No M.2? No problem! Getting Windows onto
IF YOU WANT THE FASTEST POSSIBLE SSD TO UPGRADE A SLIGHTLY OLDER DESKTOP PC, THERE ARE SOME CANNY WORKAROUNDS If your PC is more than a few years old, it probably won’t have an M.2 slot. You might assume this means you can’t take advantage of the latest, fastest SSDs. If you’re using a desktop, however, you may be able to add M.2 support via a cheap PCI-E card. After all, M.2 is effectively just a compact PCI-Express connector.
You can buy an M.2 adapter card for less than $30 online, but there are a few caveats to be aware of. It goes without saying that you’ll need a spare PCI-Express slot, with at least four data lanes. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a PCI-E x4 slot, though – you can happily plug an x4 card into an x8 or x16 slot.
A more niggly issue is chipset support. On systems using a fourth-generation Intel Core CPU or later, there’s a good chance your M.2 card will “just work”. Driver support is built into Windows 8 and 10; if you’re using Windows 7, you can download the driver from tinyurl.com/y9ecnyco.
With older systems, things are a bit more touch and go. You might need to fiddle with BIOS settings, and try different slots to get your drive recognised. Drives that use SATA over M.2 (as opposed to “real” NVMe SSDs) may not work at all.
Once you’ve got your drive up and running, there’s a final catch: older chipsets don’t always support booting from an M.2 drive. Check before buying, as if yours can’t then that effectively means you can’t run Windows from an M.2 drive. In that case it might be a better idea to stick with SATA.
Then again, even if you can’t boot from an M.2 drive, you can still run your applications from it. Software installers invariably ask for a destination folder; specify your SSD, rather than the default Program Files folder, and they should open and run a bit more quickly.
SPEEDING UP SATA
If M.2 is a no-go, there is another way to beat the SATA bandwidth limitation. You can aggregate the bandwidth of multiple SATA ports by combining several SSDs into a RAID array.
Again, this is only realistic for desktops, as you’ll need a few spare SATA connectors and drive bays, but it’s not hard to set up. The catch is that you’ll need a motherboard with a built-in RAID controller: Windows lets you convert multiple physical disks into a single striped dynamic volume, but you can’t boot from a dynamic disk.