Introduction & Drive Details
PCIe Gen4 SSDs are changing the performance storage landscape quickly via AMD's extremely popular Zen II platform. Seagate has decided to enter the fray with its first Gen4 M.2 SSD. Seagate's Gen4 SSD is designated as the FireCuda 520 Series. Seagate's FireCuda 520 Series is the next progression of their FireCuda SSD line of products and is available for order starting right now at three capacity points, 500GB, 1000GB, and 2,000GB.
We've had several Gen4 SSDs come through the lab recently, and they all have one thing in common; they are powered by Phison's potent E16 PCIe Gen4 SSD controller and Toshiba BiCS 4 96-layer flash. Seagate's FireCuda 520 Series is no different in that respect. However, Seagate differs from what we've seen to this point in a few ways.
The first and most obvious is that Seagate is by far the largest storage company to put their reputation in front of a Phison E16 Gen4 SSD. Secondly, Seagate is utilizing its own exclusive firmware to power the FireCuda 520 Series. All other Phison E16-based SSDs that have come through the lab have been running canned firmware supplied by Phison. Most companies do not have the resources to customize firmware themselves, but Seagate certainly does.
Lastly, the FireCuda 520 is the first Phison E16-powered SSD to come through our lab that does not have any type of integrated heat sink. Seagate's thought behind this is that all (or as far as we know all) AMD X570 motherboards come with integrated heat sinks for the M.2 slots. These have proven to be very effective at taming thermals generated by the E16 controller. So why put something on the drive that will likely be removed by the end-user anyway? Makes sense to us, and we have tested E16 SSDs without a heat sink enough to know that the drive will still deliver throttle free performance in almost all consumer-oriented use case scenarios.
Let's get the FireCuda 520 on the bench and see just what kind of performance it is serving up for our fellow AMD brethren.
The FireCuda 520 ships in familiar packaging. The drive is cradled in a plastic carrier and sealed in an anti-static envelope. This round, Seagate has chosen to go with a black PCB design that we find very attractive.
Seagate SeaTools SSD Toolbox
Seagate's SeaTools SSD toolbox allows you to check the status of your SSD, upgrade firmware, clone, and secure erase. We didn't test all the functions for our review, but we are confident that the FireCuda 520 Series will be fully compatible, making for a nice value add.
Synthetic Benchmarks: CDM & Anvils
We test all SSDs in a manner that closely replicates a typical user scenario. This means we test the drive as our system disk filled 50% with data. We do it this way because we want to simulate what an actual user will be capable of getting in terms of performance. Testing empty secondary devices can never accomplish this because no one ever runs their SSD as an empty secondary device.
Running in our user state, we can hit advertised sequential read speeds without issue. However, as we've seen from day one of the E16 era, E16 SSDs can ONLY hit 4,400 MB/s sequential write speeds when they are empty or almost empty. In short, more evidence that supports why we test the way we do. That said, we are hitting nearly 4,300 MB/s seq write speeds. Additionally, Q1T1 random performance is top-notch.
Anvil's Storage Utilities
When evaluating SSDs, we always place more value on total read performance because it is the hardest to come by in the world of storage, and it matters most in relation to user experience. The FireCuda 520 easily outperforms Samsung's 970 Pro when reading data on an AMD Gen4 enabled platform. Intel's Optane 905P is the runaway victor, but that SSD will set you back $1,200.
Max IOPS is all but meaningless to the average user. However, we are showing what the drive can achieve in our user state anyway. 666K read and a whopping 869K write when 50% full.
Synthetic Benchmarks: AS SSD & ATTO
Read scoring is what matters most to us, but it doesn't matter what your focus may be when it comes to AS SSD results because the FireCuda 520 is destroying its Gen3 competition, including Intel's Optane 905P. With results like this, it is easy to see why Seagate decided to pull the trigger and launch an E16 based SSD.
Our focus with ATTO is read/write transfers at 128 KB, which is why we only chart 128 KB transfers. As our charts demonstrate, Gen4 SSDs have a huge advantage over Gen3 competitors when reading or writing sequential data. The drive's max read transfer rate comes at 256 KB transfers, where we find the FireCuda serving up 5.64 GB/s transfer speed. Max write transfer rate occurs at 64 MB transfers with a speed of 4.27 GB/s.
Real-World Testing: Game Loading & PCM8
11.1 seconds is the fastest time that any Phison-powered SSD to come through our lab has run this test. The time is right in there with the SSDs that run this test best. This test is more or less the only place where the FireCuda 520 doesn't dominate the field.
TweakTown ranks SSD performance/user experience based on the results of UL's PCMark 8. We use this test for ranking SSDs in terms of overall performance because it represents real-world usage scenarios accurately. We focus more on storage bandwidth than we do score because it is more granular in nature.
Seagate's FireCuda 520 1TB delivers the goods better than any flash-based SSD we've tested on our AMD X570 platform to date, including other E16 powered SSDs. Maybe Seagate's custom firmware is serving up a little more than what others can do? Who knows?
Real-World Testing: Transfer Rates
Optane just manages to edge out the FireCuda 520 for the top spot. Other than that, nothing is close to Seagate's top dog. This is no easy task when you consider that our write transfer is 100GB in size and composed of more than 62,000 files.
Read transfers another story entirely. The FireCuda easily dispatches the Gen3 competitors, just as we would expect to see from hardware with superior technology on board.
Owners of AMD's X570 platforms and soon to be owners of AMD's TRX40 platforms are particular users that demand the best in performance and are not afraid to spend a few bucks for the privilege of owning the best. These are the users that Seagate has targeted with their new FireCuda 520 PCIe Gen4 SSD Series. As one of the world's largest storage providers, Seagate has a leg up on much of the competition and are offering a bit more here with its custom enhancements. Additionally, there is a certain peace of mind in knowing that Seagate will be around for a very long time should you need a warranty replacement or technical support down the line.
Looking back at our benchmarks, we love that the FireCuda 520 delivers unrivaled sequential speeds, but even more than that, we love that it delivers real performance where it matters most. As our PCMark 8 testing demonstrates, the FireCuda 520 isn't just a one-trick pony; it is serving up unrivaled user experience for AMD enthusiasts better than anything flash-based we've seen to date. Because of this, we are rewarding the FireCuda 520 with our top award. Nice job, Seagate!
The Seagate FireCuda 520 1TB NVMe PCIe Gen4 x4 M.2 SSD is TweakTown approved and highly recommended.
- Overall Performance
- High Endurance
- PCIe Gen4
- Unknown Street Pricing
The Bottom Line
Gen4 speeds served up by Seagate is cause for celebration. Get some!