Buying an SSD can be a bit of a headache when you’re constantly being bombarded with such friendly terms as mSATA and M.2 this, and NVMe and PCIe that, which is why we’re here to help you pick the best SSD for you and your budget. Below, you’ll find our current top picks as well as in-depth buying advice on how to pick your next SSD. Whether it’s for general performance or the fastest speeds money can buy, we’ve got you covered.
Simply put, you need an SSD. Mechanical hard disks (HDD) are fine for storing lots of games and photos, but let’s face it, they’re pretty slow. With an SSD, however, the jump in speed over an HDD will make Windows load in seconds, programs open in a snap and cut game loading times to ribbons. An SSD will, without exaggeration, transform your PC. This guide is here to help. I’ll take you through the tangle of form factors, sizes and technologies to help you find the right super-fast storage for you.
Before we get to that, though, here are our current recommendations for 2.5in and M.2 drives, whether for value or outright performance. We’ll be updating and adding more to this list as we get more of them tested, but for now, the following three SSDs are a great place to start.
Best budget SSD: Crucial MX300
Crucial’s budget MX300 drives will be plenty quick enough for most, and are excellent value. The 2.5in 275GB model is about £80, giving you a low price-per-GB figure of around 30p, coming down to 25p for the 2.5in 1TB model. The M.2 SATA 3 models are 2-5% more expensive.
Prices (2.5in): (275GB) £73 from Ebuyer / $79 from Amazon, (525GB) £115 from Amazon / $129 from Amazon, (1TB) £205 from Amazon / $290 from Amazon, (2TB) £420 from Ebuyer / $500 from Amazon
Prices (M.2): (275GB) £82 from Scan / $93 from Amazon, (525GB) £136 from Ebuyer / $150 from Amazon, (1TB) £264 from Amazon / $287 from Amazon
Best SSD for mainstream performance: WD Blue 3D NAND
For around 10% more cash than the Crucial drives, WD’s Blue 3D NAND range provides a useful performance boost. The 250GB 2.5in and M.2 SATA models are both around £86, or 34p per gigabyte, while the 1TB drives are 28p per gigabyte for the 2.5in model and 30p for M.2.
Prices (2.5in): (250GB) £82 from Amazon / $85 from Amazon, (500GB) £149 from Ebuyer / $151 from Amazon, (1TB) £262 from Ebuyer / $290 from Amazon, (2TB) £554 from Ebuyer / $589 from Newegg
Prices (M.2): £85 for 250GB from Ebuyer / $ from , £158 for 500GB from Amazon, £295 for 1TB from Ebuyer.
Best extreme speed SSD: Samsung 960 Pro
With claimed 3,500MB/s sequential reads and 2,100MB/s sequential writes, the M.2 PCIe 960 Pro is bonkers. You’ll pay for the performance: the cheapest 960 Pro is a 512GB, £280 drive, working out at around 55p per gigabyte. The 1TB version is barely any cheaper at 54p per gigabyte. If you don’t mind a slight performance hit, the 960 Evo is about 20% cheaper and still far faster than the SATA WD Blue drives. The 960 Evo is also available in a 250GB capacity.
Prices: (512GB) £278 from Amazon / $290 from Amazon, (1TB) £539 from Ebuyer (plus free Assassin’s Creed Origins download until January 8th 2018) / $960 from Newegg, (2TB) £970 from Amazon / $1227 from Newegg
SSD buying guide: Form factors explained
The easiest drop-in replacement for a standard hard disk is a 2.5in SATA model. These are the same size and shape as a standard 2.5in hard disk, and plug into a normal SATA port on your motherboard. Most modern PC cases have mounting points for 2.5in hard disks, often on the back of the motherboard tray. If yours doesn’t, you can use a £5 adaptor (really just a 3.5in-wide metal plate with screw holes) to fit the SSD in a normal 3.5in hard disk bay.
To avoid crippling the SSD’s performance, make sure you plug the SSD into a SATA 3 port on your motherboard, rather than use SATA 2. SATA 3 SSDs will work in SATA 2 ports, but you’ll likely lose around half the SSD’s performance.
The chief disadvantage of 2.5in SSDs, compared to the mSATA, M.2 and PCI Express cards discussed below, is that they use SATA 3: an interface that’s been around since 2009, and one that isn’t quick enough to cope with the fastest modern SSDs. However, for most users, a SATA 3 SSD will be fine, and still several times faster than a mechanical hard disk.
M.2 and PCIe SSDs
If you’re in the market for a super-fast SSD that won’t be encumbered by its interface, you need to move beyond SATA to PCI Express, or PCIe (also called PCIe NVMe or just NVMe). Most PCIe SSDs are mounted directly to the motherboard in an M.2 slot. If your motherboard doesn’t have such a slot, there’s only one way to unleash the speed: a PCIe add-in card, or AIC. These add-in cards will fit in a spare PCIe x4 or x16 slot, and are monstrously quick, as well as monstrously expensive: while a 240GB SATA3 SSD will cost you about £80, an equivalent size PCIe card will be over £150. This is the price you pay for almost four times the performance in certain situations.
If you have a newer motherboard with an M.2 slot, an M.2 SSD is a neater way to add super-fast PCIe storage. Most M.2 SSDs are just 22mm wide and 80mm long (so about a third shorter than a stick of RAM) and screw straight into the motherboard – no more having to route SATA and power cables around your case.
However, the M.2 standard is a little complicated, chiefly due to its versatility. For starters, there are several sizes of M.2 card, such as 2280 and 22110: the first two digits denote the card’s width in mm, and the remaining numbers are the card’s length. Fortunately, the majority of consumer M.2 SSDs are the 2280 size. What’s more, as well as PCIe storage, the M.2 slot can also support SATA SSDs. These don’t have the performance advantage of PCIe M.2 drives, but score for neatness, and are about the same price as 2.5in SSDs. Check what standards your motherboard supports, as PCIe SSDs will not work in SATA-only slots and vice versa.
The good news is that many motherboards support both PCIe and SATA M.2 SSDs, giving you the versatility to choose between fast-but-expensive PCIe and slower (but still fast) and cheaper SATA. Bear in mind that the claimed speeds are for sequential transfers, rather than random reads and writes, so should be considered a best-case scenario. It’s also worth looking at a drive’s IOPS, or input/output operations per second, rating. This isn’t always listed in an SSD’s specifications, but it can make a big difference to an SSD’s real-world performance. A drive with a high IOPS rating can perform many more data reads and writes per second than a lower-rated model, which can make a huge difference in the complex data transfer tasks required by a modern operating system.
You’ll also see a few mSATA SSDs for sale. The mSATA interface is an older interface that M.2 was designed to replace. MSATA drives are tiny (51x30mm), have essentially the same performance as 2.5in and M.2 SATA 3 drives, and are about the same price. If you have a motherboard (or laptop) with an mSATA connector, an mSATA drive is definitely worth a look.
One of the first things you’ll notice when shopping for an SSD is that they’re an awful lot more expensive than mechanical hard disks. Spinning disks are astounding value, with 1TB models available for £40; if you want a terabyte SSD, you’ll have to find over £250. For this reason, if you’re on any kind of budget, you’ll need to think about how much capacity you need. The minimum size SSD I’d recommend is 240GB, as this will give you room for Windows, your productivity applications and a few games.
If you have a large photo and music collection, it’s worth bumping it up to the 480GB mark (from £130 for a 2.5in SSD). I have 13,000 photos and 7,000 music tracks on my PC, which take up about 100GB. With Windows (around 20GB), Office (around 3GB), five or so AAA games and my pictures and tunes, I’ll still have about 80GB left on such an SSD. Games are only going to get bigger, of course. If you like to have more than a couple of big titles installed at once, consider finding the cash for a terabyte SSD. Also, some high-performance SSDs are quicker at larger capacities, due to having more flash chips for the SSD controller to access in parallel.
If you need more space, it may be worth using your SSD alongside a normal hard disk, or even the hard disk you currently own. You can use the SSD for Windows, applications and games, and put your space-hungry files on the hard disk. By default the Windows Users folders, so Documents, Pictures, Videos and so on, will be on the system (C) drive, but you can redirect them to another disk by right-clicking each folder, selecting Properties, then Location. However, redirecting your Users folders away from their default locations can sometimes cause problems; if I was going to use the SSD/hard disk combo, I’d just create standard folders for the big files I wanted to keep on the hard disk, and avoid the corresponding Users folders entirely.
Now you know everything there is to know about SSDs, you should head over to our regularly updated Black Friday hub for all the latest deals and discounts, as well as our dedicated best SSD deals article.