The arrival of PCI-E 4.0 SSDs proves the new interface’s speed, but also its cost
- Great if you’re moving lots of small files
- Speeds that won’t be useful to the average PC user
- Not worth the price tag
- The first consumer PCI-E 4.0 SSDs are here, and they’re being led by the
Gigabyte Aorus NVMe Gen4 SSD. These drives take advantage of PCI-E 4.0’s vastly improved bandwidth over PCI-E 3.0 – the standard interface motherboards have been using for years – to reach far higher read and write speeds, with this particular drive promising sequential read speeds up to 5,000MB/s and write speeds up to 4,400MB/s.
Gigabyte Aorus NVMe Gen4 SSD review: Features
Considering the absolute fastest PCI-E 3.0 SSDs max out at around 3,600MB/s, the shift to 4.0 could be the generational leap forward that storage products have been waiting for. However, there are some barriers to clear first. Most fundamentally, PCI-E 4.0 is currently only natively supported on AMD X570 motherboards, with only a handful of X470 and B450 boards having had the capability unlocked by the manufacturer. If you install a PCI-E 4.0 SSD in a PCI-E 3.0 slot, it will work, but will only perform according to 3.0’s capabilities; it’s, therefore, likely that you’ll have to upgrade your motherboard before you can enjoy the faster speeds.
Second, these new drives are seriously expensive. The Aorus NVMe Gen4 SSD’s 1TB model, which we’re testing here, works out at a steep 26.1p per gigabyte – 5p more than the Samsung 970 Evo Plus and 13p more than the Adata XPG SX8200 Pro. The biggest 2TB model is slightly better value, at 22.4p per gigabyte, but the smallest 500GB model comes in at an obscene 36.6p per gigabyte. If you’re factoring in the cost of a new motherboard as well, early adoption of PCI-E 4.0 represents an enormous investment.
The Aorus NVMe Gen4 SSD at least throws in a little bonus: a gleaming, golden heat spreader, which unlike the kind of one-side, stick-on spreader you sometimes see bundled in, encases the whole drive. You’ll have to be mindful about installing, however, as it’s a rather bulky 11mm thick, and should your motherboard’s M.2 slot lie underneath your graphics card, it might not fit. Still, it’s optional, and the SSD itself can be installed and operated normally without any additional cooling.
Gigabyte Aorus NVMe Gen4 SSD review: Performance
We’re not convinced any extra cooling is necessary after performance testing, either. In CrystalDiskMark’s sequential read and write tests, which generally reflect a drive’s best speeds, the Aorus NVMe Gen4 SSD hit 4,937MB/s and 4,279MB/s respectively. Even if this write speed is slightly below what’s advertised, both results are preposterously fast: the sequential read speed, especially, is nearly 1,500MB/s quicker than the 970 Evo Plus.
The much trickier 4K random test produced a 641MB/s read speed and a 594MB/s write speed, which are clearly diminished but still stand far higher than any PCI-E 3.0 drive we’ve tested. By comparison, the 970 Evo Plus scored a 338MB/s read speed and a 257MB/sec write speed, so the Aorus NVMe Gen4 SSD is already shaping up to be much better at difficult, non-sequential transfer tasks.
Our own file benchmarks confirm this. The huge-file transfer test didn’t initially look all that amazing: with an average read speed of 1,707MB/sec and a write speed of 1,787MB/sec, it’s apparent that you’re not going to get anywhere near-maximum speeds when shifting one big file. That said, the Aorus NVMe Gen4 SSD remains the fastest SSD on record for this test, with a particularly wide lead on write speed.
In the large files test, it also held up remarkably well, only dropping modestly to a 1,624MB/s read speed and a 1,692MB/s write speed. It was the most difficult small file test, however, that provided the best surprise: NVMe drives generally struggle to break 500MB/sec in this, but the Aorus NVMe Gen4 SSD managed a read speed of 834MB/s and a write speed of 836MB/s.
Gigabyte Aorus NVMe Gen4 SSD review: Verdict
In summary, this SSD is a record-setter across the board, and suggests that while PCI-E 4.0 makes for some headline-grabbing peak speeds, its true strength lies in how much more resilient it is when faced with the most intensive tasks, as shown in our small-file test and the CrystalDiskMark 4K test.
Unfortunately, this performance showing isn’t quite enough to disregard the toll that this (and similar PCI-E 4.0 drives) will take on your bank account. There’s a certain kick to be had from using the latest and fastest hardware, to be sure, but the reality is that an extra 300MB/sec here or there isn’t going to produce a regularly noticeable difference unless you routinely have to move hundreds of tiny files at once.
Gigabyte would probably point to the Aorus NVMe Gen4 SSD’s imposing sequential speeds as a counterpoint, but for regular PC use it’s only rarely going to hit those speeds, and if it does it will be in light tasks where a much cheaper PCI-E 3.0 SSD will already do the job just fine. That’s not to rubbish PCI-E 4.0 as a whole – if you happen to have an X570 motherboard and a bit of extra cash, go for it – but for the time being, it’s an upgrade that isn’t yet worth the expense.