Trader’s Guide to Solid State Drives (SSDs)

A big bottleneck for processing trading activity on a modern trading computer is the speed of the hard drive. Even with a high-speed CPU, if your hard drive is slow, the performance of your trading computer will suffer. In the last post, I talked about the pros and cons of hard disk drives (HDDs) versus solid state drives (SSDs). In a nutshell, SSDs operate at a significantly faster speed than HDDs, but they are more expensive. In this post, I want to go a little deeper into the technology. Understanding the meaning of technical terms like SATA and M.2 will give you a better feel for what you are getting for your money. Whether you are purchasing an HDD or an SSD, you will come across the term SATA. However, M.2 is a specification that only applies to SSD drives. Let’s look at what all this means and why you should care.

What is SATA?

The performance of a solid-state drive depends on two factors:
  • Access Time – The time it takes to find data on the drive.
  • Transfer Rate – The time it takes to transfer the data from the drive to other parts of the computer.
SSDs have superb access times. Remember, these drives don’t have spinning disks like HDDs. The data is laid down in a grid fashion that is electronically accessed using a controller. It makes the process faster. However, the speed of SSD access is useless if the data can’t be transferred out from the drive to the motherboard at a good rate. This is where SATA comes in. Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) is the standard that defines the connection between the storage drive and other parts of the computer. SATA standards started in the early 2000s. The latest version of SATA is 3.3 which allows 600 MB/s of maximum uncoded transfer rate. (SSDs can reach up to 500 MB/s transfer rate using the older SATA 3 standard.) SATA is also used for HDD drives. But a SATA SSD operates 4 or 5 times faster than a SATA HDD (when there is no data fragmentation). Even though SATA improves SSD speed, SATA has reached its technical limit. It cannot provide any more speed improvements. So a new interface specification was necessary for SSDs.

What is NVMe?

NVM Express (NVMe) is the specification that defines how SSD drives will communicate with the computer motherboard using Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) connections. PCIe is a faster interface standard than SATA. The problem with SATA is that the transfer is serialized. It’s communicating through one lane. In PCIe, there are multiple lanes. This takes better advantage of SSD access times and provides higher performance. For comparison, a SATA 3 SSD can provide up to 550 MB/s of read/write speed, while a NVMe SSD can provide up to 3500 MB/s of read/write. However, NVMe SSD drives are about twice as expensive as SATA SSD drives.

What is M.2?

In most computer specifications, you’ll notice M.2 and NVMe mentioned together. However, M.2 doesn’t need to be NVMe. Although they are less common, there are also SATA M.2 drives. While SATA and NVMe define data transfer specifications, M.2 defines the form factor. Most people still think of drives as bulky objects (about the size of a deck of cards). But M.2 defines a form that fits all components of a drive in a small area. An M.2 drive is about the size of a stick of gum.

Conclusion

When you are considering hard drive speed, you should think about SATA vs NVMe technology. A NVMe SSD will be faster. And in the trading business, speed is king. When your trading computer size is under consideration, think about M.2 drives. If you want a compact system, like a smaller computer tower or a light-weight laptop, M.2 will decrease the size and weight. Choose your storage drive(s) carefully. Choosing a drive can be a key element to the success of your trading business.
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 think of additional questions about computer hardware or other questions, give me 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 credit: newegg.com.