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The best M.2 solid-state drives for 2021

If you’re interested in upgraded performance and faster storage, it may be time to switch to a compact M.2 SSD. These speedy, stick-shaped solid-state drives are made for optimal data transfer, especially with NVMe and PCI Express Gen 4.0 support, and they’re sized to be compatible with many laptops and smaller desktops. If you have a motherboard that supports M.2 drives, it’s certainly worth taking a look, especially if you want the best gaming performance and load times. We’ve examined all the options — here are our top picks.

Note: M.2 SSDs do come in a variety of lengths. Always check that you have room for a specific model before you buy. Upgrading your motherboard may be a good idea as well, especially if it doesn’t support PCI Express 4.0.

Best M.2 SSDs

  • WD Black SN850 500GB
  • Seagate Firecuda 520 500GB Crucial P5 1TB
  • Samsung 980 Pro 250GB
  • Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus 1TB
  • Teamgroup T-Force Cardea Zero Extreme Z440 1TB
  • Seagate Firecuda 530 with heatsink 1TB
  • XPG Gammix S50 Lite 2TB

WD Black SN850 500GB

WD Black’s excellent reputation continues with this M.2 SSD, which sports the “irrational speeds” of PCIe 4, with read/write speeds that can reach up to 7000/5300MB/s. That makes this drive a perfect choice if those Destiny 2 loading screens are still driving you crazy and you’re determined to cut them down once and for all.

Speed isn’t the only advantage of the WD Black SN850, though. Like many of our other picks, you can also upgrade it to a heatsink version to manage heat a bit more efficiently or even a Call of Duty-branded edition (not quite as impactful, considering this is internal storage, but still fun). Storage sizes go all the way up to 2TB for this model.

Seagate Firecuda 520 500GB

Seagate’s Firecuda 520 has what you’re looking for in M.2 storage, ready to revolutionize your wait times and storage capabilities. In addition to the PCI Gen 4 and NVMe support, the drive offers read/write speeds up to 5000MB/s and 4400MB/s. It’s also incredibly durable, with a MTBF (mean time between failures) of 1.8M hours and a TBW (terabytes written) rating of 2800TB. If something does go wrong during its long lifespan, Seagate has included a three-year Rescue Service warranty to help out.

Like all the picks on our list, the Firecuda 520 is available in a variety of storage sizes. We’ve chosen the middle-of-the-road 500GB option here as a good starting place, but you can customize that depending on what you want. You can also choose a version that includes an internal heatsink if you’ve had overheating issues in the past and want some extra protection.

Crucial P5 1TB

Crucial’s P5 SSD is also a solid option, particularly if you want a reliable SSD with higher storage limits at a more affordable cost. This drive is a generation behind at PCIe NVMe Gen 3, but that can be an acceptable tradeoff. The costs are significantly lower, too, which is why we feel good about bumping this up to 1TB to add some serious storage to your gaming rig. Plus, the Crucial P5 may be a great fit if your motherboard is only a year or two old and you don’t want to replace it yet but it also doesn’t support Gen 4 features.

Samsung 980 Pro 250GB

Samsung’s Gen 4 SSD is also a good choice if speed is your primary concern. Like WD Black’s option above, read/write speeds can reach up to 7000/5300MB/s, so it’s a great pick for a performance boost if you’ve been struggling with an older drive. The Samsung 980 Pro doesn’t have a separate heatsink version, but rather adds heat management features to all versions of this drive. There’s a nickel coating and a heat spreader combo to help dissipate as much heat as possible, along with thermal control software to help reduce performance fluctuations when things start getting hot.

Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus 1TB

If you want a lot of local storage, Sabrent has you covered. This PCIe NVMe Gen 4 M.2 SSD starts at 1TB and goes all the way to 4TB of storage to help manage even the largest gaming libraries while still getting your those 7000/5300 MB/s speeds. There’s also a five-year warranty in case things go wrong, but the Rocket 4 Plus comes with many safeguards. There’s advanced wear leveling to evenly distribute cycles, error correction code capabilities, and bad block management if it looks like something is going wrong.

Teamgroup T-Force Cardea Zero Extreme Z440 1TB

This M.2 is a strong combination of affordability at higher storage capacities and SSD speeds. While it doesn’t reach as high as some of our Gen 4 picks, it can show healthy read/write speeds up to 5000/4400MB/s. It also has a graphene and copper design to help dissipate heat, as well as a small cooling module that still keeps the drive slim and compact.

When picking your Teamgroup SSD, be careful about changing styles. The Zero Extreme is an excellent choice because it’s a PCI Gen 4 drive, but not all of the latest styles support that generation and speeds.

Seagate Firecuda 530 with heatsink 1TB

The PS5 also has connectors that support M.2 SSDs, which makes these storage sticks an option for adding more internal storage to your PlayStation — if you get the right one. Sony has some specific requirements for any M.2 to expand PS5 storage, including a certain read speed, PCIe 4.0 support, and a built-in heatsink.

That’s a tall order for many M.2s, but Seagate’s Firecuda again comes to the rescue with this complete package. It offers far beyond Sony’s requirement, with a read speed of up to 7300MB/s, thanks to the NVME 1.4 support, plus 1TB of storage and a built-in heatsink to help avoid heat buildup in your console. You will have to spend to get this kind of performance, but it’s the best choice for upgrading a PS5. Oh, and make sure to update your PS5 to the latest version before trying to add any internal storage.

XPG Gammix S50 Lite 2TB

Once you get to 1TB and beyond, SSDs can start getting significantly more expensive, which can be difficult if you want lots of storage at a manageable price. This XPG model is one of the best we’ve seen for getting 2TB of storage at a more affordable price than many alternatives. You also don’t give up anything when it comes specs like PCIe 4.0 and NVMe 1.4. It even includes an aluminum heatsink to help manage temperature issues.

Its high performance is thanks to its combination of some super fast NAND Flash memory and an SLC cache, which ensures strong performance over longer write periods. This drive is also a solid pick for the PS5, especially at its price and capacity.

Research and buying FAQ

  • How do you choose an SSD?
  • Do you need a PCIe 4.0 SSD?
  • Can you use an SSD on Xbox Series X/S?

How do you choose an SSD?

There are a number of factors to consider, but it’s a good idea to start with your motherboard or the available connections you have (and if this is something you should upgrade first). The latest generations of PCIe and NVMe are particularly important, as these will dictate the kind of M.2 SSD you should get. With those parameters in mind, aim for the latest generations, and you won’t have to worry as much about read/write speeds, although they are also worth paying attention to — as you can see from our list, read speeds of 5000 to 7000 are possible with the latest drives.

It’s also a good idea to look at TBW (Terabytes Written) and MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures), which are both indicators of how long the SSD can last. The higher these specs are, the better.

Do you need a PCIe 4.0 SSD?

If you want the latest possible performance, you do, but it’s not necessary when upgrading your M.2 storage. PCIe Gen 4 is still relatively new, and many motherboards in impressive laptops or PCs won’t support it. You can still get a massive upgrade by switching from older storage options to PCI 3.0 M.2 drives, but we wouldn’t choose anything below that. If you are intent on futureproofing your gaming machine, you should aim for PCI 4.0.

Can you use an SSD on Xbox Series X/S?

Not an M.2 SSD. The Series X/S aren’t designed to support internal storage upgrades the way the PS5 is. Instead, you get a slot dedicated to the Seagate Storage Expansion CardSeagate Storage Expansion Card, made specifically for the Series X/S with PCIe 4.0 support. That’s the SSD you need. Other cable-connected, external SSDs can be compatible with the Xbox Series X/S but cannot play Series X games, only Xbox One and earlier, so it’s not exactly worth the investment.

All of the above is true for the casual player. If you are deeply invested in modding your Series X and are willing to take all the included risks, there does seem to be a way to mod the Series X/S storage expansion slot to support generic M.2 SSDs instead of only the Seagate card, but it’s not really something we’d advise.

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