The Fastest M.2 NVMe SSDs in 2024 Based on Real-World Performance
Faster storage will speed up most of your PC activities to some extent – from booting up your OS to loading apps and games. But not all SSDs are created equal. If you have an NVMe-capable M.2 slot on your motherboard, then this is where to install your system drive. Some of the fastest M.2 drives right now depending on the interface are:
- PCI-Express 5.0 (Gen5): Crucial T700 (or one of several similar competitors)
- PCI-Express 4.0 (Gen4): Samsung 990 PRO
For the time being, Gen5-enabled PC platforms include only those based on AMD’s AM5 platform (X670 and B650 motherboards) and some of the latest Intel varieties (I use a Z790 board for testing).
A Closer Look at the Fastest Gen5 & Gen4 M.2 SSDs
Here’s how the PCIe interface versions compare in terms of bandwidth and theoretical performance.
|PCI Express 3.0
|PCI Express 4.0
|PCI Express 5.0
Some of the latest Gen5 SSDs nearly max out the new interface, but there’s much more competition in the Gen4 space. Since all M.2 NVMe SSDs are backward-compatible, high-end Gen3 drives tend to offer poor value in 2024 compared to Gen4. Even if there is no performance benefit when running on an earlier interface version, there are several good reasons to opt for a more recent SSD.
Last update on 2024-03-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
At the time of writing (February 2024), the Crucial T700 is one of the leading Gen5 SSDs alongside the Teamgroup T-Force Cardea Z540 and Corsair MP700 Pro. Thanks to the latest Micron NAND, sequential performance reaches 12,400 MB/s. That’s enough to put it ahead of earlier competitors using the same Phison E26 controller.
As for upcoming releases, Crucial has just announced an updated T705, which is slightly faster than the T700. Sabrent’s Rocket 5 also seems to come out ahead of other E26-based SSDs.
The Samsung 990 PRO remains the fastest Gen4 SSD I’ve tested – but it is in relatively close competition with Western Digital’s WD Black SN850X, Kingston’s Fury Renegade, and a few others. Any one of these drives is great for a gaming PC build or a PlayStation 5.
Best SSDs Sorted by (Gaming) Performance
The aim here is to rank SSDs based on their performance in real-world scenarios. This matters more to users than headline sequential transfer rates. UL’s 3DMark Storage Benchmark is quite useful for comparison purposes.
This benchmark consists of a range of gaming-related workloads that apply to other usage scenarios as well. Scores are based on the average bandwidth from a range of tasks that include loading, installing, saving, moving, and recording some specific games. In other words, it’s not a universal proxy for everyday performance but one of the best ones out there.
1. Fastest NVMe M.2 SSD: Crucial T700 (and Similar Competitors)
Crucial’s T700 is not the first or only SSD to use the Phison E26 controller, but it currently outperforms the competition thanks to the latest and fastest NAND memory chips from Micron (Crucial is a Micron subsidiary).
Other PCIe 5.0 SSDs such as the Aorus Gen5 10000 and Corsair MP700, all of which also use the Phison E26, can reach sequential read speeds of around 10,000 MB/s, but the Crucial T700 goes all the way up to 12,400 MB/s.
It shares the title of fastest consumer SSD to date with the similarly-equipped Teamgroup T-Force Z540 and Corsair MP700 Pro, both of which use largely identical hardware. The still-unreleased Crucial T705 will however outpace all of them with sequential read performance reaching as high as 14,500 MB/s.
A downside of these early Gen5 SSDs, however, is that they require efficient cooling to avoid overheating and throttling. If you don’t have a decent heat spreader on your motherboard, it is probably a good idea to opt for a model with a heatsink.
Gen5 SSDs can be expected to improve even further in terms of performance, efficiency, and not least pricing over the coming months and years. But for now, the Crucial T700 and its closest competitors are the fastest consumer storage devices you can get for your Gen5-capable PC.
2. Seagate FireCuda 540 (and Other, Earlier E26 Competitors)
The Seagate FireCuda 540 is another recent addition to the Gen5 space and it uses the same E26 controller as all of its current competitors. It is also equipped with the same 232-layer TLC NAND as all but the Crucial T700, meaning that it runs at 1,600 MT/s.
As a result, the 2 TB model tops out at 10,000 MB/s sequential read/write speeds, while the 1 TB capacity is a bit slower at 9,500 MB/s (read) and 8,500 MB/s (write).
What sets the FireCuda 540 apart from the competition is the Seagate firmware and, perhaps more importantly, a significantly higher endurance rating. The 2 TB model is backed by a 2,000 TBW (terabytes written) rating and half of that for the 1 TB FireCuda 540.
Other Phison E26-based Gen5 SSDs with the same NAND and nearly identical performance include:
- Aorus Gen5 10000
- SSTC Tiger Shark
- Inland TD510 (Micro Center)
- Corsair MP700
- Adata Legend 970
3. Best Gen4 NVMe M.2 SSD: Samsung 990 PRO
Samsung was an undisputed leader in the SSD space for years, but more recently, the Korean electronics giant has often been unable to stay ahead of the competition. The 990 PRO is a return to form, with Samsung now retaking the lead in many key benchmarks that reflect real-world use.
This is perhaps not readily apparent when just looking at the sequential transfer rates, where the Samsung 990 PRO, much like the competition, basically maxes out the PCIe Gen4 bandwidth. It does excel in the random performance area, however, at up to 1.4M/1.55M IOPS read/write. The drive uses Samsung’s proprietary Pascal controller, 176-layer NAND, and an LPDDR4 DRAM cache to achieve these numbers.
Warranty and endurance ratings remain the same as the 980 PRO predecessor, at five years or 600 TBW (1TB) / 1,200 TBW (2 TB). Unfortunately, the Samsung 990 PRO is not just one of the fastest SSDs on the market, but also among the more expensive. Samsung’s 990 EVO is newer and technically Gen5-capable, but also much slower than the 990 PRO.
4. Crucial T500
A somewhat surprising addition to the list of top performers is the Phison E25-based is the new (as of November 2023) Crucial T500. What makes it an unlikely leader is that the E25 controller only has four NAND channels, compared to the eight more commonly found in high-end SSDs.
The magic ingredient appears to be its 232-layer NAND from Micron, which can propel this drive to the top of several benchmark charts versus other Gen4 drives. We have recently observed the same trend even in DRAM-less SSDs like the impressive Teamgroup MP44, but the Crucial T500 does employ an LPDDR4 DRAM buffer that gives it an edge in many workloads.
5. SK Hynix Platinum P41
SK Hynix is the world’s second-largest memory chip manufacturer (after Samsung). It is however only recently that the company has started to sell consumer products under its own brand name. This should not be taken lightly by the competition, as the Platinum P41 is one of the best M.2 SSDs to date.
Released in May 2022, the SK Hynix Platinum P41 is an entirely in-house design based on the manufacturer’s own 176-layer TLC NAND chips and uses a proprietary controller dubbed Aries. It also includes an SK Hynix LPDDR4 DRAM cache. Sequential performance is up to 7,000/6,500 MB/s (read/write) and random performance is up to 1.4M/1.3M IOPS. More importantly, it performs exceptionally well in real-world-oriented benchmarks such as 3DMark and PCM10.
The only downside is that the Platinum P41 so far has been limited availability, as it’s still hard to find in the US and Europe.
6. Western Digital WD Black SN850X
Launched in 2020, the original WD Black SN850 was and still is one of the fastest M.2 SSDs on the consumer market. Two years later, the drive was updated with higher-density 112-layer BiCS 5 NAND memory chips. Improvements are mainly seen in random read/write performance, which has gone from 1M/720K IOPS to 1.2M/1.1M IOPS in the 2 TB capacity.
This appears to be more than enough to propel the SN850X to the top of the charts in real-world benchmarks such as PC Mark 10 and 3DMark’s SSD gaming test. As is the case with most of the leading SSDs, the 2TB and 4TB capacities are the strongest in the lineup due to the advantages of parallelism. For more details on how it compares to the Samsung 990 Pro, visit this page.
7. Kingston Fury Renegade
Kingston’s Fury Renegade is an improved version of the KC3000 but uses the same Phison E18 controller and 176-layer Micron TLC NAND that originally propelled Seagate’s FireCuda 530 to the top of the charts. It is slightly faster than the KC3000 model and also outpaces its Seagate counterpart in several benchmarks. This makes the Fury Renegade a strong competitor of the 990 PRO and an attractive choice for any PCIe Gen4-compatible build. But also keep in mind that the difference from the KC3000 is marginal.
Another detail worth noting is that, much like the FireCuda 530, you have to opt for the 2TB or 4TB models to get the best possible performance.
8. Seagate FireCuda 530
Like the Kingston Fury Renegade and KC3000, the Seagate FireCuda 530 is equipped with the same winning combination of a Phison E18 controller and Micron’s latest 176-layer Flash chips. In its 2TB and 4TB capacities, the drive reaches its maximum 6,900 MB/s sequential write throughput (compared to 6,000 MB/s for the 1TB model). What makes the FireCuda 530 particularly attractive in the high-end SSD space is the drive’s endurance ratings. Even the 500GB capacity offers higher endurance than its 1TB Samsung and WD competitors at 640 TBW.
9. Corsair MP600 Pro XT
As a third “2nd-generation Phison E18” option, Corsair’s MP600 Pro XT is based on the same hardware as the aforementioned competitors and offers roughly the same performance. Also much like its competitors, you also have to opt for the 2GB or 4TB capacities to get the best possible performance. The endurance ratings are a bit lower than both the KC3000 and the FireCuda 530, at 700 TBW (1TB), 1,400 TBW (2TB), and 3,000 TBW (4TB). On the plus side, the MP600 Pro XT comes with a large heat spreader that should help reduce throttling during intensive workloads.
10. Samsung 980 PRO
Samsung’s 980 PRO launched in late 2020 and was a market leader before the WD SN850 arrived. It remains a solid choice for any PCIe Gen4-capable system.
Technically, the 980 PRO is more of a successor to the 970 EVO Plus than to the 970 PRO. Previously, the PRO lineup has been exclusively based on higher-end MLC (multi-level cell) NAND memory chips. With the 980 PRO, Samsung has opted for the same cost-effective TLC chips that all of its competitors use. The newer Samsung 980 (non-PRO), on the other hand, is a DRAMless budget M.2 SSD that competes in the Gen3 category.
What is NVMe and why do I need it?
The performance of any storage device boils down to how quickly it lets you move data from storage (non-volatile, slower) to DRAM (volatile, faster).
The NVMe protocol – short for non-volatile memory express – was created to make the most out of solid state drives in combination with the PCI-Express (PCIe) interface. It replaces AHCI (paired with SATA), which was originally designed for mechanical hard drives. The newer protocol includes many efficiency improvements to deal with parallel transfers and the low-latency nature of SSDs.
High-end NVMe SSDs are also slowly but steadily becoming even faster in gaming PCs thanks to GPU acceleration via Microsoft’s DirectStorage API. AMD and Nvidia are implementing this technology under the names Smart Access Storage and RTX IO, respectively. A couple of AAA titles that use DirectStorage technology include Square’s Forspoken and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.
Best Gen3 M.2 SSDs: Samsung 970 PRO and EVO Plus
No single drive will take home the crown as the fastest M.2. SSD in every single use case or benchmark. However, one of the best general performers in the PCIe 3.0 segment is still the MLC-based Samsung 970 PRO. This drive has been comprehensively tried and tested over the years and comes with a flawless track record.
The 970 PRO comes with Samsung’s proprietary controller and MLC chips, as well as an excellent endurance rating of 1,200 TBW (1TB) or 600 TBW (512GB). When looking at price versus performance, the 970 PRO has always been a somewhat questionable choice, but it might be a sensible investment for the most demanding users. Unfortunately, there are no large capacities available.
Samsung’s 970 EVO Plus is a lot more affordable than the PRO but very close in terms of actual performance. Although it doesn’t use high-end MLC NAND, this drive is still among the best in the PCIe Gen 3 category and offers far better value than the PRO model.
Other Fast PCIe Gen3 M.2 SSDs
Note that even if you are still on Gen3, Gen4 drives are more future-proof and may offer better value at this time. The main reason is that high-end Gen3 SSDs like the Firecuda 510 are becoming rare and quite expensive. If you are nevertheless able to locate a good deal, these are some of the best-performing PCIe 3.0 M.2 SSDs.
|Max. sequential read/write (MB/s)
|4K random read/write performance (IOPS)
|Endurance rating (terabytes written)
|Samsung 970 PRO (1TB)
|Samsung 970 EVO PLUS (1TB)
|Adata XPG SX8200 Pro (1TB)
|PNY XLR8 CS3030 (1TB)
|HP EX950 (1TB)
Which is the Best M.2 SSD for Gaming?
The difference between an SSD and a hard drive regarding user experience is clearly noticeable. To date, the effect of shifting from one type of SSD to another is not necessarily noticeable, but it depends on the game. In addition to the previously mentioned 3D Mark Storage Benchmark results, here is some data from the standalone Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringer benchmark:
In this benchmark, multiple scenes/levels are loaded, and the above are the total loading times for these levels. While the difference between budget and high-end SSDs is noticeable, it is crowded at the top. Any SSD will be much faster than any hard drive in games – even if it’s an external SSD in an enclosure.
Although it is now a bit dated, this comparison by HardwareUnboxed is also quite illuminating:
Until recently it was safe to assume that a comparison of individual high-end M.2 PCIe SSDs would result in small differences in terms of gaming performance. The gap has however grown wider between Gen3 and high-end Gen4 or Gen5. Microsoft’s DirectStorage may widen it further as the API makes its way into more new releases.
Will it Work on my Laptop/Desktop PC?
For the aforementioned drives to work with your computer, you will need an M.2 slot and support for PCIe/NVMe. But there may be exceptions: Even without an M.2 slot on your (desktop) motherboard, you can still use one in a full-size PCIe x4 slot using an adapter. But if you want to run your OS from the drive, your motherboard must still support booting from PCIe, which is no guarantee with older motherboards.
On the other hand, all recent ATX-size motherboards include at least one M.2 slot and will be able to run a modern SSD at PCIe 3.0 speeds at a minimum. With an older board, you might not be so lucky. In any event, it’s always best to check the manual before buying a new drive.
Keying and Sizes
M.2 SSDs (and other M.2 cards) come in different sizes and some motherboards – particularly in laptops – will only hold a drive up to a certain size. They also have different sets of notches (keying) that will prevent you from installing it the wrong way.
M.2 Keying and Size
Three different key types or ‘notch styles’ may be used by M.2 SSDs: B, M, or B&M. The socket can be either B or M, but not both.
High-end SSDs and recent motherboards use an M-key slot, as this is the only type that provides four lanes of bandwidth, or 20 Gbit/s, also known as PCIe x4. B-key supports ‘only’ PCIe x2 or 10 Gbit/s.
On many motherboards, the connector itself or the PCB next to it will be labeled with the keying. Otherwise, check the specs or the manual. Likewise, M.2 card length might be stamped on the board, looking something like this:
High-capacity drives have additional memory chips mounted on the card and may require more space in some cases. The M.2 standard allows for cards of five different lengths, with the number format meaning width-length in millimeters. All sizes are the same width, so the two most common, 2280 and 2242, are 80mm and 42mm long, respectively (and so on). All sizes and usage examples:
- 2230 – WiFi cards, SSD in Steam Deck, and other compact devices
- 2242 – Some ultrabook-type laptop SSDs and WiFi cards
- 2260 – Small form-factor laptop SSDs (uncommon)
- 2280 – Most common form factor for NVMe SSDs in desktop PCs/laptops
- 22110 – Mainly enterprise SSDs
Most PCs including laptops can accommodate the common 2280 size (the format used by all of the drives listed above). 22110 drives will fit on many desktop motherboards but are extremely rare in the consumer market. The 2230 and 2242 form factors are more often used for WiFi cards than for SSDs. However, 2230 drives have seen an upswing in popularity as it’s the format used by the Steam Deck.
Also, don’t confuse M.2 and mSATA, which is another, older standard. These slots may look similar on the motherboard, but they’re not compatible. M.2 SSDs may also use the SATA interface, but that doesn’t mean it’s an mSATA drive.
It is a bit confusing, but fortunately, M.2 2280 is the most common standard by far, so it’s harder than it looks to get it wrong.
Checklist Before Buying an M.2 SSD
- Check the drive’s interface and M.2 keying, e.g. B+M-key/M-key (all PCIe x4 SSDs are M-key).
- Make sure it matches the slot on your motherboard or in your laptop. You can usually find this information on the specs page.
- Also, ensure that the length of the drive is supported, e.g. 2280 or 2242 (numbers in bold are millimeters).
To sum things up about keying and interfaces: it might sound complicated, but isn’t. If you are building a PC based on modern standard components, it will practically always have at least one M-key slot for a 2280 M.2 SSD. And if so, most of the popular M-key or B+M-key drives will work. But there may be rare exceptions, so it’s best to double-check.
Choosing the Right Capacity
You can hardly ever have too much storage space, but all of it doesn’t have to be super fast. There is no reason to use an expensive, high-end SSD to store family photos or your Steam library backups.
Most importantly, you want to boot from your fastest drive. That means it must be able to store the OS and all of its associated files (such as caches and swap). And it’s not that much:
- Windows 11: 64 GB minimum requirement
- Windows 10 (64-bit): 20GB
- MacOs Catalina: 12.5GB
- Ubuntu 20.04: 25GB
- Manjaro 18/19: 30GB
- Linux Mint 20: 20GB
- Elementary OS 5 (Debian/Ubuntu): 15GB
- Fedora 30 Workstation: 10GB
- OpenSuse Tumbleweed: 40GB
Those numbers may or may not be a minimum requirement, but also add – at the very least – the amount of RAM in your system to be on the safe side (to make room for the swap file). Office apps are usually not that demanding either, with MS Office taking up about 4 GB of space on your SSD. Games tend to use a lot more but can range in size from a few hundred megabytes to well over 100 gigabytes, i.e. a lot more demanding in terms of storage space.
If you just want a really fast computer for work (and who doesn’t?), you can probably get by with as little as 128 GB and use mechanical hard drives for general storage. However, when looking at the price/performance ratio (performance is usually improved in larger capacities), 1–2 TB is a reasonable price point with few compromises.
MLC Vs. TLC Vs. QLC NAND
In any SSD context, you will inevitably run into the MLC, TLC, and QLC abbreviations. What these signify is the number of bits that can be written to each cell in NAND (Not-AND) memory chips. In the early days, just one bit could be written to each cell, hence the name single-level cell, or SLC. Solid state drives using SLC memory were (and now only in very rare cases, are) extremely durable but also prohibitively expensive.
Consumer SSDs became common once density increased to two bits per cell, also known as multi-level cell or MLC. Most high-end drives today use the even denser triple-level cell, or TLC, memory type, whereas some budget SSDs use quad-level cell or QLC NAND.
The downsides to increased densities are – all other things being equal – worse performance and durability. Adding additional bits per cell adds to the complexity and cells will be worn down in fewer write/erase cycles.
Nevertheless, today’s TLC-based drives are far faster than older MLC drives thanks to some highly innovative use of buffering and caching technology, whereby data is first written in SLC mode and then to the slower TLC memory. The durability problems have also mostly been solved using, among other things, spare capacity (overprovisioning) to spread out the wear over time. On the whole, today’s TLC-based SSDs are not only much faster but also durable enough to outlast most other PC parts for the average user.
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