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Best gaming SSD 2018: Top SATA and NVMe drives for your PC

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Games are getting bigger and bigger these days, what with the many pixels and the updates and the patches and whatnot, so finding the best gaming SSD for your PC is absolutely vital if you don’t want to go through the faff of re-installing everything all the time. As my late grandma used to say, you can never have enough storage in your trusty gaming PC, so make sure you pack it with as many gigabytes as you possibly can. I’m pretty sure that’s how it went, anyway.

So! If you’re after a newer, faster SSD for keeping all your games on, or just something small for Windows in order to cut down your boot times, this is the place to be. Below you’ll find all my top recommendations for best gaming SSD across a range of different prices, including your standard 2.5in SSDs as well as your fancy NVMe jobs as well, plus in-depth buying advice on what size you should go for, as well as everything you need to know about all the different types and form factors. Whether it’s for gaming, general performance or the fastest speeds money can buy, we’ve got you covered. Plus, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday just around the corner, why not keep an eye on our Black Friday and Cyber Monday: Best SSD deals hub for all the latest deals and prices.

Best gaming SSD guide

This might sound counter intuitive in a guide about best gaming SSDs, but in all honesty, a lot of SSDs are much of a muchness these days when it comes to everyday read and write speeds, so sometimes the best thing to do is simply buy what’s cheapest – especially when prices can often fluctuate quite heavily over the course of a year. Whatever number they put on the front of the box to try and tell you this one’s better than that one, the difference between them day to day is pretty much null and void.

That said, there are still a handful of SSDs I’d generally recommend if you can find them at a decent price, but just in case they suddenly get ludicrously expensive in the weeks following publication, I’ve also included a couple of runner ups that I’d be equally happy to recommend in their place. To the SSDs!

Best SSD for installing Windows: Crucial BX300 (120GB)

Price: £38 / $35

Crucial’s entry-level BX300 SSD is excellent value if you’re looking for a small, cheap drive for installing Windows on, and you won’t find one that’s better value than this 120GB job. 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 is pretty much on a level footing with the much more expensive WD Blue 3D NAND SSD and Crucial’s own MX500, which is pretty good going considering its price. At this kind of size capacity, it simply doesn’t get much better than this.

Read more in our Crucial BX300 review.

Best gaming SSD: Samsung 860 Evo

Price: £57 / $58

Despite not being that much faster than its predecessor, the Samsung 850 Evo, this year’s 860 Evo remains one of the best SSDs around. Its random read and write speeds are faster than any other 2.5in SATA 3 SSD I’ve tested so far, and its warranty and endurance rating are also top of their respective classes, giving you extra piece of mind in case something happens to go wrong.

The prices listed above are for the entry-level 250GB model, but it’s also available with 500GB of storage, as well as a 1TB, 2TB and a whopping 4TB drive if you’ve got deep enough pockets for it. I wouldn’t recommend splashing out on one of Samsung’s higher capacity 860 Evo drives, though, as there’s simply no need for it. For your primary drive, the 250GB or 500GB models should serve you just fine.

The only downside to the 860 Evo is that it’s often more expensive than other SSDs out there, so if you’re looking to cut down on costs, my best gaming SSD runner up would definitely be the Crucial MX500. With nigh-on identical random read speeds and only slightly slower random write speeds than the 860 Evo, the MX500 is definitely the next best thing if you can’t find the Samsung at a decent price.

What’s more, the MX500 is actually cheaper than Crucial’s BX300 across both of its other size categories, so if you’re after a bargain drive that’s slightly bigger than 120GB, the MX500 is the way to go. The MX500 is also a lot faster than WD’s Blue 3D NAND SSD, and only a couple of pounds/dollars more expensive, too.

Read more in our Samsung 860 Evo review.

Best premium gaming SSD: Samsung 970 Evo

Price: £83 / $104

Yes, it’s another Samsung. If you really want the best of the best SSDs that money can buy and would rather mount it straight onto your motherboard than faff around with SATA cables, the Samsung 970 Evo is the ultimate SSD for tidy people with lots of money to spend. 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 SATA3 SSD. Capable of handling heavy 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 860 Evo.

Speed-wise, the 970 Evo also comfortably sees off the competition from WD Black 3D NVMe SSD, but the latter will still do you just fine if you’d rather save a bit of cash in the process. For this reason, the WD Black 3D NVMe SSD is our best premium gaming SSD runner up.

Read more in our Samsung 970 Evo review.

Best gaming 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.

NVMe SSDs require an M.2 slot (above) on your motherboard

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 250GB, as this will give you room for Windows, your productivity applications and a few games – although the 120GB Crucial BX300 listed above will still do you just fine as long as you aren’t planning on installing more than one or two games on it as well.

If you have a large photo and music collection that takes up around 100GB, say, it’s probably worth bumping it up to the 500GB mark. With Windows (around 20GB), Office (around 3GB), five or so big games and all my pictures and tunes, you’ll still have about 80GB left on such an SSD – and games are only going to get bigger, too. If you like to have more than a couple of big titles installed at once without compromising on load times, you may want to consider finding the cash for a 1TB SSD. Some high-performance SSDs are quicker at larger capacities as well, 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.

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Who am I?

Katharine Castle

Hardware Editor

Katharine writes about all the bits that go inside your PC so you can carry on playing all those lovely games we like talking about so much. Very partial to JRPGs and the fetching of quests.

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