Buying an SSD can be hellish when there are so many models to choose from that all quote exactly the same read and write speeds as everyone else, which is why we’re here to help you in your quest to find the best gaming SSD for you and your budget. Simply put, you need an SSD. Mechanical hard disks (HDDs) are fine for storing lots of games and photos, but let’s face it, they’re pretty slow. With an SSD, on the other hand, the jump in speed will make Windows load in seconds, programs open in a snap and cut game loading times to ribbons.
So if terms like SATA and NVMe this and M.2 and PCIe that make your head spin, you’re in the right place, as below you’ll find all of our current top picks for gaming, as well as in-depth buying advice on how to pick your next SSD. Now that I’ve had the WD Black 3D NVMe SSD in for review as well, I’ve updated this list to reflect what’s changed in our current rankings. Whether it’s for gaming, general performance or the fastest speeds money can buy, we’ve got you covered.
Best budget SSD: Crucial BX300
Crucial’s budget BX300 drives are excellent value. Available in 120GB, 240GB and 480GB capacities, this is the best and cheapest way to give your PC a bit of a boost, whether you’re looking for something small to install Windows on or something a bit bigger to hold a couple of games as well.
It comes in a standard 2.5in SATA3 form factor, so you should be able to slot it easily into most laptops and motherboard setups without issue. If you’re buying it for a laptop, you also get a handy stick-on plastic rectangle to help bump up the BX300’s thickness, which will no doubt come in handy if your drive bay is a bit fatter than usual.
You also get a cut-down version of Acronis True Image with this SSD, which lets you clone your current Windows installation straight to your new BX300. It’s quick, easy and worked flawlessly when we tried it out for ourselves, allowing us to get up and running in no time at all.
In terms of performance, the BX300 gives the Samsung 850 Evo (our top pick for UK buyers in the best mid-range SSD category, which you can read more about below) a real run for its money, posting faster random write speeds in our benchmark tests, and only slightly slower random read speeds. The Samsung 850 Evo tends to be better value at higher capacities, where prices between the two drives are smaller, but in the 120GB and 240GB range, the Crucial BX300 is hard to beat for overall value.
Read more in our Crucial BX300 review.
Best mid-range SSD: Samsung 850 Evo (UK) / Samsung 860 Evo (US)
The Samsung 850 Evo has been the go-to 2.5in SSD ever since it came out three years ago, so it’s no surprise that its successor, the 860 Evo, is on this list as well. Why are we recommending the 850 Evo for the UK and the 860 Evo for the US? Well, our testing shows that both drives are more or less about the same in terms of overall speed, and the 850 Evo is currently a lot cheaper in the UK, making it better value overall. Sadly, Samsung’s stopped selling the 850 Evo in the US, hence why both SSDs top this particular category.
Of course, once the 850 Evo goes end of life in the UK, we’ll recommend the 860 Evo for both territories. Until that happens, though, 850 Evo buyers can be safe in the knowledge they’re getting an identical five-year warranty and nigh-on identical read and write speeds.
The 860 Evo’s main advantage, meanwhile, comes from its significantly improved endurance rating, guaranteeing that you’ll be able to write at least 150TB-worth of data on the 250GB version, and up to a whopping 2400TB on the top 4TB model before it potentially gives up the ghost. Compare that to the 850 Evo’s maximum rating of 300TBW (terabytes written) for both the 2TB and 4TB models, and you can start to see why Samsung thought it was high time to move the goal posts a bit.
300TBW should still be more than enough endurance for your average gaming PC, but people who are regularly dealing with editing photos and videos may well benefit from all those extra TBs you get with the 860 Evo in the long-term.
Best premium SSD: Samsung 970 Evo
Yes, it’s another Samsung. If you really want the best of the best SSDs that money can buy, the Samsung 970 Evo is the way to go. Technically, Samsung’s more upmarket 970 Pro is the superior drive in this category, but you’ll hate yourself a lot less by opting for the significantly cheaper and still blisteringly fast Evo model.
Since this is only available in an M.2 form factor, you’ll need to make sure your motherboard supports it before you buy one. Most modern motherboards do, though, so provided you’ve got a spare M.2 slot ready and waiting, though, the 970 Evo is undoubtedly the best and most affordable way to get a taste of what NVMe SSDs have to offer.
Available in 250GB, 500GB, 1TB and 2TB size capacities, the 970 Evo is a big step up from your typical 2.5in SATA 3 SSD. Capable of handling multiple read and write queues in over 2000MB/s, this is an SSD for the ultimate power user. You don’t quite get those sorts of speeds for smaller, everyday tasks, mind, but you’re still looking at significantly faster read and write speeds (28% and 42% respectively) than Samsung’s own 2.5in 860 Evo. It also comfortably sees off the competition from WD’s Black 3D NVMe SSD as well, making it the best value for money premium SSD you can buy today.
Read more in our Samsung 970 Evo review.
And the rest…
Below is a list of every other SSD we’ve reviewed so far (just so you’ve got everything in one place), but the three we’ve listed above are the real cream of the crop, both in terms of value and outright performance. We’ll be updating and adding more to this list as we get them in for testing, though, so expect more new models to be appearing in the coming weeks and months.
SSD buying guide: Form factors explained
2.5in SSDs: 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.
mSATA SSDs: 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.
What size SSD do I need?
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.