An NVMe SSD is an excellent way to add storage while slashing loading times in games and Windows. Non-Volatile Memory, or NVMe for short, is a smaller, faster storage form factor that plugs directly into a slot on your motherboard, rather than connecting via SATA cable like other SSDs. It’s the new hotness in PC storage, and it’s already become the go for high-end PC builds looking to maximize speed and power at every turn.
NVMe drives come in two flavors. You likely already know the more common of the two, the M.2 drive. The RAM-sized board plugs into your motherboard—you'll need a newer one with an M.2 connector. The more powerful (and rarely found) second type is called an Add-in Card drive: It’s similar to the M.2 but much larger, with a rear plate that slots into the back of your PC case similar to a GPU’s I/O. Though there is an AIC on this list, we generally don’t recommend using them because the cost per GB is astronomically high. Eventually, this may become the go-to premium storage option, but even well-funded builders should stick with an M.2 drive for now.
As you can see from our guide to the best motherboards for gaming, most PCs only have room for one NVMe drive, maybe two if you’re lucky. Between that and the fact that they’re much more expensive than picking up one of the best SATA SSDs, chances are you’ll need to mix and match for the foreseeable future. Having an M.2 drive as your go-to storage for playing games is sure to cut down on load times and make your system snappier.
Best NVMe SSD
1. Samsung 970 Evo Plus 1TB
The best NVMe SSD for speed and endurance in an M.2 form factor
Capacity: 1TB | Interface: M.2 PCIe x4 | Sequential IO: 3,500/3,300MB/s read/write | Random IO: 600K/550K IOPS read/write
It's hard to beat Samsung SSDs in the high-performance M.2 NVMe space, as it was the first company to release such a drive and has kept the pressure on with routine updates. The latest 970 Evo Plus ends up being one of the fastest M.2 drives around, with only a few drives (eg, Intel's Optane 905p) potentially beating it. Samsung's own 970 Pro also comes out ahead at times, but frankly it's not worth the 50 percent increase in price.
Like the 970 Pro, the new 970 Evo Plus is rated for extreme endurance. The 1TB model is rated for 600TB of writes over five years, or a whopping 329GB of writes per day. You'd basically 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.)
There are 500GB and 2TB models that might be worth a look as well, if you want a lower price or more capacity, respectively. But for most users, the 1TB drive strikes the sweet spot between performance, capacity, and price (with less of an emphasis on the latter).
2. WD Black SN750 1TB
A great NVMe SSD at an attractive price
Capacity: 1TB | Interface: PCIe 8Gb/s | Sequential IO: 3,470/3,000MB/s read/write | Random IO: 515/560K IOPS read/write | Endurance: 600 TBW
Western Digital has been a stalwart in the platter HDD world for many long years now, and their foray into the SSD market has shown an inherent competency in providing sensible, consumer friendly storage. 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 normal use, it's just 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 SN2262EN controller, which often means similar performance (eg, the Mushkin Pilot-E).
3. Adata XPG SX8200 Pro 1TB
The best NVMe SSD on a budget
Capacity: 1TB | Interface: M.2 PCIe x4 | Sequential IO: 3,500/3,000MB/s read/write | Random IO: 390K/380K IOPS read/write
Adata has catered to the budget end of the NVMe market, but the XPG SX8200 remains attractively priced while providing dramatically improved performance relative to the earlier Adata drives. It may not have an established name attached to it, but it's definitely fast and would make a great addition to any high-end PC.
The only real negative is that Adata doesn't have quite the reputation for reliability as some of the other brands. The firmware is also tuned for bursty performance over edge cases like sustained writes, where the SLC cache can potentially use up all available capacity before switching over to slower TLC writes. Still, we've had no issues with our sample, and it costs quite a bit less than other 1TB NVMe SSDs that can break 3,000MB/s.
If you're looking for an even lower cost Adata option, the SX6000 Pro 1TB is also worth a look. It's priced similarly to the Crucial P1 and Intel 660p listed below, but uses TLC NAND and is rated for 600 TBW endurance.
4. Crucial P1 1TB NVMe
Solid performance, price, and capacity
Capacity: 1TB | Interface: M.2 PCIe 3x4 | Sequential IO: 2000/1700MB/s read/write | Random IO: 170K/240K IOPS read/write
The Crucial P1 still has better speeds and offers a better value than most SATA SSDs, but among its NVMe competitors it falls 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 transfer speeds more closely resembling your typical SATA SSDs.
Still, for gaming workloads it rivals most SATA drives, and there's little reason not to make this a part of your next budget build, assuming you have an M.2 slot. The Crucial P1's low price point and compact, reliable form factor make it difficult to pass up.
5. Intel 660p 2TB
High capacity and low cost make the 660p a winner
Capacity: 2TB | Interface: M.2 PCIe 3x4 | Sequential IO: 1800/1800MB/s read/write | Random IO: 220K/220K IOPS read/write
The 660p is similar to the Crucial P1 in many ways. It has lower R/W speeds compared to other NVMe SSDs, and the QLC NAND can cause performance to drop as the drive fills up. However, it's available in a 2TB capacity, and it's actually the cheapest 2TB SSD currently available, period.
Some might worry about the rated endurance. The 512GB model is rated at 100 TBW, while the 2TB drive has a 400 TBW rating. Let's put that into perspective. 100 TBW is about 55GB of data writes each day, every day, for five years. No consumer workload is going to do that, and the 2TB drive bumps that to 220GB per day. Yeah.
Intel has a 5-year warranty, like many other manufacturers, and it's unlikely the 660p would fail during that time. With the good speed and excellent price per GB, it's a solid NVMe SSD.
6. Corsair Force MP600 1TB PCIe Gen4
Break the 4GB/s barrier on X570 with Zen 2 CPUs
Capacity: 1000GB | Interface: x4 PCIe Gen4 | Sequential IO: 4,950/4,250MB/s read/write | Random IO: 680K/600K IOPS read/write
The Corsair Force MP600 is one of several Gen4 SSDs that all use similar components, and perhaps more importantly, it doesn't actually cost more than the other top M.2 drives like the 970 Evo Plus. NVMe drives break the limitations of the SATA interface, but even PCIe x4 has its limits. Specifically, SSDs max out at around 3,500MB/s in real-world performance with PCIe x4 Gen3. With the latest AMD Ryzen 3000 CPUs like the Ryzen 7 3700X and Ryzen 9 3900X, combined with an X570 motherboard, PCIe Gen4 doubles the theoretical throughput.
The latest Gen4 SSDs can't saturate the new interface, but they do end up with transfer rates of up to 5,000MB/s (give or take). The drives can also get quite warm under sustained workloads, which is why Corsair equips the MP600 with a relatively large heatsink, which can block the use of overlapping PCIe slots on some motherboards. It's not strictly required, and some motherboards provide their own heatsinks, so keep that in mind.
Mostly the faster performance isn't necessary in consumer workloads, but I did install Gears of War 5 (from an Appx file) and saw combined read/write speeds of over 3,100MB/s for the 40 seconds or so it took to complete the operation. Using a SATA SSD for the same task by comparison required more than four minutes.
Highest Speed, Highest Cost
Capacity: 960GB | Interface: x4 PCIe Gen3 | Sequential IO: 2,600/2,200MB/s read/write | Random IO: 575K/550K IOPS read/write
The current king of SSD performance is Intel's Optane 905P, which not coincidentally is also the highest cost per GB by far. Thanks to 3D XPoint Technology, endurance is rated at a mind-blowing 10 drive writes per day, which is like a high-end server workload rather than something you'd need on a desktop. Random IO performance is also excellent, with extremely low latency QD1 results that are three times faster than the closest non-Optane drive.
Maximum sequential throughput is the only weak spot, but for everything else this is currently as fast as storage gets. Across a variety of workloads, the Optane 905P comes out at the top, besting even Samsung's drives. We just wish the price weren't so astronomical: It costs about three times as much as the next closest 1TB class NVMe SSD in our list.
How we test
Our SSD testbed consists of a Gigabyte X470 Aorus Gaming 7 WiFi motherboard, Ryzen 7 2700X processor, 2x8GB G.Skill DDR4-3200 CL14 memory, and Windows 10 Pro 64-bit. We retested all the SSDs with the latest Windows 10 May 2019 update installed, and found that random IO on Intel systems has been impacted by the Meltdown and Spectre exploit patches. The good news is that with a dedicated x4 PCIe connection for M.2 NVMe drives, in most cases our new results match or exceed our earlier Z370 testbed results.
Our test suite for SSDs consists of synthetic benchmarks, real world file manipulation, and various trace tests that play back disk accesses as fast as possible. We evaluate the drives by looking at performance in all of the tests, though we tend to place more weight on real-world performance (eg, the file copy tests), as that's more likely to represent what typical users would do.
The Intel Optane 905p and other Optane drives make a bold statement for performance, but that's not the only factor when it comes time to buy an SSD. We've taken current market prices into account, and combined with the capacity of the drives, we tend to favor SSDs in the 1TB class these days.
Budget NVMe drives have become a lot more interesting of late, particularly with the Intel 660p and Crucial P1 and similar drives pushing prices down to SATA levels. If your PC supports NVMe storage there's a strong case to be made for ditching SATA, at least for your boot drive. Plus, you can always add a large but inexpensive SATA SSD (or maybe even an HDD) for secondary storage and games.
What's so special about NVMe?
The old storage paradigm was built on the idea of spinning disks. When SSDs hit the mainstream consumer market starting 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 had no difficulty saturating the various SATA connections. 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 (ie, 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.
But what's NVMe like in the real world? If you're copying a game from one drive to another, or validating game files in Steam, faster NVMe drives definitely make a difference. They can also shave off a second or two when it comes time to load a game level, but the bigger 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, largely 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.
Besides the SSDs we've recommended, we've looked at many other NVMe drives. We've also overhauled our guide to provide more options that are worth buying. We've picked our favorite drives, but realistically nearly any SSDs is worth using if the price is right—most are only a price cut away from a recommendation.