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Best SSD for gaming 2023: our top SATA and NVMe drives

Our top solid state drive recommendations

Some of the best SSDs for gaming, including NVMe and external SSDs, arranged in front of a keyboard.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

A long time ago – like, June – the best SSDs' gaming advantages over hard drives were mainly focused on cutting load times. A worthy pursuit, but following the release of multiple games that are either held back or rotted to death by HDD performance, having an ample supply of solid state storage looks more necessary with every passing day.

Starfield is the worst offender, collapsing under a pile of instability and sound bugs when installed on anything other than a fast SSD. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart must fudge its signature dimension-hopping when denied speedy storage, and Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty suffers stuttering and slow-loading textures on hard drives and Steam Deck microSD cards. If the universe isn’t telling HDD users to get with the times, certain game developers definitely are.

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They may have a point. Even the slowest SSDs will load and run games much more hastily than the best HDDs, and if you get an actually good SSD, its read speeds (how quickly it grabs data saved on the drive) could be nearly fifty times faster. And you won’t just benefit in games, as SSDs help your PC boot up faster and allow Windows to install, access, and move files with greater urgency. Powerful graphics cards and CPUs will help keep framerates high, but an SSD is just as important for keeping the whole system feeling spry.

A lot of SSDs don’t even have the historic solid-state drawback of significantly higher pricing. I’ve included some premium options in this list, but there are also a few cheap and cheerful SSDs that will speed up your PC for barely more than an equivalently sized hard drive would cost. All you need to do is check which SSD type and interface would be a fit for your PC: if your rig isn’t compatible with PCIe 4.0 drives, a PCIe 3.0 SSD might still work fine, or your may need a 2.5in SATA model if your motherboard doesn’t have any spare M.2 slots. Our guide on how to install an SSD has more deets, if you want them.

Best SSD for gaming 2023

WD Blue SN570

The best NVMe SSD for gaming

The WD Blue SN570 SSD installed in a motherboard's M.2 slot.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

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 (former) 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 SN850X

The best PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD for gaming

The WD Black SN850X SSD, being held between a finger and thumb.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

That little 'X' makes the WD Black SN850X look like a mere refresh of the Black SN850. But it’s more of an wide-reaching overhaul than it appears, with higher sequential read/write speeds, faster IOPS (input/output performance), controller improvements, and even a new 4TB model.

Most importantly, the SN850X is much faster in games, with only the Samsung 990 Pro and the Crucial T500 (below) able to catch it. Taking only 6.7 seconds to load a Shadow of the Tomb Raider save, it shaves nearly three seconds off the Black SN850’s time, and clearly beats other premium PCIe 4.0 SSDs like the Kingston Fury Renegade (9.6 seconds) and PNY XLR8 CS3140 (7.3 seconds). In the CrystalDiskMark benchmark, its 3187MB/s random read speed and 4261MB/s random write speed results show an outstanding suitability for games and general PC usage alike.

It's a shame there’s no longer a cheaper 500GB option, as there was for the Black SN850, but the 1TB and 2TB models are at least less expensive than the 990 Pro and T500 equivalents. By wide enough margins, too, that it keeps the PCIe 4.0 top spot, despite the T500 in particular outpacing it.

What we like:
✔️ Outrageously fast
✔️ Not too expensive (by high-end standards)
✔️ 4TB option

Lexar NM790

The best cheap PCIe 4.0 SSD for gaming

The Lexar NM790 (1TB model) propped up up a table.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

One good reason to hold off upgrading to PCIe 5.0 is the recent emergence of cheap PCIe 4.0 SSDs. These are perfect for out-speeding older drives without burning through budget that could go elsewhere on your PC build, and there are several tasty options. My current pick of these is the Lexar NM790, which is indeed affordable while delivering performance close to that of high-end PCIe 4.0 models like the WD Black SN850X.

I tested the 1TB capacity, which claims lofty 7400MB/s read speeds and 6500MB/s write speeds. It only reached that level of cor-blimey quickness in largely academic sequential file transfer benchmarks, but was extremely impressive in CrystalDiskMark’s 4K random tests, averaging 3499MB/s reads and a 3117MB/s writes. The Crucial P3 Plus, the previous holder of this cheap PCI 4.0 spot, 'only' managed 1690MB/s reads and 3118MB/s writes.

The NM790 also put the P3 Plus to the sword in AS SSD’s copy benchmarks and our load speed test. It was more than twice as fast at copying game files, scoring 3275MB/s to the Crucial SSD’s 1368MB/s, and it loaded up Shadow of the Tomb Raider in 7s flat – 0.3s ahead of the P3 Plus. You can find the latter for even less money, but the NM790’s premium performance makes it an even better buy.

What we like:
✔️ PCIe 4.0 at a low price
✔️ High read speeds ideal for gaming PC
✔️ Three capacity options

Crucial T500

The best high-end PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD for gaming

The Crucial T500 SSD propped up against a gaming mouse.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

When there’s enough cash in your pocket for a proper top-class SSD upgrade, you’ve got two options. The first is to go all the way with a PCIe 5.0 drive, but although these advertise some truly ferocious read/write speeds, these advantages don’t really translate into better games performance. The other (smarter, cheaper, better) option is a PCIe 4.0 model that pushes the interface’s limitations, an excellent example being the Crucial T500.

In most of our benchmarks, this was even faster than the WD Black SN850X; the AS SSD 4K transfer test, for instance, had the T500 score a 90MB/s read speed, soaring over the SN850X’s 57MB/s. It also completed the game file copying test in 0.34s, a new record that easily beats the 0.86s of the SN850X and the 0.97s of the Samsung 990 Pro.

Speaking of Samsung’s prestige SSD, the T500 also managed to match its Shadow of the Tomb Raider loading time of 6.6s, the only drive I’ve tested – including the PCIe 5.0-based Crucial T700 – to do so. Since the T500 also posts consistently higher read speeds than the 990 Pro, in practical terms you can consider it the new fastest gaming SSD around. It would be the best outright, in fact, were it not for the SN850X’s lower pricing.

What we like:
✔️ Joint-best load times on the market
✔️ Higher speeds in non-gaming tasks than rivals
✔️ Optional heatsink (tested without)

Crucial P3

The best SSD for pure PCIe 3.0 speed

The Crucial P3 SSD installed in a motherboard's M.2 socket.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

Even it doesn’t match the WD Blue SN570 on overall value, there’s still a good reason to choose the Crucial P3 instead: in certain scenarios, it’s the outright fastest PCIe 3.0 SSD we’ve tested.

Like its PCIe 4.0 cousin, the P3 Plus, the P3 is a particularly pacy writer, even outperforming some 4.0 SSDs with its CrystalDiskMark write speed result of 3022MB/s. But it’s also impressively effective in the kind of tricky read tasks that games rely on, as seen in its excellent AS SSD 4K read speed of 57.9MB/s. When the time came to load up Shadow of the Tomb Raider, it did so in just 7.5s, a mere fraction of a second slower than the P3 Plus' 7.3s – and faster than any other PCIe 3.0 SSD so far.

If you’ve yet to upgrade to a PCIe 4.0-ready setup, then, the Crucial P3 is more or less the next best thing.

What we like:
✔️ Immense speeds for its interface
✔️ Widely compatible
✔️ Still not too pricey

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

Crucial X9 Pro

The best external SSD for gaming

The Crucial X9 Pro SSD on a white table.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

Heir to old RPS favourite, the Crucial X8, the Crucial X9 Pro is a smaller, lighter, and faster external SSD that also breaks away from more expensive contemporaries. It produced some excellent sequential speeds in the AS SSD benchmark, with 986MB/s for reads and 899MB/s for writes, and it smashed the game copying test in just 2.5s (or 550MB/s).

The only disappointment is that the included cable is strictly USB-C to USB-C; a USB-A adapter in the box would have made this an even better package, though since the X9 Pro is already well-priced for its performance, buying a separate cable wouldn’t be the worst thing. It’s obviously not an issue at all if your PC has a spare USB-C port, it's just that full-size USB-A ports are more plentiful.

I’ve also tried out the Crucial X10 Pro, which is physically similar to the X9 Pro save for much higher sequential transfer speeds and a moody black paint job. The X10 Pro was even quicker in the AS SSD game copy test as well, finishing in just 1.78s (778MB/s). It’s evidently a good alternative if you’ve got the money, although I’d still say the X9 Pro is more deserving of this spot on the list: despite being a fair bit cheaper than the X10 Pro, this almost matched the latter's performances in the random 4K file benchmarks. These tests are both more punishing on the drive, and more reflective of the speeds you’d get in real life, compared to easy sequential benchmarks.

What we like:
✔️ Great speeds in tough transfers
✔️ Simple, lightweight design
✔️ Agreeable pricing

Samsung T9

The best rugged external SSD for gaming

The Samsung T9 external SSD, in black, on top of a flat railing.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

The lack of moving parts makes SSDs naturally more impact-resistant than hard drives, which is helpful if you’re likely to keep one in a packed bag, or on a high shelf next to a block of improperly refrigerated butter. For even more protection, something like the Samsung T9 is great – its aluminium shell is enrobed in rubber, producing a considerable upgrade to durability (as well as a lovely matte feel).

The T9 is actually booting another Samsung SSD, the T7 Shield, off its spot in this list. The latter is still a brilliant external SSD, and a more affordable one too, but it can’t stand up to the T9’s speeds. Over a USB-C Gen 2 2x2 connection, the newer model finished AS SSD’s game copying test in an unbelievable 0.62s – a fraction of the 4.16s managed by the T7 Shield. The T9 also nearly doubled the T7 Shield’s sequential transfer speeds, with 1753MB/s reads and 1661MB/s writes.

These two ruggedised drives are much closer on performance if you use a slower USB-C port, or most kinds of USB-A ports. For an external SSD that’s all about shunting files to and from a separate drive, though, the T9’s toweringly high speed ceiling makes it worth the premium.

What we like:
✔️ Tough, but compact
✔️ Fastest transfer speeds around
✔️ Both USB-A and USB-C cables included

Kingston XS2000

The best USB 3.2 2x2 external SSD for gaming

The Kingston XS2000 SSD on a table.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

Portable SSDs are tied up in a lot of silly naming conventions for USB standards, like how “USB 3.2 Gen 1” is basically just USB 3.1. All you need to know about USB 3.2 2x2 is that it’s the fastest USB standard you can currently expect to find supported by gaming motherboards, at least until USB4 adoption picks up.

Granted, even USB 3.2 2x2 mobos are still pretty rare, and I don’t recommend the Kingston XS2000 if you’re going to limit it to lower USB 3.2 Gen 2 speeds. But if you do have 2x2 hardware, you’re in for a treat, as this wonderfully pocket-friendly SSD can more than match its advertised sequential speeds while flying through more challenging read and write tasks. In the AS SSD copy benchmark, it completed the game copying portion in 1.21s, or at 1138MB/s; the Crucial X8’s best showing, over USB 3.2 Gen 2, was 3.3s / 420MB/s.

What we like:
✔️ Exceptionally fast over USB 3.2 2x2
✔️ Very small and light
✔️ Bundled with protective sleeve

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 keep pace 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. Most new CPUs and motherboards these days provide PCIe 4.0 support, though PCIe 3.0 is still very widely used, hence why 3.0 SSDs are still releasing. 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 500GB, 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 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 1TB mark.

To get the most gigs for your money, you could get a smaller SSD - even as little as 256GB - as your main drive and augment it with a 1TB or 2TB hard drive. Just remember, though, that any games or apps saved on the HDD won't benefit from the SSD's much faster speed. I'd still suggest going for the biggest SSD that your budget will allow.

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About the Author
James Archer avatar

James Archer

Hardware Editor

James had previously hung around beneath the RPS treehouse as a freelancer, before being told to drop the pine cones and climb up to become hardware editor. He has over a decade’s experience in testing/writing about tech and games, something you can probably tell from his hairline.