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Best SSD for gaming: our top SATA and NVMe drives

Our top solid state drive recommendations

If your PC is taking ages to load your favourite game, then you should think about upgrading to one of today's best SSDs. If you're still playing games off an old hard disk drive, installing an SSD is one of the most important upgrades you can do right now, as an SSD won't just make Windows feel more responsive, but they'll also load your games much faster and get you into the action much quicker. To help you buy the best gaming SSD for you and your budget, I've put together this list of all my top recommendations. 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.

There are two types of gaming SSD you might want to consider: SATA SSDs and NVMe SSDs. SATA drives are small, 2.5in drives that plug into a SATA port on your PC's motherboard, while NVMe drives are even smaller and connect via one of your motherboard's M.2 ports. These draw power directly from your motherboard, so they don't need to be connected to your PSU like a SATA SSD. Most modern motherboards have at least two M.2 ports these days, but some higher end boards can support up to three or four. SATA drives are much faster than HDDs, but NVMe drives are faster still - and tend to be more expensive as a result. However, as you'll soon see from this list, there are plenty of great value NVMe drives out there these days, giving you lots of options to get super fast speeds without breaking the bank.

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One thing to bear in mind is that NVMe drives are increasingly falling into two distinct sub-categories: PCIe 3.0 SSDs, and newer PCIe 4.0 drives. PCIe 4.0 is twice as fast as PCIe 3.0, and many of the upcoming storage technologies due to hit PC in 2021, such as Microsoft's DirectStorage tech, will utilise this extra speed to help cut down game loading times even further. PCIe 4.0 SSDs are still very expensive, though, and are only compatible with a handful of motherboard chipsets - Intel's 500 series and AMD's B550 and X570 boards. As such, I wouldn't make them a priority in your SSD upgrade plan just yet, although they will become increasingly more important as the months draw on. For more information, see our FAQ section at the bottom of this article, where we answer everything you need to know about the different type of SSDs out there, as well as what kind of size SSD you should go for as well. For now, though, here are the best SSDs for gaming you can buy today.

Best SSD for gaming 2021


WD Blue SN550

The best cheap NVMe SSD for gaming

If you've got a motherboard with an M.2 slot and don't want to break the bank on a super fast NVMe SSD, then the WD Blue SN550 is a fantastic choice for first-time NVMe buyers. It's the successor to the excellent WD Blue SN500, and now comes in larger 1TB and 2TB size capacities 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 SATA SSDs, either. Its random write times are particularly nippy, beating Samsung's more expensive 970 Evo Plus and coming in just behind 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. 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 superb all-round SSD for your gaming PC.

What we like:
✔️ Stupidly good value for money (especially at 1TB)
✔️ Just as quick as more expensive PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSDs
✔️ Available in a great range of sizes

Read more in our WD Blue SN550 review


Kingston KC2500

The best PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSD for gaming

A photo of the Kingston KC2500 SSD in front of an RGB gaming mouse

The Kingston KC2500 is, simply put, an astonishgly quick NVMe SSD. Despite only supporting the PCIe 3.0 standard, this drive is almost verging on PCIe 4.0 speeds in everyday use, which is pretty darn impressive considering its much lower cost. It's not quite as wallet-friendly as the WD Blue SN550, admittedly, but it still gives WD's budget-friendly drive a real run for its money at lower capacities such as 250GB and 500GB, making it our top pick for those after the best PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSD money can buy.

There really is nothing else like the Kingston KC2500 in this kind of price range, and even we're not sure how Kingston have managed to produce such an incredibly fast SSD without a PCIe 4.0 controller on board. Not only does it have the best everyday performance of any PCIe 3.0 SSD we've tested, but its transfer speeds and game loading times are just as fast as what you'd get on a PCIe 4.0 drive right now.

This may change once Microsoft release their super fast DirectStorage tech later this year, as this is set to cut down loading times even further to bring them more in line with what's currently available on consoles. Both PCIe 3.0 and 4.0 SSDs are set to support DirectStorage, but with both next-gen consoles built around PCIe 4.0, we wouldn't be surprised if PCIe 4.0 SSDs on PCs ended up being that bit quicker than their PCIe 3.0 competition. For now, the Kingston KC2500 is very much the NVMe SSD to beat, both in terms of performance and overall value for money.

What we like:
✔️ Best in class performance for a PCIe 3.0 drive
✔️ PCIe 4.0-level transfer speeds
✔️ Doesn't cost the earth

Read more in our Kingston KC2500 review


WD Black SN850

The best PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD for gaming

A photo of the WD Black SN850 NVMe SSD.

PCIe 4.0 SSDs are still very new and rather expensive, but if you're looking for the best of the bunch, the WD Black SN850 is currently the one to beat. If you thought the speed jump from SATA to PCIe 3.0 NVMes was big, the Black SN850 offers a similar boost again over PCIe 3.0 drives, offering substantially faster read and write speeds across the board.

In truth, its random read times are much the same as the similarly nippy Samsung 980 Pro, but what sets the SN850 apart from other PCIe 4.0 drives is its exceptionally fast write times and transfer speeds. The SN850 is considerably faster than the 980 Pro in this regard, and it's cheaper, too (albeit only marginally), giving you a better value drive overall.

That said, I wouldn't advise rushing out to buy a PCIe 4.0 SSD right this second unless you're absolutely desperate for the latest and greatest. Prices are still quite high at the moment, and until Microsoft introduce their DirectStorage tech later in the year, we won't know for sure just how much of a difference having a PCIe 4.0 SSD will make in the old loading time department compared to a PCIe 3.0 SSD. The WD Black SN850 is definitely the fastest PCIe 4.0 SSD out there right now, but I'd hold off on buying one until they're a bit more affordable.

What we like:
✔️ Faster than its more expensive competition
✔️ Blisteringly quick transfer speeds
✔️ Cheaper than its main rivals

Read more in our WD Black SN850 review


Samsung 870 Evo

The best SATA SSD for gaming

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 870 Evo is hands down the best drive for the job right now. Its everyday speeds aren't that much faster than its predecessor, the 860 Evo, but with that drive becoming increasingly difficult to get hold of, the 870 Evo is now our SATA SSD of choice for those.

In fairness, Crucial's MX500 is another good budget option for SATA buyers, but when prices for the 870 Evo are only a fraction more these days, there's little point opting for the MX500 unless you can find it for a substantial discount. What's more, the 870 Evo also comes with a much higher endurance rating than the MX500: 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 the 870 Evo when it comes to overall value.

What we like:
✔️ The fastest SATA drive you can buy today
✔️ Great endurance levels
✔️ Better value for money than the competition

Read more in our Samsung 870 Evo review


Samsung 870 Qvo

The best big SATA SSD for gaming

In fact, there is one SSD with faster write speeds than the Samsung 860 Evo, and that's Samsung's 870 Qvo. Made from 4-bit MLC V-NAND instead of 3-bit MLC like its Evo counterparts, the 870 Qvo is much better value than Samsung's equivalent Evo drives. Its performance is more or less identical, and it's a heck of a lot cheaper, too. As such, if you're looking to get an SSD that's at least 1TB in size but don't want to fork out loads of cash (either on an expensive NVMe SSD or a high capacity SATA drive), the 870 Qvo is the way to go.

Like the rest of Samsung's drives, the 870 Qvo has exceptional endurance ratings and warranties, and its random read and write times are up there with the very best. Plus, if you've got enough cash, you can buy one that's a whopping 8TB - which is practically unheard of in SATA circles. It's still not as cheap as buying a large hard disk drive, but it's the best you're going to get on an SSD.

What we like:
✔️ Excellent everyday performance
✔️ Brilliant value for money
✔️ Just as fast as Samsung's Evo SSDs

Read more in our Samsung 870 Qvo review


Crucial X8

The best external SSD for gaming

For a long time, Samsung's T5 Portable SSD reined supreme in the world of external SSDs, but with that drive slowly going end of life, the Crucial X8 is the next best external SSD to buy in its stead. The Crucial X8 not only supports the faster USB 3.2 Gen 2 standard compared to the T5's USB 3.1 support, but its transfer speeds are second to none, beating Samsung's newer T7 Portable SSD by quite some margin.

The T7 is still decent alternative to the Crucial X8 (especially since prices seem to be a bit lower at the moment), but for those after the very best external SSD around, the Crucial X8 is a tough act to beat. I use one of these myself on a regular basis for transferring my games benchmarking suite onto new gaming laptops when they come in for review, and it allows me to start testing it a lot quicker than when I had to transfer files over from an old external HDD. It's a great drive, and a reliable everyday workhorse if you need to take your files with you on the go.

What we like:
✔️ Best in class transfer speeds
✔️ Supports the latest USB standards
✔️ A reliable everyday workhorse

Read more in our Crucial X8 review


Seagate BarraCuda Fast SSD

The best cheap external SSD for gaming

Seagate's Barracuda Fast SSD

If you're looking for a slightly cheaper way to move your files between different machines, however, then Seagate's aptly-named BarraCuda Fast SSD is another great value external SSD - at least in the UK. The Samsung T7 is probably the best value drive in the US right now thanks to a recent price cut, but for everyone else, Seagate's BarraCuda Fast SSD is pretty compelling.

Despite only supporting the slightly older USB 3.0 standard, this is still a very nippy drive when plugged into newer USB ports, and its random write speeds are almost as fast as the Crucial X8 above.

The Fast SSD's transfer speeds are also excellent for the price. In fact, it actually outperformed the X8 in some of the smaller file tests I ran, making this a great drive for transferring game folders with lots of files that are all different sizes. The X8 is still the best drive for transferring larger files, such as big videos and the like, mind, but if it's hundreds of screenshots you're looking to move, the BarraCuda Fast SSD is the one for the job.

What we like:
✔️ Slimline design
✔️ Excellent transfer speeds
✔️ Great value for money

Read more in our Seagate BarraCuda Fast SSD review


Frequently asked questions

SATA SSD vs NVMe: what's the difference?

SSDs are split into two main types right now: SATA drives and NVMe drives. 2.5in SATA SSDs are the easiest drop-in replacement for a standard hard disk. These plug into a SATA 3 port on your motherboard, and most modern PC cases have mounting points for 2.5in SSDs 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. The SATA 3 interface has been around since 2009. It's several times faster than a mechanical hard disk, but it's also not really quick enough to cope with the very fastest SSDs that are around today.

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 are just 22mm wide and 80mm long (so about a third shorter than a stick of RAM) and are mounted directly to the motherboard in an M.2 slot, so no more having to route SATA and power cables around your case. 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.

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

What's the difference between PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 4.0 SSDs?

Like many different kinds of technology, the PCI Express (PCIe for short) interface has had many different generations over the years. We're currently in the middle of PCIe Gen 3 moving over to PCIe Gen 4. The main difference between them is the amount of bandwidth they have to move data back and forth between different parts of your PC.

Bandwidth doubles every generation. PCIe 3.0 currently has a bandwidth of 32GB/s, as well as a bit or data rate of 8 gigatransfers per second (GT/s). However, PCIe 4.0 doubles that to a bandwidth of 64GB/s and a bit rate of 16 GT/s, making it much, much faster at moving large quantities of data around.

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 guide.

About the Author

Katharine Castle avatar

Katharine Castle

Editor-in-chief

Katharine is RPS' editor-in-chief, which means she's now to blame for all this. After joining the team in 2017, she spent a lot of time in the RPS hardware mines, testing all the bits that go inside our PCs, but now she gets to write about all the lovely games we play on them, too. She'll play pretty much anything she can get her hands on, and is very partial to JRPGs and the fetching of quests.

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