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Be prepared for a deluge of acronyms, which is unavoidable when discussing SSD or Solid State Drives. It can be overwhelming, but we’ve done all the leg work needed to provide you with information about the NVMe SSD that is gaining some ground on the more common SATA SSD. But first, let’s start with the basics.
The HDD or Hard Disk Drive
SSD is the successor to the HDD or Hard Disk Drive as the secondary storage device of a computer. Let me first try to explain the significance of HDDs in a modern personal computer system.
HDDs are electromechanical drives that store their data on magnetically coated platters or disks that are spinning at high speeds. A mechanical actuator arm moves a read/write head to the exact spot on the disk where it can read and write data. You could liken it to an old record player where different songs are embedded in a spinning vinyl record on tracks that are read by a needle.
A lot of people still use HDDs as a non-volatile secondary storage device in many personal computers. They are a lot less expensive than SDDs, and they have larger storage capacities. Both the SSDs and HDDs are called non-volatile storage devices because they can store information even with no electric power.
That’s in contrast with RAM or Random Access Memory, which is the volatile type and primary data storage of a computer, also known as system memory. RAM loses or “forgets” all the data stored inside it when the computer is turned off. RAM as the primary storage device, though, is the fastest means with which the CPU or Central Processing Unit can work with data. Think of the CPU as the brains of a computer. So basically, it’s the HDD’s job as a secondary storage device to preserve the information while the computer is “asleep” and to transfer data into the primary storage RAM whenever the CPU needs to process it.
As an example, if you want to play a game, you have to install all the game data into the HDD first before you can run it. This way, the game data is preserved every time you turn off your computer. Once you have installed the game on the HDD, you can start playing it.
But first, the CPU, as instructed by the game’s programming, would have to fetch the data from the HDD and transfer it into the system RAM every time you run the game. Once in RAM, the CPU can work its magic on this data so you can start playing.
“Why should I be interested in all this?” you may ask. Well, in this kind of situation, you could imagine how slow, in terms of computing speed, the whole process is while that data isn’t loaded into RAM yet. With the data in RAM, there’s no problem. The CPU can deal with it directly in the fastest way it can, and everything will run smoothly.
All that data fetching from the outdated and clunky HDD, though, will have an adverse effect on the performance, especially on games like in this example. It becomes more evident in the latest AAA games, which are huge and require a lot of data juggling.
SSDs vs HDDs
That’s where the actual value of an SSD can be more appreciated. You see, unlike an HDD, an SSD has no mechanical moving parts that can slow the data transfer process down. That’s why it’s called a solid-state drive. It uses non-volatile NAND Flash Memory blocks similar to those used in smaller flash cards. An SSD is like a giant flashcard.
The NAND flash memory structure is similar to any other type of memory like RAM. The flash memory controller can tell the computer the exact position of the data needed instantaneously down to a single byte. Unlike in an HDD where a read-write head would have to physically travel and seek out the exact location of the data on the magnetic disks, SDDs don’t even break a sweat. The speed advantage they hold over HDDs is enormous, up to 10-20 times faster with SATA SSDs, and potentially a whopping 30-50 times faster with NVMe SSDs. Depending on how slow the hard disk is, of course.
In the example given above, an SSD can reduce the time it takes for a game to load itself at the start, even before you can get to its main menu. What would have usually taken minutes for a large game with an HDD, now takes only a few seconds with an SSD. It is great since nobody wants to stare at a loading screen and do nothing while they wait for the main menu to appear.
The waiting is also reduced dramatically by an SSD when a game tries to load a save game data or a new level. It also greatly diminishes the moments when a game stutters or lags because it was trying to fetch additional data from an HDD while you’re in the middle of gameplay.
Imagine yourself immersed in an open-world game like Red Dead Redemption II. As you’re walking along and admiring the environment, you suddenly find the game stuttering as you enter a new area. The usual suspect is the HDD, as the game was trying to retrieve new texture data from it. Those kinds of hiccups are barely noticeable now with SSDs and result in a more fluid moving game.
There are two widely used types of SSDs. They are the SATA SSD and NVMe SSD.
SATA or Serial Advanced Technology Attachment is an interface used by HDDs to connect to the computer. When SSDs first appeared, this interface seemed like the logical option for an SSD to replace a hard drive. That’s why they are so common because they are compatible with older motherboards that have this hard drive interface. This interface caps data transfer to around 600 MB/s, though. Even so, a SATA SSD is still way faster than the fastest hard drive.
NVMe SSDs are the Fastest
The NVMe SSD, on the other hand, is based on the newer NVMe or Non-Volatile Memory Express protocols. As mentioned before, Nov-Volatile memory doesn’t get erased in the NAND flash memory blocks. The “Express” is to point out that it uses the PCIe bus.
Whereas the SATA SSD were bottlenecked at 600 MB/s by the old SATA controllers meant for electromechanical hard drives, NVMe is a controller designed explicitly for SDDs to take advantage of their full potential. You might say it’s the SSD unleashed.
But because it’s a newer technology, it’s only available on the latest M.2 form factor motherboards. It’s the way to go, though, if you intend to buy or build a new PC. NVMe SSDs interface with the PCIe or Peripheral Component Interconnect Express bus, which takes care of most of the bottlenecking woes of SATA interface SSDs whenever they have to pass through the SATA controller. The PCIe takes a more direct route in communicating with the CPU.
I know it can be very confusing, but the important thing to remember is that NVMe SSDs can potentially handle read-write data speeds under 5 GB/s or much as 5-7 times faster than the average SATA SSD. They are superior to SATA SSDs in terms of performance and are considered as the fastest SSDs right now.
The SATA SSD is slower, but you can plug it into your motherboard straightaway through the old SATA interface, and it will run just fine. The catch with NVMe SSDs is that they are more expensive, and they require the new motherboard form factor. It means the NVMe can’t run on your current motherboard unless it’s a new M.2 type.
Another downside is its limited storage capacity. Sometimes even 2 Terabytes isn’t enough, and you’re going to run out of space and might need 2 M.2 sockets. It means investing in another SSD and a more expensive motherboard. If data bulk storage isn’t your thing, then a single M.2 socket solution should be enough for your needs.
PCIe Gen 4
Another exciting development in the NVMe front is the noticeable transition happening from PCIe Gen 3 to the PCIe Gen 4 bus. It looks like another changing of the guard almost as profound as what is happening to NVMe SSDs slowly taking over from the SATA SSDs. The performance leap is as extraordinary as well.
Even with the speed boost brought by NVMe over the bottlenecked SATA SSDs, the NVMe SSDs too, found themselves maxed out at the 3900 MB/s limit of the PCIe Gen 3 bus. It seems manufacturers have started to jump on the Gen 4 bandwagon, which breaks through that limitation. Gen 4 NVMe SSDs can be seen in the market today that can reach 5,000 MB/s data exchange speeds. It’s a substantial increase of 20% over the previous generation.
It is something you, as a buyer, should also think about, especially when these new Gen 4 drives are even cheaper than some of the higher-end Gen 3 ones. Not only that, there are rumblings that even Gen 5 is going to be released soon. Who knows what leap in performance that would bring. We are certainly looking forward to that development with bated breath.
Should I Buy an NVMe SSD?
For most average computer users, the only thing holding them back is the price, but once the technology gets cheaper, the closer SSDs will establish its presence in the mainstream. And prices have been steadily going down so that it’s getting within reach of more and more people.
If you’re in the market for the best NVMe, most of your decision to switch over from and HDD will hinge on the kind of applications you run on your computer, most notably concerning the size of the data you’re trying to move.
If it’s a gaming rig, then that’s a no brainer. The NVMe is the no-compromise secondary data storage solution for you. Its primary purpose would be to get rid of all the performance hiccups while you’re playing and to reduce load screen delays drastically. If you’re looking for the best gaming experience, you’ve got to get rid of that HDD. Heck, if you want only the best, then even a SATA SSD might not satisfy you. With the ever-increasing size of games, you would want to have the edge an NVMe SSD would give you.
It could be that you’re editing huge video files. You’ll be needing the data transfer speed of an SSD to handle your workload more quickly and efficiently and improve your productivity. Or you could be running an extensive database. Or maybe you’re an engineer or an architect working on CAD projects. When an application requires you to move copious amounts of data quickly between your secondary and primary storage, your best bet would be an NVMe SSD.
If you want the fastest SSD, why settle for anything less than an NVMe SSD? It’s a must-have.
What is M.2?
M.2 (pronounced M dot 2) is the new standard Form Factor that manufacturers want to push into the mainstream with their new products. A form factor is a standard of shapes and dimensions of computer hardware that governs how manufacturers would design their products to fit those set measurements. It is significant for NVMe SSDs because they will only fit on motherboards with this M.2 form factor. It has a new PCIe slot that is keyed precisely to accept only NVMe SSDs. Sometimes there are two of these slots to cater to those who want an additional NVMe SSD for even more storage capacity.
Be aware though that these new motherboards still support SATA, so be sure you’re buying a PCIe M.2 NVMe SSD and not a mere M.2 SATA SSD (which will have no advantage over an old motherboard SATA SSD). It will be a waste of an advanced motherboard and your money.
What other things should I know about NVMe SSDs?
Before you buy one, you’ll have to look at different models available and what features and specs they offer, so you can make comparisons between them. For you to make an intelligent choice, you’ll have to know what to look out for when weighing the specs. Based on your budget, you can then pick one that offers the best bang for your buck.
For the most practical purposes these days, it’s hard to recommend anything less than 500 GB. When you look at the amount of space you use on your old HDD, the chances are that’s how much secondary data storage memory you’ll need. Remember that other essential files and applications like the operating system would also take up valuable space in this SSD. The more capacity you can afford, the better.
- Sequential Read-Write speed
It’s how fast it can read and write large files step by step from beginning to end. It is more for bulk data transfers of large contiguous files and is a good indicator for determining performance.
- Random Read-Write speed
It is a better indicator that shows read-write performance because it happens more often in actual use. It is a measure of how fast an SSD controller can read and write a large number of small files scattered more randomly in the SSD’s memory. And it becomes even more significant for massive applications that contain tens of thousands of files in their installation folders. If a manufacturer doesn’t show this spec, then don’t bother with their product. It’s something vital that you need to confirm before you make a purchase.
It is another speed measurement, this time of how many IOPS or Input/Output Operations Per Second it can do. Just remember that this measures the number of operations it can execute per second, and not about the size of the data it can move per second. Many people get it mixed up.
It’s a good idea to find out if they have an efficient and effective thermal management system to preserve data integrity and help prolong the flash memory’s lifespan. It is usually built into the SSD hardware, which would be faster. Another nice touch would be a heatsink that can help disperse the heat to keep the SSDs temperature at manageable levels.
TBW or Terabytes Written is getting to be more common as the rating for endurance. It measures how much an SSD can write in terabytes before it conks out.
You could also try to determine its MTBF or Mean Time Between Failures rating shown in hours. It gives a good idea of how reliable and durable they are. Make sure that the manufacturer is confident enough to give their product a 5-year warranty.
- Security Measures
Built-in hardware data-encryption should be included to protect your precious data from any illegal access by hackers and thieves.
- Maintenance Software
A well-designed software utility will help you keep tabs of your SSD’s condition and its performance and would be a nice feature to have.
Now that you have a better grasp of what these fantastic SSDs are about, we’d like to present to you our list of what we think are the best NVMe SDDs of 2019.
The Best NVMe SSDs of 2019
Samsung SSD 970 EVO Plus
- Price: $199.99
- Capacity: 1 TB
- Random IO read/write: 400/400 K IOPS
- Sequential read/write: 3,500/3,300 MB/s
- TBW: 600
This one’s hard to beat and is faster than the 970 EVO. Samsung took care that the 970 EVO Plus was built to endure up to 5 years with a 600 TBW output. That translates to an average daily use upwards of 300 GB, which is insane. That’s way above the typical workload of even a heavy user.
The blazing read/write performance becomes even more evident with the sizeable 1 TB capacity. It has the Dynamic Thermal Plus feature combined with a copper heat spreader at the back to help keep things frosty. To enable you to monitor and even increase the performance, it comes with the Samsung Magician firmware that also shows power consumption in real-time.
Aside from 1 TB, you can opt for a lower 500 TB or go for as much as 2 TB. The extreme performance and endurance numbers, the 1 TB capacity, combined with a very reasonable price, makes this one of the most attractive buy recommendations on this list.
Corsair Force MP600 PCIe Gen 4
- Price: $149.99
- Capacity: 500 GB
- Random IO read/write: 600/600 K IOPS
- Sequential read/write: 4,950/4,250 MB/s
It comes with a hefty heatsink, and it’s going to need it under constant heavy workloads from its high read/write performance that’s even better than the 970 EVO Plus. What’s interesting is that it has similar components as other PCIe Gen 4 SSDs but still managed to slash their price tag by a third of what you can see on others in its class.
With the Gen 4 PCIe x4, it breaks through the 3,900 MB/s limitations of Gen 3 even with NVMe SSDs. Corsair manages to push this speed demon to data transfer speeds of up to 5,000 MB/s without overloading the interface. There is a compromise, though, with a smaller 500 GB capacity, but we’re sure most of you can live with that.
Gamers should be salivating at the prospect of using this. And at this price, it’s going to be very hard to beat.
WD Black SN750
- Price: $207.99
- Capacity: 1 TB
- Random read/write: 515/560 KB/s
- Sequential read/write: 3,470/3000 MB/s
- TBW: 600
Making quality HDDs is what Western Digital is known for, and it’s no surprise then that they continue that tradition with their SSDs. The company has shown a knack for producing data storage options that enticed consumers. Now they’ve come up with the lightning-fast WD Black SN750.
As a bonus for gamers, they have included the SSD Dashboard utility software that lets you set a Gaming Mode to put this M.2 NVMe SSD on turbo drive. The company claims that optional heatsink is effective at keeping temps manageable.
Crucial P1 1TB
- Price: $95.99
- Capacity: 1 TB
- Random read/write: 170/240 K/s
- Sequential read/write: 2,000/1,700 MB/s
The first thing that hits you is the price. With a sub-$100 price tag, it challenges even its weaker SATA SSD counterparts. Compared to the performance of the other NVMe SSDs, though, it’s a bit of a runt. As a low-end NVMe, the flash memory isn’t as consistent as in the more expensive ones on this list. It’s clear that they’ve sacrificed performance for value, but everything else should satisfy a lot of buyers. You’ll still get the marked improvements over SATA SDDs.
Crucial is known for their superior build quality, though, and it’s still evident in this one so you can rest assured it will take the abuse. The main draw here is the price and okay NVMe performance. Gamers particularly would find that this would this to be an effective alternative to SATA SSDs in their rigs and that they will still get that big NVMe boost in their games.
It is highly recommended for budget builders and the price entry point, and for any buyer for that matter. The Crucial name and the quality assurance that comes with it, and the 1 TB capacity makes it hard to ignore.
- Price: $219.98
- Capacity: 2 TB
- Random read/write:
- Sequential read/write: 1,800/1,800 MB/s
- IOPS: 220/220 K
- TBW: 400 TB
Here’s another eye-opening offer this time by Intel. It’s also a lower-tier performer in the NVMe class, however, that 2 TB capacity makes it the most affordable 2 TB of any SSD (including SATA SSDs) we’ve come across. That and the low-end NVMe performance at that price puts even some SATA SSDs to shame for its affordability.
It doesn’t have the highest endurance at 400 TBW, but the number is still ridiculous when talking about its workload capacity for the next five years. That’s a great value that earns from us a very high recommendation for any of you looking for not just an NVMe SSD, but a high capacity 2 TB SSD.
Adata XPG SX8200 Pro
- Price: $147.99
- Capacity: 1 TB
- Random read-write: 390/480 KB/s
- Sequential read/write: 3,500/3,000 MB/s
- TBW: 600
It is a bargain from Adata for an NVMe SDDs, but it’s no slouch and is an improvement from their previous releases. The only caveat is that it is not as well known as other manufacturers who have a proven track record, but the specs for this one reaches a sweet spot in price that a few can match. It’s rated for 600 TBW, so that should give you some peace of mind with regards to its endurance.
It also has a software utility that you can use to speed up performance even more. Overall, it’s a tempting offer because of the price.
- Price: 199.98
- Capacity: 1 TB
- Random read-write:
- Sequential read-write: 5,000/4,400 MB/s
It’s another Gen 4 PCIe x4 high spec SSD with an appropriate name that smashes the Gen 3 3,900 MB/s bottleneck. Called the rocket, it zooms along up to 5,000 MB/s reads, and 4,400 MB/s write data transfer speeds. Because of the breakneck speeds, it can get toasty, requiring the included heatsink to dissipate the heat and avoid thermal throttling. It has backward compatibility and can use Gen 3 motherboards but capped by the older PCIe at a respectable 3,400/s read and 3,000/s write speed.
It has features like advanced wear-leveling, which even out the wear to guarantee more prolonged use. With it similar specs to the Corsair Force MP600, this is another excellent alternative Gen 4 performance option.
Gigabyte Aorus Gen 4
- Price: $151.99
- Capacity: 500 GB
- Random read/write:
- Sequential read/write: 5,000/2500 MB/s
It is another PCIe Gen 4 NVMe SSD that managed to get below the $160 mark. The compromise is it’s smaller 500 GB capacity, but at considerable savings with Gen 4 performance. Of course, you have to get a Gen 4 motherboard, though, to take advantage of the tremendous boost in data transfer speeds. But if you’re getting an NVMe, most likely you’re buying a new motherboard anyway, so it’s all good. It uses Toshibas 3D NAND flash memory, which is a plus.
A unique looking copper heat spreader wraps the Aorus that’s that up to 69% more efficient than their aluminum counterparts. Heat sinks are a common feature in the Gen 4s to keep the heat from getting out of control and start thermal throttling, although it shouldn’t be a problem with this model. So we have absolutely no doubts about giving this our approval. It pushes PCIe Gen 4 technology within arm’s reach of budget-conscious users.
The best performers on the list are those from manufacturers that opted to break free from the shackles of the PCIe Gen 3 bus and adopted the newer Gen 4, giving a substantial boost to their NVMe SSD’s read/write data performance.
These Gen 4 SSDs do tend to get hot, but luckily heatsinks come standard with them. They’re at the high-end of the price spectrum, but we believe they are worth the price for the higher level of performance they bring to the table. The downside is that you will need a Gen 4 equipped motherboard as well.
Not all SSDs are created equal, so depending on how much you’re willing to spend, we think we’ve found some good choices that would fit anyone’s budget and still get the superior NVMe SSD performance.
And as prices continue to drop so tantalizingly close to the SATA SSD range, NVMe SSDs are increasingly becoming as common as their slower predecessors. One terrific thing that we’ve also noticed is the 1 TB capacity becoming more and more affordable.
Only a year ago, people considered them as more of an extreme option, but they have started to realize NVMe SSDs are indeed a viable data storage solution today.