When it comes to gaming on your personal computer (PC), storage is absolutely essential. A solid-state drive, or SSD, is a type of computer storage that uses solid-state flash memory to store data on your computer so you can quickly save and access your games whenever you need to.
The industry of SSDs is ever-evolving as our need for storage increases with larger, more complex programs and games. With this ultimate guide on how to find the best SSD, we’ll show you the basic features to look for, including examples of some of the best SSDs for gaming that you can buy, even if you’re on a budget.
Top 2.5” Picks
Top M.2 Picks
What is a SSD?
A solid-state drive, or SSD, is a data storage device. This is where you install all of your permanent or commonly used programs and games. If you’re not using an SSD, then you’re using a hard disk drive, or HDD. This is an older and slower version compared to SSD. The working principles of SSDs and HDDs are very different, with SSD generally being a more superior option for gaming.
Hard drives are always moving. They have round metal disks or platters that spin constantly when your system is running and your computer reads the data on them with a needle (a similar concept to turn-table playing records). The needle, or head, has to move to the exact location where you’re read or writing data to the hard drive from.
Solid-state drives read and write data without this constant movement. Instead of having the disks or platters continually spinning and the needle finding the data, SSDs have blocks where data is stored. The SSD sends messages to the computer that tells it which block to look at for the data that it needs.
What to Consider When Choosing The Best SSD for Gaming?
HDD or SSD – Which is Better?
There are several factors to consider when choosing SSDs and HDDs for your gaming PC, including:
- Price. HDDs are much cheaper than SSDs. You will notice that you can get more for your dollar with an HDD when looking at the storage capacity, however the disadvantage to HDDs is how much slower they are compared to a modern SSD.
- Loading time. Your PC will boot up much faster with an SSD. Due to the way SSDs are designed, they provide a much easier and quicker way to read and write data, which is an essential ability for gaming when it comes to loading time. Faster speed also affects how quickly your computer can boot up. Additionally, other applications and programs can be accessed more quickly with SSDs. This is a huge advantage when it comes to time management and reducing frustration; no gamer wants to sit around waiting for their PC to start up when they could already be in a game.
- Noise. Because there are no moving parts, SSDs are much quieter than HDDs.
- Power usage. SSDs generally uses less power than HDDs.
- Lifespan. SSDs have a limited lifespan due to the way they work. Each time the SSD erases and writes data, it is shortening its lifespan (this is often called read/write cycles). While this may sound concerning, the advances in technology and the way SSDs are designed allow SSDs last for years, depending on what you put them through.
Many people choose to have a combination of SSD and HDD memory in their PCs, using SSD for more frequently used files and HDD for everything else that requires more space but is less commonly accessed. Overall, modern and high-quality SSDs are generally more reliable and extremely faster than HDDs, making them a great choice for gamers.
SLC, MLC, and TLC Memory
The type of storage that SSDs use is called NAND flash memory. The word “flash” may sound familiar because “flash drives” or USB sticks use the same principle of storing data. SSDs are built with tiny flash memory chips and a controller which has a memory cache, firmware and a processor. These components “talk” to the computer and tell it which memory chip to navigate to. Each one of those flash memory chips sits in the SSD in a row, called a cell. Each cell contains bits which can be turned on or off by an electric charge. The number of bits tells us which type of flash memory it is.
There are three primary types of NAND flash memory: Single-level Cell (SLC), Multi-Level Cell (MLC) and Tri-Level Cell (TLC). Single-level cell memory has a singular bit in each cell on the circuit board, multi-level has two bits and tri-level has three bits.
The more bits in each cell means more data can be stored and written to that SSD. There is a tradeoff, however, because while more data can be stored, the drive takes longer to find the information than if there was only a single bit in each cell. So while SLC flash memory SSDs might be smaller in capacity, they are quicker than the higher bit counterparts.
Single-Level Cell flash memory is the highest priced out of the three, but with the most reliability. This is due to its high performance and low capacity. These types of drives are normally reserved for high demand computers, such as servers or industrial computers which require constant processing.
An advantage of SLC flash memory is that, because there is a low amount of bits in each cell, less data can be erased and written to it. Ultimately, this will help to expand its life.
SLC might be the best gaming SSD for performance, but the size restrictions mean you cannot have very many games and applications stored on it at once.
*The approximate read/write cycles for SLC NAND flash memory is between 90,000 and 100,000.
Multi-Level Cell flash memory is the most popular type because it’s more cost-effective to produce with minimal sacrifice to performance. MLC flash memory is ideal for anyone who intends to do more than basic computing and wants added space at a fair price. Many gamers and video editors would likely benefit most from these as they have the best balance of capacity and overall performance.
*The approximate read/write cycles for MLC NAND flash memory is between 8,000 and 10,000.
Triple-Level Cell Memory flash memory is the lowest performance and cheapest NAND flash memory on the market. It is most ideal for devices that are not going to be used in high volume. This includes devices such as tablets, netbooks and office machines, which mainly do basic tasks.
TLC SSDs have the highest capacity compared to SLC and MLC due to the number of bits that each cell has. This has made them the cheapest to produce.
*The approximate read/write cycles for TLC NAND flash memory is between 3,000 and 5,000.
Also worth noting is 3D/V-NAND, a type of specialized flash memory only found in certain models, which offers even more data stacked together in a minimal amount of space.
Sequential Transfer Speeds
Sequential Transfer Speeds are how fast the SSD transfers data. You will generally see them on the sales page of any solid-state drive. For example, on a product listing, it might look like “up to 550 MB/s”, referring to the maximum megabytes per second that the SSD can read and write data. It’s extremely uncommon that you’ll actually achieve these maximum speeds seen on the sales page unless you are attempting to read or write one large block of data going to the same cell or location. More commonly, your SSD will be working with a combination of larger and smaller files, so speeds will vary depending on what you’re trying to do.
So how much do read/write speeds really matter when it comes to PC gaming? That depends on a wide range of factors, such as the type of files you’re dealing with, your budget and your personal preferences for having the highest potential speeds. In general, sequential transfer speeds may not be as important as the type of NAND flash memory, IOPS, storage space and price.
Input-Output Operations Per Second, or IOPS, is a measure of performance for SSDs and their flash memory. Unlike sequential transfer speeds, IOPS is not actually measured in MB/s. Instead, it’s a whole number that measures how many actions that the SSD can do per second. When seen on a sales page, IOPS refers to about how many 4K blocks of data can be written to the SSD in random locations. The more operations that an SSD can do per second is going to assist with better performance in day to day tasks, especially for gaming activities.
How to Choose the Right SSD?
If you’re shopping for the best SSD for gaming, there are several features you should be looking for when it comes to finding the best option to fit your preference and budget, including:
- Sequential read speed/write speed. While you may never reach the maximum speeds listed for a given SSD, SSDs with higher sequential read speeds are generally capable of reading and writing data at a faster potential rate.
- IOPS. How many read/write requests your SSD can handle may be important to consider for certain types of games that require a large workload. IOPS is also considered in conjunction with 4K performance, which is important for how your SSD accesses smaller files in random locations.
- Longevity and endurance. Unfortunately, any SSD will degrade in performance over time. However, higher-end models with SLC or MLC flash memory will generally last longer.
- 2.5” SSDs versus M.2 SSDs. While looking for the best SSD for gaming, you may see SSDs that are either 2.5” or M.2. The differences between the two have to do with the way they are attached and mounted within your PC, so your choice will depend on the way your PC is constructed. M.2 is usually faster but more expensive than 2.5”.
- Storage. Different SSD models usually have various storage capacity options, with 128GB on the lower spectrum and 1TB or more on the higher spectrum. In general, you’re going to need a large storage capacity if you intend on owning and playing a lot of games.
The Best 2.5” SSDs
Samsung 860 PRO 2.5”
A Great SSD that Is Just Too Expensive for what It Delivers
Samsung 860 PRO is a premium SSD that is, due to its impressive endurance rating (0.64 drive writes per day) and the high price because of it, oriented almost strictly to the professional users. For anyone else, this SDD is just overkill. 860 EVO, for instance, has smaller endurance ratings that are more suitable for typical gamers or desktop users, and also is much cheaper. Therefore, it is a more friendly option for most people.
Samsung 860 PRO comes with a 5-year warranty, new MJX controller and, for today’s standards unusual, V-NAND MLC flash, to which it owes most of its high endurance. From the performance point of view, this SSD has basically reached the maximum values for a SATA3 standard, which is more and more common for SATA SSDs these days and has the sequential read-write speed of up to 560/530MB/s. When compared to the competition, it is evident that this drive offers more, but not that significantly more as the price might suggest.
Simply, Samsung 860 PRO is a great SATA SSD, but it is sold with a price tag of a PCIe SSD, which it is nowhere near to according to performance.
- Great endurance
- Exceptional software package
- Highest possible performance for a SATA standard
- Very expensive
WD Blue 3D NAND SSD
A Good Performance SSD with an Entry Level Price
WD Blue 3D NAND SSD is proof that SSDs can deliver good performance and have an affordable price. With its 3D BiCS NAND (improved TLC) flash and older Marvell 88SS1074 controller with an LDPC technology for an improved error-correcting, this SSD delivers performance very close to the Samsung’s 850 EVO, which is more than impressive for a drive that has an almost entry-level price.
When talking about the exact numbers, its sequential read-write speed is above 560/530MB/s, which puts it in the group of the fastest TLC drives you can find on the market. Also, although it uses a TLC flash, WD Blue 3D NAND doesn’t suffer from serious performance issues during the long hauls as the other similar drives. It does slow the write speed to some 450MB/s, but not more than that, which is very good for a TLC drive.
When it comes to other interesting aspects of this drive, it is good to know that WD Blue 3D NAND is exactly the same drive as the SanDisk Ultra 3D. Therefore, no matter which of the two you buy, you will end up with the same drive.
- Affordable price
- Good endurance rating
- Performance very close to MLC NAND
- TLC consistency issues
A Cheap Entry-level SSD that Won’t Disappoint You
Highly affordable, PNY CS900 is a device designed for SSD newbies that are just starting to enjoy all of its benefits. This drive doesn’t offer a monumental performance, but a decent one that will suit the majority of the mainstream users.
PNY CS900 uses a TLC 3D NAND flash, reaches respectable sequential read/write speeds of 515/490MB/s and offers extremely low power consumption, which, combined with its durable, shock-resistant housing and small weight, makes it a perfect choice for laptops, or similar types of devices.
If you are into upgrading from a hard drive to an SSD, there is also accompanying Acronis True Image HD 2017 software that will preserve all your system settings, removing the need to reinstall the system and the stresses produced by it.
If you want to enter the SSD world, PNY CS900 is a pretty good option – small price and a good performance in one.
- Great price
- Low power consumption
- Not that great performance
SanDisk Ultra 3D NAND SSD
A Quality Twin Brother SSD That Delivers Much More Than it Costs
As previously mentioned, SanDisk Ultra 3D NAND and WD Blue 3D NAND are essentially the same drives, with a different label. They both have sequential read-write speeds of above 560/530MB/s and use the same Marvell 88SS1074 controller and nCache 2.0 (SLC caching system) that prevents drastic speed drops during long hauls.
SanDisk Ultra 3D NAND comes with a limited 5-year warranty and generally presents a good mainstream SSD option, just like WD Blue 3D NAND. According to performance, they are somewhere between the slower Crucial MX300 and a bit faster 850 EVO, and offer a good combination of performance, cost and low power consumption.
If you are a newbie in the SSD world or just want to have a decent drive that won’t cost you too much, any of the two, SanDisk Ultra 3D NAND or the WD Blue 3D NAND, will do more than a good job.
- Nice performance improvement over the previous generation
- Good price
- Not that great benchmark numbers
An Entry-level SSD Designed for Lightly Used Systems
If you are building a new system for your parents or just want a cheap drive upgrade for your lightly used PC, Crucial BX500 comes as a nice option. Of course, if you accept that its highly affordable cost also means a lack of DRAM, which is the most visible in its poor small random writes performance, but also not that great performance in general when compared to the other SSDs.
When talking about its sequential read/write speeds, they are very good 540/500MB/s, which is pretty similar to the more costly SSDs with a DRAM. Crucial BX500 uses Silicon Motion SM2258 XT controller combined with a Micron 3D TLC flash and offers not that great endurance of 120 TBW (total bytes written), because of which it has a modest 3-year warranty.
Overall, Crucial BX500 is a cheap option SSD, with limited capabilities enough for lightly used systems, or internet browsing, but nothing more than that.
- Nice price
- Good sequential read and write speed
- High read latency
- Significant speed drops during the large files writing
- Poor random writes performance
Samsung 860 Evo
A Great Performing SSD that Struggles to Fulfil Its Full Potential
If you are looking for premium quality that will deliver a top-notch SSD performance, Samsung 860 EVO is a great choice. This drive comes with a 3bit MLC 3D V-NAND flash and improved MJX controller, thanks to which it has a great endurance rating (half of the 860 PRO’s, but still among the highest ones on the market) and nice sequential read/write speed of 550/520MB/s.
Samsung 860 EVO presents a slight improvement over the previous 850 EVO, and in real life situations, due to Operating system limitations, the majority of the users will not see the difference. Another thing that is problematic for 860 EVO is competition (Crucial MX500, SanDisk Ultra 3D, etc.) that offers slightly lower performance, but for noticeably less money. Even worse, unless you are into frequent heavy workloads, you won’t spot the difference between the EVO and the rivals.
In other words, Samsung 860 EVO is a great SSD, but due to the SATA limitations and the arrival of cheaper entry-level NVMe SSDs is a bit too pricey for its own good.
- Exceptional performance
- Superb endurance
- Highly reliable
- SATA limits its full potential
Mushkin Reactor SSD
An Older SSD That Still Has a Lot to Show
Mushkin Reactor is a decent MLC flash SSD which first saw the market couple of years ago. At that time, its main rival was 850 EVO that has slightly better performance. Nowadays, many other SSDs have passed it, but the Reactor still has a lot to offer, especially because it offers a great combination of price and quality.
Mushkin Reactor is equipped with a Silicon Motion Controller SM2246EN and MLC flash, thanks to which it can reach very nice sequential read/write speed of 560/460MB/s and offers high endurance that the majority of the today’s drives cannot compete with.
All in all, Mushkin Reactor SSD is a well-balanced SSD that offers nice performance, endurance and more than a decent 3-year warranty, for a low price.
- Better than many of the modern 3D TLC drives
- A bit slow
- Not that much available
HyperX Fury RGB SSD
A High Priced SSD That Doesn’t Justify the Cost
HyperX has been a synonym for high-quality products for a long time, but something has obviously changed. Its RGB lighting is great and cool looking, but its performance is rather questionable, closer to a cheaper DRAM-less SSD than a premium one.
Although it offers better endurance than WD Blue or Crucial MX500, has a decent sequential read/write speed of 550/480MB/s, and uses the proven Marvell 88SS1074 controller, something has obviously been done wrong. That is mostly obvious in drastic writing performance drops during copying of large volume data, but also in user experience that is not as smooth as it should be.
HyperX Fury RGB has a super-fast read and generally is speedy most of the time, but writing a large amount of data is its weakness alongside high power consumption, something not to be expected from a device with such a large price tag.
People from Kingston have apparently done something wrong and we hope that this is just an exception that won’t happen again. Until then, better buy yourself a different drive.
- Excellent looks
- Great RGB effects
- Poor Performance (especially sustained writes)
Affordable SSD With Good Transfer Speed
The Crucial MX500 is a fairly inexpensive 2.5 inch SSD with decent transfer speeds and a generous 5-year limited warranty. It offers 560/510 MB/s Sequential Read/Write speeds while Random Read/Write speeds are at 95k/90k IOPS respectively.
This SSD is designed with an “Integrated Power Loss Immunity” feature so that your data will always be saved, even in the event of a sudden power outage. If you need a 2.5 inch SSD with lots of storage and a reliable build at an affordable price point, the MX500 could be the right SSD for you.
- Easy installation
- Includes integrated power loss immunity
- Sometimes runs a bit hotter than other Sata SSDs
The Best M.2 SSDs
Samsung 970 PRO M.2
The Best NVMe SSD Money Can Buy
If you are a professional user or want only the best, know that there is no better NVMe SSD than a Samsung 970 PRO… naturally, if you have enough money to pay for it, because its price is in accordance with its performance, at the top.
For gamers and casual PC users, a much better option is a 970 EVO that has slightly lower performance, but drastically lower price. On the other hand, Samsung 970 PRO offers unmatchable endurance (1,200 TB of write endurance), great sequential read/write speed of 3,500/2,700MB/s and is the only consumer NVMe SSD that still uses an MLC flash.
Samsung 970 PRO is just an amazing drive, but the problem is that the 970 EVO, or WD Black NVMe SSD, offers pretty similar performance, for significantly less money. In other words, if you are not a professional user that demands a sustained performance and heavy editing of audio and video, there is no reason to pay such a large sum when you can get something similar for a drastically lower price.
- Great endurance
- Disk encryption
- First class performance
WD Black M.2 SSD
A Serious Contender for the SSD Throne
WD Black M.2 SSD presents a great improvement (more than 60%) over the previous generation of the WD Black series and has brought an increase of sequential read/to write speed to impressive 3,400/2,800MB/s. These speeds are in the class with the 970 EVO and slightly below 970 PRO speeds, resulting in a situation that seemed unachievable with the previous generation of the WD Black M.2.
Reasons for such an improvement lay in the fact that WD now uses its own controller that has obviously given the Black Series a serious boost. One more thing that also adds to the overall performance improvement is the use of both SLC NAND and TLC 3D NAND flash that, in the case of WD Black, are giving great results.
All in all, Samsung’s advantage over the rest of the pack has apparently shrunk and the WD Black’s performance boost, a decrease of latency and better compatibility and power efficiency have shown that the great things are just around the corner, waiting to happen.
- Superb performance
- One of the fastest sequential write speeds on the market
- Not that great random write speeds
MyDigitalSSD BPX Pro M.2
A Newcomer that Brings in Positive Energy
There are products that strive for the best possible performance and of course the highest possible price, and on the other hand, there are devices that are produced in order to be the cheapest they can. In other words, there is a huge gap between these two concepts and some of the products such as the MyDigital SSD BPX Pro are well using that space.
With a great combination of a PHISON E12 Controller and Toshiba’s BiCS3 TLC NAND flash, MyDigital SSD BPX Pro delivers very good performance and achieves respectable sequential read/write speeds of 3,400/3,100MB/s. Alongside that, this drive brings a 5-year warranty, staggering endurance rate of up to 380 TBW and ton of other features such as SmartECC, SmartRefresh, AES-256 hardware encryption, etc.
MyDigitalSSD BPX Pro simply presents an ideal combination of great endurance, well-measured price, a variety of usable features and quality performance. This drive surely isn’t the best one you can find but is the one that delivers the most for your money.
- Excellent sequential performance
- High power efficiency
- Great endurance
- Not that great application performance
Toshiba OCZ RD400 M.2
An NVMe SSD That Was a “Big Shot” in the Past
When it showed up on the market, Toshiba OCZ RD400 was the second fastest NVMe SSD in the world, right behind the 950 PRO, but a lot of time has passed since then and many things have changed. Today, this drive just cannot compete with the best any longer.
Its sequential read/write speeds of 2,600/1,150MB/s are far away from the “big shots” of today such as WD Black and Samsung 970 PRO, but can still cope with a lot of decent modern NVMe SSDs, such as Plextor M8Pe or ADATA XPG SX8000, which is more than good for a-few-years-old drive. It also lacks 3D NAND flash, so it cannot offer equal or near equal density and endurance as its modern-day rivals.
Although it has a 5-year warranty and used to be a high-end NVMe SSD, today, Toshiba OCZ RD400 just isn’t that any longer. Yes, this drive can still compete with the drives near the top, but the top itself is just too far.
- 5-year warranty
- Not that great performance
Crucial P1 3D NAND NVMe SSD
The First QLC Flash Based NVMe SSD on the Market
Crucial P1 alongside Intel 660p is the first NVMe drive that is based on QLC flash. In the case of P1, its QLC is paired with the Silicon Motion NVMe SSD controller, resulting in moderate sequential read/write speeds of 2,000/1,750MB/s.
This is expected from a drive that is based on a technology that has a primary goal to lower the prices on behalf of writing speed. To be precise, QLC lowers the drive price, but also its continuous write ability.
When talking about other aspects of a P1, it is good to know that it comes with a 5-year warranty and that it has a very good endurance rating of 200TBW. On the other hand, its performance quite differs Intel’s 660p and in a bad way, although officially it should be almost the same.
Therefore, if you are into new things and want to try out the new QLC flash, better go with the Intel’s “darling”.
- Nice power efficiency
- Quality sequential read/write performance
- Poor endurance
- Not that great application performance
Whether you’re searching for the best SSD for the money or you just want a cheap SSD to satisfy your basic PC gaming needs, there’s an SSD for everyone.
Pay close attention to customer reviews and don’t get wrapped up in any one feature or specification. Consider the overall pros and cons and choose a higher quality SSD if you want a longer-lasting and higher-performance SSD for gaming.