Last update: July 2018
When it comes to storing all the stuff on your gaming PC, you have two options: cheap and big hard drives (HDD) or more expensive but much faster solid-state drives (SSDs). A good SSD makes everything you do on your PC feel speedy. Programs pop right open. Files copy in seconds. Perhaps most importantly, your games will load faster, and big open-world games that load data as you play will run smoother, with fewer hitches and hiccups.
Before you buy, you need to know what kind of SSD you want. Newer motherboards have sockets for M.2 drives—long flat sticks of storage that lie flat against the motherboard and connect via the PCI Express or SATA interface. If you don’t have that, you can buy a Serial ATA (SATA) drive that plugs into power and data cables just like an HDD. Those are typically not as fast as M.2 drives, but are more affordable and compatible. If you’re rocking an older setup you can buy inexpensive (about $20-30) PCIe cards to add M.2 sockets, too.
Whichever way you want to go, these are your best options.
The Best Overall SATA SSD — Samsung 860 EVO
Samsung makes two variants of its 860 Series SSD: the EVO and the Pro. Trust us; you want the EVO. The Pro uses 2-bit MLC instead of 3-bit TLC NAND flash, which makes it a bit faster and gives it slightly higher formatted capacity. It’s also got a somewhat better controller on the smaller capacity models, but in the real world these differences won’t make a very big difference. Overall the Pro costs about 30% more for a performance difference you won’t even notice, particularly on a SATA drive. Get the EVO in whatever capacity you desire and you’ll be set for at least the length of its super-long five year warranty.
The Best Cheap SATA SSD — Crucial MX500
Crucial gives you a lot of bang for the buck with the MX500. Don’t be fooled by other inexpensive drives with slightly faster specifications—in real-world testing, the MX500 consistently outperforms them, with performance just a little bit slower than drives that cost considerably more. It’s a value champion, with the entry-level 250GB option costing around $85, and even a full terabyte for less than $300. Want to go big? You can grab a 2TB drive for $477. The sweet spot between price and capacity is probably the 525GB model, which will set you back about $120.
The Best Cheap M.2 Drive — WD Blue 3D NAND 1TB
If you need an affordable M.2 SATA drive with high capacity, the 1TB WD Blue is a great pick. At just over $200, it’s considerably less expensive than most high-quality, large-capacity M.2 drives. At lower capacities, the price advantage is much smaller, however. The WD Blue’s performance is middle-of-the-road compared to its peers since it’s SATA and not PCIe, but it’s still fast and a lightning bolt compared to a hard drive. If you’re upgrading your PC and want lightning-quick boot times over an older SSD or HDD, you can load this up with your OS and have tons of room left over, all at an awesome price.
The Best High-End M.2 PCIe SSD — Samsung 970 EVO
Just like the 850 series SATA drives, Samsung’s 970 M.2 drives comes in both Pro and EVO models. Once again, the Pro uses 2-bit MLC NAND instead of 3-bit TLC NAND, giving it slightly higher performance and formatted capacities. In the end, it’s not nearly worth the price premium, and so we recommend the 970 EVO. At just under $200 for the 500GB version and $450 for 1TB, the 970 EVO isn’t the cheapest M.2 drive around, but it is one of the best. Sequential read and write speeds hover around the 2GB/s mark, which is several orders of magnitude faster than even the best SATA SSDs. Random read and write performance are excellent, too.
The Best High-End M.2 SSD — Samsung 970 Pro
Okay Richie Rich, you just want the fastest consumer drive you can stick in your gaming computer, price be damned. Spring for the 970 Pro instead of the EVO. Yeah, you’ll pay 20-30% more (depending on the capacity) for a relatively minor increase in performance. You’ll mostly get better write performance and improvements under heavy load, but it’s not likely to make a noticeable difference in gaming.
Money Is No Object SSD — Intel Optane 905P
This is the best performing SSD going right now, and it’s even got the glowing blue LED lights to prove it. Intel’s Optane line uses super low-latency “3D XPoint memory” that’s in an entirely different solar system when compared to NAND flash. Think of it as being much, much faster than NAND, but not quite as fast as DRAM, and that’s 3D XPoint. If you’re thinking, “That sounds expensive,” it is. The 960GB module you see above costs about $1,300, so this is for people with deep pockets only.