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Best SSD for gaming: our top SATA and NVMe drives

Our top gaming SSD recommendations

If your PC is feeling a bit slow or takes ages to load your favourite game, then you should consider installing one of today's best SSDs for gaming. They're one of the most important upgrades you can make when building a new PC, as they not only make Windows feel much zippier and more responsive, but they also dramatically speed up game loading times as well. So to help you buy the best SSD for gaming, I've put together this handy guide. I've tested dozens of SSDs over the years, and I've picked out my top recommendations below. 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.

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, saving and transferring files around on your PC than traditional hard disk drives (or HDDs), which means faster loading times for games and less time spent waiting around.

There are two types of gaming SSD you might want to consider: SATA drives and NVMe SSDs. SATA drives are small, 2.5in drives that plug into a SATA port on your PC's motherboard. They also need to be connected to your PC's power supply. NVMe drives, on the other hand, are even smaller and use an M.2 port on your motherboard. These draw power directly from your motherboard, so they don't need to be connected to your PSU. Most modern ATX motherboards have at least two M.2 ports these days, but some higher end boards can support up to three. Smaller micro-ATX boards, however, may only have one.

SATA drives are much faster than HDDs, but NVMe drives are faster still. They tend to be more expensive as a result, but there are plenty of good cheap NVMe drives out there these days that don't break the bank. However, it's also worth bearing in mind that NVMe drives are increasingly falling into two sub-categories: those that support PCIe 3.0, and those that support the newer PCIe 4.0 standard. 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. 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.

You'll find more information about everything you need know about buying an SSD at the bottom of this page, including 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 also keep track of all the best prices for today's top SSDs by checking out our regularly updated SSD deals page.

Best SSD for gaming 2021

WD Blue SN550

The best value NVMe SSD for gaming

Traditional 2.5in 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 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 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. 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.

Read more in our WD Blue SN550 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've got a recent AMD-based PC and are absolutely desperate for the latest and greatest. Intel will be adding PCIe 4.0 support to their 11th Gen Rocket Lake CPUs, which are due out before the end of March, by which point prices may well have started to come down a bit. 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.

Read more in our WD Black SN850 review

Samsung 860 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 860 Evo is hands down the best SSD for gaming you can buy today. Its random read speeds are just as fast as its recently-released successor, the Samsung 870 Evo, and it's also nippier than any other SATA SSD that's crossed my testing bench.

In fairness, Crucial's MX500 is another good budget option for SATA buyers, but when prices for the 860 Evo are only a fraction more thes days, there's little point opting for the MX500 unless you can find it for a substantial discount. What's more, the 860 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 it when it comes to overall value.

Read more in our Samsung 860 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.

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.

Read more in our Crucial X8 review

Seagate Barracuda Fast SSD

The best value 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.

Read more in our Seagate Barracuda Fast SSD review

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.

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.

And remember, if you're looking for a cheaper or smaller capacity SSD, then make sure you check our regularly updated SSD deals page for all the lowest prices on today's best SSDs.

For more RPS recommended hardware, here's a complete list of our best hardware guides:
Best graphics cards Best CPU for gaming Best gaming monitors Best gaming headsets
Best gaming keyboards Best gaming mouse Best VR headsets

About the Author

Katharine Castle avatar

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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