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Can an SSD Improve PC Gaming Performance? (2022)

Will upgrading to an NVMe SSD boost your gaming performance? Learn whether SSDs will benefit your PC gaming experience.

Samsung 970 EVO SSD M.2 NVMe Kevin Jones / TechReviewer

Last Updated: October 5, 2022

Written by Kevin Jones

Perhaps you are building a new gaming PC or thinking about upgrading your current one.

This article will discuss the impact of a storage device on load times, FPS, and game installation/updates.

Upgrading to an SSD will not increase your average gaming FPS. However, it will improve game load times and reduce stuttering when traversing open-world games. It can also benefit game installation and update times.

Check out our recommended NVMe M.2 SSDs and SATA 2.5" SSDs below.

Samsung 870 QVO SATA III SSD 2TB Samsung 870 QVO SATA III SSD 2TB Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

How Can an SSD Improve PC Gaming Performance?

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By using an SSD in place of a hard drive for storage, you are increasing the speed at which your computer can read and write data. Games don't write very much data to storage, so the most critical performance metric is the read speed.

Some games may not even read from your storage device very often. If you have an adequate amount of memory (RAM), optimized closed-world games may load much of the level into memory as the level first loads. Memory is much faster than even a solid-state drive, so it makes sense for a game to keep game data in memory when it can. Learn more about recommended memory capacities in my article, How Much RAM Do You Need for Gaming?.

Installation and Update Times

During gameplay, games seldom write to your storage device. However, game files are written to your storage device during installation and game patches.

During updates, installers can write many gigabytes of data. Game installers first write to your storage device when downloading a compressed copy of the game update. After that, game files are read and extracted, writing individual files to the device again.

You likely won't notice when the update is first written, as your Internet download speed may be around the same rate.

Hard disk drives will extract files slower due to the resulting files being non-contiguous (i.e., spread out across the disk). Because storage device writes are often slower than reading speeds, game patches can be painful to wait for with a slower storage device.

We can estimate that a hard drive could extract an update at an average write speed of 50 MB/s and read speed of 200 MB/s. At this rate, a hard disk drive would take 1.5 minutes to extract 6 GB of files during the game update.

The latest PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2 SSDs, on the other hand, might write at speeds of 2 GB/s and read at 7 GB/s while extracting 6 GB of files. This type of SSD would take about 4 seconds, assuming that your CPU can keep up.

Loading Times

Have you noticed the long loading screen when a game level starts or when switching locations? A large portion of this time is spent copying game assets from your storage device to memory.

Open-world games may contain too much data to copy all level data to your PC's memory at once. Instead, they load game assets for objects near your character. Games must read additional data from your storage device as you traverse the world. If your storage device isn't fast enough, you may notice stuttering or pausing until the assets load. Depending on the game's design, you may see objects or textures appearing after a delay. However, delayed object loading can sometimes relate to your GPU's capabilities.

FPS

FPS (frames per second) is a measurement determined by what your computer needs to do every time it renders a frame from the game scene. Because games only need to read from a storage device when loading additional level assets into memory, upgrading a storage device will not impact your average FPS.

However, using a fast storage device like an NVMe SSD will significantly improve your experience. A fast storage device will reduce the time it takes to boot your computer, load games levels, and load assets when exploring a game world.

Hard Drive vs. SSD Read Speeds for Gaming

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Modern hard disk drives can reach up to 200 MB/s for large files. However, for smaller files that aren't located near each other on a hard drive, you can typically achieve read rates of only 1-3 MB/s. In comparison, the latest PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2 drives can often reach speeds of up to 7 GB/s for large files and 2-3 GB/s for smaller scattered files.

For gaming, this means that your levels could load 35x faster by upgrading to the latest SSD devices and PCI-Express versions. This speed increase assumes that level data is collected into files that correlate with the level or map region. Unoptimized games with no asset organization could see a 1000x performance boost when loading data.

Check out my recommended M.2 SSDs below.

Samsung 980 PRO SSD with Heatsink 1TB PCIe Gen 4 NVMe M.2 Samsung 980 PRO SSD with Heatsink 1TB PCIe Gen 4 NVMe M.2 Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

SSD Types and Interfaces: SATA, NVMe, M.2

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It's important to note that you may need to upgrade other PC components to achieve the fastest SSD speeds. NVMe SSDs currently provide the fastest available speeds.

SATA

The SATA interface can reach a max speed of 600 MB/s. The NVMe interface, on the other hand, is primarily limited by PCI-Express speeds.

SATA HDD

SATA hard disk drives can provide much higher capacities than SSDs, at a lower price. However, their read speeds are limited to about 200 MB/s due to their design.

SATA SSD

Consumer 2.5" SSDs always use the SATA interface, which means that if you want speeds faster than 600 MB/s, you'll need to upgrade to NVMe M.2 SSDs.

Check out our recommended SATA 2.5" SSDs below.

M.2

M.2 is a small form factor used by storage devices. M.2 devices are typically inserted into a port directly on a motherboard. PCIe expansion cards also exist with M.2 ports.

SATA M.2 SSD

Both SATA and NVMe M.2 cards exist but must be used with a compatible motherboard. When purchasing an M.2 device, ensure that your motherboard supports the form factor, as M.2 cards come in various lengths.

SATA M.2 cards run at SATA speeds, which means they are limited to 600 MB/s.

NVMe M.2 SSD

NVMe M.2 cards use the PCIe connection to provide a high throughput rate, with a max speed of 8 GB/s for PCIe 4.0.

Each version of PCI-Express roughly doubles the supported bandwidth. For example, a PCI-Express 4.0 NVMe M.2 card using x2 lanes may support up to twice the speed of a PCI-Express 3.0 card using the same number of lanes (same keying).

PCI-Express NVMe M.2 Speed (Rounded)
x2 Bandwidth x4 Bandwidth
PCIe 1.0 500 MB/s 750 MB/s
PCIe 2.0 1000 MB/s 2 GB/s
PCIe 3.0 2 GB/s 4 GB/s
PCIe 4.0 4 GB/s 8 GB/s
PCIe 5.0 8 GB/s 16 GB/s
PCIe 6.0 16 GB/s 32 GB/s

Check out our recommended NVMe M.2 SSDs below.

Learn more in my article, Storage Type Comparison: M.2, U.2, NVMe, SATA, SSDs, HDDs.

Add-in Card PCIe to NVMe M.2 SSD Adapter

If SATA speeds are too slow for you, but you don't have M.2 slots available on your motherboard, you might consider a PCIe to M.2 SSD add-in card adapter. Adapters will run at the speeds supported by your PCIe version.

M.2 PCIe NVMe 4.0/3.0 Adapter M.2 PCIe NVMe 4.0/3.0 Adapter Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

Will an External USB SSD Work Well for Games?

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An internal SSD will achieve the fastest SSD speeds, but the latest USB speeds may be adequate and improve your game loading times in some cases.

When connecting an NVMe or SATA drive to a computer via a USB interface, it will be limited by the USB version and drive's supported speeds.

If your computer only has USB 2.0 ports, USB speeds would be slower than an internal hard drive, at around 60 MB/s.

On the other hand, if you have USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 ports and a USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 SSD device, you could achieve speeds of 2.5 GB/s. This USB speed would be a third of the maximum possible speed of an internal PCIe 4.0 SSD (8 GB/s) but is still a big step up from hard drive speeds.

SanDisk 4TB Extreme PRO Portable SSD SanDisk 4TB Extreme PRO Portable SSD Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link
USB Speed
Mode Name Marketing Name Bandwidth
USB 1.1 12 Mbps
USB 2.0 Hi-Speed 480 Mbps
USB 3.2 Gen 1x1 / USB 3.1 Gen 1 / USB 3.0 SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps 5 Gbps
USB 3.2 Gen 1x2 10 Gbps
USB 3.2 Gen 2x1 / USB 3.1 Gen 2 / USB 3.1 SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps 10 Gbps
USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps 20 Gbps
USB4 Gen 2x1 10 Gbps
USB4 Gen 2x2 USB4 20Gbps 20 Gbps
USB4 Gen 3x1 20 Gbps
USB4 Gen 3x2 USB4 40Gbps 40 Gbps

Our Favorite M.2 NVMe SSDs

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Best PCIe 4.0 M.2 SSD: Samsung 980 PRO SSD

Best Value M.2 SSD: Samsung 970 EVO Plus SSD

Our Favorite SATA 2.5" SSDs

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Best Value SATA SSD: Samsung 870 EVO 2TB SSD

  • This drive provides a good value for those who are interested in SATA SSDs
  • 2 TB Capacity
  • Because this is using the SATA interface, it can reach read speeds of up to 560 MB/s
  • I've had many great experiences with Samsung SSD reliability! Samsung 870 QVO SATA III SSD 2TB Samsung 870 QVO SATA III SSD 2TB Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

Other Considerations When Building a PC

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Want to brush up on other new technologies to consider when building a computer? Check out these articles: