So you’ve finally decided to build a custom gaming computer. Or, you want to upgrade your current rig with a big boost in speed and processing power for work or entertainment purposes. Regardless of where you happen to exactly be in your journey the conclusion is clear: you want an SSD, but you don’t know which one.
Don’t fret too hard because this is a forked road that many people, myself included, have gone down. Read on and I’ll help you figure out which are the best SSDs for your needs and your budget.
What is an SSD?
SSD stands for solid state drive. Naturally you may be wondering what makes it different from an HDD (hard disk drive). An SSD is a storage device for computers much like an HHD except it has some key differences. Where an HDD has a physical spinning disk on the inside an SSD has no hardware equivalent to this disk. An HDD is often classified as physical storage and an SSD is considered virtual.
An SSD is like a large SD card (which stands for Secure Digital, to avoid confusion). Both are considered virtual storage because they both rely on flash memory. Data is stored in memory chips rather than a disk.
The benefits to flash devices such as SD cards, USB devices, and SSDs are numerous. For one thing they tend to have a longer lifespan than their physical disk counterparts. An HDD can degrade easier due to the spinning itself which naturally exhausts its energy, like an old car running for many miles. The spinning disk is also more fragile because it is more sensitive to shock damage. Dropping a running laptop using an HDD can greatly affect the lifespan of the device.
SSDs have far fewer limitations. They are far more shock resistant. Due to the lack of spinning components, they tend to last longer, are quieter, more portable and more energy efficient.
SSD performance is also linked to the speed of other components inside your computer. The final performance result will also have to do with what CPU, GPU, RAM, motherboard and OS you have. But as an easy rule of thumb just imagine your current PC or one you often use with loading times 30-50% faster and game load times 50-65% faster. That’s a big boost that adds up quickly over time.
But the main reason SSDs are so desired is because they are faster than HDDs. Many tests have been done and can be located online that prove that computers with SSDs are faster than ones with HDDs. This applies to just about anything from video game load times to the access of basic applications to the actual boot-up time of the computer itself.
SSDs are commonly purchased by people in the market for a gaming PC. But they are also used by audio and visual arts enthusiasts who need their computer for faster and quieter recording or graphic designers who want to juggle as many apps and projects as possible.
What should you look for in an SSD?
The simple fact is that like with buying a graphics card or a monitor, buying an SSD is not a terribly simple process and requires a lot of consideration. Anyone can overcome these obstacles and reach a conclusion that satisfies them, but it can take a while to pick the right one since there are lots of factors that are important when choosing an SSD. It mainly depends on how you’re going to be using it but let’s first go over what specs you need to pay attention to.
Storage size is one. Depending on how much extra storage you already have with HDDs or even micro SD cards, you may want to pay extra for more gigabytes. Some people are totally happy with smaller storage sizes like 100gb because all they store is their operating software. Others such as myself were more comfortable with 250gbs so that we could house not only our OS but our most essential programs and games so that they can be read and loaded as fast as possible.
Video games are only getting bigger and more complicated – while many are anywhere from 5-20gb, some are as large as 70gb. The classic set-up is to have one or two terabytes for HDD storage and a small SSD for main operations. If you, like most people, are in this camp, you don’t need to worry about getting an SSD with massive capacity.
Next is SSD type. Most commonly used is the SATA variant which uses the same ports and plugs as HDDs. However you may want something different depending on which motherboard you’re using. Many SSDs come in PCIe formats much like a GPU. It takes up a slot on your motherboard and they do tend to be pricier but some of the most powerful, fastest and highest capacity SSDs are PCIe types.
M.2 SSDs are also commonly used for laptops due to their thin size. They can be installed into desktops via PCIe ports but are generally reserved to portable gaming laptops as there are reports they don’t have the cooling or lifespan of the previous two formats.
How are SSDs better and faster?
You may be asking yourself already just how much of a benefit will your gaming performance be if you install your games onto the SSD along with the OS? The answer really depends on which game and which SSD you’re using. The general answer is that games do fair better on SSDs over HDDs. Loading times and pop-in are reduced while things like frame rate can sometimes be better.
These improvements are best seen in newer and more intensive titles though. Installing an old game from the early 2000’s that already loads very quickly on your regular hard drive isn’t going to be noticeably any faster on an SSD. In short, if you’re going to install games onto your SSD, make sure they’re the most recent and state of the art titles you have that will actually take advantage of the flash based memory.
Boot times on aging HDDs can take 2-3 minutes but with an SSD it can be anywhere from 30-40 seconds on average. Popular games like Grand Theft Auto 5 boot up in only 25 seconds instead of the usual 50-60 seconds.
This is achieved by the inherently larger read and write speeds. Long story short, read speed (measured in megabytes per second) determines how fast an application can be loaded. Write speed measures how fast data can be saved to the device. On the whole, SSDs have double or even triple these speeds for everyday functions. Even for more intensive applications like 1080p gaming or live streaming SSDs are still ahead of the curve.
Budget SSD Options
Before we get into the meat of the article I want to discuss some of the best of the cheapest SSDs you can get. HDDs are much cheaper but the fact of the matter is there are some great budget SSDs that will still give you better performance than your average HDD.
Crucial is a great brand that makes budget level SSDs in both SATA and M.2 formats meaning that desktop and laptop users can benefit. The Crucial MX500 is a standard 2.5 inch SATA model with 500gb of storage. That’s more than enough to fit your OS and a variety of applications and games.
The M.2 model is pretty much the same and comes in at 500gb as well. Both are normally listed at around $100. Both of these models offer some of the best performance rates you can find at this price range, if not the best. The 1TB versions tend to have better performance but you’ll be paying roughly double the cost.
Again, paying $100 or so for 500gb of SSD performance gets you an HDD of 2TB or 3TB storage. It’s a toss-up between speed and capacity.
Another very cheap SSD is the ADATA Ultimate SU650. The 128gb version is currently under $40. It doesn’t have write or read speeds as good as the MX500, but it’s a great choice for anyone who is on a really tight budget or is just making a fairly inexpensive gaming PC in the first place.
The SU650 also comes in higher storage models. Generally speaking the higher the GB count in an SSD the better its overall speed and performance. These improvements are usually pretty small. The SU650 also comes in 256gb, 512gb and 1TB models, and each one is slightly faster that the last.
These two brands don’t have the write or read speeds or the memory access of SSDs we’ll be looking at next but they do surpass your average HDDs by a long shot. If you’re building a PC that’s, let’s say, under $1000 then going for an SSD that costs under $100 would be a smart move.With these honorable mentions out of the way, let’s take a look at the best SSDs for gaming.
The Best SATA III SSDs for Gaming
Samsung 850 Evo 2.5” 120gb
This is one of the best-selling SSDs on the market and with good reason. While it comes in a variety of capacity sizes (250gb, 500gb, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB) I want to discuss the cheapest and smallest iteration due to how many builds it will compliment.
Are you the type of person who mainly wants to use your SSD to house your OS? Or perhaps even use it to install your favorite games with a few gigs to spare? If so then the Samsung 850 Evo is an extremely smart choice. This SSD is often used in the SSD+HDD combo I discussed earlier in which the OS is installed on the flash drive and the gaming library is placed onto the physical disk. It’s a common combo because 2TB HDDs can be found at cheap prices these days. You get the benefit of mass storage and a faster computer.
The 850 Evo is one of the best value SSDs regardless of which size you get it at. IT has great reading and write speeds and will undoubtedly make your computer faster no matter which Windows or Apple OS you throw at it.
Remember, your games will only load faster if they are also installed onto the SSD. Luckily the 850 Evo comes in many sizes if this is your wish.
The 850 Evo is totally quiet. It comes in a thin size and only weighs about one quarter of a pound. It’s so thin that quite a few have actually begun replacing their main laptop HDDs with this model. It comes with a free installation CD to accomplish this process. Ultimately it’s a great choice for people building a new desktop or wishing to upgrade their laptop.Check Current Price
I highlighted the 120gb not only because it has so much market share but because it has great potential when being used side by side with HDDs. The larger models, particularly 1TB and up, are great choices if you only want SSD storage so that every single game and program will benefit from flash memory speeds, not just your OS. However the 850 Evo really works at its best for this kind of mid-range application. If you want a SATA drive that totally accomplishes this high end task then let’s move onto the next option:
Samsung 860 Pro 2TB
Another great entry from Samsung is this state of the art SSD perfect for gaming PCs that was just released earlier this year. The 860 Pro is meant to be the updated version of the Samsung 860 Evo which itself was an update of the 850 Evo. This is the peak of Samsung’s SSD family.
Like all SSDs with this much storage, it is pricey. But part of the goal of this article is to appeal to everyone: people on low, mid-range and high end budgets. If you have a lot of spare cash then the 860 Pro gets one of my highest recommendations.
One thing you need to be wary of when it comes to installing programs on SSDs is that the performance and the lifespan does dip down the fuller the storage becomes. It isn’t a drastic declination but it is enough to worry some people. This is actually one of the reasons why many people go for the SSD+HDD combo. They “protect” their SSD from excessive use by keeping all heavy games on the HDDs.
If you only have 120-250gbs to work with then that only gives you enough wiggle room for a dozen or so titles. Many would rather keep their SSD as free as possible for optimum performance.
But you can’t fully utilize something if you’re not willing to push it to the limits. The brightest flame lasts half as long, as the saying goes.
Besides, with 2TB you can store a large library and still have enough space to have a drive that lasts you years. When you think about it, all the time saved with loading times in games being reduced up to half or more makes the reduced lifespan worth it.
If you can afford this monster then you probably also have a monitor and a graphics card that can handle 4K. You may as well get yourself a flash drive that can keep up with them.
In case you didn’t know, 4K resolutions take longer to load than 1080p. How could they not with four times the pixels? That can really increase loading times past their normal lengths. Luckily, the 860 Pro is better at handling this resolution than most other SATA drives out there. This truly makes it one of the best SSDs for gaming.
Whether you fill this thing to the brim or keep some open space to help prolong the lifespan, the 860 Pro 2TB is a phenomenal and lightning fast model.Check Current Price
Best PCI Express SSDs for Gaming
Corsair Neutron NX500 400gb
Here’s the thing about SATA SSDs: they’re very compatible with various devices. Odds are no matter what kind of laptop or motherboard you have, a SATA III type SSD will be perfectly useable. The PCI express board is a different kind of beast and is not as ubiquitous as SATA. But they absolutely have their benefits if you can get your hands on them.
While SATA SSDs knock HDDs out of the park, PCIe SSDs are even better, especially for intensive activities like modern gaming. That’s why the Corsair Neutron is third on my list.
HDDs often have read and write speeds of around 200mb/s, if even that. If you look at average read and write speeds for something like the Samsung 850 Evo the numbers are around 450mb/s, which is already pretty good. But the Corsair Neutron attains rates exceeding a thousand, 1800mb/s for reading and 1200mb/s for writing.
Like any PCIe device, the Corsair Neutron is directly plugged into your motherboard instead of using a SATA cable. This connection is part of why PCIE SSDs are so good for gaming. But this also makes them more expensive.
Despite all this, the NX500 is reasonably priced considering you get 400gb and some incredible numbers. You could easily handle the intense pressures of any state of the art game. Not only that but running multiple programs simultaneously becomes a piece of cake as well, whether it’s live streaming programs or other software editing applications.
One thing to know about SSDs with such high write and read speeds is that a lot of games do indeed bottleneck at a certain point. This means that even modern day games like The Witcher 3 or Grand Theft Auto V were designed to only have read speeds in the hundreds of megabytes, not in the thousands.
So while a lot of games these days will read just as fast between a SATA and a PCIe SSD, that doesn’t mean the latter isn’t worth purchasing. Much like getting extra sticks of RAM, it can be considered a huge investment. Each year PC gaming only becomes slightly more complicated. Soon we’ll reach the point where games will require 16gb of RAM instead of 8, or will have the ability to achieve read speeds of over 500 or 600mb/s.
Buying something like the Corsair Neutron can easily be seen as a great investment to save you some trouble in the long run much like how people load up on RAM. Whether you’re an average gamer who wants to stay ahead of the competition or you’re really going to be pushing your computing to the limits, the NX500 is a great choice for a value PCIe SSD for gaming.Check Current Price
Intel Optane 905p 960gb
The battle between HDD and SSD can often be summarized as the priority between storage capactiy and performance. But the problem with HDDs is that even at high prices they can’t achieve this balance. Luckily, a high end SSD for gaming like the Intel Optane certainly can. This is an expensive but immensely powerful drive that puts to shame just about any SATA SSD that ever existed, let alone any HDD.
This is a behemoth that the majority of gamers will not need as it far surpasses their regular requirements. The Optane 905p is not just for those who can afford it but those who can afford top end CPUs and GPUs. We’re not talking 1080p and 60fps, we’re talking 4K and triple digit frame rates.
One of my favorite things about this SSD are the 4K read and write speeds. While the NX500 we previously looked at can only do around 30mb/s for 4K, the Optane 905p can do 200mb/s. This means that if you constantly play at 4K and want those increased load times to be reduced drastically, this is the gaming SSD to get.
The storage size is also great as it will allow you to install several games directly onto it, not just your operating software.
The average write speeds are also phenomenal clocking it at around 1800mb/s. If you handle a lot of heavy data then the Optane 905p will handle anything you throw at it.
This isn’t just a fast SSD for gaming, this is a technical achievement designed for the gamers who are truly in the mindset of putting their computer and gaming to the limits. Combine this with a graphics card and a six core processor and you will be ascending to heights most people can’t even imagine.Check Current Price
Best M.2 SSDs for Gaming
Kingston A1000 M.2 480gb
The final two gaming SSDs I want to bring to light are going to fit a specific kind of person more than the previous two categories. While M.2 drives can work in desktops, they really have a great convenience factor when it comes to laptops. Don’t worry portable PC gamers, I haven’t forgotten about you guys.
Gaming laptops are only becoming more and more popular with even expensive GPUs becoming part of the rigs. SSDs are also on the rise for various reasons. As laptops move around a lot this puts some risk on the physical components of an HDD. Luckily you can check to see which SSDs your laptop is compatible with and make the upgrade to something like Kington’s A1000 for a better and smoother experience.
M.2 SSDs are more like PCIe drives than SATA drives. They’re both classified as NVME (Non-Volatile Memory Express) and also connect directly to your motherboard. And since they’re smaller than SATA SSDs and even faster, I would absolutely recommend them for laptop gamers.
The A1000 doesn’t have that much space but there’s a reason why I chose it. Not every gaming laptop has a great GPU like the GTX 960 or above. Many are still operating on low end Intel or GeForce Graphics but still use it to game. I can relate to this as I once did this myself. But even with a low-end GPU, a mid-range SSD like the A1000 can make all your applications faster, including gaming.
With read and write speeds of 800mb/s it’s even faster than the bestselling Samsung 850 Evo. This makes the A1000 a great way to extend the lifespan of your computer by transferring your OS and files as well as making loading times exponentially shorter.
While this iteration is not too expensive, if it is out of your price range then don’t forget to consider the much cheaper 240gb model. Supplementing it with an external HDD or even a micro SD card will go a long way to helping you with storage issues.Check Current Price
Samsung 970 Evo M.2 2TB
There’s no doubt Samsung has a huge market share over SSDs these days. They make some, if not the most mid-range and high end SSDs for gaming regardless of the format or firmware. The 970 Evo M.2 is such an example. I chose the 2TB model because it satisfies both major needs for PC gamers these days: speed and size.
I recommend this SSD for laptop gamers who have a decent CPU and GPU. Maybe you bought a ready-made laptop that came with a quad core processor and a GTX 1060, or something with at least 4gb of VRAM. Pairing that with the 970 Evo would be an excellent upgrade.
The read and write speeds are incredible as expected, being 2100mb/s and 1900mb/s respectively. While this is overkill for most games, it will really help out if you run multiple programs at a time. Playing online, streaming and live capture programs all contribute to eating up resources, so this drive really gives you freedom to do other gaming related activities.
Freedom to move however you want is also a great benefit. I can still remember the fear of moving my laptop around too roughly, be that in my hands or in my bag. While you still should treat your computer with good care, you no longer have to worry about moving parts to damage thanks to this very durable flash memory.
HDDs also generate some heat and a fair amount of noise. With the 970 Evo both of those problems are a thing of the past.
Samsung has always been great with installation and warranties and that’s no different here. With a 5 year warranty and a very simple installation process for Windows 10, the 970 Evo is a deceptively great buy for people looking for their first SSD for gaming despite the price tag.Check Current Price
Believe it or not, I’ve really only covered the tip of the iceberg with solid state drives. I’ve covered three different categories and only six models – eight if you count the budget drives I mentioned earlier. But the truth is there are so many more options. There’s no way to cover them all in only one article.
If you’ve taken away anything from this, I hope it’s that you’ve learned about some of the best low range, mid range and high end models there are. I also want you to realize that SSDs are only going to become more and more popular and will probably eclipse HDDs as the dominant drive in the coming years. Take advantage of this trend and buy one that’s right for your needs. No matter which one you get, your gaming experience will be taken to the next level.