The best SSDs have long supplanted mechanical hard drives as the ideal storage component of your gaming PC. Although those old plate-spinners give you more capacity for less cash, in a modern rig this means they’re best deployed as backup storage, with a dramatically faster SSD as the drive in charge. Even if solid state storage won’t simply boost your frames per second – you’ll need one of the best graphics cards or best CPUs for that – it can and will improve loading times, as well as speed up Windows more generally.
SSDs are absolutely worth the extra money, then, but which one should you buy? If you really do need to keep to a tight budget, SATA drives will suit you well: these usually come in the 2.5in form factor, much smaller than the average hard drive, and connect to both your PSU and one of the SATA ports on your motherboard.
You can also get tiny, stick-shaped SSDs that simply slot into an M.2 port. Installing an SSD like this is incredibly easy, and although some of these drives use the SATA interface, M.2 ports enable the even faster NVMe interface. An NVMe drive should therefore be first choice if you’re looking to maximise performance and minimise load times, boot delays and the time it takes to install or move files around.Best graphics cards | Best gaming CPU | Best gaming montiors | Best 4K gaming monitors | Best budget gaming monitors | Best curved gaming monitors | Best gaming headsets | Best gaming keyboards | Best gaming mouse | Best wireless gaming mouse | Best VR headsets
NVMe drives also come in one of two specifications: PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 4.0. PCIe 4.0 is faster – and that’s saying something, considering how much quicker PCIe 3.0 is compared to SATA SSDs and hard drives – but also requires newer CPU and motherboard hardware. It’s far more likely that your existing system supports PCIe 3.0, and there’s no shame in sticking with it if you don’t want to upgrade yet.
Below you’ll find our picks of the best SSDs for gaming, chosen for their value and performance – especially in the case of read speeds, which provide the biggest benefit to games via load time reductions. And if you still have questions about the different SSD types, or you’re unsure which capacity of SSD to choose, be sure check out the FAQ section for some tips.
Best SSD for gaming 2021
WD Blue SN570
The best NVMe SSD for gaming
You could also call this the best cheap NVMe SSD for gaming, as the WD Blue SN570 follows its predecessors – the SN500 and SN550 – in targeting a lower-than-average price. You wouldn’t know this was an affordable model from the performance, though: the 1TB model I tested easily lived up to its official maximum sequential speeds, and its random read speeds (the most important for gaming performance) could outpace high-end Samsung and WD SSDs too. That includes the flagship WD Black SN750.
Not that it’s the absolute fastest NVMe SSD we’ve ever tested, but that doesn’t change the fact that the SN570 is wonderfully agile by both budget-friendly and general PCIe 3.0 standards. Its write speeds hold up especially well in tough workloads, so it’s a great all-rounder too, and the single-sided design will help it fit into cramped laptops as well as desktop PCs.
What we like:
✔️ High speeds, both for reads and writes
✔️ Very affordable
✔️ Decent choice of capacities
Read more in our WD Blue SN570 review
WD Black SN850
The best PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD for gaming
PCIe 4.0 SSDs are still relatively 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, we don'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 support for Microsoft DirectStorage picks up, we won't know the full extent of how having a PCIe 4.0 can improve load times over PCIe 3.0. The WD Black SN850 is definitely the fastest PCIe 4.0 SSD out there right now, but maybe 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 yet to be beaten on 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
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. RPS chief Katharine used to use this very model for shifting game installations around various laptops and PC setups for testing, prior to escaping the hardware cupboard and pushing me into it before the door locked shut. 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
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.
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.