Most computers and storage drives still use the common SATA or PCIe 3.0 interfaces to sling your bits of data around, but if you’re lucky enough to own a relatively modern PC, you might be able to upgrade to a solid-state drive (SSD) built on the insanely fast PCIe 4.0 protocol.
We’ve tested several PCIe 4.0 SSDs and the best one to cross our labs thus far is the WD Black SN850X in a field of tough contenders, though it’s neck-and-neck with the rival Seagate FireCuda 530. Ultimately, due to its better overall performance, the WD Black SN850X takes our top spot.
Read on to learn more, including what to look for in PCIe 4.0 SSD.
1. WD Black SN850X – Best PCIe 4.0 SSD
- Excellent performance
- Decently affordable given its speed
- Available up to 4TB
- Optional heatsink for 1/2TB models
- Pricey per gigabyte
- Somewhat parsimonious TBW ratings
$159 for 1TB I $289 for 2TB I $699 for 4TB
The WD Black SN850X is a screaming-fast drive and ranks right up next to the FireCuda 530 at the top in terms of speed. The reason we chose the WD Black SN850X at the best PCIe 4.0 is that it offers better value for the money—not only does it give you the same great speed as the FireCuda, but it does so at a lower price per GB.
Also, in terms of overall performance, the SN850X stands out with its excellent real-world transfer rates and outstanding random write performance. In the crowded field of great PCIe 4.0 SSDs, the WD Black SN850X holds it own at the top despite stiff competition.
Read our full
WD Black SN850X review
2. Seagate FireCuda 530 – Best PCIe 4.0 SSD runner-up
- Fastest NVMe PCIe 4 SSD we’ve tested to date
- Very high TBW (longevity) rating
- Five-year warranty with three-year data recovery for free
The FireCuda 530 is a fast drive. We’re talking The Fast and the Furious hit the NOS kind of fast. It’s still the only drive to write our 450GB test file in less than 200 seconds. Not only that, but it is the fastest drive in both synthetic benchmarks as well as real-world transfers. It also comes with a very high TBW longevity rating, which means you can write more for longer at those breakneck speeds.
The only reason it doesn’t take our top spot is that it’s a bit pricey compared to the WD Black SN850X which comes close to the FireCuda’s speed. Still, if you’re main concern is speed and you have some money to burn, the extra cash will give it to you in droves.
Read our full
Seagate FireCuda 530 (2TB) review
3. Crucial P3 Plus – Best budget PCIe 4.0 SSD
- Super affordable
- Good PCIe 4 performance
- Excellent PCIe 3 performance
- Second-tier performance overall
- Extremely low TBW ratings
500GB/$60 | 1TB/$100 | 2TB/$190 (tested) | 4TB/$400
Cutting-edge PCIe 4.0 SSDs don’t come cheap. Thankfully the technology is becoming more widespread, allowing for several models to be sold at compelling prices. The best of the affordable bunch? The Crucial P3 Plus.
At just $100 for a 1TB model, the price can’t be beat. It also delivers solid overall performance. The P3 Plus isn’t the fastest PCIe 4.0 drive, but it has decent real-world transfer rates and in the end, it’s still an NVMe. It might be slower than our top-pick PCIe 4.0 SSDs, but it will be a huge improvement if you’re upgrading from a SATA drive. If you are looking for a good amount of NVMe storage for cheap, then the Crucial P3 Plus is your best bet.
Read our full
Crucial P3 Plus NVMe SSD review
4. Samsung 980 Pro – Best PCIe 4.0 SSD for smaller capacities
- 7GB/s reading and 5GB/s writing via PCIe 4
- Excellent performer with PCIe 3 as well
- Top-tier pricing
- Relatively low TBW rating
$90 250GB | $190 1TB | $380 2TB
You may also want to consider Samsung’s 980 Pro, which dominated the earliest PCIe 4.0 SSDs. It’s since been surpassed by the performance of second-gen PCIe 4.0 drives, but the 980 Pro remains a compelling option, especially if you’re looking for a lower-capacity SSD. Most PCIe 4.0 drives start at 1TB, but you’ll find 256GB and 500GB versions of the 980 Pro available for $80 and $110, respectively, in addition to beefier capacities. Samsung’s superb “Magician” SSD management software and long five-year warranty remain second to none, as well.
Read our full
Samsung 980 Pro PCIe 4 NVMe SSD (1TB) review
What to look for in an SSD
There are a few things to look out for, but most importantly you’ll want to focus on capacity, price, and warranty length. Three-year warranties are standard, but some nicer models are guaranteed for up to five years. And unlike the olden days of SSDs, modern drives won’t wear out with normal consumer usage, as Tech Report tested and proved years ago with a grueling endurance test.
Another crucial thing to watch out for is the technology used to connect the SSD to your PC. For more details and buying advice you can read our in-depth guide on which type of SSD you should buy.
- SATA: This refers to both the connection type and the transfer protocol, which is used to connect most 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch hard drives and SSDs to your PC. SATA III speeds can hit roughly 600MBps, and most—but not all—modern drives max it out. (More on that in the next section.)
- PCIe: This interface taps into four of your computer’s PCIe lanes to blow away SATA speeds, to the tune of nearly 4GBps over PCIe gen 3. Those sort of face-melting speeds pair nicely with supercharged NVMe drives. Both the PCIe lanes in your motherboard and the M.2 slot in your motherboard can be wired to support the PCIe interface, and you can buy adapters that allow you to slot “gumstick” M.2 drives into a PCIe lane. PCIe 4.0 drives are significantly faster, but require an AMD Ryzen 3000-series or Intel Core 11th-gen (or newer) processor, along with a compatible PCIe 4.0 motherboard.
- NVMe: Non-Volatile Memory Express technology takes advantage of PCIe’s bountiful bandwidth to create blisteringly fast SSDs that blow SATA-based drives out of the water. Check out PCWorld’s “Everything you need to know about NVMe” for a nitty-gritty deep-dive.
- M.2: This is where things get tricky. Many people assume M.2 drives all use NVMe technology and PCIe speeds, but that’s not true. M.2 is just a form factor. Sure, most M.2 SSDs use NVMe, but some still stick to SATA. Do your homework. Many modern Ultrabooks rely on M.2 for storage.
- U.2 and mSATA: You may also stumble across mSATA and U.2 SSDs, but both motherboard support and product availability are rare for those formats. Some older Ultrabooks included mSATA before M.2 became popular, and drives are still available if you need them.
Speed matters, of course, but as we said most modern SSDs saturate the SATA III interface. Not all of them, though.
How we test SSDs
We test SSDs using a variety of synthetic benchmarks (such as CrystalDiskMark 6’s various tests) and real-world tests, including 48GB transfers that showcase how a drive performs during common tasks, and also a demanding 450GB transfer test that pushes an SSD’s cache performance to the limit.
The PCIe 4.0 testing was done on an MSI MEG X570 motherboard socketing an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X 8-core CPU, using the same Kingston DRAM, cards, and software. All testing is performed on an empty, or nearly empty drive. Note: performance will decrease as the drive fills up.