The best SSDs can supercharge your PC. Here are our picks for the best SSDs, what to look for in an SSD, whether you even need an SSD, and more.
Switching to a solid-state drive is the best upgrade you can make for your PC. These wondrous devices obliterate long boot times, speed up how fast your programs and games load, and generally makes your computer feel fast. But not all solid-state drives are created equal. The best SSDs offer solid performance at affordable prices—or, if price is no object, face-meltingly fast read and write speeds.
Many SSDs come in a 2.5-inch form factor and communicate with PCs via the same SATA ports used by traditional hard drives. But out on the bleeding-edge of NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) drives, you’ll find tiny “gumstick” SSDs that fit in M.2 connections on modern motherboards, SSDs that sit on a PCIe adapter and slot into your motherboard like a graphics card or sound card, futuristic 3D Xpoint drives, and more. Picking the perfect SSD isn’t as simple as it used to be.
That’s where this guide comes in. We’ve tested numerous drives to find the best SSDs for any use case. Let’s take a look at PCWorld’s top picks, and then dive into what to look for in an SSD. Quick note: This roundup only covers internal solid-state drives. Check out PCWorld’s guide to the best external drives if you’re looking for a portable storage solution.
Best SSD for most people
Samsung’s mainstream EVO series of SSDs has sat atop our recommended list ever since 2014, and the current Samsung 860 EVO is still a great option for people who want a rock-solid blend of speed, price, compatibility, and the reliability of Samsung’s 5-year warranty and superb Magician management software. But for the first time in recent memory, the king has been knocked off its thrown, and by a newcomer that isn’t really new whatsoever.
Most people would be better off buying the SK Hynix Gold S31. Not only is it among the fastest SATA SSDs we’ve ever tested, but the price is right too. At $46 for a 250GB drive, $61 for a 500GB drive, or $114 for 1TB, the Gold S31 costs much less than Samsung’s line, which charges $78 for a 500GB model. “When all was said and done in those real-world 48GB copies, the Gold S31 proved the fastest drive we’ve ever tested for sustained read and write operations,” our review proclaimed. Enough said.
Well, maybe not. Let’s talk a bit about the brand itself, since SK Hynix isn’t exactly a household name. Despite that, it’s one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers on the planet. The company has been developing NAND and controller technology since the get-go, and while it’s been the SSD manufacturer for numerous large computer vendors, it generally hasn’t taken a place for itself on the shelves. Now it has, and the results are sterling.
If you need larger capacities, though, still look to the Samsung 860 EVO, which is available in 1TB, 2TB, and 4TB models as well, albeit at steeper premiums. The Samsung 870 QVO is another strong contender, with capacities ranging from 1TB all the way to a whopping 8TB, but we’ll discuss that in the next section.
Best budget SSD
Now that traditional multi-level cell (MLC) and triple-level cell (TLC) solid-state drives are plummeting in price, manufacturers have rolled out new-look quad-level cell (QLC) drives that push SSD prices even lower. The new technology lets drive makers stuff SSDs with hard drive-like levels of capacity while simultaneously coming close to the juicy SSD speeds we all love so much—most of the time. The first round of QLC drives, including the still-superb Samsung 860 QVO, saw its write speeds plunge to hard drive-like levels when you transfer dozens of gigabytes of data in one go.
The Addlink S22 QLC SSD doesn’t suffer from the same fate. While traditional TLC SSDs (like the ones mentioned in our “best SSDs for most people” section) still maintain a speed edge versus QLC drives, the Addlink S22 is no slouch, and it’s dirt-cheap for an SSD, at just $59 for 512GB or $99 for 1TB. Ludicrous—though it’s worth noting that SK Hynix’s Gold S31 now goes for about the same low rate.
If you don’t plan on moving around massive amounts of data at once and need more space, the Samsung 860 QVO is still a great option. It’s actually a wee bit faster than Addlink’s SSD. But it’s also more expensive, at $128 for 1TB, $250 for 2TB, or $480 for 5TB on Amazon. Lower capacities aren’t offered.
That said, consider waiting a month if you’re interested in a Samsung drive. The new Samsung 870 QVO bests its predecessor in every way, including in offering a ridonkulous 8TB option for a hefty $900 (which is actually much cheaper than rival 8TB drives, discussed in the next section). It’s coming in August, while 1TB, 2TB, and 4TB drives launching on July 31 are already available to preorder on for $130, $250, and $500, respectively.
But what if you’ve got a newer motherboard that supports the faster, newfangled NVMe M.2 drives? Keep reading!
Best NVMe SSD
WD’s SSD isn’t the flashiest NVMe drive around, nor is it quite as fast as the alternatives mentioned above. But it costs far, far less. Despite its entry-level price—$45 for 250GB, $65 for 500GB, or $130 for 1TB—the WD Blue SN550 runs circles around other bargain NVMe drives and falls within spitting distance of the performance of those higher-priced enthusiast options. It’s from a known, established brand with a good track record for reliability, too, and comes with a longer-than-average five year warranty.
If you want just a wee bit more performance, the Addlink S70 NVMe SSD is another stellar option, earning our Editors’ Choice award. We slightly prefer its performance to the WD drive’s, but Addlink’s SSDs now cost more than its rival’s after receiving price increases, and the WD Blue SN550’s performance is more than enough for everyday computer users. Addlink isn’t as well-known as WD, but also offers a 5-year warranty on its drive.
The PNY XLR8 CS 3030 is another good option, offering fast performance at a good price. It gets bogged down during especially long writes, however, though it should be excellent for everyday use.
If you don’t mind spending up for faster, Samsung 970 Pro-level performance, the Adata XPG SX8200 Pro and Kingston KC2500 also run with the big dogs, but at more affordable prices. “While it didn’t reach the top step of the podium in any one test, the KC2500 was always within easy hailing distance of the leader,” we said in our review of the Kingston drive. “It’s available at about the same price as the competition and should be at the top of your short list when you’re shopping for a high-performance NVMe SSD.”
And now, you can finally get blistering NVMe speeds without sacrificing capacity thanks to a new breed of supersized SSDs, though you’ll pay up for the privilege. The OWC Aura 12 delivers average NVMe performance (read: faster than most) paired with a big 4TB of performance for $929. The superb Sabrent Rocket Q amps everything up with top-notch performance and a crazy 8TB capacity, but it’ll set you back a cool $1,500. The bleeding-edge isn’t cheap.
If performance is paramount and price is no object, Intel’s Optane SSD 905P is the best SSD you can buy, full stop—though the 8TB Sabrent Rocket Q NVMe SSD discussed above is a strong contender if you need big capacities and big-time performance.
Intel’s Optane drive doesn’t use traditional NAND technology like other SSDs; instead, it’s built around the futuristic 3D Xpoint technology developed by Micron and Intel. Hit that link if you want a tech deep-dive, but in practical terms, the Optane SSD 900P absolutely plows through our storage benchmarks and carries a ridiculous 8,750TBW (terabytes written) rating, compared to the roughly 200TBW offered by many NAND SSDs. If that holds true, this blazing-fast drive is basically immortal—and it looks damned good, too.
But you pay for the privilege of bleeding edge performance. Intel’s Optane SSD 905P costs $600 for a 480GB version and $1,250 for a 1.5TB model, with several additional options available in both the U.2 and PCI-E add-in-card form factors. That’s significantly more expensive than even NVMe SSDs—and like those, the benefits of Intel’s SSD will be most obvious to people who move large amounts of data around regularly. And the Optane SSD 900P actually uses the NVMe protocol to communicate with your PC, so you’ll need to meet some additional criteria to be able to boot from it—which we’ll cover next.
The step-down Intel Optane SSD 900P is like a miniature version of the 905P, still beating out traditional SSDs (albeit by a smaller margin) at lower capacities and prices—though at $390 for a 280GB version and $599 for a 480GB model, it’s still drastically more expensive than most NVMe drives.
Blazing-fast PCIe 4.0 SSDs are starting to become available now that AMD’s superb Ryzen 3000-series processors support the cutting-edge technology. You’ll also need a high-end AMD X570 motherboard. They promise much faster speeds than the traditional PCIe 4.0 SSDs mentioned here, though early evaluations show you’ll only see tangible benefits when moving massive files in the real world. Our PCIe 4.0 primer explains all.
NVMe SSD setup: What you need to know
Be aware of what NVMe drives deliver before you buy in. Standard SATA SSDs already supercharge boot times and loading times for PCs, and for a whole lot cheaper. You’ll get the most use from NVMe drives, be it in a M.2 form factor like the Samsung 960 Pro or a PCIe drive, if you routinely transfer data, especially in large amounts. If you don’t do that, NVMe drives aren’t worth the price premium.
If you decide to buy an NVMe SSD, make sure your PC can handle it. This is a relatively new technology, so you’ll only be able to find M.2 connections motherboards from the past few years. Think AMD Ryzen and mainstream Intel chips from the Skylake era onward, for the most part. NVMe SSDs that were mounted on PCIe adapters were popular in the technology’s early years, before M.2 adoption spread, but they’re rarer now. Make sure you’re actually able to use an NVMe SSD before you buy one, and be aware that you’ll need 4 PCIe lanes available in order to use it to its full potential.
To get the most out of an NVMe drive, you want to run your operating system on it, so you must have a system that recognizes the drive and can boot from it. PCs purchased during the past year or two should have no problem booting from an NVMe drive, but support for that can be iffy in older motherboards. Do a Google search for your motherboard and see if it supports booting from NVMe. You may need to install a BIOS update for your board. If your hardware can’t boot from an NVMe SSD, your machine should still be able to use it as a secondary drive.
What to look for in an SSD
Capacity and price are important, of course, and a long warranty can alleviate fears of premature data death. Most SSD manufacturers offer a three-year warranty, and some nicer models are guaranteed for five years. But unlike the olden days of SSDs, modern drives won’t wear out with normal consumer usage, as Tech Report tested and proved years ago with a grueling endurance test.
The biggest thing to watch out for is the technology used to connect the SSD to your PC.
- SATA: This refers to both the connection type and the transfer protocol, which is used to connect most 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch hard drives and SSDs to your PC. SATA III speeds can hit roughly 600MBps, and most—but not all—modern drives max it out. (More on that in the next section.)
- PCI-E: This interface taps into four of your computer’s PCIe lanes to blow away SATA speeds, to the tune of nearly 4GBps over PCIe gen. 3. Those sort of face-melting speeds pair nicely with supercharged NVMe drives. Both the PCIe lanes in your motherboard and the M.2 slot in your motherboard can be wired to support the PCIe interface, and you can buy adapters that allow you to slot “gumstick” M.2 drives into a PCIe lane.
- NVMe: Non-Volatile Memory Express technology takes advantage of PCIe’s bountiful bandwidth to create blisteringly fast SSDs that blow SATA-based drives out of the water. Check out PCWorld’s “Everything you need to know about NVMe” for a nitty-gritty deep-dive.
- M.2: This is where things get tricky. Many people assume M.2 drives all use NVMe technology and PCIe speeds, but that’s not true. M.2 is just a form factor. Sure, most M.2 SSDs use NVMe, but some still stick to SATA. Do your homework. Many modern Ultrabooks rely on M.2 for storage.
- U.2 and mSATA: You may also stumble across mSATA and U.2 SSDs, but both motherboard support and product availability are rare for those formats. Some older Ultrabooks included mSATA before M.2 became popular, and drives are still available if you need them.
Speed matters, of course, but as we said most modern SSDs saturate the SATA III interface. Not all of them, though.
SSDs vs. hard drives
Do you need an SSD? “Need” is a strong word, but we heartily recommend that everyone upgrade to an SSD. Solid-state drive speeds blow even the fastest mechanical hard drives out of the water. Simply swapping the hard drive in your old laptop or desktop out for an SSD can make it feel like a whole new system—and a blazing fast one at that. Buying an SSD is easily the best upgrade you can make for a computer.
SSDs cost more per gigabyte than mechanical hard drives, though, and thus aren’t often available in ultra-high capacities. If you want speed and storage space, you can buy an SSD with limited space (like the 128GB Crucial BX300) and use it as your boot drive, then set up a traditional hard drive as secondary storage in your PC. Place your programs on your boot drive, stash your media and other files on the hard drive, and you’re ready to have your cake and eat it too.
Alternatively, Intel’s new Optane Memory drives blend both worlds. These tiny, affordable M.2 drives are designed to pair with a hard drive in your system and act as a cache, speeding up the most-used programs on your PC. Intel’s tech can truly supercharge your everyday experience, but once you blow past the M.2 drive’s 16GB or 32GB of cache, you’re back to pokey hard drive speeds. Optane Memory also has strict configuration and supported hardware requirements. Check out PCWorld’s Intel Optane memory review for the full details.
Best SSDs: Our reviews
If you’d like to know more about our best SSD picks as well as other options, the links below point you toward all the SSDs we’ve recently reviewed. We’ll keep evaluating new ones on a regular basis, so be sure to check back to see what other drives we’ve put through their paces. And once more, if you’re looking for portable storage, check out PCWorld’s roundup of the best external drives. Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.