Best SSD for gaming

Best SSD for gaming

A solid state drive can make a massive difference to the speed of your gaming rig, but what makes an SSD the best one to plug into your PC? For me the best SSD is all about that heady mix of speedy memory, the right controller, the fastest interface and a modern storage protocol. 

Check Amazon UK and Amazon US for the latest deals and specs on the best SSDs.

Solid state drives are no longer just the preserve of the PC gaming elite - even the best SSDs are now more affordable than they’ve ever been. And faster too... way, way faster.

There are though so many different SSD technologies, interfaces and protocols that picking the best drive for your PC can be tricky. So we've selected the top SSDs around right now to help find the right one for you.

Click on the jump links below for our buying advice and everything you need to know about solid state drives, as well as our pick of SSDs in different categories.

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Best SSD

Best SSD - Samsung 960 EVO 500GB

Samsung 960 EVO 500GB

Controller: Samsung Polaris | Memory: Samsung 3-bit MLC | Socket: M.2 (NVMe)

Approx. $220 / £220 

When it comes to delivering a mix of speed, capacity and value it’s pretty much impossible to beat Samsung’s mainstream PCIe SSD. The 960 EVO is an outstanding slice of storage silicon and represents the pinnacle of SSDs right now. The 1TB version might still be quite expensive at $450 (£390) but when that makes it 45c (39p) per gigabyte it’s still great value. 

The sweet spot for SSDs though comes in at the 500GB mark. That’s enough space for your Windows installation and the most regularly accessed corners of your Steam library, and is a much more palatable price too. The Samsung 960 EVO 500GB is available for around $220 (£220) which puts it at 44c (44p) per gigabyte of solid state storage.

For that you get pretty much the fastest consumer drive around. The TurboWrite technology means its TLC V-NAND can often perform to the same levels as more expensive SLC memory type thanks to some dynamic caching algorithmic shenanigans. And that means it can actually outperform the 960 Pro in some synthetic tests, even if it’s still a little behind when it comes to our real-world testing.

The caveat here though is that it's an M.2 SSD and that means you either need to have an M.2 socket on your motherboard or use a add-in board adapter and drop it into a spare PCIe slot. There can sometimes be issues booting your OS from adapters, however, especially on older boards, so that is something to keep in mind. But if you’re sporting a motherboard from the last couple of Intel generations you should be golden.

Samsung are at the top of their solid state game right now, and the 960 EVO is the best SSD to drop into your gaming rig right now.

The best Samsung 960 EVO 500GB deals we’ve found today:

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Best SSD runner-up

Best SSD runner-up - Intel SSD 600p 512GB

Intel SSD 600p 512GB

Controller: Silicon Motion SM2260 | Memory: Intel 3D TLC | Socket: M.2 PCIe

Approx. $198 / £208

Intel's SSD 600p is a rather un-Intel kind of drive. Where they usually aim to produce high-spec, high-price and high-performance parts the SSD 600p is taking aim at the more mainstream market. It's kitted out with a cheaper controller and stacked TLC memory to make it one of the most affordable PCIe drives around today. It may not be the fastest, but it's got equivalently-priced SATA drives licked and with far greater technological longevity too. A great little entry-level NVMe SSD.

The best Intel SSD 600p 512GB prices we've found today:

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Best SSD runner-up

 

Best SSD runner-up - Samsung 850 EVO 500GB

Samsung 850 EVO 500GB

Controller: Samsung MEX | Memory: Samsung 3-bit MLC | Socket: SATA (AHCI)

Approx. $175 / £139 

Okay, I am recommending a two year-old SSD as the next best thing in solid state storage after talking about the market’s rapid pace of innovation, but trust me it does make sense. Innovation has been continuing apace, but that’s all above and beyond the stagnant SATA interface. When it comes to the SATA connection the limits have effectively already been reached years back. The interface has a theoretical maximum of 600MB/s and modern 2.5-inch SSDs are generally capable of saturating that. So even though it’s a little old now, the 850 EVO is still around the best you can get and as it's older tech it also comes at a reasonable price too.

The best Samsung 850 EVO 500GB deals we’ve found today:

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Best SSD runner-up

Best SSD runner-up - Kingston HyperX Savage 480GB

HyperX Savage 480GB

Controller: Phison S10 | Memory: Toshiba MLC | Socket: SATA (AHCI)

Approx. $194 / £160 

Previous versions of Kingston's HyperX SATA drives used the creaking SandForce controller, but the later Savage drives have a more capable Phison memory controller which allows for much improved performance with incompressible (video and image files) data as well as the 4k random read/write speeds. Those itty bitty files are a good indicator of general OS responsiveness during standard usage. The HyperX Savage then is a very capable SSD and is also pretty good value in its half-terabyte trim too.

The best HyperX Savage 480GB deals we’ve found today:

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Best high-end SSD

Best high-end SSD - Samsung 960 Pro 1TB

Samsung 960 Pro 1TB

Controller: Samsung Polaris | Memory: Samsung 2-bit MLC | Socket: M.2 (NVMe)

Approx. $628 / £560 

If the Samsung 960 EVO is able to post almost the same synthetic benchmarks as the 960 Pro why should you spend the extra cash? For most users there’s little need for a pro-level SSD, but if you want the absolute fastest solid state drive around then the 960 Pro is the one to go for. Sure, the EVO is nearly as quick in synthetic testing, but it uses some tricks to get there while the more powerful MLC memory in the Pro is pacey in its raw state without any extra software magic.

But where its professional-level specs really come into their own might not be seen until a few years down the line. The 960 Pro comes with a full five year warranty and twice the total writes as the EVO. The Pro has an endurance rating of 800TB while the 1TB EVO has 400TB and the 500GB version only 200TB. If you’re running a serious workhorse of a machine, one that’s churning through large amounts of data continuously, you’re going to want to opt for the locked-in reliability of the 960 Pro.

The Pro is also demonstrably quicker in our real-world file transfer test, shunting our 30GB folder of mixed file types around some 15 seconds quicker than its younger sibling. It’s also not quite as power-hungry and that means it also runs a little cooler too so there's none of the throttling that affected previous generations of M.2 SSDs.

For most PC gamers the high-end Samsung SSD is going to be overkill for their needs right now, but if you absolutely have to be in the game a good few seconds earlier than your opponents or team mates and hang the expense then the 960 Pro is the drive for you.

The best Samsung 960 Pro 1TB deals we’ve found today:

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Best high-end SSD runner-up

Best high-end SSD runner-up - Intel 750 Series 400GB

Intel 750 Series 400GB

Controller: Intel NVMe | Memory: Intel MLC | Socket: PCIe (NVMe)

Approx. $396 / £353 

When Intel first dropped their SSD 750 drive it knocked Samsung’s previous generation 950 Pro PCIe SSD off its perch, taking the undisputed crown as the best SSD. While it’s still competitive its write performance is half that of Samsung’s latest 960 series drives which has knocked it back into second place. That said, its 4k random speed is still the best in the business making it a seriously responsive SSD, and the 400GB version is genuinely bordering on affordable right now too.

The best Intel 750 Series 400GB deals we’ve found today:

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Best high-end SSD runner-up

Best high-end SSD runner-up - SanDisk Extreme Pro 480GB

SanDisk Extreme Pro 480GB

Controller: Marvell 9187 | Memory: SanDisk MLC | Socket: SATA (AHCI)

Approx. $279 / £200 

This might seem a little bit leftfield as a ‘high-end’ recommendation, but despite its relative age the SanDisk Extreme Pro is one of the mightiest SATA-based SSDs you’ll find. It’s got decent levels of general storage performance, sitting a little lower than Samsung’s 850 Pro, but it’s hands down the most consistent SATA drive around. Even when you’re seriously hammering the drive with as much data as you can it will still keep on trucking at the same speed, making it the best SATA drive for heavy workloads. Ever noticed how your system slows to a crawl when Steam's downloading stuff onto your boot drive? Not if you're running an Extreme Pro. And it’s not a bad price for such a reliable SSD either.

The best SanDisk Extreme Pro 480GB deals we’ve found today:

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Best budget SSD

Best budget SSD - Samsung 850 EVO 250GB

Samsung 850 EVO 250GB

Controller: Samsung MEX | Memory: Samsung 3-bit MLC | Socket: SATA (AHCI)

Approx. $100 / £77 

Because the entirety of their SSDs are made in-house - from memory to cache to software to controller - Samsung are able to be incredibly aggressive on price. And that in turn means their lower-capacity drives are among the cheapest, as well as the fastest, solid state drives around. Samsung really do cater for all budgets, up and down the specs list which makes their 850 EVO easily the best budget SSD.

The 250GB EVO can’t quite match up to the speeds of its larger-capacity siblings, sitting below the 500MB/s mark for reads and below 400MB/s on the writes, but it still remains strong when it comes to the 4k random read/write performance of the drive. That means it’s still a nicely responsive SSD when it comes to general use, even if it is a little slower shunting larger files around.

The 250GB mark is probably around as small as you want to get for a SSD designed to hold your OS and the games you’re playing the most right now. With that limited capacity you are going to have to do a bit more storage management than you might with a 500GB SSD or a large HDD, for example, but the trade-off against a painfully slow mechanical hard drive with a heap of space is absolutely worth it.

Best Samsung 850 EVO 250GB deals we’ve found today:

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Best budget SSD runner-up

Best budget SSD runner-up - Kingston HyperX Savage 240GB

HyperX Savage 240GB

Controller: Phison S10 | Memory: Toshiba MLC | Socket: SATA (AHCI)

Approx. $120 / £98 

The HyperX Savage is a great-value drive at this end of the market too, with a just-over-$100 price tag delivering impressive performance in both sequential and 4k random testing. Because of the over-provisioning of the Phison controller you are losing a little more storage space from the base spec 256GB NAND memory inside, but what’s 10GB between Samsung and Kingston SSD friends? A couple of indie classics on your Steam account probably...

The best Kingston HyperX Savage 240GB deals we’ve found today:

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Best budget SSD runner-up

Best budget SSD runner-up - Crucial MX300 750GB

Crucial MX300 750GB

Controller: Marvell 1074 | Memory: Micron 3-bit MLC | Socket: SATA (AHCI)

Approx. $300 / £296

The Crucial MX300 is one of the best value SSDs around right now. It may not be the cheapest, and it's definitely not the fastest, but at this price the capacity you get in exchange is pretty substantial. It’s a great drive for those craving SSD storage space but don’t need the absolute fastest transfer speeds. You can also pick up cheap 275GB versions, but at that level the lack of speed really does become a compromise too far against the stiff budget competition.

The best Crucial MX300 750GB deals we’ve found today:

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Best SSD - performance benchmarks

Best SSD performance benchmarks

We measure SSD performance in a few different ways. Manufacturers will always quote peak sequential read/write speeds for their drives, but those are often short of the average performance we pick up in benchmarking. In our testing we measure both the peak read/write speeds using compressible data with the ATTO benchmarks as well as average performance running incompressible data with AS SSD.

SSD memory controllers often use memory compression algorithms to boost their file juggling times, but if they come across file types they can’t compress (if they’re already compressed, like video and audio files, for example) then performance can slow to a crawl. This was the biggest issue with the previously ubiquitous SandForce controller. Modern controllers though have less of an issue with incompressible data.

We also test the random 4k read/write performance of a given drive. The tiny 4kb files are representative of the sort of constant reading and writing your OS drives are doing for the entire time your system is up and running, the general housekeeping an operating system loves to get up to. The quicker a drive can deal with those tiny files the more responsive it’s going to feel during day-to-day use.

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How to buy an SSD

SSD internals

Before the SSD arrived PC storage was as mind-numbingly tedious to write about as system memory. Yawn. RAM. For decades nothing much happened with hard drives - we’d barely moved beyond the wardrobe-sized tape drives WOPR ran off in War Games.

The most HDD excitement we got was plugging in a 10,000RPM Western Digital Raptor drive, setting it to defrag and watching the read head move in a blur through the Perspex peep hole. Pfft, PC nerds.

But the best SSDs have completely changed that Netherlands-flat landscape, every year delivering faster and faster transfer rates and demanding technological innovation from chip creators, motherboard makers and interface designers to catch up with them.

As the market has matured, the initial glut of me-too manufacturers cherry picking off-the-shelf components to make generic drives have dropped out and we’re now mostly just left with the cream of the crop. With that paring down process competition has intensified and prices have dropped down to the point where you can grab a capacious SSD for just 22c(22p)/GB.

The first thing to talk about when you're looking to buy is capacity. All SSDs are going to be quicker than the spinning mechanical platters of a standard hard drive, but the ol’ HDD still has the advantage in that they come in humongous sizes for not very much money. And with game installs getting ever more ludicrously large you need as much space as you can get hold of.

For that reason I’d say going for any SSD of less than 240GB is a waste of time. With the likes of Doom and Hitman taking up 72GB and 61GB respectively on their own, even then you’re only going to be able to get your OS and maybe four games onto your speedy boot drive. Ideally then you want to get as large an SSD as you can afford when you do make the decision to upgrade.

There’s also the fact it’s often the larger capacity drives which offer the best performance. That’s not down to manufacturers hobbling performance on their lower-capacity models, it’s all down to the way solid state drives, and memory controllers in particular, work. SSDs are essentially made up of NAND flash memory chips (where the storage happens), a DRAM cache chip and memory controller silicon (the brains of the outfit).

Most memory controllers really thrive on multithreading, so the more NAND chips attached to a multi-channel memory controller the quicker a drive can chew through data. With high-capacity drives there’s more NAND which is generally why they can achieve higher performance.

SATA or PCIe?

PCIe SSD M.2 motherboard socket

This is the other big choice right now - do you go for a standard SATA-based drive or pick up one of the the new fangled PCIe-based M.2 NVMe options? 

The SATA interface is the basic connection your hard drives have been plumbed into for years, and it’s barely evolved. Around the time the first SSDs crawled out of the primordial soup the SATA interface was upgraded to provide a theoretical limit of 600MB/s. At the time that seemed quick, doubling the previous setup, but SSD performance quickly grew to hit that limit, thus saturating the SATA interface.

So the upper echelons of the SSD market moved on to the higher bandwidth offered by the PCIe interface instead. Unfortunately they were still bound to the AHCI (advanced host controller interface) protocol, a set of commands every storage device needed to run through, and all of which were created back when we were still banging rocks together to make fire.

A PCIe SSD using the AHCI protocol still has to run through myriad legacy commands meant for spinning hard drives and of absolutely no import to SSDs. That wastes a whole heap of processing cycles, meaning there's a lot of silicon thumbs being twiddled while an SSD waits til the commands have been processed and largely ignored before it can actually do anything. This is why a new protocol was desperately needed for solid state drives to advance. Thus the non-volatile media express (NVMe) protocol was born, built from the ground up specifically for the advantages of solid state media. NVMe has around a third the number of commands in the stack, freeing compatible SSDs up to use the full bandwidth offered by the PCIe interface.

PCIe SSD adapter

The major drawbacks however are both price and availability. NVMe drives have historically been more expensive than their slower SATA compatriots, though things look to be changing with drives like Intel's SSD 600p. But they also require modern connections and BIOS software to allow you to boot from them. An Intel motherboard from the last few generations is quite likely to have the necessary M.2 slot - a horizontal mini-PCIe connection - but older boards may not have such a thing. 

You can though get PCIe adapters which plug directly into the same slots you use for your graphics cards. Sometimes booting from such adapters does require a certain amount of BIOS tweakery to get them running, but often it’s a simple plug ‘n’ play setup.

War Thunder
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0V3RKILL avatarjadaar avatarBreakLegosaurus avatar
0V3RKILL Avatar
293
3 Months ago

All my SSD, USB flashdrives, SD cards including the micro SD cards are Adata. Fastest thing I've ever tried and I ain't changing for anything.

1
jadaar Avatar
10
1 Week ago

Best SSD, right now? None! RAM is too expensive (or some such excuse). I pity anyone forced to buy in this market.

1
BreakLegosaurus Avatar
22
1 Week ago

Best SSD for gaming if you don't have one, is just to have one, anything is an upgrade if you don't have an SSD, no need to waste your money on a super expensive one unless that's your goal.

1