The most obvious and instant upgrade you can make to a PC is switching from an HDD to an NVMe SSD, unless you’re upgrading from a computer that couldn’t run Crysis to a modern gaming beast. Even a subpar one will reduce load times to half or less and accelerate Windows startup. But we don’t settle for mediocrity, and neither should you! We’ve created a thorough guide to assist you in finding the best NVMe SSD for gaming because of this.
Seagate FireCuda 530
Seagate FireCuda 530
Capacities: 500GB – 4TB | Interface: PCIe 4.0×4 | Sequential read & write (1TB version): 7,00MB/s, 5,300MB/s | TBW (1TB version): 1,275TB | Heatsink: Yes
- Excellent all-around specs & longevity
- The warranty comes with data recovery services
- Heatsink noticeably improves thermals
- The heatsink version is expensive
Seagate’s FireCuda 530 is one of the fastest PCIe 4.0 drives out there. However, that’s not the most important factor that contributed to the exceptional drive’s top placement. Rather, it’s our choice because of excellent longevity and a generous warranty that ensures maximum file integrity. Add an impressive heatsink, and you’ve got an NVMe drive that will thrive in any environment.
Seagate ensured the 530’s longevity and cool running temperatures by partnering with EKVB on designing the heatsink. You can go without if the heatsinks integrated into your motherboard are up to snuff. Still, the thick yet porous chunk of aluminum you get if you invest a little extra gives even the best a run for their money.
The drive’s terabytes written or TBW value is even more impressive. Competing 1TB models usually give out after being filled 600-700 times. The FireCuda 530 nearly doubles this, ensuring it will remain relevant long after PCIe 5.0 drives hit the shelves.
Under the hood, we spy a Phison 18 controller and Micron’s 176L TLC NAND flash with an impressive sequential read performance of 7,300MB/s. The drive doesn’t let up whether you’re testing it in artificial scenarios or transferring mixed data since the SLC cache is deep. Better yet, the speed drop that inevitably occurs once that cache reaches its limits doesn’t impede performance much.
Finally, a word on the warranty. Most manufacturers cover their SSDs for five years, but Seagate also includes three years’ worth of data recovery services. That’s a stand-out courtesy and invaluable for effective data recovery.
Samsung 990 PRO
Capacities: 1TB – 2TB | Interface: PCIe 4.0×4 | Sequential read & write (1TB version): 7,450MB/s, 6,900MB/s | TBW (1TB version): 600TB | Heatsink: Yes
- World-class PCIe 4.0 transfer speeds
- Useful companion software
- Effective heatsink with RGB that fits anywhere
Two years after debuting the successful 980 PRO, Samsung is back with one of the best conclusions PCIe 4.0 could have hoped for! The 990 PRO is faster and can sustain optimal speeds for longer. It’s among the most power-efficient and thermally stable drives out there, even if you don’t get the heatsink version. Now all you need to do is wait for the price to come down a bit before grabbing one.
While the thermal label is chock-full of data and visually uninteresting, the opposite is true for the heatsink. If you’re worried your motherboard’s pads can’t handle it, spending a few dollars extra on the capable slab will set your mind at ease. Don’t forget that it also has RGB, apparently a must for today’s top-tier gaming SSDs.
The software support is also top-notch. Samsung’s newest Magician suite offers everything from RGB configuration to encryption and releasing a secured drive by erasing its contents. It’s also where you can choose between standard and Full Power modes. Think of the latter as the Gaming mode on the SN850X. Except here, the boost provides tangible benefits.
On the hardware side, we have two major developments. The 980 PRO’s Elpis memory controller is no more, with the slightly improved Pascal taking the reins. More important is the introduction of the 7th-gen 176-layer TLC AND already present on drives like the FireCuda 530 that appeared after the 980 PRO. The TBD rating remains at 600TB on the 1TB model. Not bad, but not great either.
Users looking for the ultimate in PCIe 4.0 speed have a new king to crown! The 990 PRO outshines the competition whether you’re running artificial testing in 3D Mark or loading games with a stopwatch in hand. It’s bursty, too, meaning that most file transfers will be over before you know it. Sustained speeds are unremarkable, but those reveal themselves after you’ve already copied over a quarter of a TB or more.
Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus
Capacities: 500GB – 4TB | Interface: PCIe 4.0×4 | Sequential read & write (1TB version): 7,300MB/s, 6,000MB/s | TBW (1TB version): 1,275TB | Heatsink: Yes
- Excellent speeds
- Outstanding cache
- High temperature and power consumption when stressed
The Rocket 4 Plus lives up to its name since it’s a lightning-fast drive that easily reads or copies vast swathes of data without letting up. The 1TB version has a slightly lower writing speed than the FireCuda 530, but that hardly matters for quickly loading levels in games. This is the SSD to get if you’re looking for a dependable, fast, and stylish drive that transcends gaming purposes.
We feel that the Rocket 4 Plus is among the generation’s most attractive disks. Its base version sports a black PCB with a copper-tinted thermal label. You can also get one with an efficient heatsink full of area-enhancing grooves. Going for the latter is a good idea if you plan on using the Rocket relentlessly since it can get hot during long transfer sessions.
Even though its TBW is lower than our winner’s, the Rocket 4 Plus can store an imposing amount of data before giving it out. It has the same Phison E18 controller yet combines it with older 96L flash memory from Micron. That has little bearing on top speeds and even less on the seemingly endless SLC cache. The speed drop-off is sharper than on the FireCuda, but chances are you won’t notice unless you’re transferring CoD Warzone several times over.
WD Black SN850X
Capacities: 500GB – 4TB | Interface: PCIe 4.0×4 | Sequential read & write (1TB version): 7,300MB/s, 6,300MB/s | TBW (1TB version): 600TB | Heatsink: Yes
- Improved memory and overall speeds
- Broad capacity range
- Attractive gaming aesthetic
- Gaming Mode doesn’t do much
After Samsung’s new 990 PRO, the SN850X seems to be the most gaming-oriented among our recommendations. The version with the heatsink also has an LED to further enrich your RGB setup. You may also enable Gaming Mode to supposedly get shorter loading times by optimizing performance. Neither is the reason it’s so high up, though. Simply put, WD’s drive is an excellent one with or without gimmicks.
There’s no question that the SN850X is the second-fastest M.2 SSD with a gaming pedigree. This has more to do with the LED that glows on its beefy heatsink than with actual speeds. These, although impressive, don’t fall that much out of line. Users who opt to save a few bucks by going commando will miss out on better thermals and gain one of the most stealthily-designed SSDs instead.
While endurance remains at 600TB, the SN850X achieves greater max speeds as well as improved performance in mixed file transfers & sustained writing over the non-X version. Much of this is a consequence of the introduction of BiCS5 flash memory as well as WD’s continued efforts to upgrade the proprietary controller.
The newer disk also comes with Game Mode 2.0. You can turn this software-side improvement on or set it to Auto. On paper, this should optimize game loading times. That sounds great on paper, but there are no visible differences when loading actual games. If anything, running the mode impacts power consumption and random read / writes values in a slightly negative way.
Kingston Fury Renegade
Capacities: 500GB – 4TB | Interface: PCIe 4.0×4 | Sequential read & write (1TB version): 7,300MB/s, 6,000MB/s | TBW (1TB version): 1,000TB | Heatsink: No
- Good value for a top-tier drive when on sale
- Excellent longevity and power consumption
- High sustained write speeds
It seems that shedding the HyperX brand has done Kingston a lot of good since everything from DDR5 RAM to SSDs they’ve put out since is excellent. We’re particularly impressed with the Fury Renegade – an exceptionally well-rounded PCIe 4.0 SSD that plays ball with the big boys while remaining accessible.
This is our fastest NVMe SSD recommendation without a proper heatsink. It does have a stylish black & white cover made from a mixture of graphene and aluminum that’s slightly thicker yet markedly more thermally efficient than regular labels. You can slip it inside laptops, consoles, and motherboards without worrying about clearance as a result.
Kingston pulled out all the stops to make the Renegade a compelling competitor for the title of best NVMe SSD for gaming. It has the class-leading Phison E18 controller along with Micron’s most advanced flash memory. The 1TB version can endure almost as much usage as the Rocket 4 Plus, while peak read & write speeds rival the generation’s finest.
The Fury Renegade is marketed as a gaming drive, and there’s some merit to this beyond the hype. It scores better than most competitors in artificial testing, like 3DMark’s disk benchmark. The difference when loading levels or assets in actual games isn’t as pronounced, though. Interestingly, the Fury renegade has a deep SLC cache to draw on but struggles to recover if you reach its limit.
SK Hynix Platinum P41
Capacities: 500GB – 2TB | Interface: PCIe 4.0×4 | Sequential read & write (1TB version): 7,000MB/s, 5,000MB/s | TBW (1TB version): 750TB | Heatsink: No
- Only the 990 PRO is faster overall
- Excellent long-term sustained speeds
- 1TB version has decent TBW
Before the 990 PRO smashed expectations, there was the Platinum P41 from SK Hynix. It also has a legacy to live up to and does so by transferring files fast even when other models are running on fumes. It should have gone down in price by now, but only the 2TB version is cheaper than Samsung’s.
Apart from a cool crystal graphic on the top thermal label, there’s not much to discuss the P41’s looks. The lack of an alternative heatsink option exacerbates the issue. Most gamers won’t experience thermal throttling. However, deciding to fill up more than half the 2TB drive’s capacity in one go may cause temperatures to exceed 80°C if you don’t use your motherboard’s heatsink.
The 1TB P41 is among our more resilient picks. It hits the TBW sweet spot at 750TB, with the larger version maxing out at just 1200TB. Not that many users will write as much during the five-year warranty period. SX Hynix posted bold peak transfer speeds as well as random read & write IOPs far surpassing a million. This is due to the new 176-layer NAND and an improved Aries controller with a significantly expanded bus.
It takes a few seconds for the P41 to hit its stride. However, only the 990 PRO is now faster once it gets going. Speeds also spring back up shortly after hitting their low point, even if you didn’t give the drive time to recover.
Corsair MP600 Pro LPX
Capacities: 500GB – 4TB | Interface: PCIe 4.0×4 | Sequential read & write (1TB version): 7,100MB/s, 5,800MB/s | TBW (1TB version): 700TB | Heatsink: Yes
- Low-profile yet effective heatsink
- Outstanding sustained transfer speeds
- Great value when on sale
- Lower peak speeds than comparable models when not on sale
Corsair originally came out with the MP600 in 2021. It was a price-conscious drive that performed well but wasn’t the best NVMe SSD for gaming material. Its successor introduces several small yet important updates that assure it a place among the greats. If you can also find the drive on sale, it becomes a true bargain.
The Pro LPX version focuses on compatibility with the PlayStation 5. It comes with a sturdy heatsink that fits snugly inside the PS5’s SSD compartment while taking the edge off its stifling interior. While Corsair markets the design as being console-friendly, PC users with no or poor motherboard heatsinks will benefit greatly from the integrated one.
This version uses the same Phison 18 controller as the original. However, Corsair equipped it with 2GB of 3200MHz SK Hynix RAM and a new 176-layer Micron NAND. Its endurance rating is 700 TBW, and it’s good to know that AES-256 encryption is there to keep your files safe.
More expensive rivals have since eclipsed the MP600 Plus LPX’s peak transfer rates. That might make it look worse on paper, but testing reveals a different truth. What the drive lacks in burst power, it more than makes up for when the initial surge gets depleted. Most competitors falter at the 200 or 250GB mark, yet Corsair’s drive keeps transferring at more than double the 990 PRO’s speed well after that.
TEAMGROUP T-Force Cardea Zero Z440
Capacities: 1TB – 2TB | Interface: PCIe 4.0×4 | Sequential read & write (1TB version): 5,000MB/s, 4,400MB/s | TBW (1TB version): 1,800TB | Heatsink: No
- Excellent value
- Outstanding longevity
- Competitive performance in real-life scenarios
- Only available in 1TB and 2TB variants
With the speediest & most expensive SSDs out of the way, it’s time to set our sights on more affordable yet no less capable candidates. The Cardea Zero Z440 is the first to come to mind. We already gave the drive a good shake in a hands-on review, finding it speedy and more than robust. It’s since gone down in price further, giving you a taste of PCIe 4.0 excellence at less than $100 if you go for the 1TB version.
Owners of older TEAMGROUP SSDs may remember the bulky heatsinks that came with them. The Z440 eschews those for a thin label made of graphene and copper. It’s decent at drawing heat away from the PCB and slim enough to let your motherboard’s more sophisticated heatsink do its job.
The Z440 is an early PCIe 4.0 drive, meaning that the technology had not yet come into its own when it was released. You’ll see this in the comparatively low sequential read & write specs as well as the Phison E16 controller and Micron’s older 96L flash memory if you dig deeper. On the other hand, this is hands-down the best M.2 SSD for gaming for users who want to tackle their Steam backlogs since it can write a whopping 1,800 terabytes during its lifecycle.
As expected, the Z440 can’t compete with higher-placed models in peak speed tests. However, that lead diminishes quickly when the drivers are tasked to copy a mixed selection of files or fire up different games. The difference in performance is much smaller than the one in price in such cases.
Capacities: 250GB – 2TB | Interface: PCIe 4.0×4 | Sequential read & write (1TB version): 3,500MB/s, 2,100MB/s | TBW (1TB version): 350TB | Heatsink: No
- Excellent value for the money
- Not much worse than the competition for real-world application
- Markedly better speeds and stability than its predecessor
- Barely any generational uplift compared to good PCIe 3.0 drives
We’ve mostly been focusing on speed so far, which could leave the mistaken impression that PCIe 4.0 SSDs don’t come cheap. Kingston’s NV2 is here to set the record straight! It isn’t the best NVMe SSD for gaming if you only look at the numbers. Still, the combination of decent stats and rock-bottom price will appeal to anyone interested in functionality over bragging rights.
Kingston has had a penchant for blue ever since the WD HDD days. The NV2’s PCB makes for a nice change of pace, especially since it’s paired with a white label. The combo works better than the EX 950s, especially if other components in your build are also white.
The NV1 was among the first PCIe 4.0 SSDs and made a lackluster impression even then. Kingston wanted its successor to have the same appealing price but offer a more reliable performance. To that end, the NV2 uses Phison’s E21 controller and different 96-layer flash memory. There’s still no dedicated DDR memory to fall back on, which we can’t fault Kingston for considering the price.
A look at the spec sheet puts the NV2’s capabilities closer to the best PCIe 3.0 SSDs than its generation’s frontrunners. The good news is that you’ll experience the effects only if you constantly move large files around, which is a niche gamers don’t tend to fall into anyway. Windows, game and program load times are barely affected, bringing you close to the high-end user experience at a fraction of the price.
Samsung 970 EVO Plus
Capacities: 250GB – 2TB | Interface: PCIe 3.0×4 | Sequential read & write (1TB version): 3,500MB/s, 3,300MB/s | TBW (1TB version): 600TB | Heatsink: No
- Great for gaming despite being older
- TurboWrite ensures bursty transfer speeds
- Optimized firmware
- Mediocre power efficiency
When was the last time you had to copy 100+TB of data frequently and as fast as possible? That’s the question to ask before dismissing PCIe 3.0 SSDs as your gaming PC’s primary drives. Outstanding ones like the 970 EVO Plus barely trail their successors when running games yet come in at a much more reasonable price.
Comparing the 970 EVO Plus to the 990 PRO yields few aesthetic differences. The older drive’s dark color scheme and subdued appearance were such a core part of Samsung’s SSD identity that they had to remain. If there’s anything to nag about, it’s the lack of a proprietary heatsink.
However, other proprietary tech & accessories sweeten the deal. Samsung makes its drivers available, and downloading them positively impacts performance. There’s also data transfer & cloning software as well as hardware encryption to protect sensitive data.
The TurboWrite cache is another 900-series staple. This smaller cache allows for burst transfers of around 25GB at peak speeds, enough to migrate most games from one SSD to another in good time. Even when the cache is depleted, transfer speeds remain better than on competing PCIe 3.0 models.
The 970 EVO Plus stands toe to toe with newer models when measuring game load times. While it may not reach its successor’s results, the difference never amounts to more than a second or two.
How to Pick the Best NVMe SSD for Gaming?
We’ve used a lot of storage lingo throughout the article, so here are some explanations and general recommendations regarding NVMe drives to help you make sense of everything.
What is NVMe and what does it stand for?
NVMe stands for Non-Volatile Memory Express. It denotes that the memory is stable, as opposed to the ever-changing data that temporarily fill up RAM. The Express part refers to PCI Express, the high-speed interface we used to only associate with graphics cards.
The first SSDs were SATA-based, meaning they used an interface initially intended for traditional hard drives. They were already at least three times faster than HDDs, and the PCIe standard improves this by several magnitudes.
NVMe drives currently run on the PCIe 3.0 and 4.0 standards, with PCIe 5.0 slated to release towards the end of 2022, along with the next generation of AMD & Intel processors and supporting motherboards. PCIe 3.0 was already impressive, offering read & write speeds of over 3,000MB/s. The best current drives more than double this, while max PCIe 5.0 sequential speeds reach a mind-boggling 15.8GB/s.
What is M.2 and what does it stand for?
M.2 is the most up-to-date SSD form factor. It uses connections from your CPU and motherboard to interface with either NVMe, PCIe, or SATA drives. NVMe is the most prevalent type of M.2 drive, so we’ll focus on that. M.2 drives are easy to recognize since they’re shaped like a gum stick, 22mm wide, and either 80 or 110mm long.
Each new motherboard generation places more emphasis on M.2 drives. Five years ago, motherboards usually only had one or two such slots if they were high-end. Today’s mid-range boards regularly come with three, while more expensive options have as many as five. Keep in mind that a single motherboard can and usually does support multiple PCIe generations. A PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD will work if you install it in a PCIe 3.0 socket, but it will be limited to the older standard’s max speeds.
How do controllers, flash memory, and TWD factor into one’s SSD choice?
The controller and memory are essential parts of an NVMe SSD. The controller is a type of processor that facilitates communication between the disk’s memory and its input/output interface. It directs read and write operations, monitors memory cell status, etc. More sophisticated controllers allow for more streamlined operations and improve efficiency.
The memory cells in modern NVMe drives are stacked in layers, hence the 3D in their name. Some manufacturers call it V or vertical NAND or BiCS, but it’s the same thing. As a rule of thumb, more layers equals better efficiency and better performance without the need for an area increase. Better TBW is a welcome side effect.
TBW or terabytes written is the number of terabytes a drive can write in its lifetime. The memory cells wear out with use and eventually become unable to accept new data. The higher the TBW, the more data they can store until this happens. Gamers rarely have to worry about reaching their disk’s limits. Still, this value may be valuable for users who run servers or constantly transfer lots of data.
What’s a good size for a gaming SSD?
Manufacturers are constantly coming up with ways to squeeze more storage space onto their M.2 drives. The sizes currently range from 120GB to 8TB. Don’t bother with 120GB drives since installing Windows on one doesn’t even leave enough room for a game as large as Cyberpunk 2077. The 255GB variant is good enough for a boot drive but is also limited by today’s standards.
Most gamers should find 1TB sufficient for their OS, frequently-used programs, and a decent game library. More capacious SSDs make sense if you have a vast media library or need more room for your video editing / 3D modeling activities. Since modern mobos still come with SATA plugs, you might also want to invest in a high-capacity HDD if you need storage for data that doesn’t get accessed frequently.
The explosion of M.2 slots also lets you save more with increased storage needs. For example, the 2TB version of the WD Black SN850X costs around $250 at the time of writing, and $300 when it’s not on sale. The 4TB version costs $800, so going with the two smaller SSDs is a no-brainer.
How does an SSD’s speed impact gaming performance?
Manufacturers tout their disk’s maximum read & write speeds, but these have little impact on actually running games. Faster sequential read & write make the most difference when you’re transferring game files from one disk to another.
Since such files tend to be big, the disk can “let loose” and copy them over faster. But how often does the average gamer do this? It’s far more likely that the internet connection provided by your ISP will be the limiting factor when installing games in this day and age.
We’d be remiss not to point out that all of our picks, even the slowest & cheapest PCIe 3.0 ones, perform within a margin of error when it comes to game load times.
You’re looking at a 1-2 second difference in the vast majority of games, with a significant slowdown occurring only on HDDs. However, this might not be the case for long as technologies like Smart Access Storage are on the horizon. So, getting a faster drive now may pay dividends in the future.
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