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Best SSD for gaming 2020: top SATA, NVMe and external SSDs

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Featured post Selection of SSDs

As next-gen consoles and their super fast SSDs inch ever closer, it’s never been more important to have one of today’s best SSDs for gaming sitting inside your PC. SSDs are much faster at opening and saving files on your PC than traditional hard disks, which means quicker loading times for games, and less time spent waiting around for things to happen. Windows also loads in a flash on an SSD, and they generally make your PC feel much snappier and more responsive.

SSD prices keep on falling, too, making it a great time to upgrade your PC with one of our best SSD for gaming picks. Regardless of whether you just need some space for that all-important game download or you’re about to build a new PC from scratch, here are the best SSDs for gaming you can buy today.

Best gaming SSD 2020

For those of you who just want a short and simple answer about what’s the best SSD for gaming, then look no further than the WD Blue SN550. It is, quite simply, the best value SSD for gaming you can buy right now, and it should be at the top of the list for anyone buying a new SSD at the moment. It doesn’t cost much more than the best SATA SSDs, and it’s much, much faster when it comes to reading and writing your files.

You should buy…

WD Blue SN550

The best SSD for gaming

The WD Blue SN550 is disgustingly good value. You’ll need a motherboard with a spare M.2 slot to use it, but most modern motherboards have at least one, and it means you don’t have to worry about connecting any more cables to your PC’s power supply.

There are, of course, lots of other great SSDs for gaming available in a range of form factors, size capacities and different prices, and you’ll find my other best SSD for gaming recommendations below. For instance, if your motherboard isn’t compatible with NVMe SSDs like the WD Blue SN550, or you just prefer a good old-fashioned 2.5in SATA SSD, then your next best bet is the Samsung 860 Evo. Even several years on from its initial release, it’s still the best SATA SSD for gaming in its class, and offers much faster speeds than its closest Crucial MX500 and WD Blue 3D NAND rivals.

If you’re still after something SATA…

Samsung 860 Evo

The best SATA SSD for gaming

The best SATA SSD around, the Samsung 860 Evo is my go-to choice for those of you still in need of a 2.5in SATA SSD. It comes in a range of sizes from 250GB all the way up to 4TB if you’ve got the cash, although I’d only recommend buying the 250GB or 500GB sizes right now. Once you get to 1TB, Samsung’s cheaper 860 Qvo is much better value with near-identical speeds.

Meanwhile, those of you looking for an external SSD for gaming to take on the go should get a Samsung T5. We all know the pain of having to re-install everything when we move between different systems, so having an external SSD can really help speed up that process. The T5 is one of the fastest portable SSDs around, too, beating other models from WD that I’ve tested, and in my eyes it’s better value than Samsung’s newer, more expensive T7 Touch.

For gaming on the go…

Samsung T5

The best external SSD for gaming

External SSDs are much more expensive than portable HDDs, but they’re a lot sturdier and much, much faster. The Samsung T5 is one of the best, and it comes in a range of sizes and attractive colours, too.

To read more about my top three picks, carry on reading or click the links below to find out more about the SSD in question. You’ll also find more information about what the differences are between SATA and NVMe SSDs, what kind of size SSD you should go for, as well as how to install your SSD inside your PC. Remember, you can keep track of all the best prices for today’s top SSDs by checking out our regularly updated SSD deals page, and if you’re in need of some other PC components, then be sure to check out our graphics card guide, our gaming monitor recommendations and our CPU picks as well.

WD Blue SN550 – the best SSD for gaming

WD Blue SN550 SSD

SATA SSDs like the Samsung 860 Evo are great, but if you’ve got a motherboard with an M.2 slot then you should absolutely go for the WD Blue SN550 as your primary SSD drive.

It’s the successor to the excellent WD Blue SN500, and now comes in a larger 1TB size as well, making it a great option no matter what kind of size you’re looking for. Simply put, the WD Blue SN550 is fantastic value for money. It’s got great random read and write speeds – better than almost every other budget NVMe SSD out there – and doesn’t cost that much more than the best budget SATA SSDs, either. Its random write times are particularly nippy, beating Samsung’s more expensive 970 Evo Plus and coming second only to WD’s flagship Black SN750.

The 970 Evo Plus and Black SN750 have mildly better random read speeds, but they’re also a lot more expensive than the WD Blue SN550, often costing another £20 / $20 across all the different size capacities. As a result, I think most people would be perfectly happy saving themselves a bit of cash and opting for the SN550 instead. It’s also brilliant at handling larger workloads, making this a brilliant all-round SSD for your gaming PC. If you’ve got a motherboard that supports it, this SSD should definitely be at the top of your list.

Samsung 860 Evo – the best SATA SSD for gaming

Samsung 860 Evo SSD

When it comes to buying an SSD for gaming, a lot people still opt for a 2.5in SATA drive rather than a super fast NVMe SSD, if only because the latter tend to be quite expensive and you need a motherboard that supports them. For SATA SSD hunters, then, the Samsung 860 Evo is hands down the best SSD for gaming you can buy today. Its random read speeds are faster than any other SATA SSD that’s crossed my testing bench, and its warranty and endurance rating are also top of their respective classes.

The only other SSD I’ve tested with a faster random write speed is Samsung’s 860 Qvo. However, the Qvo’s smallest size is 1TB, so it can be quite expensive to have as your main drive. That said, the 860 Qvo is a lot cheaper than the 860 Evo once you start pushing into the 1TB and 2TB categories, so it arguably makes more sense if you’re looking for a 1TB+ SSD and have enough cash.

For those looking to keep SSD costs down to under £100 / $100, though, the 500GB Samsung 860 Evo is definitely the way to go. Crucial’s MX500 is another good budget option for SATA buyers, but the 860 Evo is much faster overall, particularly when it comes to random write speeds. The 860 Evo also comes with a much higher endurance rating, too: 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 SATA SSD beat it when it comes to overall value.

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Samsung T5 – the best external gaming SSD

External Samsung T5 SSD connected to a laptop

When it comes to the best external SSDs for gaming, there’s really nothing like the Samsung T5. Samsung may have just replaced it with the Samsung T7 Touch and its non-touch sibling, the regular Samsung T7, but unless you’ve got a bang-up-to-date laptop or PC that supports the USB 3.2 Gen 2 standard, then you’ll be just as happy with the USB 3.1 Gen 2-supporting T5.

It’s much faster than the WD My Passport SSD, for example, and it’s also a fraction cheaper and an infinitely nicer looking thing to boot. Plus, the fact it’s an SSD also means it’s far less likely to break than an external HDD. Yes, the Samsung T5 is expensive compared to a standard SSD (and especially expensive compared to external HDDs such as the WD Black P10), 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 – although if you really want to future-proof your external SSD purchase, then you’re probably better off spending a bit more on the equally excellent Crucial X8 instead, as this supports the same USB standards as the newer Samsung T7 Touch and is faster overall.

For those that want to keep costs down, however, the Samsung T5 is a tough act to beat. It 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 not as nippy as Samsung’s 860 Evo, but in terms of overall convenience, nothing else comes close.

SATA SSD vs NVMe: what’s the difference?

2.5in SATA 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 cheap adaptor (really just a 3.5in-wide metal plate with screw holes) to fit the SSD in a normal 3.5in hard disk bay.

Close-up of a 2.5in SATA SSD

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. That said, SATA 3 is an interface that’s been around since 2009, and one that isn’t quick enough to cope with the fastest modern SSDs. For most users, a SATA 3 SSD will be fine, and still several times faster than a mechanical hard disk, but if you’ve got a motherboard with an M.2 slot that supports NVMe SSDs, you should definitely consider opting for an NVMe SSD instead.

NVMe 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 NVMe (also called PCI Express, PCIe NVMe, or just NVMe). Most NVMe 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 NVMe SSD is a neater way to add super-fast PCIe storage. Most NVMe 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.

Close-up of an M.2 slot on a motherboard

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

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 NVMe 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 NVMe 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 NVMe and SATA M.2 SSDs, giving you the versatility to choose between fast-but-expensive NVMe 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.

What size SSD should I buy?

The minimum SSD size I’d recommend these days is 250GB, as this will give you enough room for your Windows installation (around 20GB), a couple of big games, plus all your music, photos and any other programmes you might need. However, if you have a particularly large photo and music collection, or just like having lots of games installed at the same time, then I’d recommend bumping it up to the 500GB mark.

If you like having most of your games installed at the same time, though, consider finding the cash for a 1TB SSD, or two 500GB SSDs. If you need installing more than one SSD, then have a read of our How to install an SSD / HDD guide.

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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. She's also RPS' resident deals herald.

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