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The Fastest & Cheapest NVMe Drive?

One of the hallmark real world benefits of X570 is faster storage speeds with PCIE 4.0 SSDs, and manufacturers like Gigabyte are claiming up to 5.0GB/s, and 4.4GB/s sequential read and write speeds respectively for their Gen 4 SSDs.

This is a marked improvement over the PCIe 3.0 SSDs we’re used to – for perspective, the Samsung 970 EVO Plus (which is a PCIe 3.0 SSD) has advertised sequential read and write speeds of up to 3.5GB/s and 3.3GB/s respectively, which apparently gives the AORUS drive 43% improved sequential reads and 33% improved sequential writes when compared to the Samsung drive.

Are these claims true, or are we looking at marketing fluff? We ran some benchmarks to find out.

Gigabyte AORUS NVMe Gen4 SSD

There was limited availability for Gen 4 SSDs at the point of testing, but we were able to get our hands on a Gigabyte AORUS NVMe Gen4 SSD 1TB.

This drive comes in an M.2 2280 form factor and runs on PCIe 4.0 over the NVMe 1.3 interface. This technological breakthrough was made possible by the Phison PS5016-E16 controller (the world’s first PCIe 4.0×4 controller) and is accompanied by Toshiba 3D TLC NAND Flash.

With advertised sequential read and write speeds far exceeding that of previous-gen SSDs, it’s no surprise Gigabyte took its cooling to the next level. The AORUS NVME Gen4 SSD sports a full body copper heat spreader that Gigabyte claims has up to 69% better thermal conductivity than traditional aluminium heatsinks, allowing the drive to deliver faster performance without throttling.

Test Bench Setup

Our first objective was to compare the performance of Gen 4 SSDs to Gen 3 SSDs. As such, we tested the AORUS SSD on an X570 AORUS Gaming X with an AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, and a Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB on a Z390 AORUS Master with an Intel Core i9-9900K.

We also know that PCIe 3.0 will limit the performance of Gen 4 SSDs, but were curious as to the extent of the limitation and whether or not it makes sense to get a Gen 4 SSD if you don’t have a X570 motherboard. Therefore, in addition to running the AORUS drive on the X570 AORUS Gaming X, we also tested it on the Z390 AORUS Master to see how much performance we’d be losing on the Z390.

Given the magnificent heatsink on the AORUS SSD, we wondered whether the Samsung SSD would benefit from having a heatsink of its own. We tested the Samsung SSD with and without the Z390 AORUS Master’s provide M.2 heatsink to see if it would experience thermal throttling.

Finally, we wanted to see whether Windows would boot faster on a Gen 4 SSD compared to a Gen 3 SSD.

Storage Benchmarks

We used AS SSD, ATTO Disk Benchmark, CrystalDiskMark and HD Tune to evaluate the performance of these SSDs. These benchmarks are free, easy to use, and give a good overview of the drive’s performance, so you’re free to download them and bench your own drives for comparison.

Storage benchmarks often measure the performance of the tested drive on a number of metrics, but some of these can be foreign and confusing, so let’s break them down before diving in:

A commonly reported metric is sequential read and write speeds, which gives you an idea of how your drive holds up when reading and writing a large, contiguous block of data, akin to a large video file.

Also reported are 4K random read and write speeds. This refers to how your drive performs when reading and writing multiple small blocks of 4KB blocks of data from random locations on the drive, such as when booting from an Operating System. Unless otherwise stated, 4K read and write speeds should always refer to 4K random read and random write.

The manner in which data is being requested from drives has an impact on how a drive performs, so benchmarks refer to concepts called Queue Depth (QD) and threads (not to be confused with a processor’s cores and threads). Threads refer to the number of processes making data requests from a drive, and QD refers to how many requests are being made at any given time by each thread. A good analogy would be to refer to threads as the number of people requesting for information, and queue depths as the number of requests each of these people have.

Storage drives work best when they don’t have to keep looking for the data all over the device’s surface, so 4K Q1T1 is the most taxing pattern for a storage device, and will be the metric that matters for most users. That is to say – a drive with good 4K Q1T1 performance should be able to handle most other things thrown at it.

AS SSD

AS SSD provides results on sequential read/write, 4K random read/write at queue depths (QD) of 1 and 64, and access time. We chose the 1GB file for our tests.

ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark is one of the oldest, most popular and comprehensive benchmarks for testing storage read and write speeds. We chose an I/O Size of 4KB to 1MB, and a file size of 256MB at a QD of 4.

CrystalDiskMark

CrystalDiskMark is another disk benchmark that measures sequential read and write performance, as well as random read and write performance for 4KB files at various queue depths and thread counts.

HD Tune

HD Tune is a convenient storage test utility, and the free version allows you to check the general health of your drive and scan for errors. It reports easy-to-digest metrics, like the minimum, maximum and average transfer rate of your drive.

Methodology and Results

Each storage test was run 3 times, and the simple average was taken. For reporting maximum temperatures, we used HWMonitor to record the maximum temperature of the drive after each test, and cleared the min/max values between tests. Windows boot times were measured from the time we pressed the power button on our test bench, until the time we see the Windows desktop appearing.

Recall that we had four main objectives: (1) to compare the performance of PCIe Gen 4 SSDs to PCIe Gen 3 SSDs, (2) to see if it made sense to buy a Gen 4 SSD, even if you don’t have a X570 motherboard, (3) to see if an M.2 heatsink improves the performance of the Samsung 970 EVO Plus, and (4) to see if Gen 4 SSDs booted to Windows faster than Gen 3 SSDs.

Let’s start with the results that are easy to digest.

970 EVO Plus – Heatsink On vs Off

The first graph on the top left shows the maximum temperatures achieved on all the 4 tests, with the purple bar indicating results when the heatsink was off. As expected, the Samsung drive experienced higher temperatures, and reached a maximum of 71°C on ATTO Disk Benchmark with the heatsink off. In comparison, with the heatsink on, we see the maximum temperatures go down by 16°C to a high of 55°C on ATTO Disk Benchmark.

Nevertheless, the results from our 4 tests showed that performance was quite similar despite the absence of the heatsink. Therefore, we averaged across all the results for the Samsung drive, regardless of whether the heatsink was on or off. This allowed us to get more robust data related to the Samsung drive’s performance.

Windows Boot Times

Windows boot times were relatively similar across both drives, with the AORUS SSD winning out by a very small margin on both boards.

If you ask us, the difference is barely noticeable – we wouldn’t sweat it if we were you!

Performance on X570

While on the X570 AORUS Gaming X, the AORUS SSD beats the Samsung SSD in every metric in AS SSD.

4K-64T random writes and reads sees the AORUS drive leading by 32% at 3,123MB/s and 11% at 2,076MB/s respectively.

Both drives lose some steam on the more taxing 4K random writes and reads, but the AORUS drive still beats the Samsung drive by 4% at 166MB/s on 4K random writes, and by 11% at 68MB/s on 4K random reads.

Finally, sequential writes and reads sees the AORUS drive leading by 33% at 3,924MB/s and 40% at 4,147MB/s respectively.

On ATTO Disk Benchmark, it’s simpler to analyze the read and write results separately.

For write speeds, we see the AORUS drive outperforming the Samsung drive by at least 18% on 64K and above, with the biggest lead of 24% at 4,020MB/s on 1024K. It loses to the Samsung drive in 4K, 8K and 32K write by 9%, 6.5% and 8% respectively, and has relatively similar performance on 16K.

For read speeds, the AORUS drive outperforms the Samsung drive by at least 20% on 128K and above, with the biggest lead of 29% at 4,367MB/s on 256K. It loses to the Samsung drive in all other smaller file sizes – with the smallest loss at 8K with 3.7% at 688MB/s, and the largest loss at 32K with 16.9% at 2,383MB/s.

On HD Tune, the AORUS drive has 18% higher average transfer speeds at 2,019MB/s, 27% higher max transfer speeds at 2,307MB/s, and 12% poorer minimum transfer speeds at 1,132MB/s, indicating more variance in its performance.

Finally, CrystalDiskMark sees the AORUS drive outperforming the Samsung drive on every metric.

The AORUS drive shines in sequential reads and writes, with a 29% lead at 4,963MB/s and 23% lead at 4,265MB/s respectively.

4K Q8T8 random reads and writes sees the AORUS drive leading by 12% at 1,767MB/s and 9% at 1,875MB/s respectively.

4K Q32T1 random reads and writes sees the AORUS drive leading by 20% at 644MB/s and 27% at 576MB/s respectively.

4K Q1T1 random reads and writes sees the AORUS drive leading by 9% at 58MB/s and 15% at 238MB/s respectively.

Performance on Z390

The AORUS drive continues to outperform the Samsung drive on AS SSD with the Z390 AORUS Master.

4K-64T random writes and reads see the AORUS drive leading by 18% at 3,018MB/s and 10% at 2,098MB/s respectively.

As expected, the more taxing 4K random writes and reads see both drives dipping in performance, but the AORUS drive still leads by 2% on 4K random writes and 14% on 4K random reads.

Sequential writes and reads see the AORUS drive leading by 10% at 2,804MB/s and 5% at 2,854MB/s respectively.

For ATTO, we get varied results depending on the metric compared, with no clear pattern to group the results by:

1024K write: AORUS leads by 6% at 3,067MB/s
512K write: AORUS leads by 4% at 3,073MB/s
256K write: AORUS leads by 4% at 3,077MB/s
128K write: AORUS leads by 1% at 2,973MB/s
64K write: AORUS falls short by 17% at 2,440MB/s
32K write: AORUS falls short by 58% at 1,507MB/s
16K write: AORUS falls short by 37% at 957MB/s
8K write: AORUS leads by 37% at 936MB/s
4K write: AORUS leads by 12% at 350MB/s

1024K read: AORUS leads by 3% at 3,073MB/s
512K read: AORUS leads by 2% at 3,190MB/s
256K read: AORUS leads by 5% at 3,213MB/s
128K read: AORUS falls short by 15% at 2,607MB/s
64K read: AORUS falls short by 20% at 2,427MB/s
32K read: AORUS falls short by 19% at 2,033MB/s
16K read: AORUS leads by 20% at 1,136MB/s
8K read: AORUS leads by 20% at 781MB/s
4K read: AORUS falls short by 20% at 386MB/s

On HD Tune, the AORUS drive has 15% lower average transfer speeds at 960MB/s, 7% higher maximum transfer speeds at 1,548MB/s, and 50% lower minimum transfer speeds at 475MB/s.

We see mixed performance for the AORUS drive on CrystalDiskMark.

The AORUS drive loses by 3% on sequential reads at 3,473MB/s, and leads by 1% on sequential writes at 3,353MB/s.

4K Q8T8 random reads and writes sees the AORUS drive leading by 12% at 1,778MB/s and 8% at 2,239MB/s respectively.

4K Q32T1 random reads and writes sees the AORUS drive leading by 17% at 621MB/s and 27% at 547MB/s respectively.

4K Q1T1 random reads and writes sees the AORUS drive leading by 5% at 49MB/s/s and 6% at 144MB/s respectively.

Discussion Points

We were interested to see if the Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB would experience thermal throttling without a heatsink. Without the aid of the motherboard’s M.2 heatsink, we saw higher temperatures for the Samsung drive, but did not see a significant decrease in performance as compared to when the heatsink was on. It seems like the Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB doesn’t require an M.2 heatsink for good performance, but the M.2 heatsink does help to cool the drive.

Windows booted slightly faster for the AORUS NVMe Gen4 SSD 1TB than the Samsung drive, but with a 0.3s gain on the X570 AORUS Gaming X, and a 0.1s gain on the Z390 AORUS Master, we don’t think this difference is noticeable.

On the X570 motherboard, the AORUS NVMe Gen4 SSD 1TB generally performed faster than the Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB. The AORUS drive outperformed the Samsung drive on all metrics in AS SSD as well as CrystalDiskMark, and HD Tune saw the AORUS drive having a higher average transfer speed and higher maximum transfer speed.

On ATTO Disk Benchmark, we see the AORUS drive outperforming the Samsung drive on data blocks larger than 64K, but performing slightly poorer on data blocks 32K and below. Having said that, the improvements on larger data blocks are significantly larger than the losses on smaller data blocks, so we’d wager that the AORUS SSD performs better overall.

On the Z390 motherboard, the AORUS NVMe Gen4 SSD 1TB loses the clear lead it previously had. This is most apparent in ATTO Disk Benchmark, where the distinct leads it had on larger data blocks became single-digit percentage points, and where it performed poorly on the X570 motherboard, the gap widened further.

On CrystalDiskMark, the AORUS drive previously outperformed the Samsung drive on the X570 motherboard, but results were mixed on the Z390 motherboard. On AS SSD with the X570 board, the AORUS drive had a good 40% lead in sequential read speeds, and 33% lead in sequential write speeds, but we see diminished results on the Z390 board with only 5% leads in sequential reads and 10% leads in sequential writes.

Conclusion

The AORUS drive outperformed the Samsung drive in most metrics when utilizing the PCIe 4.0 standard on an X570 motherboard. On a Z390 motherboard, the results were generally quite mixed, with the AORUS drive outperforming the Samsung drive in some metrics, and vice-versa on others.

Was Gigabyte fluffing up its advertised 5.0GB/s sequential read and 4.4GB/s sequential write speeds? Not entirely – we got pretty close with 4,963MB/s sequential reads and 4,265MB/s sequential writes on CrystalDiskMark with an X570 motherboard.

With the AORUS NVMe Gen4 SSD 1TB retailing in Singapore for about S$120 less than the Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB, we’d say that the AORUS drive is still a very viable option, even if you don’t intend to get a new X570 motherboard. If you’re interested, they’re available on Lazada in 500GB / 1TB and 2TB versions.

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