If you want Windows and games to load in a flash, then you should definitely have an SSD as your PC’s primary drive. They’re much faster than traditional hard disk drives, and you’ll not only be able to get to your desktop in double-quick time when you first turn it on, but everything from copying files to loading up games will also feel much, much quicker, so what better place to start than with the very best gaming SSDs you can buy today?
You needn’t spend a fortune on your new gaming SSD, either, as I’ve got a best gaming SSD recommendation for every price bracket across a range of different size capacities. Whether you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful SATA SSD or a brand-spanking new M.2 NVMe SSD, we’ve got you covered.
Best gaming SSD 2019 guide
To earn a place on our best gaming SSD list, a drive must have excellent read and write times – and I’m not just talking about the crazy-high sequential times you’ll see plastered all over an SSD’s box, either. These can often reach up to thousands of MB/s, which may sound like good news, but in practice it’s not a very good indicator of what kind of speeds you’ll get in day to day use. That’s because most SSDs read and write data randomly, sticking bits here and there all over an SSD’s storage blocks.
As a result, an SSD’s random read and write speeds are really what you should be looking out for when selecting your next best gaming SSD, which is why I place such an important emphasis on them in my gaming SSD reviews. To test this, I use two synthetic benchmark tests: AS SSD’s 1GB 4K random test, which sees how quickly an SSD can read and write one gigabyte’s worth of tiny 4K file chunks, and CrystalDiskMark’s 1GB 4K 8-queue-8-thread test, which sees how an SSD copes with larger workloads.
Another important consideration is capacity. The minimum size SSD I’d recommend these days is 250GB, as this will give you enough room for your Windows installation (around 20GB), a few big games, plus all your music, photos and any other creative / productivity programmes you might need. If you’d like to have more than a couple of big titles installed at once without compromising on load times, however, you may want to consider finding the cash for a 500GB or 1TB SSD.
Best gaming SSD under £50 / $50: Crucial MX500 (250GB)
Previously, Crucial’s BX300 SSD occupied this place on our best gaming SSD list, but right now its MX500 sibling is a much better deal. Prices aren’t just lower for the MX500, but it’s much faster, too, making this a great foundation for any PC build.
In terms of performance, the MX500 is second only to Samsung’s more expensive 860 Evo, which you’ll find further down on this list. Its random read and write speeds are some of the best around, although if you’d rather save yourself a couple of extra pennies then its other main rival, the WD Blue 3D NAND is well worth a look instead.
Of course, if you’re looking to keep costs to an absolute minimum, you may well be tempted by the Crucial BX500. After all, this costs just £20 / $20 for 120GB at time of writing, making it much cheaper than the MX500. However, the BX500’s random read and write speeds simply don’t compare with the MX500, so I’d strongly recommended finding room in your budget for the extra cash if you can. You won’t regret it.
I should also point out that, as long as you’ve got a motherboard that supports it, the WD Blue SN500 is also well worth considering in this price category, as this M.2 NVMe SSD is incredible value for money. At £50 / $55, it’s a fraction more expensive than the MX500, but its superior random read and write speeds are definitely worth it.
Read our Crucial MX500 review for more info.
Best gaming SSD under £100 / $100: Samsung 860 Evo (500GB)
Despite not being that much faster than its predecessor, the Samsung 850 Evo, the 860 Evo remains one of the best gaming SSDs around. Its random read speeds are faster than any other 2.5in SATA SSD I’ve tested so far, and its warranty and endurance rating are also top of their respective classes.
The only SSD I’ve tested with a faster random write speed is Samsung’s 860 Qvo, but the smallest size available on that one is 1TB, thereby making it considerably more expensive as a result. That said, the 860 Qvo really comes into its own at higher capacities, as the way it’s been built is all about getting as much storage as possible for the least amount of money. Indeed, it’s far cheaper than the 860 Evo once you start pushing into the 1TB and 2TB categories, and arguably makes more sense than buying a smaller SSD to have as your primary drive and a larger but infinitely slower hard disk drive for storing games on. As a result, I’d recommend opting for the Qvo instead of the Evo if you’re after something larger than 500GB.
For those looking to keep SSD costs down to under £100 / $100, however, the 500GB Samsung 860 Evo is definitely the way to go. Not only is it faster than Crucial’s MX500, particularly when it comes to random write speeds, but it also comes with a much higher endurance rating: 300 terabytes written (TBW) for the 500GB model as opposed to just 180TBW on the 500GB MX500. It’s fast, durable and I’ve yet to see another 500GB SSD beat it when it comes to overall value.
That said, if you’ve got a fraction more to spend and have a motherboard that supports it, then I’d also recommended the equally excellent 512GB Adata XPG SX8200 Pro, which is an M.2 NVMe SSD rather than a traditional SATA one like the Samsung. This has exceptional random read speeds and only mildly slower random write speeds than its more expensive NVMe competition, such as the Samsung 970 Evo below. All in all, it’s a fantastic drive, and a great alternative to the 860 Evo depending on how much money you’ve got to spend.
Read our Samsung 860 Evo review for more info.
Best gaming SSD under £200 / $200: Samsung 970 Evo (500GB)
Yes, it’s another Samsung. If you really want the best of the best gaming SSD 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 gaming 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, 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 SSD. Capable of handling heavy read and write queues in over 1400MB/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, WD Black SN750, and Adata XPG SX6000 Pro, but the Adata XPG SX8200 Pro (mentioned above) still comes out on top for random read speeds. I should also mention you can get a 1TB SX8200 Pro for around £149 / $130, whereas a 1TB 970 Evo will set you back another £50 / $50-odd on top of that. As a result, if you’re after a lot of storage for less and don’t mind having slightly slower random write speeds, the SX8200 Pro is also excellent value.
Read our Samsung 970 Evo review for more info.
Best external gaming SSD: Samsung T5
Did someone say Samsung again? I know, I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, but honestly the Samsung T5 is the best external SSD I’ve tested so far. Granted, I’ve only looked at the WD My Passport SSD as a point of comparison so far (something I’m going to rectify in 2019), but of the two, the T5 is definitely the one I’d go for. It’s not only cheaper than the WD My Passport, but it’s also much faster and an infinitely nicer looking thing to boot.
It’s expensive, yes, especially compared to your typical 2.5in SATA3 drive, but if you’re the type of person who travels a lot and doesn’t have enough room for all your games on your laptop, the T5 is a worthwhile investment. For starters, it’s absolutely tiny and will easily slot into any kind of pocket. What’s more, the fact it’s an SSD means it’s also far less likely to break than an external hard disk drive.
The T5 also comes with both USB3 and USB-C connectors for super fast transfer speeds, and its random read and write speeds are pretty good too. It’s nowhere near as nippy as Samsung’s 860 Evo, but in terms of overall convenience, nothing else comes close.
Read our Samsung T5 review for more info.
Best gaming SSD 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 (AIC). These add-in cards will fit in a spare PCIe x4 or x16 slot and are monstrously quick, as well as monstrously expensive.
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.