With Micron’s 176-layer TLC flash, the Seagate FireCuda 530 offers sustained write speeds up to twice as fast as those of other popular PCIe 4.0 drives. In shorter transfers, the drive saturates the PCIe 4.0 interface with speeds up to about 7,000 MB/s. The Phison E18 controller is no longer among the most efficient, but in terms of pure random performance it still puts up a fight.
Two things set the Seagate drive apart even from drives that use the same components, such as the Kingston KC3000, Corsair MP600 Pro XT, and the current version of the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus. The first is an endurance rating of 2,550 terabytes written (TBW) for the 2TB version, compared to about 1,500 in its competitors. The other is a 3-year data recovery service, in addition to the 5-year warranty — a worthy addition when the data on your drive is worth more to you than the drive itself.
The 2TB version, which writes faster than the smaller-capacity ones, starts at $240, and for $10 more you’ll get an elegant heatsink. The 1TB version is almost as fast for half the price, but the 500GB version is significantly slower, possibly creating bottlenecks even when writing from a PCIe 3.0 drive. A 4TB version is also available.
Best for Gamers: WD Black SN850X
Western Digital has improved upon the SN850 Black in every possible way with the new SN850X, which now costs the same at $230 for 2TB. Maximum write speeds have been raised to become bus-saturating from about 5GB/s in the previous model. Sustained writes are also much more consistent in speed.
On top of that, power efficiency and idle consumption are greatly improved, but if you plan on copying hundreds of GBs at once, you’ll want the version with the heatsink. Once PC games start taking advantage of the DirectStorage API, the drive’s Game Mode 2.0 may become valuable.
Two Great Alternatives: SK Hynix and Samsung
The SK Hynix Platinum P41 performs similarly to the SN850X, while being even more efficient. It’s normally more expensive at $260 for 2TB, but we’ve already seen it for as little as $170 on a sale. It doesn’t offer a specifically made heatsink, but in a laptop you may not have the space for one anyway.
The Samsung 990 Pro offers record-breaking random read performance for an M.2 drive and bus-saturating sequential performance. In long writes it’s actually slower than the older 980 Pro, but that’s for a reason: the drive remains much cooler than the competition when used without a heatsink, making it a prime candidate for laptops.
Like the SN850X, the drive’s Full Power Mode is designed to utilize DirectStorage. The main problem is the price: $290 for 2TB is more expensive than the competition above, but on a sale the drive is just as good and appealing as the choices above.
Best for Old Systems: Western Digital AN1500
If you have an older PC that doesn’t have PCIe 4.0 support or even an M.2 slot, you can still enjoy PCIe 4.0 speeds: the Western Digital AN1500 connects to your motherboard similarly to a graphics card, and uses eight PCIe 3.0 lanes, enabling a reading speed of 6,500 MB/s, almost like the best drives that use four PCIe 4.0 lanes.
The listed writing speed of about 4,000 MB/s is less impressive, but still better than any M.2 PCIe 3.0 drive. In long writes the AN1500 actually rivals the FireCuda 530, but consumes much more power in the process. At $281 for 2TB it’s close in price to the best M.2 SSDs, and way cheaper than buying a CPU and a motherboard with PCIe 4.0 support alongside a similarly performing drive.