No M.2? No prob­lem! Get­ting Win­dows onto

PC & Tech Authority - - REVIEWS -

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.

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