Super speedy storage is a must for today’s biggest games

Do you enjoy long loading times? Do you need a 60-second break to compose yourself before your saved game loads? Do you want to play games full of obvious gateways between areas designed to disguise the fact that high-res textures are having to be streamed in? We’re guessing that the answer to all these questions is a big, resounding no, which is why having speedy storage is so important.

Gone are the days when storage was all about getting maximum capacity for the minimum of cost. What you want is a balance between performance, capacity and price, giving you the speed you need for today’s hottest games and enough capacity to hold a few of them, all at a price that won’t break the bank.

You really need an SSD as your main drive. You can use an HDD as a secondary drive to store games that you’re not actively playing, but you’ll feel the lack of speed if you’re playing games from a mechanical hard drive, even with the faster 7,200RPM models. For SSDs you have two options: 2.5in SATA drives and the smaller PCIe NVMe drives that fit into the M.2 slots on your PC’s motherboard.

With the SATA drives you’re limited by the drive’s performance and the 6Gbit/sec SATA interface, which keeps practical speeds below 600MB/sec. That’s still fast enough to load older games and less demanding recent games within seconds rather than minutes, but you’re still going to spend some time twiddling your thumbs.  

NVMe drives are significantly faster, and a much better choice for running today’s more demanding titles. These are only likely to grow more demanding with time, given that developers tend to develop games around the capabilities of the current generation consoles, and both the Xbox Series consoles and the PS5 now use high-performance M.2 SSDs.

Our advice is to go for the biggest, fastest drive you can afford. However, you may find your choice restricted by your CPU and motherboard. Some older processors and motherboards, including those from Intel’s 9th and 10th generation Core line-up, only support the PCIe 3.0 standard, giving you 985MB/sec of bandwidth per PCIe lane. Given that most M.2 slots support a maximum four lanes, that puts the maximum bandwidth for a PCIe 3.0 drive at 3600MB/sec. That’s fast, but not as fast as the SSDs being used in the current generation consoles.

So, it’s definitely a good time to invest in a new PC equipped with a PCIe 4.0 SSD. These have double the bandwidth – just under 2GB/sec per lane – and support drives of up to 8000MB/sec. These are maximum rather than real-world figures, but if you want fast loading times for games and saved games, or super-smooth streaming of visual assets into a scene, that’s what you’re going to want to go for. Luckily, it’s the standard for most modern PCs, including those based on Intel’s 12th generation Core CPUs, and the motherboards designed to support them.

The future lies with PCIe 5.0 SSDs, which double the bandwidth once again so that drives can read data at speeds of up to 13GB/sec and write it at speeds of 6.5GB./sec or more. The downside is that they’re rare and extremely expensive. While 1TB and 2TB PCIe 4.0 SSDs are growing more affordable, PCIe 5.0 only makes sense on the most high-end gaming PCs – if you’re going all out with a Core i9 and RTX 3090Ti, the cost of adding a PCIe 5.0 SSD probably won’t bother you.

Getting a faster SSD isn’t the only way to speed up storage. You can also boost speeds by opting for two identical drives in a RAID 0 array. Here the CPU and motherboard chipset stripe data across two SSDs, which the operating system sees as a single drive. By working both SSDs, the RAID can operate at higher speeds than one drive alone. On the downside, you need to budget for two fast drives, but if you’re gaming at this level, don’t you want the very best? 

The right storage solution can have a huge impact on your PC gaming experience, especially if you’re looking to start a journey into eSports. Contact the expert advisors at Alpha Beta PC to discuss the right storage options for your new gaming PC.