With the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 shipping with NVMe SSDs, it's definitely time to think about making the upgrade yourself. 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 if developers start releasing games that take full advantage of this speedy storage medium.
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.
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.
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. If your board is a few years old, make sure it supports booting from an NVMe drive first. Not all older motherboards do, especially if you're going back multiple CPU generations.
The latest AMD gaming motherboards offer even higher potential NVMe SSD performance as the X570 and B550 boards support the PCIe 4.0 interface, and compatible drives have far greater raw bandwidth available to them. Intel is set to have it's 1st PCIE 4.0 platform soon, with Intel Rocket Lake coming into the game early next year.
The NVMe protocol was designed specifically for solid state technology, where SATA still has to support spinning platter hard drives, and that makes NVMe SSDs the perfect storage tech for gaming. 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 controllers channels are used with high capacities.
Best NVMe SSD
It's hard to beat Samsung SSDs in the high-performance M.2 NVMe space, it was the first company to release such a drive and has kept the pressure on with routine product updates. The latest 970 Evo Plus ends up being one of the fastest M.2 drives around, with only a few SSDs (e.g., 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 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 price.
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 memory to ditch your aging HDD altogether to cram with all your games and media. 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.
The beauty of SSDs, is that now there are high-performance SSD memory controllers available, basically 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.
Let's be honest, if you're looking for the best NVMe SSD you're looking for one because of the potential speed the interface can offer. And now that AMD has ushered in the age of PCIe 4.0 with the high-spec X570 motherboard chipset, and soon the mainstream B550, the bar has been raised.
But right now compatible motherboards are expensive and limited to the AMD Ryzen family of processors. That means if you're running a current Intel processor, or plan to upgrade to Comet Lake, then you're not going to see the full performance of a PCIe 4.0 drive. That would be a waste of the potential speed on offer with these drives, and the Corsair MP600 is a great example of what they're capable of.
It is expensive for a 1TB drive, but is also faster than any PCIe 3.0 SSD around. But there are more affordable versions on their way, and potentially faster ones too once Samsung gets around to officially launching the 980-series. But for now, the MP600 is a great PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD and it's available today.
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. 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).
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.
How we test
Our SSD testbed consists of a Gigabyte X470 Aorus Gaming 7 WiFi motherboard (apart from the PCIe 4.0 Corsair SSD), 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 playback 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 (e.g., the file copy tests), as that's more likely to represent what typical users would do.
The new PCIe 4.0 SSDs make a bold statement for performance, but that's not the only factor when it comes time to buying 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, but a 500GB NVMe boot drive can be a worthwhile companion to a cheaper SATA-based storage drive for secondary storage and games.
Budget NVMe drives have become a lot more interesting of late, particularly with the Intel 660p and Crucial P1, 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.
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, 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.
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 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.