Best Budget NVMe M.2 SSDs in 2022: Fast Storage For Less

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Affordable M.2 NVMe SSDsIn real-world user experience terms, the difference between a budget NVMe SSD and a high-end M.2 drive is rarely as large as the specifications imply. While you will certainly see a huge difference when swapping your old hard drive for about any SSD, the same cannot be said when upgrading your SSD for a faster one.

But there are of course differences between entry-level SATA and PCIe/NVMe drives. When you are building a new PC and have an M.2 slot to spare, you will most likely want to use it. And if you prefer not to spend a substantial part of your budget on storage, there are now quite a few affordable PCIe/NVMe SSDs to choose from.

Most manufacturers tend to focus on maximum sequential performance in their marketing, as these numbers are easy to understand and compare. However, when you look at seemingly slow drives like the now-discontinued Intel Optane SSDs – which often outperformed much faster drives (specs-wise) – you will notice that sequential transfers are just one part of the equation. Other details such as random IOPS performance and latency also play major roles.

Best Value Gen3/Gen4 NVMe SSDs

We will start with the conclusion before going into more detail. Based on our own testing and others, these would be our top choices for the best affordable M.2 SSDs in 2022. (Note that PCIe Gen4 offers twice the bandwidth of Gen3 and is generally available in systems based on Ryzen 3000/11th-gen Intel Core processors or later.)

Product
Best Affordable Gen3
Western Digital 1TB WD Blue SN570 NVMe Internal Solid State Drive SSD - Gen3 x4 PCIe 8Gb/s, M.2 2280, Up to 3,500 MB/s - WDS100T3B0C
Best Affordable Gen4
WD_BLACK 1TB SN770 NVMe Internal Gaming SSD Solid State Drive - Gen4 PCIe, M.2 2280, Up to 5,150 MB/s - WDS100T3X0E
Image
Western Digital 1TB WD Blue SN570 NVMe Internal Solid State Drive SSD - Gen3 x4 PCIe 8Gb/s, M.2 2280, Up to 3,500 MB/s - WDS100T3B0C
WD_BLACK 1TB SN770 NVMe Internal Gaming SSD Solid State Drive - Gen4 PCIe, M.2 2280, Up to 5,150 MB/s - WDS100T3X0E
Sequential read (max., MB/s)
3,500MB/s
5,150 MB/s
Sequential write (max., MB/s)
3,000MB/s
4,900 MB/s
Random read IOPS (4K/QD32)
460K
740K
Random write IOPS (4K/QD32)
460K
800K
Warranty
5 years
5 years
Endurance rating
600 TBW
600 TBW
Best Affordable Gen3
Product
Western Digital 1TB WD Blue SN570 NVMe Internal Solid State Drive SSD - Gen3 x4 PCIe 8Gb/s, M.2 2280, Up to 3,500 MB/s - WDS100T3B0C
Image
Western Digital 1TB WD Blue SN570 NVMe Internal Solid State Drive SSD - Gen3 x4 PCIe 8Gb/s, M.2 2280, Up to 3,500 MB/s - WDS100T3B0C
Sequential read (max., MB/s)
3,500MB/s
Sequential write (max., MB/s)
3,000MB/s
Random read IOPS (4K/QD32)
460K
Random write IOPS (4K/QD32)
460K
Warranty
5 years
Endurance rating
600 TBW
Check Price
Best Affordable Gen4
Product
WD_BLACK 1TB SN770 NVMe Internal Gaming SSD Solid State Drive - Gen4 PCIe, M.2 2280, Up to 5,150 MB/s - WDS100T3X0E
Image
WD_BLACK 1TB SN770 NVMe Internal Gaming SSD Solid State Drive - Gen4 PCIe, M.2 2280, Up to 5,150 MB/s - WDS100T3X0E
Sequential read (max., MB/s)
5,150 MB/s
Sequential write (max., MB/s)
4,900 MB/s
Random read IOPS (4K/QD32)
740K
Random write IOPS (4K/QD32)
800K
Warranty
5 years
Endurance rating
600 TBW
Check Price

Last update on 2022-09-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Western Digital 1TB WD Blue SN550 NVMe Internal SSD - Gen3 x4 PCIe 8Gb/s, M.2 2280, 3D NAND, Up to 2,400 MB/s - WDS100T2B0COur current budget favorite in the Gen3 space is the WD Blue SN570, which offers better performance than its SN550 predecessor at a similar price point. Much like the SN550 and other low-cost NVMe SSDs, the SN570 is DRAMless, but the latter’s specs have been vastly improved across the board to compete with Samsung’s non-Pro 980.

Speaking of which, the Samsung 980 (non-PRO) remains an attractive option if the price is right. This is also a DRAMless drive that offers real-world performance comparable to many high-end Gen3 drives from previous generations. Read our review of the 1TB model here.

WD Black SN770To find an affordable NVMe SSD in the Gen4 segment, the entry-level options are often based on cheaper QLC NAND memory chips – or at least they were until recently. Launched in 2022, the WD Black SN770 is a DRAMless PCIe 4.0 SSD that offers very impressive performance considering its modest price tag. Since it’s based on high-quality TLC Flash chips, it also comes with far better endurance ratings compared to the QLC-based alternatives.

List of Affordable PCIe Gen3 NVMe M.2 Drives

While the competition in the budget Gen4 space is still somewhat limited, there are plenty of inexpensive M.2 SSDs that use the PCI-Express 3.0 interface. Entry-level models frequently employ QLC (quad-level cell) NAND, but the TLC (triple-level cell) alternatives are also competitively priced and tend to perform better overall.

Budget SSDs
(1TB version)
ProductMax. sequential read/write (MB/s)4K random read/write performance (IOPS)DRAMNAND
Type
Endurance/
Warranty
Latest
Price*
Check
Availability
WD Blue SN5703500/3000460K/460KNoTLC600 TBW/
5-Year
$79.70Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Samsung 9803500/3000500K/480KNoTLC600 TBW/
5-Year
$99.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
WD Blue SN5502400/1950410K/405KNoTLC600 TBW/
5-Year
$109.95Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Mushkin
Helix-L
2110/1700240K/260KNoTLC600 TBW/
3-Year
$68.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Sabrent Rocket Q3200/2000125K/500KDDR3LQLC260 TBW/
5-Year
$79.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Kingston
A2000
2200/2000250K/220KDDR4TLC720 TBW/
5-Year
$97.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Seagate
Barracuda Q5
2400/1700N/AN/AQLC274 TBW/
3-Year
$133.10Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
PNY
CS2130
3500/1800N/ADDR3QLCN/A
5-Year
$69.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Intel
670p
3500/2500220K/330KDDR3LQLC370 TBW/
5-Year
N/ANewegg
Patriot
P300
2100/1650290K/260KNoTLC320 TBW/
3-Year
$69.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Mushkin
Pilot-E
3500/3000331K/353KDDR3TLC600 TBW/
3-Year
$89.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Crucial
P2
2400/1800N/ANoTLC450 TBW/
5-Year
$76.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Sabrent
Rocket
3400/3000650K/640KDDR3TLC1665 TBW/
5-Year
$94.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK

*Prices are updated automatically at regular intervals but are subject to change between updates. See ‘Last update’ information at bottom of the page.

TLC Vs. QLC NAND

SLC, MLC, TLC, QLC NAND

Higher densities introduce durability and performance issues.

Although the incredibly high densities in today’s SSDs are a feat of engineering, the ability to write additional bits of data to each memory cell is not without downsides. The exponential increase in density from MLC (multi-level cell) via TLC (triple-level cell) to QLC (quad-level cell) NAND (Not-AND; a type of transistor logic gate) has introduced endurance and performance-related challenges.

  • Firstly, all else being equal, QLC NAND by itself performs significantly worse compared to TLC. The higher density makes QLC slower and more error-prone, which must be corrected for by the manufacturers. This is partly accomplished by using an SLC (single-level cell) cache. Once this significantly faster cache is temporarily used up, the SSD will write directly to the QLC memory, which reduces performance to a fraction of the maximum sequential rates. This is an issue with TLC-based SSDs as well, but there it is much less pronounced.
  • Secondly, the endurance ratings of affordable M.2 SSDs – QLC-based ones in particular – tend to be much lower compared to more expensive drives. This means that you can write less data to it as measured in TBW (terabytes written) before it runs out of warranty, which is mutually exclusive with the warranty in years. For the average gamer or office user, this is rarely an issue. But do keep the TBW ratings in mind if you work with e.g. video editing and other storage-intensive workloads.

However, the main problem with QLC SSDs so far is not that they are unreliable or slow (they’re not), but that they are still too expensive compared to their more durable and (usually) slightly faster TLC counterparts. As long as the price difference is small or non-existent – and it still is among the entry-level NVMe drives – there are few reasons to choose a QLC-based SSD over a TLC-based model.

Other Considerations When Buying an Entry-Level NVMe SSDs in 2022

Sabrent Rocket Gen3Some compromises have to be made to get the best possible value in the budget M.2 NVMe SSD space. Besides the small QLC/TLC price differences, it is also interesting to note that the difference between entry-level and mid-range drives is also relatively small. Adding around $20–30 to your budget will get you a DRAM-equipped SSD with a much higher TBW rating, such as the Gen3 Sabrent Rocket listed above.

Another issue with the entry-level M.2 SSD market is that some manufacturers are not providing detailed performance specifications (or even an endurance rating in the case of PNY). Comparing SSDs based only on maximum sequential performance alone is not sufficient, as these numbers are not reliable indicators of real-world performance outside of specific tasks. For reference, see our performance comparison further down on this page.

Warranty terms are also important. While three years sounds reasonable enough compared to other product categories, we have come to expect five years for SSDs, so anything less does not inspire as much confidence.

Those objections aside, it should be mentioned that practically all modern M.2 SSDs – even in the budget segment – are considerably more reliable in general than hard drives as well as older SSDs from 5–10 years ago. Complete drive failures are very uncommon and, for the average user, a cheap NVMe SSD should last for the lifetime of the system, even with a relatively modest TBW rating.

Entry-Level NVMe SSD (Real-World) Performance

Although high maximum sequential transfer rates are typically the manufacturers’ headline feature, these numbers do not scale with common real-world scenarios like loading apps and games. As the average user load in gaming/office use is more centered around reading and writing small chunks of data, factors like latency and random performance are arguably more interesting.

As our testing of the similarly affordable WD Blue SN550, Sabrent Rocket Q, and Samsung 980 reveals, these drives are actually not that far from competing with the theoretically much faster (and more expensive) WD Black SN850 in benchmarks measuring loading times.

The Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers benchmark is a more accurate and practical alternative to a stopwatch for measuring level loading times. Five different levels are loaded during the benchmark, which then provides a total loading time. Here, any SSD will provide a significant and clearly noticeable boost compared to any mechanical hard drive (the one used here is a comparatively fast 7,200 rpm 3.5″ model).

Unsurprisingly, the market-leading SN850 has the shortest app start-up times in PC Mark 10, but it is interesting to note that the significantly less expensive SN550 is trailing by insignificant amounts, and the same is true for Samsung’s non-Pro 980 The QLC-based Sabrent Rocket Q is trailing a bit, as is the mid-range Gen3 Corsair MP510.

Sequential performance as measured with CrystalDiskMark is a different story. These high-end, mid-range and affordable NVMe SSDs perform about as you would expect from their specifications. The 4K transfer rates are somewhat better correlated with the real-world performance benchmarks.

What About Cheap Gen4 NVMe M.2 SSDs?

Now that Intel and AMD both offer PCI-Express 4.0-enabled platforms in all price ranges, the new interface is in the process of going mainstream. Compared to Gen3, Gen4 offers no less than twice the bandwidth for devices that are able to utilize it. At this point, those devices are primarily Gen4 M.2 SSDs. So far, manufacturers have mainly been competing in the high-end space, where pricing is less of a concern.

This will inevitably change as Gen3-only systems are slowly but certainly replaced, but the more affordable Gen4 drives are still somewhat rare. 

Gen4 QLC
SSDs (1TB)
ProductMax. sequential read/write (MB/s)4K random read/write performance (IOPS)DRAMNAND
Type
Endurance/
Warranty
Latest
Price*
Check
Availability
WD
Black SN770
5150/4900740K/800KN/ATLC600 TBW/
5-Year
$99.48Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Gigabyte
Aorus Gen4
5000/4400750K/700KDDR4TLC1800 TBW/
5-Year
$114.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Silicon Power
US70
5500/4400750K/750KDDR4TLC1800 TBW/
5-Year
Price not availableAmazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Adata
Gammix S50 Lite
3900/3200380K/490KDDR4TLC740 TBW/
5-Year
$114.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Sabrent
Rocket Q4
4700/1800180K/450KDDR4QLC200 TBW/
5-Year
$89.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Corsair
MP600 Core
4700/1950200K/480KDDR4QLC225 TBW/
5-Year
$139.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK

*Prices are updated automatically at regular intervals but are subject to change between updates. See ‘Last update’ information at bottom of the page.

Drives based on the Phison E16 controller are making a comeback as affordably priced alternatives for those looking for a PCIe Gen4 SSD. This includes the Gigabyte Aorus Gen4 and the Silicon Power US70. While they are no longer on par with the best NVMe drives, the TLC-based models in particular offer good value – not least due to the higher endurance/TBW ratings.

In contrast, the TBW ratings for the QLC-based Sabrent Rocket Q4 and Corsair MP600 Core are much less impressive, but performance appears to be more than decent. Adata’s XPG Gammix S50 Lite stands out in the budget Gen4 SSD crowd by using a Silicon Motion SM2267 controller while performing comparably to a high-end PCIe Gen3 drive.

Other Early Phison E16 Drives That May Offer Good Value

The earliest Gen4 NVMe M.2 SSDs were all based on the Phison E16 controller and TLC NAND. Most of them are still around and might be a look if you want Gen4 at a reasonable price. As is evident, you can barely tell these SSDs apart as far as specifications are concerned as they all use nearly identical hardware.

Gen4 E16
SSDs (1TB)
ProductMax. sequential read/write (MB/s)4K random read/write performance (IOPS)NAND
Type
Endurance/
Warranty
Latest
Price*
Check
Availability
Sabrent Rocket Gen4 (1TB)5000/4400750K/750KTLC1800 TBW$129.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Gigabyte Aorus Gen4 (1TB)5000/4400750K/700KTLC1800 TBW$185.40Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Corsair MP600 Gen4 (1TB)4950/4250680K/600KTLC1800 TBW$314.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Patriot Viper VP4100 (1TB)5000/4400800K/800KTLC1800 TBW$255.99Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
Seagate Firecuda 520 (1TB)5000/4400760K/700KTLC1800 TBW$159.77Amazon
Newegg
Amazon UK
XPG Gammix S50 (1TB)5000/4400750K/750KTLC1800 TBWPrice not availableAmazon
Newegg
Amazon UK

*Prices are updated automatically at regular intervals but are subject to change between updates. See ‘Last update’ information at bottom of the page.

Admittedly, the Phison E16-based SSDs are not entirely identical. There are a few different firmware variants and some of the drives come with an included (and in some cases optional) heatsink. Nevertheless, although they are no longer on par with the fastest SSDs in the category, these drives have been almost universally well-received and the price remains the most important differentiator.

Summary: Budget Gen4 SSDs Are Now a Thing

The number of budget NVMe M.2 SSDs has greatly increased in the past couple of years and now makes up a fair share of the market. As of mid-2022, some observations stand out:

  • PCIe Gen3 NVMe SSDs still offer the best value overall at this time – When comparing, for example, the WD SN850 and the much more affordable SN550 or SN570 in terms of real-world loading times and user experience, the latter are not lagging by a significant amount. Hence, the price/performance ratio is currently more attractive in the entry-level market. The Gen4 alternatives are however also catching up in terms of pricing.
  • TLC NAND still trumps QLC in the price/performance race – Although it is technically impressive, the main selling point of QLC NAND is that the compromise between improved density and reduced endurance should result in lower prices. Unfortunately, the average price difference is still too small compared to the better-performing TLC counterparts.

Do you have a different opinion of what constitutes the best affordable M.2 NVMe SSD at this time? Don’t hesitate to share it in the comments.

Jesper Berg

As a PC gaming enthusiast since the 3dfx Voodoo era, Jesper has had time to experiment with a fair few FPS-improving PC parts over the years. His job at GPCB is to test and evaluate hardware, mainly focusing on GPUs and storage devices.

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