Does it matter what SATA port I use for SSD?

does-it-matter-what-sata-port-i-use-for-ssd

A question that I get asked once in a while is ‘Does it matter what SATA port I use for SSD?’. Let’s dive in and find out!

First of all, we all know that SSDs can drastically speed up a slow Windows computer and help improve boot times.

So, you’ve been deciding on what SSD to purchase for your computer build or upgrade and have been told that it must be connected to SATA port 1 or 0.

While ideally the answer should be yes, this really depends on your motherboard and how many SSDs you plan to use in either a RAID array, ACHI mode, or PCIe settings. Typically, you want to be using one of your M2 slots if available, but many motherboards do not have this option for SATA ports.

What SATA port to use for an SSD

This guide will show you how to determine which SATA port is the best to use for your SSDs regardless of whether they are used in ACHI, RAID, or PCIe.

First you need to get into the BIOS/UEFI settings by either hitting F2, Delete, or F12 while booting up your computer.

Once inside look for SATA options and make note of what modes are available to you (typically AHCI is optimal).

The following image shows SATA Mode Options on an MSI Motherboard:

msi-sata-options

Image courtesy: MSI

Now that we have determined what mode our SATA ports are in let’s see which port goes with which slot(s) on the motherboard.

Typically, it will be something like SATA0-6 but can vary depending on motherboard manufacturer and model number. The following picture shows an example of how this can look:

sata-connectors

ASUS Motherboard

So, if we wanted to use the top port for the SSD, we would change our SATA mode to AHCI and place this drive on Port 0.

Then if we wanted to use the bottom two ports, we could switch our SATA mode to RAID which would then allow us to select a striping or mirroring option. NOTE: This only works with 2 drives at a time! Also note that not all motherboard manufacturers implement these modes exactly as stated above. Some have different numbers and/or offered options so it is best to either check your motherboard’s manual or Google your motherboard model number + ‘SATA’ for more information.

Important Note: Once Windows 7/8.1/10/11 is installed, never change the SATA mode! This can severly corrupt the boot sectors and result in giving away your PC for repairs.

This brings us back to the original question; does it matter which SATA port you use with an SSD?

If you are using a motherboard which implements SATA modes with port multiplexing, then there really is no reason to use drive on Port 0.

In this case, the ports are prioritized in a way that Port 0 always gets SATA III speeds regardless of whether it is SATA 0 or 3 based.

However, if you have a motherboard that ONLY allows one port selection for an SSD and does not implement SATA modes, then it becomes important to use the correct port. In this case the correct port would be whichever one shows up first in your BIOS boot order (which will vary depending on your motherboard). For more information about how your BIOS selects devices to boot from see Boot Priority Order.

This should all be taken with a grain of salt as it’s not officially part of the SATA spec and up until recently was completely up to motherboard manufacturers. Now, at least there is a standard definition for an SSD port so that people would be able to tell whether their motherboard was compliant with the SATA spec or not (i.e., you should never see a difference in performance between two devices plugged into different ports).

Primary Drive

There is no other reason to plug your primary drive into another port as this will reduce your overall disk performance by forcing other drives to share bandwidth with your primary device. In other words, you might as well save that SATA port for a second drive or even an optical drive if you have one.

CPUs from Intel and AMD support AHCI by default but you will need to check with your motherboard manufacturer to see if it also includes the necessary drivers to make the ports function properly. If so, feel free to use those extra ports on your motherboard but don’t expect a noticeable difference in performance compared to plugging your SSD directly into the first port of your motherboard’s controller.

However, there are a couple of exceptions to the rule. If your PC uses a Marvell or JMicron chipset for its SATA ports and you want to take full advantage of an SSD’s incredible speed, it might be best to plug that drive directly into a motherboard port as those controllers simply don’t play nicely with AHCI.

For Windows XP users

Another exception is if you’re using Windows XP; this operating system cannot handle drives connected to the newer AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) standard at all and requires either an older IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) controller or one of the compatible chipsets from Nvidia or Via. Even here though, we wouldn’t recommend going out of your way with such ancient hardware—just make sure you get a motherboard with an IDE port and you’ll be fine.

For Windows 7 and 8 users

The standard Intel and AMD chipset drivers should recognize your SSD (check Device Manager) but not all host controllers will work; any that do obviously won’t if they’re disabled in the BIOS. If you’re having problems, check out our compatibility list for known-good controller/operating system combinations.

If none of your SATA ports support AHCI mode (if they don’t say “AHCI” next to them in the BIOS), it doesn’t matter which ones you use—they all have the same effect. If your SATA ports do support AHCI, these are typically located in a small number of colors: gray (Intel ICH6-M), red (Intel ICH7/ICH8), blue (AMD), and gold (onboard Intel SATA ports). Ports in the latter two-color schemes will work with or without AHCI mode enabled.

The point is, you should log into your BIOS and check what the SATA configuration table says—if it’s not an older chipset like ICH5R, chances are pretty good that turning on AHCI will let your SSD run at full speed. If you don’t know how to access the BIOS, our computer specialists are more than happy to assist you on the issue.

AHCI

At any rate, whether you enable AHCI or not, please make sure your motherboard’s RAID drivers aren’t installed; they’ll conflict with Intel’s SATA drivers and can cause a lot of problems.

Once you check the BIOS, don’t forget to turn off any unnecessary SATA controllers in your computer’s BIOS configuration screen. If your motherboard has a legacy IDE controller, for example, it won’t hurt to disable that too if you’re not using an old hard drive or optical drive without a Serial ATA connector.

You can go ahead and plug in multiple SSDs in different ports at this point—you won’t hurt anything by doing so. However, make sure everything is turned off before swapping cables around; otherwise, you’ll lose all your data when an SSD knocks out power from its SATA port. It takes only a momentary lapse in concentration to accidentally yank out a cable when something goes wrong.

Other commonly asked questions

A common question that comes up in comment sections is whether it’s a good idea to switch cables around. Should you use the bottom or top connector on your SATA cable to connect to the SSD?

There are two ways of thinking about this. One school of thought says it doesn’t matter because the data lines for each SATA port are directly routed from a hub inside the computer case, and thus a device plugged into one port isn’t going to be any closer than another device plugged into a different port. However, there’s also another school of thought contending that technically, devices connected closer together will have an advantage in terms of reduced electrical interference from neighbouring components—and since SSDs often use chips with unusually high levels of electric noise, this can make a difference.