Best SSD for Gaming: The Ultimate Guide

best SSD for gaming - the ultimate guide

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 for 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.

What is a SSD?

A solid-state drive, or SSD, is your computer’s primary place of storage. This is where you install all of your permanent or commonly used programs and games. If you’re not using a SSD, then you’re using a hard disk drive, or HDD. This is an older and slower version compared to SSD. The inner workings 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 looking at purchasing 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 a HDD when looking at the storage capacity, however the disadvantage to HDDs is how much slower they are compared to a modern, high-performance SSD.
  • Loading time. Your PC will boot up much faster with an SSD than a HDD. 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 load times and how quickly your gaming PC can process the game’s graphics. Faster speed also affects how quickly your computer can boot up from the time it gets turned on to when it reaches its idle state in your operating system. 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 life span due to the way they work. Each time the SSD erases and writes data to itself, 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 have allowed for SSDs that can typically 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 are 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 were 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.

SLC

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 means you cannot have very many games and applications stored on it at one time.

*The approximate read/write cycles for SLC NAND flash memory is between 90,000 and 100,000.

MLC

Multi-Level Cell flash memory is the most popular type of NAND flash memory 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.

TLC

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 amount of bits that each cell has. This has made them the cheapest to produce. If you are looking for the best budget SSD, then the TLC might be your go-to if you’re less concerned about speed.

*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.

IOPS

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 a 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 SSD drive 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 has 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.
  • After considering all of these factors, the next thing you should do is start reading reviews to determine the best SSDs for gaming according to people who have already tried out and assessed the products for themselves.

Best 2.5” SSD

SAMSUNG 850 PRO 2.5”

An Excellent Gaming SSD with Good Speed

samsung 850 pro 2.5 - An Excellent Gaming SSD with Good Speed
The 850 Pro is one of the highest performing 2.5 inch SSDs on the market so it will likely be sufficient for most gaming applications. It’s a higher end 2.5” option, giving it a higher price point.

Specs

  • NAND Flash Memory: V-NAND (Samsung’s own NAND)
  • Sequential Read/Write Speeds: 550 / 520 MB/s
  • Random Read/Write Speeds: 100K / 90k
Pros:

  • Good performance
  • Long warranty
  • Downloadable SSD management tool
Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Updating drivers is difficult
  • Can run hot

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PNY CS1311 2.5”

A Budget SSD for the Average User

pny cs1311 2.5 - A Budget SSD for the Average User
The PNY CS1311 is a sufficient SSD for general use such as storing files and media that only need to be accessed or used infrequently. The included software makes upgrading to this SSD simple and convenient.

Specs

  • NAND Flash Memory: TLC
  • Sequential Read/Write Speeds: 550 / 520 MB/s
  • Random Read/Write Speeds: 90K / 90K
Pros:

  • Included software for SSD copying
  • Stylish drive
  • Good build quality
Cons:

  • Low performance
  • TLC NAND flash memory – lower longevity
  • Only 3 year warranty

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SanDisk Extreme Pro 2.5”

A Reliable and Good Performance SSD

sandisk extreme pro 2.5 - A Reliable and Good Performance SSD
The Extreme Pro series is known for being one of the highest performing SSDs on the market. With a 10 year warranty, it is a smart choice if you’re looking for an SSD with everything you need, as long as you have a flexible budget.

Specs

  • NAND Flash Memory: MLC
  • Sequential Read/Write Speeds: 550 / 520 MB/s
  • Random Read/Write Speeds: 100K / 90K IOPS
Pros:

  • Downloadable SSD management tool
  • 10 year warranty
  • High performance
Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Does not have self-encryption

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Crucial BX200 2.5”

A Cheap SSD for Everyday Use

crucial bx200 2.5 - A Cheap SSD for Everyday Use
The Crucial BX200 is a low-cost TLC flash memory SSD that won’t take up a lot of power. It should work fine for basic computer storage and simple gaming, but only if you’re more concerned about price over performance.

Specs

  • NAND Flash Memory: TLC
  • Sequential Read/Write Speeds: 540 / 490 MB/s
  • Random Read/Write Speeds: 66K / 78K IOPS
Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Included software for SSD copying
  • Low power usage
Cons:

  • Low performance
  • Only two small capacity options
  • TLC NAND flash memory – lower longevity

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Kingston SSDNow V300 2.5”

An Overall Decent SSD for Basic Gaming

kingston ssdnow v300 2.5 - An Overall Decent SSD for Basic Gaming
The Kingston SSDNow V300 is a lightweight and easy-to-install SSD with fair speed and a good balance of performance. However, it’s at quite a high price point and you may get a better deal with other competitors depending on your needs.

Specs

  • NAND Flash Memory: MLC
  • Sequential Read/Write Speeds: 450 / 450 MB/s
  • Random Read/Write Speeds: 85K / 43K IOPS
Pros:

  • Very thin
  • Package comes with everything needed to install and setup
  • Affordable
Cons:

  • Low read/write speeds
  • Only 3 year warranty

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Best M.2 SSD

SAMSUNG 960 PRO M.2

A High Performance Gaming SSD

samsung 960 pro m.2 - A High Performance Gaming SSD
The Samsung 960 Pro is a fast, high performance SSD that should work for most hardcore gamers based on its fairly high performance. If you’re willing to pay more for quality, this is a competitive option.

Specs

  • NAND Flash Memory: V-NAND
  • Sequential Read/Write Speeds: 3,500 / 2,100 MB/s
Pros:

  • High performance
  • Downloadable SSD management tool
  • Power efficient
Cons:

  • Only two size capacity options
  • Expensive

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Toshiba OCZ RD400 M.2

A Powerful SSD with Top Specs

toshiba ocz rd400 m.2 - A Powerful SSD with Top Specs
The Toshiba OCZ RD400 has all of the top speeds and IOPS you need for hardcore gaming. While it’s fairly affordable considering its high specifications, it may have a tendency to run hot.

Specs

  • NAND Flash Memory: MLC
  • Sequential Read/Write Speeds: 2,600 / 1,600 MB/s
  • Random Read/Write Speeds: 210K / 140K IOPS
Pros:

  • Very high performance
  • Affordable
  • Power efficient
Cons:

  • Runs at a hot temperature
  • Downloadable drivers cause issues

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SAMSUNG 850 EVO M.2

A Durable SSD for Average Gaming

samsung 850 evo m.2 - A Durable SSD for Average Gaming
The Samsung 850 EVO doesn’t quite have the sequential transfer speeds in comparison with some competitors, but it’s an all-around quality SSD from a reputable brand.

Specs

  • NAND Flash Memory: V-NAND (Samsung’s own NAND)
  • Sequential Read/Write Speeds: 540 / 500 MB/s
  • Random Read/Write Speeds: 97K / 89K IOPS
Pros:

  • Downloadable SSD management tool
  • Affordable
  • Capacity options
Cons:

  • Somewhat low sequential transfer speed
  • Setup is complicated

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Plextor M8Pe M.2

A Good SSD with Decent Specs

plextor m8pe m.2 - A Good SSD with Decent Specs
The Plextor M8Pe is a great SSD choice for gamers looking for performance and convenience. While its specs don’t quite compare with some of its competitors, it’s a fairly easy SSD to install and maintain.

Specs

  • NAND Flash Memory: MLC
  • Sequential Read/Write Speeds: 2,000 / 1,400 MB/s
  • Random Read/Write Speeds: 280K / 240K IOPS
Pros:

  • Good performance
  • Easy to update drive
  • Easy to install
Cons:

  • Expensive

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Crucial MX300 M.2

A Budget SSD for Moderate Gaming

crucial mx300 m.2 - A Budget SSD for Moderate Gaming
The Crucial MX300 is perfect for those running a dual SSD set up and need the extra space but do not want to forgo the speed of an SSD. This is one of the lowest priced M.2 SSDs available.

Specs

  • NAND Flash Memory: TLC
  • Sequential Read/Write Speeds: 530 / 510 MB/s
  • Random Read/Write Speeds: 92K / 83K IOPS
Pros:

  • Very affordable
  • High capacity
  • Downloadable SSD management tool
Cons:

  • TLC NAND Flash Memory – lower longevity
  • Provided Disk copying tools may not work with Windows 10

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Best SSDs of 2017: Our Recommendation

For the 2.5” category:
The Samsung 850 Pro is a great choice for this lineup with the highest performance, although you’ll be paying a little extra for quality.

For the M.2 category:
The Toshiba OCZ RD400 is an outstanding M.2 SSD with lots of speed at a reasonable price, although it may tend to heat up. The Samsung 950 Pro is another great alternative with high performance and low power consumption.

How to Choose the Best Gaming SSD for Your Needs and Budget

If you’d love to upgrade to your PC to make it feel supremely faster, installing a new high-quality SSD is probably the best thing you can do to see instant results. If you’re searching for the best SSD for gaming but you’d also like to find the best budget SSD, start by making a list of specifications that meet your personal goals for the best value SSD that’s worth what you pay.

If you’re looking for the fastest speeds for a supreme gaming experience and you don’t mind paying more for performance, look for:

  • High or decent sequential transfer speeds, at least 2,200 MB/s for read and 900 MB/s for write.
  • Lots of storage capacity; at least 1TB, to make room for lots of large games.
  • An IOPS around 200K for read and 100K for write.
  • Choose M.2 over 2.5” if possible; the best M.2 SSD will be more expensive but faster.
  • Choose MLC or V-NAD memory for a balance of performance and longevity.

If you’re in need of the best cheap SSD that won’t break your bank but can still decently perform, look for:

  • Fair or average sequential transfer speeds around 700 MB/s for read and 600 MB/s for write.
  • A fair amount of storage capacity; at least 256GB.
  • An IOPS around 100K for read and 80K for write.
  • Choose 2.5”, which will save you more money but still get the job done.
  • Choose MLC or V-NAD memory for a balance of performance and longevity. Choose TLC only if you’re on a very strict budget.

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.

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