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Seagate FireCuda 540 PCIe 5.0 SSD impressions: A solid performing drive that requires a good heatsink

Seagate FireCuda 540 (2TB) PCIe 5.0 SSD impressions: A solid performing drive that requires a good heatsink

The arrival of PCIe 5.0 solid state drives (SSDs), including Seagate's FireCuda 540, marks a significant milestone for PC storage. In theory at least, PCIe 5.0 doubles the bandwidth connection of PCIe 4.0 but the tangible reality of these devices is somewhat different. The FireCuda 540, is not only Seagate’s very first SSD, but also one of the first few storage brands that sport the new technology.

Let's cut to the chase: PCIe 5.0 SSDs are expensive. Very expensive. The pricing is a crucial aspect that cannot be overlooked, especially when compared to their PCIe 4.0 counterparts. Consider this: high-performance 2TB PCIe 4.0 drives (such as the Samsung 990 Pro) are available at less than half the price of the FireCuda 540. This price gap poses a significant challenge for recommending the FireCuda 540, despite its advanced features. It's a classic tech dilemma where early adopters get taxed. Those who want the latest and greatest must be prepared to pay a premium.

However, it's important to remember that prices will eventually drop. As this happens, drives like the FireCuda 540 will become more accessible and, consequently, more appealing to a broader audience.

Seagate is positioning the FireCuda 540 as a versatile solution, not just for gamers but also for professionals. Its support for DirectStorage and an impressive endurance rating, coupled with three years of data recovery support and five-year warranty, are notable features. These aspects are particularly attractive to professionals who may be less price-sensitive and view Seagate's warranty and support as valuable services.

Our review unit of the FireCuda 540 (2TB)comes without a heatsink, and I cannot stress enough on the importance of adequate cooling for PCI 5.0 SSDs – these drives run very hot. The risk of throttling or long-term damage due to overheating is real, especially if your motherboard lacks integrated M.2 cooling.

The technical specifications of the FireCuda 540 are impressive. As a PCIe 5.0 x4 M.2 2280 NVMe SSD, it boasts up to 10,000 MB/s sequential reads and writes and features the latest 232-Layer Micron TLC NAND and 4GB of LPDDR4 memory. As this is our first PCIe 5.0 SSD, we do not have other similar models to compare it with. But let’s see how it performs against some of the best PCIe 4.0 SSDs that we have reviewed before.

In our tests, we used the FireCuda 540 as a Windows 11 OS drive, which is a realistic setup for most users. It’s important to note that benchmark performance can vary due to background processes. However, the aim was to gauge real-world performance in a typical PCIe 5.0 system setup.

CrystalDiskMark 8 Benchmark (In MB/s)

Seagate FireCuda 540 (Read / Write)

990 Pro (Read / Write)

980 Pro (Read / Write)

SEQ1M, Q8T1

10077 / 10195

7465 / 6897

6786 / 5002

SEQ1M, Q1T1

8543.91 / 7024.25

4436 / 6167

4146 / 4303

RND4K, Q32T1

862 / 557

754 / 665

636 / 590

RND4K, Q1T1

77 / 310

86 / 290

87 / 218

The FireCuda 540's performance is a mixed bag. Its sequential performance is outstanding, thanks to its advanced controller, NAND, DRAM, and cache. However, when it comes to random tasks, the performance gains over PCIe 4.0 drives are not as pronounced as one might expect, given the price difference. In terms of real-world applications, the responsiveness improvement is hardly noticeable.

Games Loading Time (Windows 11)
Seagate FireCuda 540 Seagate Firecuda 530 WD Black SN850
Cyberpunk 2077 7.22sec 7.95sec 7.80sec
Shadow of the Tomb Raider 7.10sec 7.83sec 7.12sec
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy 3.90sec 4.70sec 4.76sec

Game load times are slightly better with the FireCuda 540, but the question remains whether the marginal improvement justifies the premium price. My take? Not yet.

Regarding heat management, even with a standard integrated heatsink, like that on my ASUS Maximus Z790 Dark Hero, the FireCuda 540 runs pretty hot where it peaked at almost 80 degrees Celsius. But that had minimal impact on performance, likely because the standard heatsink on the motherboard sufficed to prevent throttling.

In the broader context of advancements in PC technologies, PCIe 5.0 SSDs, including the FireCuda 540, represent today’s best. However, their current price point makes them a tough sell. Looking at the market, most PCIe 5.0 SSDs are similarly priced, so the FireCuda 540 isn't unreasonably expensive in relative terms. But when considering the performance plateau NVMe SSDs have reached in terms of real-world perception, the benefits of PCIe 5.0 over PCIe 4.0 are not as clear-cut, especially for typical users who don't frequently transfer large volumes of data.

Cooling remains a challenge for these high-performance drives. Passive cooling solutions often struggle to manage the heat generated by M.2 drives effectively. However, those who can navigate these cooling challenges will find the FireCuda 540 delivers solid performance. For users with high-end systems, the investment in a superior SSD may be justified.

As prices inevitably fall, the FireCuda 540's value proposition will improve. Its future competitiveness will depend on how it fares against rivals. For now, my recommendation would be to stick with a high-performance PCIe 4.0 drive, such as Seagate's FireCuda 530, which remains a personal favorite.

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