(Pocket-lint) - NVMe drives are becoming more and more common. With the rise in popularity of PCIe Gen 4, they're also getting faster and faster.
We've written a detailed guide on how to install these tiny drives to give your system a performance boost, but, if you're contemplating which drive to buy, you might be stuck knowing which to choose.
We're here with a helping hand, covering the best drives available for you - whether you prioritise storage, speed or reliability. Some even feature RGB, because, as every good PC gamer knows, RGB lighting means better performance.
There's plenty more to understand regarding different generations of NVMe, whether your hardware is compatible and how much space you need to run one, and we've covered these queries in the section below our picks to help you choose the right drive.
For now, though, let's dive into the top options we've tested.
Our Top Pick
- Fantastic speeds
- Reliable design
- Easy installation
- Can be expensive
- Not as snazzy as other drives
If you've got a setup that can take a PCIe Gen 4 drive, there's not much out there that can best this superb option from WD_Black.
The SN850 is blisteringly fast - read/write speeds can reach 7,000/5,300MB/s, so you're looking at a big leap forward from older tech.
You can get it with or without a heatsink, too, in case you're a little worried about overheating in your build. It can be an expensive choice for bigger capacities, but this is a bleeding-edge option.
Other NVMe drives that we recommend
Here are four other NVMe models that also come highly recommended after testing.
Crucial P5 Plus
- Fantastic speeds
- Actually comes with a screw
- Design is boring
The Crucial P5 Plus is a great alternative for those looking for a PCIe Gen 4 drive. It's not as fast as the SN850, but can manage as much as 6600MB/s read speed.
One simple thing we liked about this drive was the fact that it comes with the allow important M.2 mounting screw - something a lot of drives don't. But it's also fast, reliable and easy to use, too.
- Longer lasting speed
- Easy software management
- Not as fast as Gen 4 drives
Samsung's range of Evo NVMe SSDs has been popular and highly recommended for a long time, and with good reason. These drives are solidly built and designed to last.
The 980 continues that trend with a new design that includes intelligently upgraded internals capable of delivering outstanding performance for longer than ever before.
It's a PCIe Gen 3 drive capable of 3,500 MB/s and 3,000 MB/s for sequential read and write speeds. The highlight of this drive is it can maintain those speeds for 75% longer than the previous model.
- Ultra-fast speeds even without Gen 4
- Not always system compatible
- Can cause cooling issues depending on your graphics card
If, for some reason, you don't have an M.2 NVMe slot on your motherboard, then this may well be the answer. This drive is also a really interesting option as it boasts speeds similar to PCIe Gen 4 NVMe drives but on Gen 3 motherboards.
That's right, the WD_Black AN1500 can run with up to 6,500MB/s read speeds, which is still very much bonkers.
It also installs in a PCIe X16 slot (the same one as your graphics card) meaning it's potentially even easier to install. You do need to make sure it's compatible, but, if it is, this thing is incredibly fast and also offers RGB.
Seagate FireCuda 520
- Fast Gen 4 speeds
- Funky looking design
- Not as fast as other drives on this list
The Seagate FireCuda 520 offers speeds almost twice that of older drives.
This NVMe drive can run up to 5,000/4,400 MB/s, in terms of sequential read/write performance. That's nine times faster than standard SATA SSDs and faster than older NVMe drives, too.
It isn't as fast as some other Gen 4 drives on this list, but it is still a great option.
Other products we considered
The Pocket-lint editorial team spends hours testing and researching hundreds of products before recommending our best picks for you.
We have considered a range of factors when it comes to putting together our best guides including physically testing the products ourselves, consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. Some of the drives we tested didn't quite make the cut. These are still good and might be worth looking at if you're looking for a bargain, but ultimately these NVMe drives didn't make our top five:
How to choose an NVMe drive
Buying an NVMe SSD isn't quite as simple as buying the best available. There are a few other considerations that need to be made first to make sure you get the right results and aren't wasting money.
Ensure your hardware is compatible
The first thing to do is make sure you actually have an M.2 slot available on your motherboard. Most modern laptops and desktops are able to support NVMe drives via an M.2 slot directly on the motherboard.
Sometimes you'll find your motherboard has one, two, three or even four slots that can be filled up with drives. Check the specs of your motherboard via the manufacturer's website to see what's available or the manual to see where it's located. See our guide on how to build your own PC to see examples, as well.
What generation do you need?
There are currently two generations of PCIe NVMe available, Gen 3 and Gen 4. Both will run in an M.2 slot, but they won't necessarily run at maximum speed.
If you have an older Intel or AMD motherboard, for example, you might only have a PCIe Gen 3 slot on your motherboard and even if you put a Gen 4 drive in there, it might be speed limited.
For example, the Intel 10th generation CPUs on Z490 motherboards are only capable of supporting Gen 3 speeds - around 3,000MB/s. If you put something like the Crucial P5 Plus in there it could only hit that speed, but in a newer motherboard - like Intel's Z590 setup - it could hit double that speed at 7,000mb/s.
You'll also pay more for Gen 4 drives than Gen 3, so it's important to know what your machine can handle.
How much space do you need?
Another big question, and also important on the value front, is how much space you actually need. Are you looking to install chunky games to your NVMe?
The 500GB drives are cheaper to buy, but it's surprisingly easy to fill these up, especially if you consider the massive install sizes of games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Call of Duty: Warzone and more. On the other hand, the 2TB, 4TB and 8TB options will set you back a small fortune.
What are you running?
NVMe drives can be used for many things. You can, for example, use this process to clone your Windows installation onto one and therefore make your PC boot up faster.
Installing games on these drives may also mean less time spent looking at loading screens and better responsiveness. If you're transferring large files around a lot - like video files for example - then a faster PCIe Gen 4 drive will really make a difference and help make your workload more efficiently.
There are many considerations to make before clicking that buy button, but, hopefully, we've helped ease the decision making process.
More about this story
There are a number of factors we consider when looking at recommending products. Every NVMe drive in this list has been tested in real-life situations, installed in our machines and run just as you would with day to day use.
For these drives, we've run a variety of tests on them, too. These included running synthetic benchmark tests with programs like CrystalDiskMark, transferring files between drives and monitoring performance. We've also installed games and apps and played them to see how the speeds stood up.
In our guides, we aren’t interested in pointless number crunching or extraneous details - we just want to provide an easy to understand review that gives you an idea of what it's going to be like to use. And don’t for a second think that the products aren't tested fully because the reviews are concise.
We’ve been covering tech since 2003, and, in many cases, have not only reviewed the product in question, but the previous generations, too - right back to the first model on the market. There are also plenty of models we've considered that didn't make the cut in each of our buyer's guides.
Writing by Adrian Willings. Originally published on 3 March 2021.