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The best NVMe SSD in 2019

best NVMe SSD
(Image credit: WD)

As prices continue to tumble, it's a great time to upgrade to the best NVMe SSD. An NVMe SSD drive comes in two common form factors, either as an M.2 SSD that plugs directly into a dedicated slot on your motherboard or as an NVMe AIC (add-in card) that fits into an expansion slot. You can also tuck an M.2 NVMe into an adapter card and then plug that into a PCIe slot. The most common size of a typical M.2 SSD is the 2280 "gumstick," and most newer motherboards will have slots for at least one, also drawing on your PCIe lanes. Additionally, there are 2.5 inch NVMe drives but these rely on the U.2 connection, which is typically only available in enterprise devices. 

So how do you know if it's time to upgrade to one of the best NVMe SSDs? And which drive is best for you? Our testing found that adding an SSD is also the single biggest upgrade you can make to an older PC, so if you're rocking an older computer and don't have any SSD storage, it can make a massive difference in terms of user experience. Applications will pop open almost instantly and, if you stash your OS on an NVMe SSD, your boot time will shrink dramatically (and you'll shave time of in-game loads, as well). As for which M.2 SSD is for you, it largely comes down to capacity, speed, and budget. We've selected a number of drive across a range of performance and price points, to help you find the right SSD for you, regardless of need.

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Samsung 970 Evo 1TB

Samsung 970 Evo 1TB

1. Samsung 970 Evo 1TB

The best NVMe SSD

Capacity: 1,000GB | Interface: M.2 PCIe x4 | Sequential IO: 3,400/2,500MB/s read/write | Random IO: 500K/450K IOPS read/write

Excellent performance and reasonable price
Plenty of capacity and endurance
Not quite as fast as 970/960 Pro
Twice the price per GB of SATA

If you're looking for the best overall NVMe SSD, Samsung SSDs are difficult to beat. Its 970 Evo line delivers excellent performance, Samsung has a proven reputation for reliability, and there's a wide range of capacities at a reasonable price per gigabyte. Compared to the best SATA drives, the 970 Evo 1TB is four times faster on average. It might not load games any faster than a SATA drive, but you'll know your SSD isn't holding you back.

Read our full review of Samsung's 970 Evo.

Intel Optane 905P 960GB

Intel Optane 905P 960GB

2. Intel Optane 905P 960GB

The best NVMe SSD for pure speed

Capacity: 960GB | Interface: x4 PCIe Gen3 | Sequential IO: 2,600/2,200MB/s read/write | Random IO: 575K/550K IOPS read/write

Top performance and endurance
Exceptional QD1 results
Modest sequential IO results
Extremely expensive

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.

Read our full review of the Optane 905P.

Samsung 970 Pro 1TB

Samsung 970 Pro 1TB

3. Samsung 970 Pro 1TB

The best NVMe SSD for speed and endurance in an M.2 form factor

Capacity: 1,024GB | Interface: M.2 PCIe x4 | Sequential IO: 3,400/2,500MB/s read/write | Random IO: 500K/450K IOPS read/write

The fastest gumstick around
Increased endurance
Small improvement over 970 Evo
Costs more than other NVMe SSDs

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. This year's 970 Pro is the fastest M.2 drive around, with only Intel's Optane 905p potentially beating it. However, Samsung's own 970 Evo often keeps pace with the 970 Pro, with much better pricing. The main reason to consider the Pro line is if you want the added endurance, with the 1TB model rated for 600TB of writes. (For reference, the SSD I've used the most still only has 30TB of writes after four years.)

NVMe retailers

 If you can't find exactly what you're looking for here, we won't be offended, promise. A good tip is to check out some of the big retailers' landing pages, where they're constantly updating prices and deals. Some common options are below, leading straight to their latest selection of NVMe SSDs.

Adata XPG SX8200 480GB

Adata XPG SX8200 480GB

4. Adata XPG SX8200 480GB

The best NVMe SSD on a budget

Capacity: 480GB | Interface: M.2 PCIe x4 | Sequential IO: 3,200/1,700MB/s read/write | Random IO: 310K/280K IOPS read/write

Good overall performance
Very affordable (especially in the UK)
US pricing is a bit high
Not widely available

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. The SX8200 uses the increasingly popular SM2262 controller, so performance is similar to other SM2262 drives (eg, Intel's 760p). Adata's drive retails for around $80, which is pretty remarkable for almost 500GB of very fast storage. The only real negative is that Adata doesn't have quite the reputation for reliability as some of the other brands. Still, we've had no issues with our sample, and it's surprisingly fast considering the price.

WD Black SN750

WD Black SN750

(Image credit: WD)

5. WD Black SN750

The best NVMe SSD for heavy workloads

Capacity: 250GB | Interface: PCIe 8Gb/s | Sequential IO: 3,470/3,000MB/s read/write | Random IO: 515/560K IOPS read/write | Endurance: 600 TBW

Blazing performance
Robust monitoring software
Optional heatsink for intense workloads
Heatsink doesn't come standard

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. If we weren't clear enough already, the WD Black SN750 is proof the company can find success outside the rickety data storage hardware of yesteryear. 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."

Intel SSD 660p 512GB

Intel SSD 660p 512GB

6. Intel SSD 660p 512GB

The best NVMe SSD with affordable QLC

Capacity: 512GB | Interface: M.2 PCIe x4 | Sequential IO: 1,500/1,000MB/s read/write | Random IO: 90K/220K IOPS read/write

Costs as much as a SATA SSD
Performance is still good
Slows down as the drive gets full

Intel is the first company to begin shipping NVMe SSDs with QLC NAND, leading to the lowest price we've seen for a gumstick drive. The 660p includes an SLC cache that varies with how full the drive is, leading to good performance when the drives are less than half full, but sustained writes when the drive is nearly full can take a beating. Overall, the 660p can be quite a bit faster than a SATA drive for about the same price. We wouldn't recommend it for heavier workloads (like a server), but for a desktop it's a great option.

How we test and performance

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 have retested all the SSDs with the latest Windows 10 April 2018 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. The ten individual test results have been combined into an overall metric that loosely corresponds to MB/s. This is how the NVMe drives we've tested stack up, and with 500GB and 1TB class SSDs used in most cases. We've also included the Crucial MX500 SATA SSD as a point of reference, one of the best non-NVMe drives currently available.

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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 and combined that with the capacity of the drives to yield a final result measured as (performance/(price/capacity)). This is intended to normalize the rankings, as much as possible, with higher capacity drives tending to do a bit better thanks to a typically lower price/GB.

The prices used were the best we could find at the time of writing, and we've removed some older drives that are no longer readily available. However, for some of the slightly older models, I've looked at eBay for pricing on 'new' drives. The Samsung 950 Pro and SM951 for example are still high performance drives, and if you're willing to take a chance with an eBay purchase, they're a good value.

Despite their overall higher prices, most NVMe drives end up surpassing even the 'best' SATA models in relative value, though diminishing returns mean you need to factor in your actual storage requirements. Intel's Optane 905p has a very high cost per GB, while the 970 Evo's combination of excellent performance and good price push it near the top of both the US and UK charts.

Budget NVMe drives have become a lot more interesting of late, particularly with the Intel 660p pushing prices down to SATA levels. In the US, the 1TB drive theoretically delivers the best value, though it's currently sold out at most places. 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 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 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 20 cents per GB.

Parting thoughts

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 550-560MB/s limit of the SATA interface for sequential IO, though random IO can still be a bit problematic on some models. With NVMe prices now coming very close to matching SATA drives, most new builds should seriously consider whether the extra power and data cables of SATA are worth few few dollars saved.

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. The complete set of NVMe SSDs that we've tested is in the charts, and we've picked the best options. But none of the SSDs we've tested are so bad we wouldn't consider using them if the price is right—most are only a price cut away from a recommendation.

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