Best NVMe SSD for gaming in 2023

Seagate Firecuda 530 SSD and WD Black SN850X SSD
(Image credit: Seagate, WD )

The best NVMe SSD for gaming will breeze through loading screens so fast you'll wonder why you didn't toss your old spinning hard drive out a lot sooner. A reliable NVMe SSD makes your day-to-day PC usage a much smoother experience, from quickly booting into Windows to loading massive open-world games like Elden Ring or Forspoken in seconds. An NVMe SSD is one of the best, most affordable upgrades you can make to your PC.

Even consoles like the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 benefit from having an NVMe SSD inside them. PS5 users can use most of the NVMe SSDs on this list to expand their storage with a simple DIY upgrade (opens in new tab). The Xbox Series X takes advantage of DirectStorage (opens in new tab), a technology that boosts loading times, which will make its way to PC gamers soon.  

The best thing about the SSD market is that it's super competitive. Every other day, you can find fantastic deals on these speedy drives, particularly 1TB NVMe SSDs, which you can score for about $120. As long as your motherboard has an M.2 slot, picking up an NVMe SSD should be a no-brainer. You could go for a 512GB drive if the cost is a concern, but considering the size of new PC games these days, it might not be worth it. 1TB should be the smallest capacity drive you go with. 

We've tested loads of NVMe SSDs recently to find the best ones for PC gaming. Each drive we recommend is available in various capacities with prices to match. And remember, larger drives perform better thanks to more controller channels being used at higher capacities, so buy a big drive if you can on sale. It'll be worth it.

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Best NVMe SSD

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WD Black SN850X 1TB NVMe SSD

(Image credit: Future)
The best PCIe 4.0 SSD

Specifications

Capacity: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
Controller: WD in-house (SanDisk)
Memory: 112-layer TLC
Interface: PCIe Gen4 x4
Seq. read: 7,300MB/s
Seq write: 6,300MB/s

Reasons to buy

+
Runs much cooler than SN850
+
Great all-round performance
+
All the Gen 4 SSD you’ll ever need

Reasons to avoid

-
Not a major step forward
-
No real gains in 4K random performance
-
Heat sink adds cost

Our favorite WD Black SN850X config:

WD_Black SN850X | 2TB | 7,300MB/s read | 6,600MB/s write (opens in new tab)

WD_Black SN850X | 2TB | 7,300MB/s read | 6,600MB/s write (opens in new tab)
The 1TB version is a great shout if you're after an affordable, but fast SSD. But the 2TB drive is a great price with regular discounts down to around the $230 level much of the time. That puts it below the competing Samsung or SK Hynix drives.

The arrival of the new Ryzen 7000 CPU family means that PCIe Gen 5 is now a thing on both AMD and Intel platforms. But let’s be real. Your current PC almost certainly doesn’t have a PCIe 5.0 M.2 slot. Enter, therefore, the new WD Black SN850X, something of a last hurrah for Gen 4 SSDs. And it's the best one out there right now. SK Hynix's Platinum P41 might just have the edge on performance, but the lead is so negligible that the less expensive SN850X is our pick of the current SSD crop.

Our review configuration is clad head-to-toe in WD’s signature armour-style cooling. If that cooling solution has been optionally available on the old SN850, the new drive's revised thermal profile WD hasn’t. That’s specific to the SN850X.

Of course, if your motherboard comes with its own M.2 SSD cooling kit, you may not want to pay extra for a self-cooled SSD. Handily WD can cater for that. The new X model, like its forebear, can be had both with and without a heatsink, the latter option usefully coming in around $30/£25 cheaper. 

In many regards, this new X model is a dead ringer for the existing SN850. We’re talking four lanes of PCIe Gen 4 connectivity in the now ubiquitous M.2 2280 form factor. But the 1TB model reviewed here is now the entry-level option. There’s no longer a 512GB model. What’s more, WD’s in-house controller chip, provided by compatriot SanDisk, has been revised, though detailed specifics aren't provided. 

It improves game loading times courtesy of a so-called "read look-ahead" algorithm, which predictively caches game data.

Rather more specific to this WD drive is the latest 2.0 version of the company’s Game Mode drive management software. WD claims it improves game loading times courtesy of a so-called "read look-ahead" algorithm, which predictively caches game data. It now runs automatically, detecting when games are loaded. How much that kind of feature actually makes a difference in the real world is notoriously difficult to pin down. But it’s unlikely to be revolutionary.

Reduced operating temps are another clear benefit of this new drive. The old SN850 hit a toasty 77°C. The new drive hits just 58°C under sustained load. That's a very worthwhile improvement. Elsewhere, the gains are less obvious, albeit the SN850 was already a great drive. The 4K random access results are a little disappointing, showing little to no improvement. Likewise, don’t expect big gains in system-wide measures of performance like PC Mark 10.

All of which means that the new WD Black SN850X isn't exactly a revolutionary leap forward. Indeed, in the real world, you’ll struggle to notice the difference compared to the existing SN850 drive. But then that's because the SN850 is a very good SSD. The one exception to that is operating temperatures. Happily, this new X model runs unambiguously cooler. 

For most PC applications, that probably doesn’t matter. But for small form factor rigs and perhaps a gaming laptop, every little can certainly help. On that note, for most applications, we'd probably go for the cheaper bare drive rather than this more expensive model with its heat spreader. The revised SN850X is inherently a cooler-running thing, after all.

Read our full WD Black SN850X SSD review (opens in new tab).

SK Hynix Platinum P41 2TB on a pale background

(Image credit: Future)
The most powerful 1TB SSD right now.

Specifications

Capacity: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
Controller: SK Hynix Aries
Flash: 176-layer TLC NAND
Interface: M.2 PCIe 4.0 x4
Seq. read: 7,000MB/s
Seq. write: 6,500MB/s

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent all-round performance
+
No major weaknesses
+
Competitive on price with direct rivals

Reasons to avoid

-
Runs a tiny bit hot
-
Unspectacular 4K performance
-
Better value is available elsewhere

Our favorite SK Hynix Platinum P41 config:

SK Hynix Platinum P41 | 1TB | 7,000MB/s read | 6,500MB/s write (opens in new tab)

SK Hynix Platinum P41 | 1TB | 7,000MB/s read | 6,500MB/s write (opens in new tab)
The great thing about the SK Hynix drive is that it's 1TB drive is just as quick as the 2TB version, which means you get the highest performance write SSD at 1TB. The WD SN850X will generally be cheaper, but if you need the raw SSD performance the 1TB P41 nails it.

Give it up for the new SK Hynix Platinum P41 2TB. If that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, it also doesn't help that SK Hynix isn't the most familiar brand when it comes to the sort of consumer-focussed clobber that's aimed at gamers, including SSDs.

SK Hynix, of course, isn't actually new to this space, but the new P41 is arguably the brand's first tilt at a truly high-end M.2 drive. The old SK Hynix Gold P31 was a bit of a clunky old thing, limited as it was to the PCIe 3.0 interface and a controller chip with a mere four memory channels. The new Platinum P41? It's got it all. 

Well, it's got it all if the context is PCIe 4.0 drives. The PCIe Gen 5 revolution is just around the corner. But for now, PCIe Gen 4 is not only where it's at. It's probably also the limit of your PC or laptop's capabilities. Anyway, the P41 has SK Hynix's brand new Gen 4 controller, known as Aries. While these things tend to be relatively mysterious black boxes, we do at least know that Aries has a claimed doubling of IOPS performance versus SK Hynix's old Cepheues chip, along with one-third faster IO speeds.

Not only that, it's also a quad-core design that sports eight memory controllers and allocates 2GB of DDR4 cache memory for this 2TB model. All of which makes it on par with top-end controllers like the Phison E18, as seen in various drives including the Seagate FireCuda 530 (opens in new tab), the SanDisk-powered WD Black SN850X, and the new Pascal chip in the Samsung 990 Pro.

The Platinum P41 is basically as fast as anything else out there.

As for the actual flash memory used, it's SK Hynix's latest and very greatest 176-layer 3D TLC NAND. It's about as advanced as TLC memory currently gets, and SK Hynix claims a 40% performance boost over its old 128-layer chips. The net result is sequential read and write specs for this 2TB model of 7,000MB/s and 6,500MB/s respectively. 

Finally, on the speeds and feeds, this 2TB drive is rated at 1,200TB for write endurance. As it happens, that's exactly the same as the new Samsung 990 Pro 2TB. But it's also a fair distance short of some other competing M.2 SSDs. 

All of which just leaves the minor matter of how this drive actually performs. When it comes to peak sequential throughput, the Platinum P41 is basically as fast as anything else out there, bar a few rounding errors. OK, the Samsung 990 Pro is a bit faster at 7,462MB/s for reads to the P41's 7,375MB/s. But, honestly, it's inconsequential. The same goes for writes, where pretty much all the top drives will do just under 6.9GB/s.

Slightly less edifying are the P41's operating temps. At 71°C peak, it's a little toastier than we'd ideally like. Not that we actually saw any signs of any thermal throttling. But temps that high are a teensy bit of a long-term reliability concern. 

So, this is a damn fine drive. It's at least as good as pretty much anything else out there, trading blows with WD's new Black SN850X, Samsung's upgraded 990 Pro and the usual Phison E18-powered suspects. If you want a top-end PCIe 4.0 drive, there's certainly plenty of choice. And the SK Hynix Platinum P41 2TB should certainly be on your shortlist.

Read our full SK Hynix Platinum P41 review (opens in new tab).

Western Digital WD Black SN770 on a motherboard

(Image credit: Future)
The best value for money PCIe 4.0 SSD

Specifications

Capacity: 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
Controller: Sandisk PCIe 4.0
Flash: Kioxia BiCS5 112-layer TLC
Interface: M.2 PCIe 4.0 x4
Seq. read: 5,150MB/s
Seq. write: 4,900MB/s

Reasons to buy

+
Solid performance
+
In-house controller and flash
+
Five-year warranty

Reasons to avoid

-
Relatively small SLC cache...
-
...slow when you go over it
-
Can get toasty

Our favorite WD Black SN770 config:

WD Black SN770 | 1TB | 5,150MB/s read | 4,900MB/s write (opens in new tab)

WD Black SN770 | 1TB | 5,150MB/s read | 4,900MB/s write (opens in new tab)
This DRAM-less drive may not offer the fastest throughput, but it isn't far off, and in terms of value for money it's in a class of its own. 1TB for just over $100 is definitely worth picking up.

We've seen some incredible NVMe SSD releases recently, but they've tended to focus on top-end performance and come with prices to match. The WD_Black SN770 bucks this trend and like its predecessor, the SN750, is aimed at offering better value for money than outright performance. 

The main way it achieves this is by being a DRAM-less SSD drive. This saves a big chunk of the manufacturer's bill of materials, and thanks to advances in the latest controllers, it can be surprising how little impact this has on performance. Such drives are slower, don't get me wrong, but this new SN770 still quotes read and writes of 5,150MB/s and 4,900MB/s respectively. Not bad. 

The drive itself is a low-profile affair, with this 1TB model boasting a single NAND flash module at the back (actually a rebranded Kioxia BiCS5 112-Layer TLC chip) and the SanDisk controller towards the connector. Western Digital rarely reveals much about its controllers, and that's the case once again here. 

The SN770 is available in four sizes—250GB, 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB, although there's no 4TB option, which is a bit of a shame. If you want a seriously capacious drive, you're going to want to track down the Sabrent Rocket offerings, which go all the way up to 8TB. 

It's in the real-world tests where the SN770 really struts its stuff.

The synthetic performance shows the SN770 trails more expensive drives in terms of reads, although the writes are much closer. The 4K performance is relatively impressive and shows that the SN770 has something to offer in this crowded marketplace. It's not too surprising that this drive outperforms Samsung's DRAM-less offering, as that is a PCIe 3.0 drive, after all, but the extent to which it does is impressive.

It's worth noting that this drive can get hot when pushed, just like the SN850 in fact. It hit 76°C after a long day of testing, although that was without any direct cooling on it at all, not even a heatsink. It should be fine in most systems, especially if your motherboard does come with some cooling solution.

It's in the real-world tests where the SN770 really struts its stuff. Basically, you'd be hard pushed to tell the difference between this drive and much faster offerings in most day-to-day operations. Given this is the cheaper drive right now, that counts for a lot. If you need better performance, then the SN850 is clearly the better drive, but you will pay considerably more for it.

The only problem issue for this drive is that we don't know for sure how fast a drive needs to be for Microsoft's DirectStorage. We know some developers have been targeting 5,000MB/s, which is where the SN770 sits in our testing. So it should be good, and for the money, it's very tempting. If you're a serious gamer though, we'd recommend going a little bit higher up the product stack, and grabbing that WD_Black SN850. 

Read our full WD Black SN770 1TB review (opens in new tab).

Seagate Firecuda 530 SSD

(Image credit: Seagate)
A speedy PCIe 4.0 SSD that will last and last

Specifications

Capacity : 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, or 4TB
Controller: Phison PS5018-E18 controller
Memory: Micron 176L TLC NAND
Interface: M.2 PCIe 4.0 x4
Seq. read: 7,300MB/s
Seq. write: 6,900MB/s

Reasons to buy

+
All round great performance
+
Excellent endurance ratings

Reasons to avoid

-
One of the more expensive PCIe 4.0 drives
-
Lacks AES 256-bit encryption

Our favorite Seagate Firecuda 530 config:

Seagate Firecuda 530 | 2TB | 7,300 MB/s read | 6,900 MB/s write (opens in new tab)

Seagate Firecuda 530 | 2TB | 7,300 MB/s read | 6,900 MB/s write (opens in new tab)
The 2TB version is the version to go for; it gives you the highest straight performance and an astounding endurance level. The version with the gorgeous EKWB heatsink is a little more expensive, but if you don't have integrated SSD cooling on your motherboard it's worth going for.

Seagate may have taken a while to get into the solid state game, and especially the PCIe 4.0 market, but it has arrived with a bang with the Firecuda 530. With or without the heatsink (something that's necessary for its PlayStation 5 compatibility) the latest Seagate drive is a stunner.

Of course, the rated sequential read/write speeds are fantastic, but it's the endurance levels that really stand out compared to the competition. The 2TB drive we tested has an unprecedented 2,550 TBW rating when it comes to endurance, which is something you won't see this side of an SSD made for Chia mining.

The FireCuda 530 either matches or beats the big bois of the storage world.

The 2TB FireCuda 530's rated sequential read and write speed is 7300/6900 MB/s, and that’s pushing the limits of a PCIe 4.0 x4 interface. For users looking at the other capacities, the 4TB drive has the same rating while the smaller 1TB and 500GB drives are rated for 7300/6000 MB/s and 7000/3000 MB/s respectively. 

It combines brand-new Micron 176-Layer TLC NAND—the same memory Crucial is using to great effect with the new P5 Plus drives—with a Phison PS5018-E18 controller. Micron claims that its 176L TLC NAND is the best in the industry with a 30% smaller die size and a 35% improvement in read and write latency over its previous generation 96L NAND.

Apart from the PCMark 10 storage tests, the FireCuda 530 either matches or beats the big bois of the storage world, and when you add its leading sequential performance and endurance rating, the Seagate 530 is at least the equal of any consumer SSD on the market. 

And in terms of performance the FireCuda 530 either matches or beats the big bois of the storage world, and when you add its leading sequential performance and endurance rating, the Seagate 530 is at least the equal of any consumer SSD on the market. 

Read our full Seagate Firecuda 530 2TB review (opens in new tab).

Samsung 990 Pro 2TB on a grey background

(Image credit: Future)
Samsung's back in the SSD game for sure.

Specifications

Capacity: 1TB, 2TB
Controller: Samsung Pascal
Flash: Samsung 7th Gen TLC VNAND
Interface: M.2 PCIe 4.0 x4
Seq. read: 7,450MB/s
Seq. write: 6,900MB/s

Reasons to buy

+
Puts Samsung back in the game
+
Pretty much maxes out the PCIe 4.0 protocol
+
Five-year warranty

Reasons to avoid

-
4K performance not quite as quick as we’d hoped
-
No faster than several other premium Gen 4 drives
-
Not exactly cheap

Our favorite Samsung 990 Pro config:

Samsung 990 Pro | 2TB | 7,450MB/s read | 6,900MB/s write (opens in new tab)

Samsung 990 Pro | 2TB | 7,450MB/s read | 6,900MB/s write (opens in new tab)
If you're going to spend big on a PCIe 4.0 SSD in 2022 then the 2TB 990 Pro has to be on that list. It's got the highest read write figures around, pretty much maxing out your M.2 slot's bandwidth.

It’s about time Samsung reasserted its traditional dominance in the SSD market, right? On paper, the new 990 Pro certainly looks like it has closed the gap to the newer and quicker drives that have blown past the 980 Pro since its launch two long years ago. At the heart of it, all is a new in-house Samsung controller known as Pascal. 

Samsung hasn’t released a huge amount of info on the new chip but has revealed that Pascal is manufactured on Samsung’s 8nm process node and offers lower consumption and reduced latency. Samsung reckons the new controller is up to 50% more power efficient thanks to both a new nickel coating for the chip package and revised thermal control software. 

Combined with Samsung’s latest 7th gen 3D V-NAND flash memory, the result is a decent uptick in all of the claimed performance metrics. For the 2TB model tested here, read speeds are up from 7,000MB/s to 7,450MB/s while writes take a bigger leap from just 5,100MB/s to 6,900MB/s. IOPS performance is up, too, with reads increasing from 1M to 1.2M and writes up from 1M to 1.55M. 

The 990 Pro puts Samsung back where it ought to be, with one of the fastest PCIe Gen 4 drives you can buy.

Claimed SSD performance numbers don’t always map terribly well to the real-world experience. But for what it’s worth, there’s little if anything currently available with clearly better-claimed figures, though the likes of the SK Hynix Platinum P41 and various drives powered by the latest Phison controller, such as the Seagate Firecuda 530 2TB, trade blows with the 990 Pro. Fair to say, then, with these late model PCIe 4.0 M.2 drives, they’re nearing the practical limits of the Gen 4.0 protocol, certainly for peak throughput.

So, how does this new drive actually perform? In our pre-benchmark drive-filling routine, the 990 Pro maintains peak performance for around 230GB of data transfer, which aligns with Samsung’s claims in terms of the amount of capacity available in high-speed SLC mode when the drive is empty. Needless to say, as you fill the drive, that figure will drop. It’s also a little lower than most competing 2TB M.2 drives, which tend to offer 300GB of SLC cache. Thereafter, there’s little if any sign of thermal throttling. Not that throttling was much of an issue on the 990 Pro.

Regarding thermals the new 990 Pro is decent, topping out at 59°C. However, in our testing the old 980 Pro only hit 53°C. While the new drive certainly doesn’t run cooler under heavy load, it is delivering quite a bit more performance and it isn’t running at temps high enough to cause concern. As we said, there’s absolutely no indication of thermal throttling.

All told, the new 990 Pro puts Samsung back where it ought to be, with one of the fastest PCIe Gen 4 drives you can buy. Is it the very fastest? Is it quicker than, say, the Kingston Fury Renegade? Not unambiguously, no. But nor is it clearly slower. In short, it seems we’ve hit the wall with Gen 4 SSDs. Very likely, it’ll take a Gen 5 drive to really move the game on for PC storage performance. 

Read our full Samsung 990 Pro review (opens in new tab).

Image of the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus 2TB in front of a gray background.

(Image credit: Sabrent)
The best drive for performance and value for money

Specifications

Capacity: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB
Controller: Phison PS5018-E18
Flash: Micron B47R 176-layer TLC
Interface: M.2 PCIe 4.0 x4
Seq. read: 7,100MB/s
Seq. write: 6,600MB/s

Reasons to buy

+
Updated flash and firmware
+
Strong synthetic throughput
+
Runs cool

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the fastest in everything
-
Not the cheapest option either

Our favorite Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus config:

Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus | 2TB | 7,100MB/s read | 6,600MB/s write (opens in new tab)

Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus | 2TB | 7,100MB/s read | 6,600MB/s write (opens in new tab)
The 2TB model may be pricier than the 1TB drive, but not only do you receive extra space but also extra performance for your money.

The Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus was the first SSD to hit our lab using 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 wasn't 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 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.

Not the fastest, nor the cheapest, but a happy middle ground of the two.

Sabrent has recently updated this drive to use faster NAND flash and also new firmware for the Phison E18 controller. The quoted performance doesn't change with this update, but some performance metrics have improved, and it's that bit closer to the competition while still offering solid value for money.

One thing worth noting is that the SSD market is in a state of flux at the moment, with pricing shifting almost daily. On release, this was the cheapest second-gen PCIe 4.0 you could lay your hands on, but there's often nothing between this and our top pick, the WD_Black SN850, which is why this is in the second spot.

This drive does run cooler than the SN850 though, which may be a factor if you're looking for a drive for a cramped case. Also, this is a drive worth keeping an eye on in the sales season as it's often keenly discounted, more so than the other drives here.

The new version of the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus is a welcome release, even if it doesn't dramatically alter the drive's place in the market. We've had faster drives released recently, like the Kingston Fury Renegade (opens in new tab), along with more budget-focused offerings like the WD Black SN770 (opens in new tab), leaving the new Rocket 4 Plus in pretty much the same place as the original—not the fastest, nor the cheapest, but a happy middle ground of the two.

Read our full Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus 2TB review (opens in new tab).

SILICON POWER XS70 2TB NVME SSD on a motherboard.

(Image credit: Future)
The best drive with a heatsink and PS5 compatibility

Specifications

Capacity: 1TB, 2TB, 4TB
Controller: Phison PS5018-E18
Flash: Micron 176L TLC NAND
Interface: M.2 PCIe 4.0 x4
Seq. read: 7,300MB/s
Seq. write: 6,800MB/s

Reasons to buy

+
Attractive heatsink
+
PS5 compatible
+
Excellent performance
+
Price competitive

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks software

Our favorite Silicon Power XS70 SSD config:

Silicon Power 2TB XS70  | 2TB | 7,100MB/s read | 6,600MB/s write (opens in new tab)

Silicon Power 2TB XS70  | 2TB | 7,100MB/s read | 6,600MB/s write (opens in new tab)
The 2TB model comes at a very competitive $170 and works well as an expansion drive for the PlayStation 5. 

Silicon Power is a brand that probably doesn’t get much attention compared to the likes of Samsung or WD, but when you look at its latest XS70 NVMe SSD with its high-end specifications, it's clear that the brand name isn't everything. Armed with the latest Phison controller and high-performance NAND flash memory, a drive like the Silicon Power XS70 should have no problem competing with the best SSD on the market. 

At $170, the XS70 is priced well for a high-performance 2TB SSD, but there's fierce competition from other third-party SSD makers in this price range. The Silicon Power XS70 2TB SSD is a 2280 (80mm length) M.2 PCIe NVMe drive. It combines Micron 176-Layer TLC NAND with a Phison PS5018-E18 controller and 2GB of DDR4 RAM. That combination is common to many of the best SSDs, including the highly regarded Seagate FireCuda 530 (opens in new tab)and Kingston KC3000.

It's a highly competitive SSD with great performance and an attractive design and offers good value for money.

The XS70 is designed with PS5 compatibility in mind so the heatsink isn’t as bulky as some others you might come across. It really does look good. Admittedly I'm talking about an SSD here, and its not the kind of thing you'll spend time looking at, but Silicon Power's designers deserve credit.

The Silicon Power XS70 2TB isn't revolutionary, but then nobody expects it to be. It's a highly competitive SSD with great performance, an attractive design and it offers good value for money. It's not perfect, it lacks its own software and hardware encryption but for a PS5 or PC gamer, that won't matter. Load it up with your game library and you'll love it.

The excellent all-around performance on offer from the XS70 makes it a very compelling option and it's easily worth considering if it’s price competitive at the time you look to make your purchase. 

Read our full Silicon Power 2TB XS70 review (opens in new tab).

Best NVMe SSD FAQ

How do we test NVMe SSDs?

We put every SSD we get in the PC Gamer labs through their paces in various 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 throughput 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 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.

Can I fit an NVMe SSD on my motherboard?

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, 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).

What is NVMe, exactly?

The NVMe, or Non-Volatile Memory Express interface, has been designed specifically with solid state drives in mind. In contrast, SATA, the previous interface in charge, was built to cater to most HDDs. The thought is, at the time, that no storage would ever need to exceed its lofty max bandwidth. To the surprise of a 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 (opens in new tab)

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 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 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.

What's NVMe performance 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 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 (opens in new tab) 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.

Jeremy Laird
Hardware writer

Jeremy has been writing about technology and PCs since the 90nm Netburst era (Google it!) and enjoys nothing more than a serious dissertation on the finer points of monitor input lag and overshoot followed by a forensic examination of advanced lithography. Or maybe he just likes machines that go “ping!” He also has a thing for tennis and cars.