When it comes to boot speed, it’s almost a certainty that most users will agree that faster is better – but it might not be entirely clear whether you’ll get to work faster using an SSD, M.2 or a hard disk drive. All of these are standard options when it comes to storage, and many users have a mix of them installed on their systems.
M.2 solid-state drives generally perform far better when booting up than SATA-based SSDs and hard disk drives thanks to the direct link to the motherboard’s PCIe lanes. Hard disk drives are the slowest because the mechanical components take much longer to read the data compared to solid-state media.
Essentially, solid-state trumps hard disks regarding boot speed with the newer M.2-type SSDs that use NVMe leading the pack. Read on to learn more about these technologies and how each will perform at boot. A good SATA SSD may still outperform a cheap NVMe, and while hard disks are on the slower side, they have endured for a good reason.
How Do SSDs, M.2 SSDs, and HDDs Compare?
To break things down, here are the pros and cons of each storage format. They all have benefits – the fastest option isn’t always the best.
Hard Disk Drives
- Cheaper than solid-state media
- Widely available
- Larger capacity for the price compared to SSDs
- Prone to fragmentation
- Slower than solid-state media
- Fragile – small moving parts can break
SATA Solid State Drives
- Significantly faster than traditional hard disks
- No moving parts – more durable than HDDs
- Affordable compared to M.2 NVMe
- More expensive than hard disks
- Slower than M.2 NVMe drives
M.2 Solid State Drives (NVMe)
- Fastest read/write speeds thanks to direct PCIe connection
- Compact form factor
- More expensive than both SSDs and hard disks
- Requires a compatible motherboard
- Not all programs are optimized for NVMe speeds
M.2 NVMe SSDs Offer the Fastest Boot Speeds – At a Price
SSDs are, without a doubt, the way to go if you want lightning-fast boot speed, but they come at a premium. This is especially true with M.2 NVMe-type SSDs, with high-capacity options like the Samsung 980 Pro 2TB PCIe NVMe Gen 4 Gaming M.2 (available on Amazon.com) costing hundreds of dollars.
Many users opt for multi-disk systems rather than carry the cost of high-capacity NVMe drives. A multi-disk system usually contains an SSD or M.2 NVMe with the operating system and critical programs on it, with the bulk of file storage taking place on slower hard disks and SSDs.
Check out my article here about how much free space you need on your SSD.
Laptop users are unfortunately limited to a single hard drive in most cases. Thankfully, they can carry external storage; however, this isn’t always convenient. You might find yourself weighing the cost/benefit of upgrading your storage.
How Much Faster Are NVMe M.2 SSDs Compared to HDDs and SSDs?
It’s hardly a comparison, but for brevity, here is how things stack up in the race for the fastest boot speeds:
- M.2 NVMe SSDs can boot in under 10 seconds. Tom’s Hardware reported a 4.93-second boot time in 2019.
- SATA-based SSDs can boot in 10-15 seconds. In most cases, a good SATA SSD and a healthy system will perform adequately compared to M.2 NVMe.
- Hard Disk Drives can take minutes to boot. Depending on how fragmented the system is, they might even take longer.
Keep in mind that many other things will influence your boot speed. Everything from your choice of motherboard, your GPU, RAM, boot options, and overall system health can have an impact here.
Check out this helpful YouTube video for a side-by-side comparison:
POST Time Also Affects Boot Speed
We’re not talking about mail here – POST, for the uninitiated, stands for Power-On Self-Test. What is it? Your motherboard has to make sure it’s safe to power up and runs a few checks to ensure the hardware configuration is in good order before initiating the boot sequence.
When you first install a new component, the system can sometimes take longer than usual to boot up. This is because it has to recognize the new device and configure the system to boot correctly with the new hardware.
It stands to reason that a more complex system may take more time to boot up since it has to check multiple drives and peripherals before it can kick into high gear. Most modern motherboard manufacturers include some or other array of optimizations, for this reason, allowing the system to start faster.
Fast Startup Can Have Mixed Results
Windows implemented a new feature several years ago called Fast Startup, which for the most part, does what it says on the tin. Many users prefer to disable fast startup, reporting power state issues and unstable restarts.
Fast Startup creates an image file after you are signed out of Windows, with the intention of restoring the system to an active state faster than it could otherwise once it’s powered on again. This can sometimes cause issues, but for most end users, it can safely be left on and will improve boot time.
Windows Central has a guide on disabling and enabling Fast startup, with more details on why you might want to do this in the first place. The main reason for disabling Fast startup is to ensure that the system powers down properly and does a full POST on startup.
In the comparison of boot speeds between SSD, M.2 NVMe, and HDD, there is hardly a comparison but it is important to note that there are many factors that can affect one’s boot speed.
There are tests that happen between the time you press the power button and the system actually booting, which can make it seem like your boot speed is slower than it actually is. Hopefully, this article has provided some clarity on boot speeds – it’s not just about the drive!