The best NVMe SSD in 2021
Now that best NVMe SSDs are getting shipped with the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, it’s surely time to make sure you’re on the same technological page. Wouldn’t want to get left behind by the consoles, now would we? Jokes aside, it’s great that we’ll soon all be rocking super speedy SSDs. Not only is that going to significantly speed up most players’ experience, it also means developers are better able to take advantage of the speedy memory and not worry they’re leaving half their audience behind.
The best NVMe SSD already makes a huge difference on PC, and it’s only going to become an even more vital weapon in your gaming arsenal in time.
Though NVMe SSD pricing has dropped, high capacity SATA drives can be a great place to store your ever-growing Steam library. The best SSD for your gaming PC may still be an affordable, high-capacity SATA drive right now.
So what is NVMe, exactly? The NVMe, or Non-Volatile Memory Express interface, has been designed specifically with solid state drives in mind, whereas SATA, the previous interface in charge, was built to cater for most HDDs. The thought being, at the time, that no storage would ever need to exceed its lofty max bandwidth. To the surprise of few, new storage mediums such as solid state absolutely blaze past SATA’s max bandwidth, and so a new protocol in NVMe was born.
That makes NVMe SSDs the perfect storage tech for gaming.
Running on the same basic interface as your graphics card, NVMe SSDs deliver more raw bandwidth and performance than any SATA-based SSD could ever offer. They’re also a lot smaller than any other hard drive or SSD too, which all means that the best NVMe SSDs are perfect for either that small form factor build you always wanted, or a monstrous high-end gaming PC build.
Prices for NVMe drives have dropped considerably in recent years, too, which means you can now get a speedy 1TB drive for less than $150. There’s hardly even a price disparity between slower SATA drives and faster NVMe ones nowadays, so you should absolutely go for one if your motherboard has the compatible NVMe SSD slot, known as an M.2 slot, or space for a PCIe add-in board with M.2 slots onboard.
The latest AMD gaming motherboards offer even higher potential NVMe SSD performance as the X570 and B550 boards support the PCIe 4.0 interface (provided you’re running a Zen 2 or Zen 3 CPU), and compatible drives have far greater raw bandwidth available to them. Intel is set to have its first PCIe 4.0 platform soon too, with Intel Rocket Lake coming into the game very shortly.
We’ve picked our favourites, and each will come in a variety of capacities too. Though it’s worth remembering that performance generally goes up with the larger drives as more of the controller’s channels are used with high capacities.
Best NVMe SSD
The fastest PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD today
Capacity: 1TB | Controller: WD Black_G2 | Flash: BiCS4 96-layer TLC | Interface: M.2 PCIe 4.0 x4 | Seq. read: 7,000 MB/s | Seq. write: 5,300 MB/s
Blistering PCIe 4.0 throughput
Excellent real-world performance
Western Digital has released some quality drives lately, with the SN750 being a mainstay of our best SSD for gaming guide and the likes of the SN550 offering incredible value for money. With the release of the SN850, Western Digital gets to add another trophy to its cabinet—the fastest PCIe SSD around. Thanks to the latest generation of PCIe interface, you will not find a faster, more reliable NVMe drive today.
The Phison E18-powered Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus has higher quoted sequential read and write figures. And while it’s true that the SN850 trails slightly in some of the synthetic benchmarks, we put more weight on the real-world tests, and here the SN850 is head and shoulders above anything else in this group test. It’s the fastest at the FFXIV game load and PCMark10’s full storage test, and it isn’t exactly sluggish in straight throughput either—managing 5,920MB/s reads and 5,021MB/s writes in AS SSD.
It shouldn’t come as much of a shock to discover that this incredible performance comes at a cost and this drive is definitely at the pricier end of the spectrum, working out at $0.23/GB. It’s also a toasty drive, hitting 77°C in operation. This shouldn’t be a problem in a well-ventilated case but maybe an issue in a more cramped system. Still, if you want the fastest drive around, this is it.
Read the full Western Digital WD SN850 review.
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2. Samsung 970 Evo Plus
The best NVMe SSD for PCIe 3.0 speed
Capacity: 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, or 2TB | Controller: Samsung Phoenix | Memory: Samsung 3-bit MLC | Interface: M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 | Seq. read: 3,400MB/s | Seq. write: 3,300MB/s
One of the quickest PCIe 3.0 SSDs
Classic Samsung reliability
There was a time it was hard to beat Samsung SSDs in the high-performance M.2 NVMe space, but with the shift towards PCIe 4.0 drives we’ve seen the likes of Western Digital and Sabrent take the mantle forward. But PCIe 4.0 SSDs are still expensive, and back in the last generation Samsung still has some fantastic drives. The Samsung 970 Evo Plus is still one of the fastest PCIe 3.0 M.2 drives around.
Like the 970 Pro, the more recent 970 Evo Plus rates well for endurance, which bodes well for its longevity. The 1TB model is rated for 600TB of writes over five years or a whopping 329GB of writes per day. You’d need to fill up and then wipe the drive every three days to manage that many writes, which isn’t a consumer or even prosumer workload. For reference, the SSD I’ve used the most still only has 40TB of writes after four years.
The 500GB and 2TB models are certainly worth a look if you want a lower price or more capacity, respectively. But for most users, the 1TB drive strikes the sweet spot between performance, capacity, though Samsung’s drive is still pretty pricey.
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The best NVMe SSD if you need serious space
Capacity: 4TB | Controller: Phison PS5012-E12 | Memory: 3D QLC NAND | Interface : M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 | Seq. read: 3,400MB/s | Seq. write: 3,200MB/s
Consistently strong performance
Capacity to spare
5 year warranty
The Sabrent Rocket Q 4TB is one of the most impressive NVMe SSDs you can buy right now. The intimidating $700 price tag might turn some folk away, but its performance alone is worth the recommendation. 4TB is more than enough space to ditch your aging spinning hard drives and house all your games and media in one place instead. There’s even an 8TB option available for sale if you never want to think about storage ever again (or at least for a couple of years).
The Rocket Q was no slouch when we ran our synthetic benchmarks. While the Samsung 970 Evo Plus remains the king of the hill, the Rocket Q can hold its own pretty well. It’s the right choice if you’re looking for a ton of storage since some of our favorite NVMe SSDs don’t have any 4TB options.
Read the full Sabrent Rocket Q review.
4. Addlink S70 512GB
The best-value NVMe SSD for gaming
Capacity: 512GB | Controller: Phison PS5012-E12 | Memory: Toshiba 3D TLC | Interface : M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 | Seq. read: 3,400MB/s | Seq. write: 3,000MB/s
Top-end PCIe 3.0 performance
The beauty of SSDs is that now there are high-performance SSD memory controllers available, anyone with the manufacturing facilities and access to high-speed NAND flash memory can build a great SSD. Addlink has proved that by pairing the widely available Phison controller with Toshiba’s 3D TLC memory and creating the impressive S70 drive.
It’s also managing to sell this performant SSD for an impressively low price too. It may not be quite as quick as the Samsung 970 EVO, but it’s not far off, and a good bit cheaper too.
The 1TB drive is great value too, but if you’re only after a relatively small 512GB SSD for a speedy boot drive, and as the home for your most oft-played games, the Addlink S70 is a great shout.
The best value second-gen PCIe 4.0 SSD you can buy
Capacity: 2TB | Controller: Phison PS5018-E18 | Flash: Micron B27 96-layer TLC | Interface: M.2 PCIe 4.0 x4 | Seq. read: 7,100 MB/s | Seq. write: 6,600 MB/s
Strong synthetic throughput
Speedy real-world performance
The Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus is the first drive in the lab to use the new Phison E18 controller, which is the follow up to the immensely popular Phison E16 controller found in basically every first-gen PCIe 4.0 drive. Offering peak reads of 7,100MB/s and writes of 6,600MB/s it’s not only a major step up from the first generation of PCIe 4.0 drives, but a notable improvement over the Samsung 980 Pro, especially in terms of write performance.
In testing, this performance was born out too, with the faster write performance dominating Samsung’s drive in the write tests. Real-world performance didn’t always tell the same story, although the differences between these top three drives can be slight. Even so, you’re looking at AS SSD hitting 5,868MB/s for reads and 5,630MB/s for writes. Impressive stuff.
An important factor here is that the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus is the cheapest of these second-generation drives, and the performance is all so close, that it makes the Sabrent SSD the sensible choice if you don’t need the absolute best performance around. This drive also runs cooler than the SN850, which may be a factor if you’re looking for a drive for a cramped case.
Read the full Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus review.
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6. WD Black SN750
A great NVMe SSD at an attractive price
Capacity : 1TB | Controller: Western Digital | Memory: SanDisk/Toshiba 3D TLC | Interface: M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 | Seq. read: 3,430MB/s | Seq. write: 3,000MB/s
Robust monitoring software
Optional heatsink for intense workloads
Western Digital has been a stalwart in the platter HDD world for many long years now, and its foray into the SSD market has shown an inherent competency in providing sensible, consumer-friendly storage. The new SN850 shows just how far that competency has extended into the latest generation of PCIe interface. Though it’s not without its faults, this M.2 form factor NVMe drive is a speed demon, made faster by a Gaming Mode you can toggle on or off in the company’s integrated SSD Dashboard software.
Of course, kicking it into overdrive also means cranking up the heat, which, according to Western Digital, necessitates the use of a thermal heatsink. Sold separately, the heatsink model comes at something of a premium, but the company claims its “passive cooling features” aid with ushering in “optimal levels of performance.”
In regular use, it’s practically as fast as the 970 Evo Plus. For the most intense workloads, Samsung wins out, but gamers aren’t likely to fall into that category of user. There are also several other drives using the same SM2262EN controller, which often means similar performance (e.g., the Mushkin Pilot-E).
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7. Crucial P1
Solid performance, price, and capacity
Capacity: 1TB | Controller: Silicon Motion SM2263 | Memory : Micron 3D QLC | Interface: M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 | Seq. read: 2,000MB/s | Seq. write: 1,700MB/s
Speedy R/W speeds
The Crucial P1 has higher performance, and offers arguably better value, than most SATA SSDs, but among its NVMe competitors the use of QLC memory means it does fall a bit short. The rated speeds don’t always hold up under load, or when the drive is mostly full. When we filled the P1 to around half of its rated capacity, we experienced a drop in transfer speeds which more closely resembled your typical SATA SSDs.
Still, for gaming workloads, it does at least rival the fastest SATA drives, and there’s little reason not to make this a part of your next low-cost build, if you have a spare M.2 slot and a very limited budget. The Crucial P1’s low price point and compact, reliable form factor make it difficult to pass up for a cheap gaming PC build.
Best NVMe SSD FAQ
Q. How do we test NVMe SSDs?
A. We put every SSD we get in the PC Gamer labs through their paces in a variety of benchmarks made up of a mix of synthetic tests and real-world applications. To ascertain a drives sequential throughput we use ATTO SSD Benchmark for compressible data (a best case scenario) and AS SSD for incompressible data (more realistic). We also test random threoughput with AS SSD and a combination of CrystalDiskMark 7.0 and Anvil Pro.
When it comes to the real world tests, we time how long it takes to copy a 30GB game install across the drive, and also use PCMark10 and Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers, which includes a level load test. We also check operating temperatures, to ensure that the drive isn’t getting too hot and throttling.
Q. Can I fit an NVMe SSD in my motherboard?
A. The M.2 socket has been included on motherboards of all kinds for many years now, so the chances are that there’s a spare slot sitting inside your existing gaming PC. Check out your motherboard’s specs page online before pulling the trigger on an NVMe SSD purchase though just to be sure. Those harboring a board that’s a few years old now, do yourself a favor and make sure it supports booting from an NVMe drive first. Not all older motherboards do, especially if you’re going back multiple CPU generations (maybe a full upgrade’s due, if so).
Q. What’s so special about NVMe?
A. The old storage paradigm was built on the idea of spinning disks. When SSDs hit the mainstream consumer market, back in 2007, they reset our expectations for storage. Moving from the mechanical world of hard drives to the silicon world of SSDs brought rapid improvements in performance, technology, capacities, and reliability. SSDs, however, quickly saturated the various SATA connections and so faster alternatives were needed, but the interface was only part of the problem.
The AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) command protocol was designed for much slower media (i.e., spinning magnetic disks). AHCI is inefficient with modern SSDs, so a new standard was developed: NVMHCI (Non-Volatile Memory Host Controller Interface). Combine NVMHCI with a fast PCIe interface, and you have NVMe, Non-Volatile Memory Express. It’s a much-improved interface developed around the needs of flash memory rather than spinning disks.
Q. But what’s NVMe like in the real world?
A. If you’re copying a game from one drive to another, or validating game files in Steam, faster NVMe drives make a difference. They can also shave off a second or two when it comes time to load a game level, but the more significant difference is against hard drives where even a slower SATA SSD is much faster. Go beyond a certain point, and all SSDs start to feel similar.
In other words, while the speed freak in me loves what NVMe brings to the table, I recognize that in practice, it’s usually not that noticeable. If you’re looking to get the most from your money when it comes time to build a gaming PC, good SATA SSDs remain an excellent option, with prices now falling below 10 cents per GB.
NVMe drives are becoming increasingly commonplace, and prices continue to drop. In the past year, I’ve tested far more NVMe drives than SATA drives, mainly because SATA drives are all starting to look the same. Most hit the same ~550MB/s limit of the SATA interface for sequential IO, though random IO can still be a bit problematic on some models. With budget NVMe prices now matching SATA drives, most new builds should seriously consider whether the extra power and data cables of SATA are necessary.
Alan has spent far too much of his life in World of Warcraft and playing Magic the Gathering to be a normal human being, which is why he has retreated to the warm embrace of gaming hardware.