If you already have prior knowledge of PC components, then you are probably aware of the fact that SSDs are faster than your traditional hard drives. We’re not going to linger too much on that point, because we’re talking about something a bit different today. We’re talking about NVMe PCIe SSDs, specifically Add-in cards (AICs).
So what is a PCIe NVMe SSD? Well instead of the standard SATA interface used for transferring data, these drives use the NVMe protocol which is much faster and more reliable. Ever since these drives first debuted, they have always used PCIe lanes for connection, hence all NVMe drives are PCIe.
Long story short, NVMe is the interface used for transferring data, and the PCIe lanes on your motherboard connect that data to the system. They are available in two form factors, M.2 and Add-in cards. AICs plug into the PCIe slot just like a graphics card would.
With all of that confusion out of the way, let’s cut straight to the point. NVMe SSDs can get a bit expensive, and there isn’t a lot of variety out there when it comes to Add-in cards. To save you the headache, we’ve narrowed down the list to the five best NVMe PCIe Add-in Cards you can buy in 2021.
1. CORSAIR Neutron NX500 Series
- Makes use of PCI-E 4x slots for some of the fastest speeds
- Optimum thermal performance
- Consistent with good performance in high workloads as well
- Bit pricier compared to it's M.2 counterpart
Sequential Read/Write Speed: 2800 MBps / 1300 MBps | Flash memory type: MLC
Corsair’s Force MP500 was a huge success back in 2017. It was a consistent performer, had great cooling, and it was one of the first competitors to go against Samsung’s Evo and PRO M.2 SSDs. Sadly, it wasn’t aggressively priced at the beginning like it is today, so it was not a huge commercial success.
Enter the Neutron series. It takes everything that was great about the M.2 MP500 and converts into the HHL (Half-height half-length) PCIe form factor. However, there’s much more to the story than it first appears. The components are directly mounted on to the PCB which includes the 15nm MLC NAND flash memory, and the Phison controller.
As for performance, it’s not a huge leap compared to Corsair’s own M.2 drives, but the main selling point here is the optimum thermal performance. While drives like the Samsung 970 EVO might be a bit faster in terms of scientific testing, the NX500 from Corsair’s edges it out in day to day use. That’s because the Samsung drive frequently throttles under load, which is not an issue for the NX500.
All in all, the NX500 is definitely a premium drive, but it delivers premium performance as well. If you don’t want to go with the M.2 form factor for whatever reason, this is the best option for power users. The NX500 is available in either 400GB or 800GB variants.
Do you want the best? Well, we hope your wallet is ready for this. It would be blasphemy to leave Intel out of the SSD talk when they’ve crafted out the many well-performing SSDs under the sun. There were a lot of promises that Intel needed to fulfill with the Optane 900P. The 3D Xpoint flash type has stood many tests and that makes the 905P a viable option for today as well.
Its sequential read and write speeds measure up to 2600MB/s and 2200MB/s respectively. Things get escalated when you’ll witness its Max 4K random speeds: reading speeds of 575K IOPS and write speeds of 550K IOPS, hence the ultra-fast responsiveness with low queue depth and simultaneous read/write capability. The 905P almosts doubles the storage from its predecessors, which makes it even more viable. The Optane SSD 900p uses a controller with seven channels for communicating with the 3D XPoint memory.
What sort of sorcery did Intel use to achieve these daunting speeds? It all roots from Intel’s proprietary memory system named 3D Xpoint which allows it to achieve storage latency which is theoretically 1000 times faster than traditional NAND drives making it only 10 times slower than DRAM. This is impressive indeed. Furthermore, its cooling system consists of a metallic heatsink and a comparably immense cooler.
While it does not make a drastic improvement in heavier workloads compared to other drives, it really shines in the day to day smaller tasks. This makes the drive have consistent performance whether the workload is heavy or small.
Of course, all of that comes at a hefty price. Optane is a fairly new technology, and it’s improving with every release. To summarize, it is a purpose-built product with its enterprise-grade features and price point.
3. Kingston Digital KC1000
- 8 cores and 2x the DRAM
- Capable of running in Linux operating systems
- Comes with a PCI-E card
- Lack of data encryption functionality
- Some compatibility Issues with other operating systems
Sequential Read/Write Speed: 2700 MBps / 1600 MBps | Flash memory type: MLC
Next up is the bad boy pitched in by the famous Kingston. In the storage market, Kingston is probably one of the most widely known names. They’ve been in the market for quite a long time now and with the KC1000, offer a very balanced NVMe SSD. Kingston magnanimously gives you a PCI-E card which will let you use the KC1000 with older systems.
The KC1000 races at sequential read speeds of 2700 MB/s and writes speeds of 1600 MB/s (900MB/s for the 240GB model). while its Random 4k Read/Write speeds are 190K/160K IOPS respectively. It boasts absolute supremacy when it comes to flexibility, it comes in multiple form factors: you can have it in M.2 or typical AIC half-height half-length form factor for SFF desktops: multiple storage capacities of 240GB, 480GB, and 960 GBs. In short, there is a lot of variety offered here.
Of note, it is not compatible with any Mac OS, excluding that, it works with any motherboard, easily runs in Microsoft Windows, and with Linux. Sometimes, the OS may not recognize it when you try to install it with USB or PCIe adaptor but that is a rare occurrence. You can also employ it as a cloning drive for your OS, where hard drive platters take about an hour to clone, it takes 1-2 mins only.
In a nutshell, the acclaimed specifications by Kingston rightfully come in line with its real-world performance even displaying sequential speeds as high as 3000MB/s in some benchmarks. The KC1000 offers a very well balanced blend of performance, value for money and durability. With the omission of data encryption, it can’t offer as many layers of security as say- the 970 EVO Plus. But the KC1000 nonetheless, is a fairly good choice for an NVMe SSD.
Personally, I’m not a huge sucker for fancy RGB lighting. Then again, I never knew an SSD could look this alluring and seductive. The Aorus AIC RGB is a great drive for fast storage at a good value, but one glance at the lighting and you know what this drive is all about, which is obviously the design.
This gorgeous drive has an all-aluminum design covering the heatsink. The smokey black color looks exceptional and this drive would look good in any system. Speaking of which, this PCIe drive is compatible with most older systems as well (which will likely require a BIOS update), so you can add some speed and attractiveness to any system you want.
The RGB strip is bright, yet not overdone. It is executed quite tastefully and does look glamorous. Of course, you can configure the lighting with software provided by Gigabyte. It’s also compatible with various RGB motherboard interfaces. Unfortunately, the software is abysmal. I hate this trend of manufacturers neglecting the software, and it’s the same clunky mess with Aorus that I’ve encountered with other manufacturers a dozen times before.
Most people will be buying this drive just for the looks, and as long as it is fast enough for them, they won’t care too much about performance. Sure, for everyday tasks such as gaming or even some heavy video editing, it does perform as you’d expect. I mean, the read/write speeds definitely speak for themselves.
However, I would not recommend this for heavy workloads or tasks which require instant access to a lot of files at once. That’s not because this drive is a bad performer, but it is because it is extremely inconsistent when it comes down to it. This could all maybe be fixed with firmware or BIOS updates, but the chances of that aren’t high. Still, for the price, a fast drive with a terabyte of storage paired with these looks is an easy sell for most people.
If firing up games quickly is all you care about, and you don’t do a lot of productivity-oriented stuff on your PC, then this is the best AIC SSD for gamers. Sure, the sequential Read/Write speeds, are a bit lower than the more expensive competitors, but that’s not an issue looking at the price.
This Plextor drive is considerably more compact than others on this list. Which means that it can fit into most systems with ease. You can even plug it into an older system to give it a quick upgrade. The design here isn’t aggressive but it is interesting. The aluminum housing definitely looks good, while the red and silver accents give it a nice contrast.
The amazon page for this drive claims it has “eSports level quality and design”. Not sure what that exactly translates to, but this is a good SSD for gamers. Though the performance isn’t exactly on par with drives intended for workstation use, that’s not the intended market for it.
For people who want to game and game only, this a great option. You can get a decent amount of work done on this drive, but keep in mind it does tend to throttle at higher loads.