.

For traders, the speed advantage of M.2 SSDs impacts key tasks such as file transfers and data compression/decompression.

These and other benefits have made them a must-have for trading desktops as well.

So does this mean it’s a good idea to upgrade your older trading computer (whether desktop or laptop) by switching to an M.2 SSD drive? When does upgrading to an M.2 make sense?

Well, that depends.

What’s Your Interface?

Just adding an M.2 SSD drive to an existing computer does not automatically translate to better performance. To perform at its best, an SSD drive needs the right interface for interacting with other components of your computer.

The older interface standard is SATA. SATA stands for Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. One big problem with SATA-standard SSDs are their bulky size (about like a deck of cards). This problem was solved by creating the new mSATA interface.

The smaller mSATA drives can still work with SATA. But the SATA 3.0 standard limits their performance.

The SATA 3.0 standard supports speeds up to 600 MB/s. That sounds fast, but M.2 SSDs are capable of even higher speeds. However, regardless of whether your SSD drive can operate faster, a SATA 3.0 interface on your motherboard will keep your SSD stuck at 600 MB/s.

The newer SATA 3.2 specification allows M.2 cards to be flexible as to which interface standard they can work with. Specifically, it allows M.2 cards to use either the SATA 3.0 standard (at 600 MB/s) or the PCI-Express interface. The PCI-Express 3.0 interface operates at a much faster 1 GB/s.

Do You Have a Lane Limit?

Moreover, when an M.2 card is connecting with PCI-Express, it can use multiple lanes. The 1 GB/s limit is for a single lane of PCI-Express. In the current M.2 specification, SSDs can use up to four lanes. So potentially, M.2 SSDs can operate at up to 4 GB/s.

So great… let’s say you have PCI-Express capability on your trading computer. Does that mean you can expect 4 GB/s from the latest M.2 card?

Once again, before upgrading, you need to understand the capabilities of your existing hardware. In addition to knowing how many lanes the SSD can handle, you also need to know how many your trading computer’s motherboard can handle.

We saw earlier that SSDs plugged into a motherboard that only offers the SATA 3.0 standard will only give you 600 MB/s (regardless of the SSD’s capability).

Similarly, if your M.2 SSD is capable of using 4 lanes of PCI-Express, but your motherboard only allows the use of 2 lanes, you will be restricted to a slower 2 GB/s transfer speed.

Is It the Right Size?

All M.2 drives are roughly the size of a stick of gum. But within that ballpark, they do come in different sizes. Figuring out the size of a particular SSD is easy. Just look at the Type designation. 

For example, M.2 Type-2280 means that it has a width of 22 mm and a length of 80 mm. There are other types like 2230, 2242, 2260, and 22110. But 2280 is the most common.

Also, M.2 drives can be single-sided or double-sided. Single-sided drives are thinner (making them perfect for laptops). Double-sided SSDs are thicker because they have more chips and thus more storage capacity.

When considering an M.2 SSD for your current trading computer, always make sure that the size of the card is compatible with your computer’s motherboard.

Consider the Side Benefits of M.2s

Although speed and size are the two main benefits of upgrading to an M.2 SSD, there are a few side benefits as well.

  • They have better ways to deal with sleep modes to save power. This can be especially beneficial for a trading laptop.
  • M.2 SSDs offer way more storage capacity for their size than other SSDs.

And then there are some potential benefits that are still a bit controversial.

  • SSDs consume less power and therefore operate at a lower temperature (although they may cause your system overall to operate at a higher temperature).
  • SSDs tend to last longer than hard drives (but it depends on the exact hardware, and the way they fail is different).

Conclusion

M.2 SSDs can significantly improve your trading computer’s performance in terms of data access, which will contribute to your trading success. But remember, they aren’t impacting the speed of computing. (That’s only about what CPU you have).

If you are looking to upgrade an older trading computer or laptop, a newer M.2 SSD could make sense. Just be sure you consider the factors above to make an informed decision about the cost/benefit trade-off.

There are more trading computer tips like this in our buyer’s guide. Check out our “How To Buy a Trading Computer” e-book.
Remember, we are here to help with all your technology-related questions. If you’re confused about how to upgrade your computer or have other hardware questions, give us a call. My team and I are here to help. We’re happy to answer any of your questions about trading computers via phone: 800-387-5250.

Image courtesy of newegg.com.