Our SSD benchmarks hierarchy provides a look at how all of the different SSDs we’ve tested over the years stack up. These are all M.2 NVMe drives, but our test group has PCIe 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0 models. This is not our pick of the best SSDs, as we’ve covered that elsewhere. Here, we’re sorting purely based on performance, regardless of price.
We’ve grouped the SSDs by capacity to help keep things simple. We’ve got 1TB, 2TB, and 4TB+ tables and charts below, and as this is a new hierarchy, we’re open to suggestions on how to better break things down. Given current prices, not to mention the voracious appetite for the capacity of modern games, we’re going to start with the 2TB drives. These are generally the sweet spot in price-to-performance and capacity ratios, though there’s still a wide range in price — we’re looking at you, PCIe 5.0 drives.
We’ve sorted by the random QD1 IOPS results for the tables — the geometric mean of both the read and write IOPS, to be precise. This is one of the most realistic representations of overall SSD performance, and it’s difficult to game the system. Lots of manufacturers will test random IO performance at queue depths of 32 or even 256 because that makes everything look much faster, but in the real world, random queue depths are mostly at QD1 and very rarely go beyond QD4. We also have charts below the tables showcasing other performance aspects.
Also, if you’re an SSD manufacturer and you don’t see your drive in our tables, send me an email, and we can see about testing it. We can’t test every capacity of every drive out there, but we like to show a wide sampling of options.
2TB SSD Hierarchy
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We use the QD1 4K random results to quantify the snappiness and responsiveness of the SSD during a normal desktop PC experience. It should be immediately obvious that there’s not much difference between the various PCIe 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0 drives when it comes to QD1 random I/O. Yes, the Teamgroup Z540 does take the top spot, barely, and second place goes to the similar Nextorage NN5Pro — both of these drives use Phison’s E26 controller with 12 GT/s Micron NAND and use PCIe 5.0 — but the Crucial T500, Solidigm P44 Pro, and Kingston KC3000 are all PCIe 4.0 drives.
Since we’re only using data from the past couple of years, after we switched to our current Core i9-12900K test PC, we’re decidedly heavy on PCIe 4.0 and 5.0 drives. But there are a decent number of PCIe 3.0 drives… near the bottom end of the table and charts, sure. But even the fastest drives are less than twice the random I/O performance of the slowest drives.
That’s why we also include the other columns for performance. The pure sequential scores show maximum throughput, generally within most drives’ “burst” pSLC cache period. If you’re doing drive-to-drive copies or backups using PCIe 5.0 hardware, it can make a huge difference — the Phison E26 SSDs all sit at the top, significantly ahead of the fastest PCIe 4.0 drives, and you can also see the three E26 drives that have 12 GT/s NAND. You can also see the PCIe 5.0 limits as well as the slower PCIe 5.0 drives.
Copy performance is more of a real-world look at a common task: Copying 50GB of data from the drive to itself. This requires simultaneous reads and writes, and even the fastest drives drop to under 3.0 GB/s, which is still about quadruple the performance of the slowest SSDs we’ve tested.
Now is a great time to upgrade your SSD if you haven’t done so recently. Even high-performance 2TB drives can be had for close to $100, or about five cents per GB. Spending a bit more for a brand you trust is fine, but some models, and all of the Gen5 drives, cost significantly more.
1TB SSD Hierarchy
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The 1TB SSDs mostly mirror what we’ve already seen with the 2TB drives. However, in more extensive testing (like our write saturation tests), the lower capacity means you’ll run out of pSLC cache more quickly.
The Gigabyte Gen5 12000 sits at the top of all four charts, with a sizeable lead on the sequential performance metric. The Nextorage NE5N is the only other 1TB Gen5 drive that we’ve tested, but it comes with slower NAND and thus falls behind in some of the other tests.
The random performance again gives a great illustration of why so many people might think that faster SSDs don’t really seem to make that much of a difference. QD1 is the most likely scenario for random workloads, and even the fastest SSD is only about 70% faster than the slowest SSD in our group. But sequential performance does matter, even for things as simple as verifying a game installation in Steam. The top performers are up to four times as fast as the slowest drives in that case.
The copy results level the playing field. Many of the SSDs will use the same controller and same NAND, which is why there are a lot of SSDs that deliver roughly the same performance. They won’t be the same in every instance, but for moderate use, just about any of these SSDs will still perform competently, in which case, looking for a good deal is often the determining factor.
You can now find even quality 1TB drives for well under $100. The WD Black SN850X 1TB remains one of the best overall picks, starting at just $65 right now. A few drives might cost $5–$10 less, but they’re often slower, use QLC NAND, or have some other potential cause for concern.
4TB and Larger SSD Hierarchy
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Last up for standard SSDs, we have the 4TB and higher capacity drives. So far, we’ve only tested 15 such SSDs, though we expect more will arrive in our labs for testing over the coming year.
So far, we haven’t seen any PCIe 5.0 4TB models in our labs. Given the prices on the 2TB PCIe 5.0 drives, perhaps that’s just as well. Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea of large and fast performance. But when you can find drives like the Samsung 990 Pro 4TB for $249 — less than the cost of most current 2TB drives — that will be hard to pass up.
Stepping up to 8TB drives usually means QLC NAND, and while that’s not the end of the world, there are often performance compromises. Not to mention, the 8TB SSDs still cost a pretty penny. The Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus 8TB costs $999, while the Sabrent Rocket Q 8TB is “currently unavailable” on Amazon. It would be far cheaper to just pick up multiple 4TB drives rather than plunking down that much money for a single 8TB drive.
Sequential performance for most PCIe 4.0 SSDs lands right around 7 GB/s, with a couple of slower/older models at around 4.4 GB/s. Meanwhile, the PCIe 3.0 drives all peak at just over 3.2 GB/s. File copy speeds are about one-third to one-fourth as fast, however.
M.2 2230 SSD Hierarchy
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Wrapping things up, nearly all of the drives in the previous lists have been 2280 models — 22mm wide and 80mm long. 2230 SSDs are becoming popular, thanks in part to the rise of the Steam Deck and other handheld gaming portables. We’ve tested ten such SSDs, and nearly all of the drives use the same hardware, resulting in very similar performance. There are only two exceptions: the WD Black SN770M uses a custom WD controller, while the Inland TN436 uses an older Phison E18T controller — everything else uses the Phison E21T controller.
It’s not clear why the Silicon Power UD90 (2230) scored better in our random IO tests, but it was consistently faster than other 2230 drives. It may simply have used newer firmware that optimized a few things. However, it didn’t do as well in the other tests, coming in slightly behind some of the other drives in our sequential and file copy tests.
Meanwhile, the WD Black SN770M took the top spot in the sequential performance tests. At the same time, the controller got hotter than other drives, which might be a potential concern for using it in the Steam Deck.
The biggest issue with M.2 2230 drives is their pricing. The 1TB models are at least reasonably competitive, with the Corsair MP600 Mini going for $79, but the 2TB drives cost at least twice as much. It’s the price for going ultra-compact, and if you’re just looking for the least expensive 2TB drive you can find — a reasonable choice for the Steam Deck — the Addlink S91 2TB costs $169.
The 2230 drives are very much not about maximum performance. Most 2TB models use QLC NAND, and under sustained write saturation testing, they’ll drop below 100 MB/s. But that’s the thing: A Steam Deck can’t even write at 100 MB/s if you’re downloading games over its wireless connection. We typically saw peak data rates of ~30 MB/s is all. So, picking up the most cost-effective 2230 drive for such use cases makes sense.