As the computer games tend to grow larger and larger in size all the time, reading game data from your hard drives can quickly become a bottleneck on your pc. I don’t think anyone of you especially like to wait for the computer to load up the next level, or the game itself for that matter. Many still use the classic mechanical hard drives, and there’s nothing wrong with that, except for the read rate. The classic SATA drives provide lots of storage per dollar. Can they be replaced with something better? Even better, beef up your system with new hard drives in addition to the classic ones!
This article contains affiliate links – read more under Disclosure.
Why read rate matters
While the smaller games (in file size) won’t benefit much from faster hard drives, the larger ones will. Waiting for those loading screens is a pain. I’ve personally tried playing some larger games from the classic mechanical hard drives, and it takes quite a while. It even causes trouble in some online games, since the loading times are so long, you time out from the server before everything is loaded up! This happened several times when I tried playing Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. My friend I teamed up with online was fit for fight and logged into the game, while I was staring at the loading screen. Eventually, it timed out and quit the server.
Depending on how the games are written, some large ones with big open worlds tend to read up new map data as you walk from one area to another. It ruins some game flow when you suddenly have to wait for quite a while when changing map zones. The really good ones load up data ahead, to minimize this.
Bottom line : faster read rates -> less waiting for loading screens…
The classic storage heroes
The classic SATA hard drives are most commonly found as 5400 rounds
per minute and 7200 rounds per minute variants. The 5400 rpm hard drives
have average read rates of around 100MB per second, while the 7200 rpm
drives deliver an average of 120MB per second. Results can vary,
depending on SATA standards, data density, how many physical discs there
are inside the hard drive, and so on. For better performance, the 7200
rpm drive wins this duel. 5400 rpm hard drives are often found in
laptops, since they use less power and generate less heat. These are mechanical drives, with storage discs spinning inside, and a mechanical arm that moves to read/write from different areas on the discs. Since these are mechanical, they are somewhat fragile and more prone to failure if shaken, stirred or banged up on the floor. Laptops sliding off the sofa or table and giving the floor a hug, causes many of these to fail.
The snappy successors
Some years ago, a new type of hard drives became available. They are flash memory drives called SSD – Solid State Drives. Think of them like the memory cards in your smartphones and digital cameras, but made for computers instead. These SSD drives have no moving mechanical parts, and are therefore not prone to fail as much as their mechanical ancestors. The power usage is very low, and they do not generate heat. A great plus when installed in laptops. The read rate of SSD drives vary, but commonly they read at around 500MB per second. That is a nice improvement over the classic mechanical ones. That is easily 5 times faster! Although the costs of these SSD drives have dropped significantly over the later years, they still cost more per gigabyte than their predecessors.
Reading in the fast lane
The SSD drives are fast, but they have a limitation, and that is the SATA III connection to your motherboard. (If you have an older SATA standard than that, it is time to upgrade.) To overcome this obstacle, you need another form of connection, namely directly to the PCI Express of the motherboard. SSD drives normally come as 2,5″ SATA drives.
There is a new form factor of the flash memory drives, the M.2 standard. You can get the same capabilities/speeds in an M.2 card as well as the regular 2,5″ SSD drives, but the PCI Express opens up for a lot more speed.
The new ones are of the type “NVMe” – or “Non-Volatile Memory Express”. It is an open standard developed to allow modern flash drives to operate at the read/write speeds their flash memory is capable of. These NVMe drives can come as both M.2 cards, or regular PCI Express cards. Think of it as hooking them up directly to your PC, instead of going through that narrower SATA connection. Not all M.2 cards are of the type “NVMe”. Some are regular SSD drives, just in M.2 form factor.
This is why you find these M.2 cards with read rates from around 500MB per second to a whopping 3500MB per second. That is quickly 7 times the SSD, and up to 35 times faster than your classic mechanical hard drive!
If your motherboard supports M.2 cards, or PCI Express of decent speed (there are PCI Express X1, X4 and X16), you should go for an NVMe that reads at 3000MB per second or better. Your loading times will drop significantly.
For a cheap gaming hard drive, choose a Solid State Drive (SSD). It isn’t the fastest, but significantly faster than your old mechanical drive. If you can afford it, spend a little more on the NVMe drives.
This storage gadget will provide you with a sweet read rate of up to 3500MB per second, and writes at up to 3000MB per second. Seen at Amazon for about 115 us dollars, and comes with a 5 year warranty.
Samsung also delivers great speeds with a read rate of up to 3500MB per second, and writes at up to 2500MB per second. Also, comes with a 5-year warranty, and is seen on Amazon for about 170 us dollars.
As the PNY, it is also possible to get in 250GB, 500GB and 2TB.
A good alternative from Western Digital. This SSD drive works great as a system drive, or game drive for that matter. It reads up data up to 560MB per second, and writes them at up to 530MB. That is upper end of regular SSD drives. This drive is seen on Amazon for about 56 us dollars. (Now on sale for 48 us dollars.)
Available in 500GB, 1TB, 2TB and 4TB. Expect to pay just over 500 us dollars for that 4TB variant. If you just need a lot of storage, a large classic mechanical drive is cheaper.
Another good option for your system or gaming drive. Kingston A300-series deliver up to 500MB per second read rate, and write data at up to 450MB per second. Seen on Amazon for 32 us dollars. (Now on sale for 27 us dollars.)
Other storage sizes for these are 120GB, 480GB, 960GB and 1,92TB.
For good gaming hard drives, choose M.2 drives if you have a motherboard that supports them. If you don’t, then go for the quicker of the 2,5″ SSD hard drives. It will improve your read rates by a lot. Consider having your Windows installation on one drive, a 240GB drive should be sufficient for this. (By my experience, 120GB can be a bit too small, when you have Windows and all the other applications installed on it.) Behold – Windows boots up in under a minute from off state, compared to several minutes that it used to.
Since most motherboards have only 1 M.2 slot, use a regular 2,5″ SSD for your system drive, then add an M.2 drive for your game installations. Keep some classic mechanical drives in there as well, for regular storage. Like all your movie files, pictures, documents and so on. They still give you more gigabytes for your buck compared to the SSDs and NVMes.
What about the write rate? Isn’t it just as important? No, not really. The drives normally have slower write speeds, but it does not really matter that much. You write most of it once, and then read it over and over again. The fast M.2 NVMe cards read at 3500MB per second, and write about 2000MB per second. Still blazing fast. Even the SSDs write at 2-500MB per second, a lot better than your classic disks.
Any thoughts or comments? Feel free to ask them in the comment section below.